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July 2021

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Get this special wine … before it flies

In Aragon, a well-known region in the NE of Spain, it’s uncommon to find a winery with two wins and the name of a saint as its logo.

Legend says that Saint Frontonio was beheaded on the banks of the Ebro river, but his head sailed upriver instead of downstream. This is where Frontonio winery gets its name. According to Aiyana Vilimek, Key Account Manager, “We also like to do things against the tide, constantly innovating”.

As a native of Aragon, I gravitate very frequently towards fruity wines in general and towards Grenache in particular. That is why I decided to try two of the star wines of this winery: Telescopico Carignan 2017 and Supersonico 2018. They surprised me even more than I expected because they had very unusual notes, more earthy and risky than usual. I decided to contact them to understand something more about their history and work philosophy.

Bodegas Frontonio is located in the small town of Alpartir, one hour away from Zaragoza. Behind this adventure, we discovered Fernando Mora, an engineer who always dreamed of being a winemaker and who started making wine in the bathtub at his home and finally pursued his dream in 2013. He continued his training until he achieved the title of Master of Wine in 2017. This is a select club to which only 416 professionals worldwide belong, seven of them living in Spain. Obtaining this title opened many doors for him to make himself known among winemakers and give impetus to his new projects.

“Here in the winery, we do the work in the fields and harvest in a very traditional way and very different from how things are done today,” explains Aiyana. “The grapes are hand-harvested and then trodden, and we till with horses”.

Frontonio winery is aware of the close bond between the natural environment and the identity of a bottle of wine. For this reason, they have made this determined commitment to a type of organic and sustainable viticulture, maintaining the native vegetation and working with some vineyards in poly-cultivation. They also maintain green corridors for animals to achieve a perfect balance between biodiversity and agriculture.

Elaboration in the winery

Once the grapes are harvested, they are worked by gravity in a three-story cellar, two of them being underground in old caves that maintain constant humidity and temperature. The wines are fermented in crates and used wood barrels so that the wood does not add too much character to the final product and the wine does not lose its vibrancy and character.

The hallmarks of Frontonio winery wines are their high acidity to achieve greater liveliness and freshness, with the predominance of fruit and berry notes so characteristic of Grenache, the original Aragon grape. “I would say they even have some earthy and aromatic herbs notes as well,” says its sales director.

“I would say our wines even have some earthy and aromatic herbs notes as well

Aiyana Vilimek, Key Accounts Manager

When I asked her to recommend three wines for this summer, Aiyana decided on a white wine and two reds: “First of all, I would choose a Frontonio Blanco 2018, made with white Grenache and Macabeo from our vineyards in La Loma and Los Santos. It has been fermented for 12 months in used wood to keep that most vivid part of the fruity note,” she explains. “And I would also choose two reds, the Supersonico and the Telescopico. The Supersonico 2018 has a touch of raspberry that makes it a very special wine. It is made at an altitude of more than 1030 meters with Grenache and some Macabeo in vineyards that are more than 80 years old. These characteristics give it high acidity and perfect freshness,” she adds.

But Aiyana loves especially Telescopico 2018. “In the 2017 vintage there were two reds made with Grenache and Carignan grapes. The new one is a fusion of both and in fact, we launched it just a few weeks ago. It is an organic and very special wine, and in my opinion, it is going to improve over the years and become a spectacular wine, since we have seen that this has happened with previous vintages”.

When I ask her if a good product or good marketing is more important to stand out in the competitive world of wine, Aiyana has no doubt: “A good product. Marketing is essential to make yourself known. Press articles or Parker scores are very good for us, but you do not keep a customer if that wine disappoints him. For us, loyalty to our product is essential,” she says.

It is essential for the winery to care for and maintain this loyal audience, who can be made from professionals or other winemakers, but also from people without specific training that have been enchanted by the fascinating world of wine. For this reason, Fernando Mora, Frontonio’s alma mater, creates tutorials on Instagram and a quarterly wine club in which something different is done in each box, with guest wineries and a wine made especially for that occasion in the winery. They know excellence is not achieved by isolating themselves and seeing other wineries as competition, but by collaborating and learning from them. This attitude is reflected in their amazing and innovative wines.

