Monthly Archives: July 2007

New Arrivals From Argentina

A few weeks ago I hosted a wine tasting at the California Shakespeare Festival that featured a few of our latest arrivals from Argentina. I poured a couple of red wines made from the Malbec grape and a white Torrontes. Judging from the pleasantly surprised responses (smiles, happy oohs and aahs, requests for seconds) many of you have yet to try the numerous new wines from Argentina. I only recently started buying Argentine and Chilean wine for our store, but I have been very pleased with the wines in general and am happy to continue my research in order to bring you the very best of the overwhelming array of brands and styles now finding their way to our shores.

At The Spanish Table in Berkeley I’m adding a new display rack and reorganizing a bit to make room for more wines from South America, so if you have not yet had an opportunity to experience these new red, white and rosado wines, now is your chance.

This week, in addition to our latest arrivals from Spain, we are featuring a handful of new arrivals from Argentina’s Finca Carlos Pulenta. The Tomero and Vistalba wines are excellent examples of contemporary Argentine wine making.

Food-wise, the center of a big Argentine meal is usually grilled meat in its many forms, though beef will certainly play a leading role. If a multi course meal comprised of steaks, chops, sausages and organ meats seems a bit too carnivorous for you, perhaps the following recipe adapted from Argentina Cooks! By Shirley Lomax Brooks ($24.95) will add balance to your meal:

Tomates Rellenos – Tuna and Vegetable Stuffed Tomatoes (serves 4)

4 large ripe tomatoes

2 large tins (12 ounces) Spanish Bonito del Norte Tuna

2 cups cooked vegetables, any combination of peas, carrots, green beans, corn kernels and lima beans

½ cup Delouis brand Aioli

Dash of Piri Piri pepper sauce

2 garlic cloves, minced

4 green onions chopped

2 teaspoons fresh parsley, cilantro or dill

Make the tomato shells by cutting the tops off tomatoes and carefully scooping out the pulp and seeds. Drain the tuna and mix with your choice of vegetables and the aioli. Stir in Piri Piri, garlic, onions and green herbs. Fill the tomato halves with the shrimp salad and chill briefly before serving.

Now, on to the wine!

Vinos Blancos:

Tomero Torrontes 2006 $15.99 Produced in the Cafayate Valley in the Northern Argentine province of Salta, this aromatic white wine will charm you with scents of orange blossom, crane melon and white peach. The rich aromas add depth to the dry, mineral background and bright apricot-like fruit character of the wine.

Lagar de Cervera 2006 $20.99 From the producers of La Rioja Alta red wines comes the newest vintage of this always excellent Albariño which is bold and ripe, with fine minerality, medium body, and loads of tropical fruit.

Aforado 2005 $11.99 In D.O. Rías Baixas, the Albariño grape is King, but in the O Rosal sub-zone (where Aforado comes from) other grapes such as Treixadura and Loureira also share center stage. The end result of all this blending is a white wine with more peach and pear aromas and flavors than the typical flinty, citrusy Albariño wines. At this price, Aforado makes an excellent choice for buying by the case.

Vinos Tintos:

Tomero Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 $16.99 In the Mendoza region of Argentina vineyards grow in the dessert climate thanks to a controlled system of irrigation channels. Tomero is the title given to the vineyard worker in charge of water distribution. Tomero Cabernet is a rich red wine produced from estate grown fruit from the Valle de Uco region within Mendoza. Dark Garnet color and black cherry aroma lead to dry tannins and black currant fruit character. The whole ensemble is balanced and well integrated which lends a certain elegance to the wine.

Tomero Malbec 2004 $16.99 The Malbec grapes for this wine are, like the Cabernet, sourced from estate vineyards in the Valle de Uco region. Steel tank fermentation (i.e. no oak) allows the bold fruit character of the wine to predominate. Spicy background notes add complexity. This youthful red is ripe, but not ‘over the top’ as some other Malbec wines can be.

Vistalba Corte-C 2004 $11.99 This blend of estate grown Malbec (85%) and Merlot (15%), grown in the Luján de Cuyo region of Mendoza is aged, in part, in oak barrels for 12 months prior to bottling, then the bottled wine is aged for another 6 months before sale. Dark plum color and spicy oak aroma adds depth to the plum-like fruit character. This ripe, smooth red wine will pair well with cookout fare as well as more elaborate meat-centric preparations.

