Fermín Calbetón Kalea, 27, 1º
20003 Donostia/San Sebastián

The Oenophile Returns

Cheers to year after year and bottle after bottle!

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Brian is a long-time collector of old-world wines, and in between classes and keg parties he started buying futures while still an undergraduate. Now a fully-fledged adult and marketing professional, he’s built up an impressive collection of coveted market treasures and personal favorites from his annual harvest-time trips to roam around the world’s great wine regions--from the Côte d’Or of Beaune to Bordeaux, with Piedmont and Priorat in between. The missing link? The Rioja, Spain’s oldest wine region, part of which lies in the Basque Country.

Brian and his wife Marian are well-seasoned travelers and typically relish doing the planning themselves. But in 2016, with busy schedules and a house full of teenagers, they took the leap of faith and hired Tenedor Tours, on the strength of our sterling reputation. (We’ve been featured in The New York Times, Parts Unknown with Anthony Bourdain, and Vogue, and named one of the world’s best food guides by The Wall Street Journal.) With a few emails and phone calls, we learned their objective: a week-long off-the-beaten path itinerary for the two of them, including some essentials like Bodegas López de Heredia, Roda, and Restaurante Arzak, with a few surprises built in.

When the pair hopped off their flight in Bilbao, we picked them up in our comfortable Mercedes touring van, and whisked them down to the Rioja, about an hour and a half to the south. While ensconced in a fifth-generation family-run hotel with a Michelin-starred restaurant, they spent a few intense days visiting both well-known bodegas like Contador and hidden gems like Tritium, some of which are generally not open to the public. They barrel tasted with winemakers in their cellars, ambled through goblet-pruned vineyards backed by the Sierra Cantabria Mountains, and ate lamb chops grilled over dried grapevines. Brian even did a little wheeling and dealing, and in the blink of an eye, he’d set up a shipment of a rare sweet wine to a distributor back in the States. The long sunny days were capped, of course, by opening up some spectacular vintages, bottles that had been on their wine bucket list, at last enjoyed in situ.

While food is in our name (tenedor means “fork” in Spanish), wine is the other true love of the Tenedor team. Gabriella holds a Master’s in oenology and viticulture from the University of the Rioja, and Katharine has completed coursework from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust. On top of our in-house expertise, we rely on an extensive network of wine professionals, from cellar masters and wine shop owners who tend to their products with the utmost of care to growers who know each bend and twist of their centennial vines. We gave Brian and Marian an insider’s take on the world of Rioja wines. Now they know top Spanish winemakers by name and have added new favorites to their home collection.

After a couple of days in the wide open expanses of the Ebro River valley, the travelers crossed the mountain passes of the Sierra de Cantabria to get to San Sebastian, the elegant resort town nestled tightly between verdant hills and the wild sea. The grapes may grow further south in the Rioja, but it’s in San Sebastian where they can truly shine, alongside some of the world’s best cuisine. Here their days were filled with grilled turbot and clams, wild mushrooms and aged beef, historic vintages of Rioja Alta and the merriment that the town inspires. They rolled up their sleeves in a cooking class, preparing classic dishes like bacalao al pil pil and stuffed piquillo peppers with albacore and spring onions sourced from the vibrant farmers’ market that very morning; they had round after round of pintxos, the savory bites served up at every bar, from the narrow streets of the Old Part to the elegant art nouveau center of town; and they had tasting menus paired with extraordinary wines at the Michelin 3* Arzak and at Rekondo, which houses a 125,000-bottle cellar that’s near mythic in wine circles.

Brian and Marian’s first trip was a fantastic whirlwind, but they swore it was just the beginning. “We’ll be back again someday,” they said, as we bid farewell, so we weren’t surprised when just a few months later, they called to say they were ready for round two in the Basque Country! Straight away, we created an itinerary completely distinct from the last. Except, of course, to return to a couple of their favorite spots. With its small-town feel and friendly atmosphere, Brian and Marian have found a second home in San Sebastian, and they relish visiting the chefs, sommeliers, and winemakers who have become friends.

Since that first sojourn four years ago, they’ve made coming to San Sebastian--the pearl of the Cantabrian Sea--an annual tradition. They’ve returned with their college-aged children, with dear friends, and on their own again and again. Demanding careers mean that their time in the Basque Country is focused on one thing and one thing only: having a great time, together. A bon vivant to the core, Brian seeks out with intention those things that bring happiness. They want effortless days filled with relaxation and delight so they can loosen their shoulders, breathe deeply, and not worry about the details. They leave those--and all the heavy lifting--to us. They’ve hiked along the coast with their children and shared world-class dinners with their best friends. They’ve jammed on guitar late into the night with a local musician, pulled corks from sought-after bottles, and even created an event back home to introduce their favorite Rioja winemakers to the local dining scene.

Personal relationships are central to us at Tenedor Tours. We love nothing more than truly getting to know our guests. With that earned knowledge, we build extraordinary trips that capture our special corner of the world. The highest compliment we can get? Clients who choose to travel with us again. So we raise a glass to Brian, Marian, and all our loyal clientele: we loved meeting you, we loved welcoming you again, and we hope to see you soon! Topa!