Monthly Archives: November 2007

Holiday Wines, Version 1.2.1

This week finds us in a brief lull, an intermission if you will, in the holiday frenzy.

With Thanksgiving all finished except for the leftovers, everyone takes a quick breather before heading into the whirlwind of holiday office parties, extravagant meals, traveling to see family and/or having family travel to see (and stay) with you.  In this brief in-between period (just barely a week) I want to share some newly arrived wines with you that will ease you into the rest of the holiday season in style, as well as leaving you with plenty of funds for gifts, decorations and other seasonal accoutrements.

Here in the Berkeley store we have been having fun trying out the recipes in the classic Spanish cookbook 1080 Recetas de Cocina by Simone and Inès Ortega, newly translated into English and available now in a big hardbound edition for $39.95. Last night while out at Bar César for an after dinner drink, I saw that Chef Maggie Ponds is also celebrating the arrival of this most popular of Spanish cookbooks by including one dish from the book in her ever changing menu. Her version of Dried Plums Stuffed with Blue Cheese and Pine Nuts was a deceptively simple small plate with five bite sized mouthfuls of the most explosive flavor imaginable. I had to look it up in the book so I could try and recreate this knock-you-back-in-your-chair appetizer. It is really quite simple but the combination of ingredients is a complex and vivid mixture of flavors, aromas and textures.

 

Prunes stuffed with Valdeón cheese and pine nuts.

(adapted from 1080 Recipes by Simone and Inès Ortega)

Serves 4

 

¼ lb. Valdeón cheese (or other aged blue cheese)

12 pine nuts

12 raisins

1 tablespoon sweet Moscatel wine

¼ cup cream

12 pitted prunes

In a mixing bowl, mash blue cheese with a fork and mix with cream and sweet sherry. Roughly chop pine nuts and raisins and add to cheese mixture. Stir to combine everything. Fill each prune with a small spoonful of the cheese mixture and seal with a toothpick. Allow 45 minutes for the flavors to blend before serving alongside small glasses of the same wine used in the recipe.

 

Siete 2005 $12.99 A blend of 80% Garnacha and 20% Tempranillo made in the historic wine town of Olite in the Navarra region of Northern Spain. Organic fruit from old vine vineyards (+/- 25 years) is fermented in tank and aged on the lees for two months before bottling. Dark ruby color and youthful berry-like aroma create the first impression. Bright acidity gives lift to fresh cherry fruit character, resolving in a savory finish with light grape skin tannins. Serve this wine with another traditional Navarra specialty, the Piquillo pepper, served in any of a dozen ways (cold, hot, sliced, stewed, stuffed, you name it).

 

Navarro Lopez Old Vines Crianza $13.99 In the Valdepeñas region of southern Spain (a region with many centuries of wine making tradition) Bodegas Navarro Lopez crafts a range of wines from the local Cencibel (Tempranillo by another name) grape. This wine is made from old vine fruit and aged for 6 months in oak (mostly American) before bottling. Bright fruit character and toasty oak mix to create a lively red wine that will compliment meals based on traditional Spanish flavors

 

Navarro Lopez Old Vines Reserva $18.99 The Reserva version of this traditional red wine from the Valdepeñas region in southern Spain is composed of 100% Tempranillo fruit (known in this region as Cencibel) from 30 year old vines. After fermentation the wine is aged in oak barrels for 12 months before bottling. The end result is a wine with dark, mature fruit character, smooth, well integrated barrel tannins and a hint of traditional earthy background flavor and aroma.

 

Familigia Bianchi Malbec 2006 $15.99 Three successive generations of the Bianchi family have been making wine in the San Rafael region of Mendoza in Argentina. This wine uses some of their best quality Malbec fruit sourced from one of the family estate vineyards. After fermentation this wine is aged in oak for 10 months before bottling. This dark, abundant wine is rich with toasty oak aromas and dark berry fruit character.

 

Elsa Malbec 2006 $9.99 Bodegas Valentín Bianchi, one of the oldest wineries in Argentina, was started in the 1930s by Italian immigrants and is now one of the most well known and popular wine brands in Argentina. They craft this wine from a single vineyard of Malbec grapes named after Elsa Bianchi, the family matriarch. This young wine is full of ripe aromas and flavors of cherry and plum.

 

Casta Diva Cosecha Miel 2006 $28.99 It’s the time of year when a little late harvest sweet wine is particularly appealing. The new vintage of the celebrated Casta Diva is a lush Moscatel from the Alicante region on the Mediterranean coast. This bright gold colored wine is redolent of honey and tangerines. The rich Sauterne-like complexity of Casta Diva works with everything from fois gras to lemon tart.

 

Ochoa Moscatel 2006 $23.99 In the Navarra region of Northern Spain (home to a wide range of grape varieties), Moscatel grapes are left on the vine to fully ripen before they are harvested for this sweet (but not too sweet) dessert wine. Serve it with a pear tart on a crisp fall afternoon. Ethereal.

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

Holiday Wines, Version 1.2, The Thanksgiving edition

We are very excited to announce the arrival, just in time for Thanksgiving, of some spectacular new wines from the tiny Ribeira Sacra region in northwestern Spain.

De Maison Selections, the same intrepid importers who bring in many of our favorite Basque Txakoli wines, have been very successful at finding lesser known Spanish regions that produce unique and delicious wines. Andre Tamers, the President of De Maison Selections has this to say about their newest project.