Can Blau 2005 $17.99 We’re back in Spain now. This D.O. Montsant wine has been getting lots of positive feedback from customers. Josh Raynolds reviewed this blend of 50% Cariñena, 35% Syrah and 15% Garnacha wine for Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar and rated it 90 Points. His description matches mine, but his wording is better. He said: “Bright ruby. Focused, fresh and brisk on the nose, with energetic cherry and candied licorice aromas. Intense mineral notes add complexity and depth to the explosive blackberry and cherry fruit, with notes of candied violet and rose coming up on the back. Finishes with superb intensity and length. An excellent value, and built for cellaring.

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Filed under Argentina, Recipes, Red Wine, Spain, White Wine

Volunteer Tomatoes

One of the great joys of summer is a perfectly ripe tomato, served fresh from the garden, still warm from the sun.

In Berkeley gardeners are routinely disappointed by our inability to grow really good tomatoes. Our location due east of the mouth of San Francisco Bay allows a slender tongue of summer fog to snake through this gap in the coastal hills, blow across the Bay waters and blanket a swath of the East Bay in cool gray mist while the rest of the Bay to the north and south remains hot and sunny.

Typically gardeners in my neighborhood forego peppers, eggplant, tomatoes and other summer crops and console ourselves with fava beans and salad greens.

This year however, things are different. The unusually warm, dry weather has brought unanticipated change to my little garden. After re-grading a section of my back yard to improve drainage we temporarily piled the extra dirt in the front yard. Almost immediately, tomato sprouts appeared which by itself was not surprising as the spot we had dug up was where we used to keep the compost bin. The surprise came when, as the season progressed, the tomato seedlings actually thrived.

Having struggled and failed to grow tomatoes in the past I was initially skeptical, but once I saw that these volunteers were vigorously extending green leafy vines I was impressed. When they actually started flowering I rushed to the garden store and bought wire tomato cages to support this unanticipated growth.

At present the little pile of dirt is almost obscured by an unruly tangle of vines and furry green leaves. Rows of little green orbs are replacing the yellow flowers, and a few of these unripe fruits are starting to turn various shades of yellow, orange and red.

Amazing!

After years of disappointment it looks like this may be the summer that I actually harvest tomatoes from my garden.

So what do I do with this unexpected bounty? I’ll make a traditional snack from Catalunya called Pa Am Tomàquet, of course.

Coleman Andrews includes a version of this traditional preparation in his book Catalan Cuisine: Vivid Flavors From Spain’s Mediterranean Coast ($17.95).

Pa Am Tomàquet (Catalan Tomato Bread)

1-2 thick slices of country style French or Italian bread or sourdough bread (the better the bread, the better the final result).

1 small-medium sized fresh tomato at peak ripeness.

Mild extra virgin Olive Oil.

Salt.

2-4 anchovy fillets and/or 1-2 slices of Jamón Serrano.

Grill bread lightly. Slice tomato in half and rub cut side on bread to coat with tomato pulp and juice (discard tomato skin). Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt. Top with anchovy or Jamón and serve.

Pair this classic appetizer with a green salad and a glass of wine for a very satisfying lunch. What wine to serve here, you ask? Read on.

Vinos Rosados:

Muga Rosado 2006 $12.99 We’ve been waiting anxiously for this new vintage to arrive, and while we are happy to finally get a chance to enjoy one of the best rosado wines of the summer we know that it won’t last long due to its stellar reputation and high customer demand.

This pale salmon colored blend of Garnacha, Tempranillo and Viura makes a wonderful companion to lighter food as well as being supremely refreshing on a hot afternoon.

Vega Sindoa Rosado 2006 $9.99 The new vintage of this rosado from D.O. Navarra (the traditional home of Spanish rosado) is a blend of half Garnacha and half Cabernet Sauvignon. Ripe berry aromas and flavors give this wine a bit of extra depth and boldness, making it a perfect wine for paella or other summer meals

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Vinos Blancos:

Abad Dom Bueno Godello 2006 $16.99 D.O. Bierzo is known primarily as a red wine region, but this Bierzo region white wine is made from the local Godello grape that is more common in neighboring D.O. Valdeorras. This yellow gold colored wine is fermented in temperature controlled tanks that preserve all the fresh citrus and melon aromas that are typical of the Godello grape. Bright acidity adds to the refreshing quality that makes this such a perfect accompaniment to composed salads, pasta or poultry as well as a full range of seafood.

