Within the castle gates of Torre Loizaga, a reconstructed 14th century fortress on a mountain top in Concejuelo de Galdames, Biscay in the Basque Country, Spain, the light of the setting sun has washed the stones with hues of pink and lavender.
There’s talk about treasure as Patricio Careaga leads us into the baronial sized dining hall which seems perfect in this castle setting of crystal chandeliers, thick stone walls, walls torches, and an immense fireplace. Will it be a chest of precious jewels or gold chalices fit for royalty? But Careaga, whose great uncle Miguel de la Vie, reimagined Concejuelo Castle as a family home and museum decades ago, is talking about a different type of treasure–the barnacle encrusted bottles of wine sitting on the tables. And no, the barnacles aren’t just for decoration. It seems we’ve come to a mountain top to sip wine from beneath the sea.
“Crusoe’s Treasure is the world’s first underwater winery,” Anna Riera, a marine biologist and Communication and Tourism Manager at Bodega Crusoe Treasure, tells me as we sip their Sea Soul Nº4, a Syrah that was aged first on land in French barrels and then undersea.
In business since 2013 and located on the Bay of Plentzia, a gorgeous stretch of coastline and water about 15 miles north of Bilbao, Crusoe Treasure ages their wines on land for months before lowering the bottles into a specially designed artificial reef—an aquarium like wine cellar—where they’ll continue to age. It sounds like a lot of work, but Riera tells me the cellar is a rich eco-system of marine life, describing it as “a house for flora and fauna in which the wines flourish.”
If you want to get to know the lay of the sea so to speak, there’s a three-hour boat tour aboard the Crusoe Treasure ship that includes tastings, a trip to the underwater winery (no need to bring your diving gear—you’re not going into the winery just cruising above it) and along the coast.
Using grapes grown in Spain such as Grenache, Viognier, Tempranillo, Tinto Fino and Matuiana, underwater wine making is an expensive process, costing 25 to 70% more than “terrestrial” according to Riera. But overall, the time, hassle and cost are outweighed by the positives–the underwater pressure movement of the tides, lack of light and consistent temperatures—all of which create a perfect aging aquaoir, speeding the fermentation process and adding complexity to the taste.
After all, Riera points out, wine recovered from 19th century shipwrecks have proven to be very drinkable.
Since Torre Loizaga is located in the Basque Region of Spain, we turned to Spanish chef José Pizarro, often described as “the Godfather of Spanish cooking, who has authored several cookbooks including Basque: Spanish Recipes from San Sebastian & Beyond (Hardie Grant 2021), to complete the Basque Country experience.
Swiss Chard Stew with Pimentón
- 1 large onion finely chopped
- 2-3 garlic cloves finely chopped
- 1 red capsicum pepper, deseeded and sliced into thin ribbons
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 3 cups potatoes, peeled and sliced into discs
- 1 bunch of Swiss chard washed with the stalks chopped and leaves shredded
- 3 cups vegetable stock
- 1.5 cooked lentils rinsed and drained
- sea salt and pepper
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
In a large pot, heat olive oil and gently fry the onion until soft, around 8 minutes.
Add the garlic and cook for another 2 minutes.
Add the capsicum (pepper) and the paprika and fry for a few minutes.
Add the potatoes, Swiss chard stalks and stock and season with salt and pepper.
Bring the stock to a simmer and cook for around 20 minutes.
Add the lentils and Swiss chard leaves and cook for another five minutes or until the stew is lovely and thick.
Serve with crusty bread.
Torre Loizaga was one of the stops we took when traveling through Northern Spain aboard the Costa Verde Express, formerly known as the Transcantábrico Classico. The oldest luxury tourist train in Spain, the Costa Verde Express travels from Bilbao along the coast through Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias to the magical city of Santiago de Compostela.