This is a journey to be shared with friends, a journey on which you learn to love and to discover extraordinary stories… Today, I have finally understood that this is a journey with no end, but it is a journey we can begin again together whenever we wish. – Ramón Bilbao, 8 September 1924
The last time I went to a Ramón Bilbao event, there was a lot of festivity and (a surprise) song, courtesy of Filipino performing artist (and who I feel was one of our national treasures), jazz crooner Arthur Manuntag.
Avid wino that he was (he really knew his drinks), I would see him in several wine events around town, and he would regale me (and my husband) with several quirky anecdotes, jokes, and the occasional song (he once humorously mimicked Louis Armstrong and while singing a pop tune). He would tell us of stories about how he was the only pinoy in London during a jazz fest and how he sang the living daylights out of a Sinatra standard.
This was why it was particularly gutting to have found out how he suddenly fell into a coma late last year, and how he passed away in the middle of February.
That said, when I went to the last Ramón Bilbao event, it felt particularly poignant, having sat with his fellow singer Janet Basco (their duet was featured in my article) and looking at the empty chair in front of us.
I thought to myself, however, having been the charismatic and funny wine enthusiast that he was, feeling sentimental should only last a minute… After all, there was great wine to be had, and it was great to explore one of Arthur’s favourite wines again.
Curated by award winning sommelier Pax Tabhan in Shangri-la Makati’s Sage Bespoke Grill, the evening started with the delicately crisp Ramón Bilbao Rosado (which, as I write this in a scorching afternoon, is something I could use right about now… Seriously, we pinoys should really get on the rosé bandwagon).
We proceeded to have a gorgeous Mar de Frades (a label owned by Ramón Bilbao) Albariño to pair with the seafood-based appetizers. Albariño is particularly famous in the Rias Baixas region of Spain, and is one of my favourite recommendations for a beach barbecue, in that it’s perfect with seafood and the hot weather. Mar de Frades is also interesting because of its bright blue bottle, and, if correctly chilled (not too warm or too cold), a photo of a boat comes out on the label (Pro Tip: A light-bodied white wine such as an Albariño should be served chilled at 7-10°C).
We then had two classic Ramón Bilbao wines, the Crianza* (Edición Limitada) and the Reserva*. I personally played around with both wines, because I thought the styles would go with the opposite of the food pairing of the evening… I liked the Reserva better with the Beef Meatballs because the structure of the wine went better with the saltiness of the meatballs; and the Crianza with the Pata Negra because the Crianza has more fruit-forward notes which went better with the pata… It’s like how holiday ham is nice with sweet, tropical fruits.
Of course, at the end of the dinner was the pièce de résistance, the powerful and perfectly hand crafted Ramón Bilbao Mirto… A beautiful Rioja made of 100% Tempranillo. Again, I always emphasise that it takes an excellent craftsman, such as Ramón Bilbao’s talented winemaker Rodolfo Bastida, to make a well-balanced wine from nothing but Tempranillo… It’s a tricky grape, and more often than not, people wind up with an off-kilter wine (I often call it a “wine with a hole in the middle” because I know something is missing) if the winemaker isn’t skilful. The Mirto we had for the evening was, as always, divine… And it was one of Arthur’s favourites.
On that note, I will end this particular entry with a lovely glass of Mirto, good memories of the legend, while playing the video I have of him here. Cheers Bogart, and vaya con dios.
To decode Spanish wine ageing laws (such as Joven, Crianza, Reserva, and Gran Reserva), let me quote myself (how narcissistic) from one of my old articles:
“In general, Spanish wines (are considered to) have better quality the more they are aged. Here’s a list to help (from the youngest to the oldest):
Vino Joven – not aged in oak at all, and is sold within the year of harvest
Crianza – Minimum of 6 months in oak, sold after 2 years of harvest
Reserva – Minimum of 1 year in oak, sold after 3 years of harvest
Gran Reserva – Minimum of 2 years in oak, sold after 60 months of harvest (has to be in the bottle for at least 3 years).
I know it seems quite a lot to take in, but the super simplified version is this: with Spanish reds, the older, the better (the perception).” Also, a Reserva of the same label tends to be more expensive than its Crianza counterpart. This is because the signs of maturity (smells and flavours of leather, animal, cedar, or as I put it, “the smell of an old gentleman’s study”) get introduced to the wine, adding what in winespeak is called “complexity”… Rule of thumb is, the more complex the wine, the better. 😉
Special thanks, as always, to Ms. Edna Diaz of BestWorld Beverages
Ramón Bilbao wines are available through BestWorld Beverages, Unit 1504, The Centerpoint Building, Julia Vargas Avenue, corner Garnet Road, Ortigas Center, Pasig City
Telepone: (+632) 637-8491 to 94