The Morning Claret is not an anarchist or a public sector worker, but cannot stand by and see this government wreak vandalism on every area of our society still standing. Therefore I marched through the streets of central London for several hours on Saturday March 26th, enjoying a good natured and peaceful protest with some 400,000 others. Having reached Hyde Park after the rally had finished, four of us decided to head back into town to find some refreshment. Barrafina, a newish tapas bar on Frith Street, was suggested as a venue.
Barrafina is a slice of Barcelona, exported to Soho and then perfected to a level not often found in Spain, let alone here. The interior is buzzing, but with only 23 stools around a counter there’s a usually a long wait for a seat. We opted to sit outside, just about bearable on a none-too-warm March day. A quick look at the wine list revealed a small but perfectly formed selection of Spain’s key wine regions – how nice to see such a list where we don’t just get six Riojas and a token offering from La Mancha. Having said that, as soon as I saw the word “Urbina” on the list my decision was made. Bodegas Benito Urbina are very fine producers in the Rioja Alta (arguably the highest quality sub-region within Rioja). Their wines are made for long aging, and are largely produced without the use of pesticides and other chemical nastiness.
The 1999 Urbina Selección Crianza Rioja was some prize for our worthy trudging around London all day. Although slightly difficult to catch the nose in the brisk temperatures of Frith Street, there was something quite complex and medicinal about it – with a good dollop of dried fruits there too. The first sip really was sensational – perfectly mature and smooth, with notes of coffee, Christmas cake, tobacco, prunes and cinnamon. This was a light and delicate wine, but with great length and poise. I am actually a big fan of Riojas made in this more traditional style – the oak aging done in large, old oak barrels rather than new French or American barriques. There’s admittedly not bags of fruit on offer here, but the subtle and complex makeup of all the secondary and tertiary flavours more than makes up for that. Furthermore, at £14 if you drink this at home, it is outstanding value for an 11 year old wine of such quality.
I have to mention the food, as well. The special of grilled Gurnard on a bed of spinach and Paprika was outstanding, the octopus also special, with the perfect combination of tenderness with a nice chewy edge. But what really blew us away were the sublime, individually cooked Tortillas. The Barrafina style is to leave them almost liquid in the centre, which I’m told is the authentic Iberian way. The effect is rather like a savoury version of the perfect chocolate muffin – with that luxurious runny texture as you bit into the middle.