Wine Tasting Event Club El Nogal

Spanish Wine Tasting at Club El Nogal

In November I attended a wine tasting at the El Nogal club in Bogota, one of the top social clubs in the city. The stars of the show were wines from the Spanish Fine Wines Group, who came all the way from the Basque Country of Northern Spain.

Set table

On the 9th floor of the club, in the Montecarlo Hall, I met Mikel Garaizabal Pildain. He’s an amazing man; teacher, enologist, and sommelier, he’s given more than 800 wine tastings, has a TV program about wine as well as radio shows, and has written four award winning books about wines.

So when he talked about wine, we listened.

Mikel was joined by Angela, from Asturias, to explain these Spanish wines to a room full of chefs, sommeliers, wine importers, magazine editors and journalists.

Mikel, Javier Urones and Angela
Mikel, Javier Urones and Angela

After presenting himself, Mikel took us on a little slideshow tour through the Basque country of Spain. We learned about Rioja Alta, Rioja Baja and Rioja Alavesa, with an explanation of the long wine-making history and why the area is ideal for wine-growing. To keep it short, let me just say that there’s a special microclimate on that plateau at 1,500 feet above sea level. The mountains help isolate the area, which maintains a moderate climate and protects the vineyards from wind. Only certain varieties of grapes are grown here, in order to maintain specific characteristics of the wine. As Mikel said, “No foreigners are allowed here”. Since he was talking about grapes, no offense was taken.

Wine Tasting at Club El Nogal

Then it was time to do the real thing – eight red wines were waiting for us, and one white. Mikel began with the glass itself. Picking it up by the stem, he said, “Now you know where to pick it up from.”

The waiters passed out little tabs of paper and we were asked to smell them. To Mikel’s question, “What do they smell like?” the general answer was vanilla (though I caught a definite cinnamon whiff). “Very good”, Mikel continued, “Now we’re going to perceive this in the wine.”

Then he began to walk us through the concepts of sight, smell, taste and feel.

He spent some time talking about the most important part of wine tasting, smelling. With our tongues we can only detect 4 basic tastes; sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. We can’t taste the aromas of wine with our tongue; that’s the nose’s job. Mikel emphasized, for instance, that nothing tastes like an apple. The tongue can’t taste apple. The nose is what “tastes” the apple.

And he commented, “Us Basque people have good noses for this activity” (for proof, see picture above).

He discussed aromas in wine that are likened to herbs, flowers, fruit and the tastes that the fermentation process imparts. He discussed how the wine would feel in the mouth and encouraged us to let the wine oxygenate to aid us in differentiating the flavors.

Then it was time to agitate the wine to aerate it and then sniff. “What do you smell?” The audience offered words: Berries, ripe fruit. “Do you smell a slightly smoked scent?” Mikel asked.

Now he encouraged us to taste. “Swish it around in your mouth. Coat the front, back and side of tongue. Draw some air in through your mouth. What do you feel? It’s sweet. It’s acidic, which is typical of this area of Spain. Now the finish. What do you feel?”

Then he asked, “Now, do you see the difference between tasting and drinking?”

We went through the process with each wine, benefitting from the more than 100 years of wine-making experience summed up in these bottles.

Wine Tasting

We tasted coffee notes, as well as chupachups, which has now become my favorite word. It’s the Spanish word for lollipop. Yes, one of the wines tasted like a lollipop. We also tasted yogurt, berries, flowers.

We did it to the sound of Mikel’s voice saying, “Breathe in. Taste. It’s alive, taste it!” We also often heard what has since become one of my favorite phrases “A la nariz!” which means “To the nose!”

After 5 red wines we moved on to a white wine, a Pazo Señorans 2011 Albarino. White wine after 5 reds? Really? But this wine was up for the challenge, since it has a lot of personality. Also, it was refreshing, which we needed after so many reds.

Pazo Senorans 2011
He stressed the importance the sommelier has in maintaining the right temperature of the wines. “All the hard work of the wine maker, the enologist, importer and others is lost if sommelier doesn’t do his job.”

Starting with the second wine the waiters began to bring out pintxos made by chefs visiting from Basque country.

Pintxos in Bogota

At one point Mikel said, “The wine is talking to you. The beginning is different, now try it after 30 seconds, then after 60 seconds. It’s got lots of personality, velvety tannins. Try it, then put it aside and try it again in half an hour to enjoy its flavor.” And my favorite recommendation: “And try it with chocolate!”

About this past year, Mikel commented, “2013 was a very difficult year, which is part of the magic of wine; it’s always different.”

Mikel’s final words were, “Hope you liked the selection.”

Did I ever!

The wines we tasted:

Pazo Señorans

D.O. Rias Baixas

Val Travieso


D.O. Ribera del Duero

Pago de Cirsus

D.O. Navarra

Castillo Labastida

Crianza Reserva

D.O. Calificada Rioja

Luis Cañas

Crianza, Reserva de Familia

D.O. Calificada Rioja


Reserva Tempranillo

D.O. Calificada Rioja




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