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Friendly fire in Leña, Dani García’s new restaurant in Madrid

The steep stairs that lead to Leña, the new restaurant of the Dani García group, could well resemble Dante’s descent into hell. Basically, because what you do not expect is a dark place dedicated to the cult of the grill and the smoke. However, this story ends well, because the experience of enjoying this innovative concept is closer to paradise than eternal punishment.

I wanted to know this daring concept of steakhouse, whose mother house is in Marbella, García’s hometown, even though it is not what you could most want on a summer day. Even opening around this time has been a brave and unexpected move. And the truth is that I must admit that any time of the year is good for grilled food.

The fusion concept of Leña is to show and share the mark that international travels have left on the Marbella chef, especially the US and Japan. Garcia add to the mix his Andalusian essence and his total respect for the integrity of the product. And this is something that is sensed from the first moment. From luxurious American décor to Japanese-style tableware. Curiously, I immediately found myself at home, because the experience of the years I lived in Seattle recognized this combination as very familiar.

baba ghanoush

His effort to “democratize” haute cuisine is well shown here. Garcia abandoned the trap of a 3 Michelin star restaurant a few years ago to feel yourself freer and enjoy family and work balance. This is how he describes Leña concept: “a more informal and affordable restaurant where, however, you have an experience close to haute cuisine for the dishes, the cellar, the attention in the room and special details paying 60 euros” if you are careful with the wine you choose, of course.

If you’re Spanish, you come to a restaurant like Leña for meat. And if it’s red, the better. But I also came for the vegetables. Because if you can make a humble eggplant unforgettable, baba ghanoush is the best I’ve ever eaten, you can get it all. Also, the bimi with romesco was very tasty, al dente as I like it. I decided to save the grilled Malaga avocado and the smoked burrata caprese for the next time.

“Leña is a more informal and affordable restaurant where, however, you have an experience close to haute cuisine for the dishes, the cellar, the attention in the room and special details paying 60 euros”

The ribeye does not disappoint, but I fell in love with the pluma iberica, a piece less cooked than usual for me, but exquisite. The portions are more generous than I expected, and the restaurant gives you bread and butter that are delicious, so in the end we had no room for dessert. We will need to return to enjoy it, as well as the grilled fish like that you can find on the menu if your table companions took you to Leña a bit tricked and you are more “pescatarian” than carnivore.

Laura Machado, Guest Experience manager

On the day of my lunch, I had the opportunity to meet Laura Machado, Guest Experience manager of the restaurant, who was kind enough to spend a few minutes when the restaurant has their doors closes to the public to show me the backstage of it.

I had the chance to visit Smoked room, a very special place that arose unexpectedly when Dani García found the perfect space to prepare a tasting menu at a fixed price of 135 euros called Fire Omakase and whose dishes are chosen by the chefs with seasonal products. The food is prepared in front of the customers, who are sat at a “fake” bar. And I say fake because instead on high stools you will enjoy the meal in several comfortable armchairs raised at a decent height, so you won´t miss a movement of the chefs. In an attached room there are two other small tables.

Laura’s job is to make clients feel at home and at the same time to make them enjoy an unforgettable experience. “They take the effort to reserve and get groomed and, on many occasions, they come to celebrate special moments. It´s my job to make everything perfect,” she explains to me. In fact, many of her customers have become friends over time. They are regulars at all the group’s restaurants in Madrid: Bibo, Lobito de Mar and Dani Brasserie and they come to one or the other practically every week.

She tries to be more a clairvoyant than a psychologist. “The funniest thing about this job that I love, is learning to know what people want without knowing them.” To do this, she tries to be coordinated as much as possible with the rest of the team, especially on an always sensitive issue such as allergies and intolerances.

Laura has job experience in other restaurants in the group. In fact, she trained several months at Leña Marbella before she opened Leña Madrid. Comparing the clients of the two cities, she qualifies the Madrilenian as “demanding, but very faithful if you earn their trust” and considers that another of the elements that make Leña special is that it is a place where everyone feels welcome, and no special dress code is necessary. “There may be a table with a final bill of 70 euros and another with a bill that is close to 1,000. We treat both types of clients with the same love”, he concludes.

In short, Leña is a very special place in Madrid, a buzzling city now, as chef Quique Dacosta commented a few weeks ago, following the recent and upcoming opening of several luxury hotels. Leña restaurant itself is on fire, but it is worth being patient and insisting to get a reservation to enjoy this unique experience.

Laura Machado

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