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Senior editor James Suckling joined Wine Spectator in 1981 and retired in 2010. As European bureau chief, he was based in Tuscany and tasted the wines of Italy, Bordeaux and Port.
James Suckling

A Spanish Value Enjoyed in Cuba

Torres Catalunya Gran Sangre de Toro Reserva 2004

James Suckling
Posted: March 12, 2010

I was in Havana last week and went to dinner with some friends at the restaurant Cocina de Lilliam. This small family-owned restaurant in the neighborhood of Playa is a relaxed place with outdoor seating in the garden, which has lots of green plants and fountains. These private restaurants are called "paladars." Havana now has far fewer of these restaurants than it did years ago, and of the few that still exist, even fewer are very good quality.

I like the food at Lilliam because it’s like being in a time machine. It’s very 1950s sort of Cuban home cooking—dishes such as sautéed garbanzo beans with pieces of bacon and ham, sautéed octopus and ropas viejas, a shredded beef dish cooked in a tangy tomato sauce. Lilliam might have the best food in Havana now since my favorite paladar, La Guarida, closed.

Anyway, the restaurant only had two red wines on the list, and the "tinto" I ordered was from the Spanish producer Torres, its 2004 Catalunya Gran Sangre de Toro Reserva. This is a blend of Grenache, Carignane and Syrah. I thought the Grenache came out beautifully, with a lovely raspberry and strawberry character, while the Carignane and Syrah gave the red a light spiciness. It was not a serious wine, but it was fresh, fruity and delicate. It went well with our grilled red snapper and salad—and wasn't bad with the grilled octopus salad we had before! I scored it 87 points, non-blind. The Gran Sangre de Toro Reserva typically retails for around $14 in the United States, so it’s a good value.

WineSpectator.com members: Get our quick list of Top Values among Spanish reds.

Marc Robillard
Montreal,Canada —  March 13, 2010 9:50am ET
Off topic here James. Michelle Satta Piastraia 2004.
I notice there is no review for this wine by WS but had a bottle last night as I wanted to compare with the wonderful 2003's of which I still have severeal bottles in the cellar.
I know this wine is not filtered but there appeared to be an enormous amount of sediment throughout the wine and it did appear quite disjointed.
I am not an expert, though I am quite knowledgable I could not figure out if the wine is flawed or just needs time. I was leaning towards flawed the more I tasted it.
Having seeked out other reviews on the web, many appear to be of the same opinion.
Any thoughts?
Tony Bibbings
Bermuda —  March 14, 2010 11:32am ET
My wife and I are on our way to Cuba in two weeks and staying at one of the all inclusive resorts in Varadero. We expect that to mean really bad wine. Anyone have a suggestion how or where to upgrade the wine experience in Cuba?
Jm Epstein
Los Angeles, CA —  March 14, 2010 12:28pm ET
Is it me, or is there something unseemly about even bringing up wine selections while visiting a place like Cuba, as if one has found some measure of civilization amidst the savagery.

James -- you're at a restaurant that will never be seen by 99.9% of Cubans, who wouldn't be able to afford ANY wine even if it was available for sale. It's like reviewing wines while visiting the restaurants near the Gulag.
Dave Kelly
Reisterstown, Md. USA —  March 14, 2010 12:52pm ET

Our experience with "all inclusive" has meant poor wine wherever we were. I'm sure there are some wineries and wine tours that excel at this, but this won't be the case with your trip. My wife and I always check to see how much wine the country we are visiting will allow to be brought into their country...then we take the max. Have fun.

James Suckling
 —  March 14, 2010 2:24pm ET
Marc. I am not a great fan of Michelle Satta Piastraia. The wines are disjointed and funky. Sorry for the bad news.
James Suckling
 —  March 14, 2010 2:25pm ET
Tony. I have stayed in a few inclusive hotels in Varadero. They usually have a wine list that you can pay extra for. It's not great but there are usually Torres and Sarda wines and perhaps Conche y Toro. So it's not a complete write off.
James Suckling
 —  March 14, 2010 2:32pm ET
Mr. Epstein. Have you been to Cuba? I would rather not get in a political debate about the island. But it is not the Gulag. About three million tourists visit the island per year now and 100,000 are Americans, who legally go there. Moreover, there are foreign businessmen, diplomats and a growing middle class in Cuba. All of them frequent restaurants like Lilliam. But there are only a handful of places like it in Havana and most Cubans can't afford to go there. I go to the island regularly and legally as a journalist for our sister publication Cigar Aficionado. I have to eat and drink somewhere.
Jm Epstein
Los Angeles, CA —  March 15, 2010 10:12pm ET
James -- thanks for your reply. I've been to neither Cuba nor the Gulag.

What is it like to report in such a place? Are you restricted as to where you can go and to whom you can speak? Is there always someone watching you? I can appreciate that this is an important place to Cigar Aficionado.
Jack Rood
America —  April 6, 2010 10:20pm ET
" savagery" eh? how ridiculous.

there's more savagery a mile off the 405 than you'll ever see in Cuba. Take a drive through Nickerson Gardens
Scott Webster
Mississauga, Ontario, Canada —  May 31, 2010 11:17pm ET

Why dont you update us on what you are drinking now, this one is a bit old! I always visit the site to read your reviews and i am always disappointed when i see the same review up for extended periods, Aside from that, You Rock!
Scott Webster
Mississauga, Ontario, Canada —  June 11, 2010 7:42pm ET

They are going to have to create a new section for you here called "What i was drinking 3 months ago"
Scott Webster
Mississauga, Ontario, Canada —  July 12, 2010 6:50am ET

Its official they now need to change the name of this section again to "What i was drinking 4 months ago" Lol I am curious what you are drinking and im sure many others are too!

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