Monthly Archives: September 2007

Embrace Tradition

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.

Tortilla Española

(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.

Vino Rosado:

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.

Vino Blanco:

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.

Vino Tinto:

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.

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Filed under Fortified Wine, Recipes, rosado, Spain, White Wine

Cooking in Clay

I am excited about a new class that I’m doing in October at Kitchen On Fire. The class is called Clay Pot Cookery and, as the name implies, is all about using the wonderful terracotta cookware from The Spanish Table to create hearty and rustic traditional Spanish meals at home.

Here are the details from the Kitchen On Fire website:

In this class, Kevin Hogan from The Spanish Table will share his passion for terracotta cookware as he prepares his version of several classic Spanish recipes for the class to enjoy.

All of the food for this class, from quick cooked appetizers to slow braised stews and even dessert, will be prepared using Spanish clay cookware. Cooking in clay is an ancient way to transform simple ingredients into delicious meals. In Spain, the earthenware cazuela is the required vessel necessary to prepare any number of traditional recipes. Recipes for this class will include:

Gambas al Ajillo (sautéed shrimp in olive oil with garlic and chilies)

Setas Al Fino (sautéed mushrooms with Fino Sherry)

Carcamusa Toledana (Toledo style braised pork and potato stew in tomato sauce)

Arroz con cosas (baked rice with assorted vegetables)

Buttermilk flan (Kevin’s own recipe)

Now that I have decided on the menu, I’m busy deciding which wines to serve with the meal. I plan to serve 5 different selections that are appropriate to the dishes we will be eating.

If you are interested in attending this demonstration dinner (due to the slow cooked nature of some of the dishes this is not going to be a hands-on class), please sign up on the Kitchen on Fire website. Their address is:

https://www.kitchenonfire.com//course_class.php?class=348

The class is limited to 30 guests so sign up soon to reserve your spot.

Meanwhile, back in the wine department, we have some excellent new selections in our ‘house wine’ department. For those of you who are not yet familiar with our ‘house wine’ selections, here’s how it works: We carry a selection of traditionally styled wines (red, white, rosé) that taste like what you would be served in a little Spanish or Portuguese bar. We sell all of these wines at a special price of $6.99 per bottle and we give even deeper discounts ($5.99 per bottle) on mix-and-match 12 bottle purchases. This allows you to buy a case of wines for $71.88 (+ tax) that you can have around the house for whenever the need arises. Our newest arrivals in the ‘house wine’ department are:

Alandra Tinto $6.99 From the makers of Esporão in the Alentejo region of Portugal comes this youthful, rich, fruit-filled red wine made from Moreto and Periquita grapes. This bright and spicy non-vintage red will compliment a wide variety of meals.

Primavera Bairrada Reserva 2003 $6.99 This earthy blend of 60% Baga, 30% Tinta Roriz and 10% Castelão is perfect for hearty meals. This Portuguese wine displays brick red color and smoky aroma with dried cherry fruit character and tannic foundation. Mature reserva wines don’t make it into the ‘house wine’ section very often so take advantage of this excellent value in red wine while it lasts.

Lavradores de Feitoria Douro Tinto $6.99 The Douro region in Portugal is also the area where Port wine is produced. Forward thinking winemakers have re-purposed the grapes of this region for table wine production. This young red is a blend of wine from 13 different producers across the Douro region. Youthful color and aroma blend with dark berry fruit character and background minerality. Excellent quality from an interesting winery.

We also have some exciting new wines from all over:

Vino Blanco:

Follies Branco 2005 $10.99 This medium bodied, Portuguese blend of Chardonnay and Maria Gomes displays lush melon-like fruit character and gentle acidity. Steel tank fermentation (no oak) maintains a fresh, ripe aspect that is particularly delicious when paired with creamy soft ripened cheeses.

Luis Pato Maria Gomes 2006 $11.99 Luis Pato is one of Portugal’s most celebrated winemakers. This wine, made from the local Maria Gomes grape is bright and refreshing. Aromas of white peach and fresh melon accent a grapefruity foundation. Amazing purity in this unique white wine.