Broadbent Vinho Verde $10.99 An excellent example of top quality Vinho Verde. Composed of 50% Loureiro, 40% Trajadura and 10% Padernã it is light in color with lemon and grapefruit aromas. On the palate it offers more citrus as well as a bit of flinty minerality carried along by slight effervescence that makes the wine refreshing and easy to drink.

Soalheiro Vinho Verde 2006 $21.99 Typically, Vinho Verde is light, spritzy and simple non-vintage wine. These days, as people discover the joys of Vinho Verde we are seeing more and more higher priced wines from this region. Soalheiro is a vintage wine produced from the Alvarinho (Albariño in Spain = Alvarinho in Portugal) grape. Well known in Portugal as a top shelf Vinho Verde, this wine is just starting to find a market here in the USA. Flinty mineral background lays a foundation for light floral aroma and bright citrus fruit character. This finely detailed and multi-layered wine cries out for choriço and clams, salt cod and potatoes or other such traditional Portuguese fare.

Vinos Tintos:

Primi 2005 $9.99 One of our favorite wines to serve with paella has just arrived in the new 2005 vintage. This young un-aged Tempranillo from D.O.C. Rioja is juicy and bright. Ruby red color and fresh berry aroma form the basic picture with added complexity coming from the light grape skin tannins.

Cune Crianza 2004 $17.99 If you go to Rioja and walk into any small bar and request a glass of vino tinto, chances are you will be served this wine. This blend of Tempranillo, Garnacha and Mazuelo is aged for two years (12 months in American oak barrels and 12 months in the bottle) before sale. The new 2004 vintage shows dark garnet color with black cherry fruit character and balanced oaky tannins that combine to create a picture perfect example of crianza Rioja.

Sergio Traverso Malbec/Syrah 2004 $10.99 A new Argentine wine from Sergio Traverso is now available in the 2004 vintage. Dark color is the first clue that this is a big wine, and the rich aroma and flavor backs up the initial perception, but with a bit of exposure to oxygen the more subtle characteristics of this wine emerge. The final impression is of a robust, well made red for serving with grilled meat and vegetables.

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Filed under Argentina, Red Wine, rosado, Spain, Uncategorized, White Wine

Outdoor Entertainment

Among the many reasons to love living in the Bay Area are the numerous outdoor concerts, plays and other performances that reappear each year like seasonal fruits and vegetables when the weather gets warm.

Last night I was at the California Shakespeare Festival pouring samples of a few Argentine wines we carry. Several theater patrons commented on how the fragrant Sur de los Andes Torrontès white wine was a perfect match for the cool twilight hour before the performance.

This weekend I’ll be packing a picnic for an outing (on public transit, of course) to Stern Grove in San Francisco to see Os Mutantes (legendary Brazilian psychedelic band from the 60s) and Los Amigos Invisibles (unique and super-danceable Venezuelan jazz/funk). A dry, spritzy, low alcohol Portuguese Vinho Verde will surely be among my pic-i-nic basket goodies (‘Oh Yogi, this wine is dee-licious’).

The San Francisco Mime Troupe is celebrating their 48th season of free political theatre in the parks around the Bay Area (this weekend in Berkeley at Cedar Rose Park). Usually, as we wait for the show to start, I spread a blanket on the grass and open a bottle of Spanish rosado. The wine pairs beautifully with tuna stuffed piquillo peppers and other light fare (it’s a good match with progressive politics too).

Some of these events take a bit of advance planning and preparation. When you see that an event is ‘free admission’, as many are, you will always need to plan on arriving early and claiming a space for your group or be prepared to enjoy the performance from a distance (sometimes a very long distance). Bring food of course (including wine and extra water), but also a newspaper or magazine to read while you wait and an extra sweater or blanket for the always unpredictable Bay Area weather. Also, though these events are often free and open to the public, a cash donation of some sort helps insure that these cultural events continue to reappear in years to come (don’t worry about the where and the how…the volunteers with the collection buckets will find you).

These events only last until the start of the rainy season so it’s important to get out there and enjoy the cultural cornucopia while it lasts. Here are some trusty favorites as well as some new arrivals from The Spanish Table’s wine department to jump start your pre-show picnic plans.

Cerveza:

Jerome Cerveza Roja $6.99 (660ml)

Jerome Cerveza Negra $6.99 (660ml)

Just in time for the heat of summer comes this lineup of microbrewery ale from Argentina.

