Part of the fun of shopping at The Spanish Table is discovering new wines from little known regions and remote corners of Spain, Portugal, Argentina and Chile. As much as we all love trying new things, sometimes a return to the traditional styles/regions/products that first excited our interest in all things Iberian is a good way to recalibrate our palates and remind ourselves of the origins of all this newness.
This week we are featuring some of the most traditional wines of Spain.
Bodegas Lopez de Heredia is widely acknowledged as the most traditional, the ultra-orthodox, the oldest of old-school wineries in all of Rioja. They make wines as they have done for over 100 years. Only traditional Rioja varietals are used and these grapes are blended in proportions that remain unchanged over time. Modern, temperature controlled stainless steel fermentation tanks are nowhere to be seen in the Lopez de Heredia winery. Instead, they make all their wines in large oak casks that are built and maintained by a staff of expert coopers (not too many of those around any more). The wines are built for long term storage and, as you will see from the vintage dates, are released only after many years of barrel and bottle ageing. The ‘new’ vintages we received this week are from 1996, 1997 and 1998.
This week we are also featuring an Oloroso Sherry that got written up in the San Francisco Chronicle last week, inspiring a reawakening of interest for this most traditional of Spanish wines. Additionally, we just received some new vintages of wines that build on a foundation of historic traditional while expressing a breadth of aroma and flavor that are rejuvenating wine regions which for years have lain dormant and neglected.
So take a step back from your interest in all things new (don’t worry, there’s plenty of new stuff on the way soon) and reacquaint yourself with the classic flavors of Spanish wine, and while you are at it, try (or retry) this version of one of Spain’s most iconic recipes.
(serves 6-8 as a first course)
1 lb. Potatoes ( I like Yukon gold or russet, but use what you have as long as they aren’t red or white skinned ‘jacket’ potatoes)
8 large eggs (if you can get ‘pastured’ eggs, they work best and are distinctly more flavorful. Look for them from Kaki Farms at the Berkeley farmer’s market)
2 tablespoons cold water
2 cups extra virgin Olive Oil (sounds like a lot, but you don’t consume it all)
1 tablespoon sea salt
Peel and slice the potatoes in 1/8 inch rounds. (a mandolin slicer works well for this, just be careful with this very sharp tool). Place potato slices in a bowl of water for 5 minutes to rinse off the starch and then dry them on a kitchen towel.
Heat olive oil in an 8” nonstick sauté pan or clay cazuela. Add potatoes as the oil is heating and simmerover low heat for around 20 minutes until the potatoes are cooked and starting to fall apart (try not to brown them). Remove cooked potatoes from the oil and drain in a colander.
Crack the eggs into a large mixing bowl and whisk with the water and salt until smooth and uniform.
When the potatoes are barely warm to the touch, add them to the eggs and let the mixture rest for ten minutes.
Pour off all but ½ cup of olive oil from the sauté pan (you can save the leftover oil for another tortilla). Heat the pan until the oil shimmers but does not smoke. Add the potato/egg mixture to the hot oil and stir the contents of the pan with a spatula until the eggs are about half way set. Turn the heat down to low and continue cooking without stirring until the eggs are mostly set and firm. The goal here is to cook the eggs without browning them. If the finished product is pale yellow with just a hint of browning and cooked through but still moist, then you are an official tortilla expert.
Find a plate that fits snuggly over your pan or cazuela (a flat pan lid works well too). Invert the plate on top of the pan and with one hand on the pan and the other hand on the plate (here comes the tricky part) flip the pan over in one smooth motion. Hopefully, the entire tortilla is now resting on the plate. Put the pan back on the heat and add a few tablespoons of the leftover oil before sliding the inverted tortilla back into the pan, cooked side up. Turn the heat to low and let the tortilla finish cooking on the second side. Once it is firm to the touch, slide it out onto a serving plate, slice into wedges (or little squares for a traditional look) and serve with some dressed salad greens and a crisp white wine.
Viña Tondonia Rosado 1997 $26.99 The latest vintage of this truly unique rosado is created (as it always has been) from a blend of Tempranillo, Garnacha and white Viura. Unlike almost all other rosado wines, this one is aged for 4 years in oak before bottling and aged for several more years in the bottle before release. Oxidized sherry-like aromas of toasted almonds and fresh hay. Distinct yet well integrated barrel tannins add complexity to the surprisingly fresh berry-like fruit character.
Viña Gravonia 1996 $26.99 Composed of 100% Viura, aged for 2 years in oak and 8 years in the bottle. I love the sesame seed aroma and flavor that I get from this wine. It mixes well with the assertive acidity and complex yet mellow fruit character. Josh Raynolds reviewed this wine for Steven Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar. He rated this wine at 90 Points, saying: “Yellow-gold. Musky, mineral-accented peach, yellow plum and honey aromas, with a suave vanillin nuance adding complexity. Plush and deep in pit fruit and ripe melon flavors, with a gentle acid lift adding focus. Slow-mounting citrus notes provide refreshment on the finish but this has serious heft and needs to be served with food. There’s a lot going on here.”
Nosis Verdejo 2006 $18.99 It was not so long ago that Verdejo wines from D.O. Rueda were astringent, over oxidized and musty. Changes in production methods have helped create wines of great character that exhibit fresh fruit aromas and flavors along with bright and food-friendly acidity. Nosis is one of the best of these modern Rueda region wines. The new 2006 vintage is exemplary.
Viña Tondonia Reserva 1998 $40.99 This deeply structured red wine is made from a traditional blend of 75% Tempranillo, 15% Garnacha, 5% Graciano and 5% Mazuelo, aged for 5 years in oak before bottling without filtration. With a few more years of bottle age (or after decanting for a few hours) this wine will reveal a core of dark cherry-like fruit that compliments the firmly tannic barrel character. Josh Raynolds also reviewed this wine for Steven Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar. In October of 2006 he rated this wine at 93 Points, saying: “Dark red. Penetrating, complex bouquet of red berries, cherry skin, minerals, dried rose, tobacco , cured meat and baking spices. Youthfully taut, but opens slowly to show de ep cherry and plum flavors with suggestions of succulent herbs and graphite. This medium-bodied wine broadens on the back, the intensely flavored fruit softening and sweetening. A remarkably elegant, balanced and complex wine that’s still very young : I’d give it at least another five years of bottle aging.”
Embruix 2004 $37.99 In the ancient but recently rejuvenated Priorat region, the musician Luis Llach is commonly referred to as the ‘Catalan Bob Dylan’. He is also a well known and respected winemaker. Embruix is his younger wine (the flagship wine is called Vall Llach) made from a blend of old vine Garnacha and Cariñena with additions of younger Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Nearly opaque garnet in color with rich brandied cherry aroma and fruit character. This smooth, elegant wine is an excellent example of the local style at a very reasonable price relative to some of its neighbors.
Vino de Solera:
Dios Baco Oloroso 18.99 Few wines from Spain are more traditional than the Jerez wines from Andalucía. Lately, our best selling Oloroso Sherry (Sherry = Jerez) has been getting some good press. Last week, Jon Bonné from the San Francisco Chronicle wrote about this wine for the In Our Glasses section saying: “Whoever said that sherry was wine for grandmothers should be gagged. Oloroso sherries get more air contact and fortification than finos, and this dazzling example from one of Jerez’s smaller producers mixes deep caramel with baked apple and mineral notes. A sweet hint from added Moscatel wine offsets the trademark tang. Its balance and versatility match it to everything from Chinese takeout to fruit tarts.”