Blanco Nieva Verdejo 2006 $14.99 The new vintage of this perennial crowd pleaser has just arrived. Grapefruit and flint come to mind as descriptors here. Additional quince-like fruit character and a bit of residual effervescence are most noticeable while the wine is very young.

Vino Tinto:

Terra Buena Malbec 2003 $10.99

Terra Buena Tempranillo 2004 $10.99

I wrote about the Terra Buena wines in last week’s newsletter, but foolishly omitted the descriptions of the two red wines. Briefly, these wines are made in Argentina by the good folks up at Laurel Glen winery in Sonoma County. After fermentation the wines are put on ships and transported in bulk to California where they are aged and bottled. The reds both display dark color and ripe berry aromas. The Malbec is the bolder of the two and shows impressive concentration and richness. The Tempranillo is spicy and lively with bright cherry-like fruit character. Both of these wines would be perfectly paired with spicy tomato sauced pasta or harissa marinated lamb kabobs.

Chévere 2004 $10.99 Not only has Paul Campbell at Laurel Glen been making wine in Argentina, he has also crafted a Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon which, like the Terra Buena wines, undergo primary fermentation in their native countries with barrel ageing and bottling taking place in Graton, California. The novelty factor is high here with the image of Che Guevara on the label but the wine inside is quite tasty. Youthful dark berry aroma encounters nicely structured tannins in this hearty, full-bodied red wine. The back label states that “A portion of the proceeds from this sale will be donated to the Lambi Fund of Haiti, a community-based NGO that promotes democracy and economic justice in Haiti. Drink up, America!

Les Terrasses 2005 $36.99 We blew through the 2004 vintage in record time, so we’re happy to see the new 2005 Les Terrasses. This wine is consistently one of our best D.O.C. Priorat wines in the under $50 category. Alvaro Palacios, Priorat’s most celebrated winemaker is best known for his rare and very expensive L’Ermita, but thankfully he also makes Les Terrasses for those of us on more modest budgets. 30% Garnacha, 60% Cariñena, and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Dark garnet color, opulent cherry brandy aroma, rich silky dark berry fruit character and seamlessly integrated oak tannins. Delicious now. Even better with a few years of cellar time.

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Filed under Argentina, Chile, Portugal, Red Wine, Spain, White Wine

Vintage Change Is Good

One of the many fun parts of being the ‘wine guy’ is finding new, exciting wines made by little known producers in far flung regions. Another rewarding part of the job is watching wines change from vintage to vintage. This week we have some excellent wines that showcase both the new and the re-new.

Our little corner of the wine world (Spain, Portugal, Argentina, Chile) is in a state of dramatic expansion with new wineries opening and feeding fresh products into the market. Once these new ventures are up and running, the true test of their long term prospects is how well they can maintain quality from vintage to vintage.

We are happy to report that several of our favorite wines from last year are back again in fine form, demonstrating that high quality wines are now made all across Spain. Both the Jaun Gil (old vine Monastrell from D.O. Jumilla, in hot, arid Southeastern Spain) and the Pétalos (Mencía grapes from D.O. Bierzo, in cool, green northwestern Spain) are available in their new vintages. Neither of these wines existed 10 years ago. They are very different stylistically, but both have been become very popular with both the staff and the customers of The Spanish Table.

For new-new wines this week we have a couple of whites that satisfy even the most jaded of been-there-tasted-that palates. The Montebaco Verdejo is a new wine from a winery normally associated with hearty red wines and our latest Basque white is from the lesser known D.O. Bizkaiko Txakolina region that surrounds Bilbao. Neither of these wines are well known but if you have a taste for distinctive and the finely crafted whites, both of these wines deserves your attention.

Finally, in the newer-than-new category we bring you a unique and novel concept in wine production. Patrick Campbell from Laurel Glen winery in Sonoma County has for years traveled to Argentina seeking excellent vineyards. Now that he has found the right fruit, he makes several single varietal wines in Argentina which, after primary fermentation, are loaded in bulk onto ships and transported to the Laurel Glen winery in Graton California for barrel ageing and bottling. The end result is the Terra Buena line of wines which include a Malbec, a Tempranillo, a Chardonnay and a Torrontes. These youthful, fresh, abundantly flavored wines are well priced and eco-friendly too (no shipping of heavy glass bottles).