Named after the family German Sheppard (who’s profile is featured prominently on the label) Jerome Brewing Company is a pioneer in the production of small batch (and I mean really small, as in 5 barrels a day) Argentine ales. We currently carry the Roja, a bold, hoppy ale that reminds me of some of our local bay Area brews, as well as the Negra, a dark and creamy version of a british stout.

Blanco:

Avinyó Vi D’Agulla 2006 $12.99 The Avinyó Cava that we carry (the traditional Brut Reserva As well as the new Brut Rosado) is always top notch. This small winery also produces a traditional summer wine called Vi D’Agulla (translates literally as ‘needle wine’). This lightly effervescent white wine made from Petit Grain Muscat is floral and aromatic like a Moscatel, but only gently sweet. The light bubbles lift the scent and give the wine a lively, fresh character. The prickly effervescence is what gives the wine its name. Serve Vi D’Agulla as a welcoming cocktail to your dinner guests and watch the smiles spread with each sip.

Barbadillo Palomino Fino 2006 $6.99 It’s back! The most popular white wine in Spain has returned in the new vintage. Made from the local Palomino Fino grapes, blended with a bit of Viura so I’m told, this young white wine from Cadiz in the south of Spain is refreshingly simple and bright. Add some melon and citrus and you have the makings of an excellent Sangria blanco.

Sur de los Andes Torrontés 2006 $11.99 For an Argentine version of Sangria blanco, try using this ripe, Viognier-like white wine from Mendoza. Rich, floral aromatics and peachy fruit character call out for some stone fruit and sparkling tonic water.

Granbazan Ambar 2005 $21.99 This excellent top shelf Albariño displays a flinty mineral foundation underlying bright citrus fruit and slightly oxidized complexity. Very popular in Spain, but almost unheard of in the USA.

Rosado:

Artazuri Rosado 2006 $12.99 The newly arrived 2006 vintage of this dry rosado is made from 100% Garnacha grapes grown in the high altitude vineyards of D.O. Navarra, the traditional home of Spanish rosado. This perennial customer favorite displays gentle fresh berry scent along with a bright citrus fruit character. The finely detailed aromas and flavors blend effortlessly in this excellent summertime wine.

Tinto:

Arbanta 2005 $10.99 An excellent young Rioja produced from Organic fruit. Recently rated 89 Points by The Wine Advocate, Jay Miller reviewed the wine, saying “The 2005 Biurko Gorri Arbanta offers superb value, among the best in my Spanish tastings. It is 100% Tempranillo, tank fermented and aged. Medium ruby in color, it exhibits remarkable aromatic complexity for its price point with cherries, red currants, and spice in evidence. The wine is elegant, balanced, and fruity right through the lengthy finish. Drink it over the next 1-3 years.

Torremayor Crianza 2004 $12.99 Viña Santa Marina is an innovative winery located in the far flung Extremadura region in western Spain. They make a popular wine called Gargola as well as this barrel aged crianza wine made from 100% Tempranillo. Bright cherry-like fruit with firm but well-integrated tannins. An excellent value.

Peique Mencía 2006 $13.99 One of my favorite young Mencía grape wines from D.O. Bierzo has just arrived in the new 2006 vintage. Vibrant fresh cherry fruit character encounters dry oak leaf aroma and flinty background mineral aroma and flavor. Perfect for summer cookouts in the back yard or wherever you may be.

Collectors wines:

Hacienda Monasterio 2003 $42.99 Peter Sisseck of Pingus fame makes this dark colored and deeply flavorful D.O. Ribera del Duero wine. It is a perennial favorite that we receive limited quantities of once a year. Steven Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar gave this wine 92 points, saying “Deep ruby. Explosive, sexy aromas of cherry, plum, incense, freshly ground coffee and succulent herbs. Focused and deep, with red and dark berry flavors complicated by candied violet, smoky bacon and cracked pepper. A ripe, weighty wine with a dense, chewy texture and compelling freshness, especially for the year. Finishes with a note of sweet cherry preserves, fine tannins and excellent length.”

Hacienda Monasterio Reserva 2001 $72.00 The Hacienda Monasterio Reserva from the phenomenal 2001 vintage has just arrived. Using the same carefully selected fruit as the younger crianza wine, this Reserva sees longer barrel maturation to smooth out the tannins and bring out the dark berry fruit character. This very special wine is very limited in availability. We have one 12 bottle case to share with you, so act soon if you want some for your cellar.

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Filed under Argentina, beer, Red Wine, rosado, Spain, Uncategorized, White Wine