You can check out the details on each wine below, but meanwhile, here’s a quick recipe for a wine friendly snack, adapted from the inspirational Tapas: A Taste of Spain in America by celebrated chef José Andrés. He made these for a demonstration in our store back when the cookbook first came out. We’ve been making them ever since.

Green Olives filled with Piquillo Peppers and Anchovy

1 jar Ybarra pitted Gordal Olives

1 jar Matiz organic Piquillo Peppers

1 jar Ortiz skin-on Anchovy fillets in Olive Oil

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Toothpicks

Cut through one side of each pitted olive so that it resembles an open clam shell. Slice the peppers and the anchovy fillets into long thin strips. Wedge one strip each of pepper and anchovy into the cut side of an olive so that the strips poke out each end of the olive and clamp shut with a toothpick. Repeat this process until you have a plate full these little one-bite tapas. Drizzle with Olive oil and serve.

Vino Blanco:

Terra Buena Torrontes 2006 $10.99 Floral aroma and rich texture characterize this Argentine white wine. Abundant pear and melon fruit character with enough acidity to give the whole ensemble an unexpected lightness. A delicious bargain.

Gurrutxaga Txakoli 2006 $15.99 Our latest Basque Txakoli wine comes from the Bizkaiko Txakolina region located a bit inland from the Cantabrian coast. The firm flinty minerality of a coastal Getariako Txakolina wine is moderated here and replaced by a more pronounced yet still gentle fruitiness with notes of melon and grapefruit.

Montebaco Verdejo 2006 $17.99 Montebaco is best known as a producer of top notch Ribera del Duero red wines (see below). This is their first white wine, made in D.O. Rueda from the Verdejo grape. A lively mouthful of finely tuned quince and quinine flavors makes this an instant crowd pleaser. Josh Raynolds reviewed this wine for Steven Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar. He rated it 89 Points and said: “Pale yellow. High-pitched citrus and pear aromas are impressively vivid and expansive. Crisp lemon-lime and orchard fruit flavors display an intriguing blend of depth and energy, picking up a zesty white pepper quality with air. Finishes clean and brisk, with very good length.”

Pétalos 2006 $23.99 The 2001 vintage of Pétalos was a profound experience for me. I’d never previously tried any Mencía grape wines from D.O. Bierzo but this wine won me over instantly with its combination of poise and power. Loamy dried leaf aroma and berry-like fruit with deep, dark garnet color. Subsequent vintages have reaffirmed my appreciation of this grape/region/producer. The 2005 was opulent and assertive. The new 2006 shows more elegance and precision.

Juan Gil 2005 $17.99 The biggest success story of the last year has certainly been the huge upwelling of interest in the wines of D.O. Jumilla. The dark, ripe Monastrell grape has become extremely popular among appreciators of dark, full-bodied red wines. The 2004 Juan Gil sold out in a matter of months. The new 2005 vintage delivers more of this same abundant, spicy, rich fruit character with foundational minerality.

Montebaco Crianza 2004 $23.99 We have previously carried the Semele crianza from this winery. Montebaco crianza is a fuller, more concentrated wine than the lower priced Semele. Traditional Ribera del Duero style is much in evidence here, with earthy tannins, bold black cherry fruit character along with spicy oak in the mix. Jay Miller reviewed the wine for The Wine Advocate. He rated the wine at 90 Points, saying: “The 2004 Montebaco is 100% Tempranillo aged for 15 months in French and American oak, about one-third new. The color is a glass-coating opaque purple and is followed by intense aromas reminiscent of vintage port. In the mouth the wine is super-ripe with oodles of sweet, tightly wound black fruits, a firm structure and good acidity, all of which are in harmony. Give this full-bodied, tasty wine 3-4 years of additional cellaring and drink it for 10-12 years thereafter.

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Filed under Recipes, Red Wine, Spain, White Wine