One of the most stunning landscapes in Spain is located in the heart of Galicia in an area known as the Ribeira Sacra (Sacred Banks). Driving on the N-120 between Vilafranca del Bierzo and Orense you follow the river Sil as it cuts through gorgeous canyons terraced with vineyards.

D. Ventura is a new project by Ramon Losada and his family utilizing old family holdings in this ancient wine growing region. Ever since the Romans inhabited the area, people have been growing grapes on the steep terraces bordering these two rivers.

Working these lands is extremely difficult as the terraces in some areas are so steep that all the grapes have to be brought in on a hoist.

In addition to an organic approach to farming, winemaking has also changed. Only indigenous yeast is used to start fermentation. None of the wines are filtered or cold stabilized. Lastly, the maturation of the grapes is watched carefully to insure that the grapes are fully mature when harvested.

There are currently three vineyard sites. Two border the River Sil and one borders the Miño River. Caneiro in particular is unique. Steep terraces line the river, which adds a sweet freshness to this plot, cooling it during the heat of the day. Pena do Lobo is also on the Sil but the vineyard is less steep and is slightly further away from the river. Viña do Burato is in a totally different area north of the other two on the Miño River. Here the landscape is lush. Streams flow directly through the vineyard on the way down to the river Miño. The soils here are more fertile and alluvial. All three of these plots have unique climates that create distinct wines.

I am particularly happy to receive these wines right now because they are, I feel, particularly appropriate for Thanksgiving. These are medium bodied wines with no oaky overtones to mask the vibrant fruit character and the fine minerality of these low alcohol (12.5%, also a good thing this time of year!) wines. Any of them would be a perfect match with turkey, dressing and the rest of a traditional Thanksgiving meal.

Additionally, we also have some white, rosado and sparkling wines that have been well received in past years and are back again to add a bit of lively Spanish character to your Thanksgiving table.

 

Avinyo Vi D’Agulla 2006 $12.99 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.

 

Reymos Espumoso de Moscatel $11.99 Sweet sparkling wine from D.O. Valencia. Rich Muscat grape scent, honeydew melon fruit character and light but persistent bubbles. A mere 7.5% alcohol makes this the perfect end-of-meal wine. Serve alongside a slice of your favorite pumpkin pie.

 

Valduero Rosado 2006 $14.99 If you can’t choose between serving red or white, here is your solution. This unique rosado is made in the Ribera del Duero region from Tempranillo grapes. This dark, spicy rosado will compliment rich, sauced dishes such as salmon in a pastry crust or turkey and gravy.

 

Odysseus Rosado 2006 $23.99 Composed primarily of the same Garnacha grapes that go into the Odysseus Tinto, plus smaller amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cariñena and Touriga Nacional (a traditional Portuguese variety), the 2006 is the darkest and ripest Odysseus Rosado so far. Fresh berry fruit character is rich and mouth-filling, balanced by moderate acidity. Not a light back porch rosado, this wine calls out for candied yams, cranberry sauce and creamed pearl onions.

 

D. Ventura Viña do Burato 2006 $16.99 Composed of 100% old vine Mencía from D. Ventura’s Minho River property, this light red is fresh and youthful with the dried leaf aroma that is typical of Mencía. This is the leanest of the D. Ventura wines.  This unoaked red will compliment fresh vegetables, poultry, rice and pasta.

 

D. Ventura Peña do Lobo 2006 $19.99 This wine, from one of the two the Sil River vineyards is 100% Mencía from vines that are over 80 years old. This dark ruby colored wine is ripe with lush fruit character balancing flinty background minerality. I will be pouring this with my Thanksgiving dinner.

 

D. Ventura Viña Caneiro 2006 $24.99  The boldest of the D. Ventura wines, this exclusive bottling sourced from small plots of old vine Mencía grown on the steep slopes of the Sil River Valley is opulent and silky while still retaining a fresh, lively balance of flavors. Notes of cranberry and pomegranate mingle with flinty minerality. This dark and abundant wine never veers into the overly extracted or the syrupy. It maintains a fine balance of flavors with moderate alcohol content and a solid foundational structure.

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Filed under Red Wine, rosado, Spain, Sparkling Wine, White Wine

Holiday Wines, Version 1.0

Yes, my friends, it is that time of year again. The eating season is fast approaching, so it’s time to start thinking about big family meals, gift giving and general holiday merrymaking.  Thanksgiving is just two weeks away, with the rest of the annual end of year festivities following close behind.

At this time of year visiting family, friends and business associates all demand more than just your time and attention. They also want to be fed, and alongside something tasty to eat they will want a refreshing glass of something festive with which to toast your hospitality.  With this scenario in mind I offer you version 1.0 of our holiday wine buying guide. As the season progresses we will offer updates and new suggestions, always with the aim of supplying you with the best wines for whatever holiday plans you may have.

This week we focus on some basic requirements for the season; sparkling Cava and top shelf reds.

Cava is such a welcome and well priced wine that I feel it would be a disservice to you if I do not suggest that you pick up a mixed case of this Spanish bubbly to have on hand for organized as well as impromptu holiday get togethers. The prices are right and the wines go with just about anything.

Also popular at this time of year are rich red wines from top notch producers. Few gifts are as welcome as a great bottle of excellent red wine and bosses, clients, coworkers, friends and family members will well remember your thoughtful generosity long after the bottle is empty. And, if you work it right, you may even get to share in the joy of consuming these critically acclaimed celebrity wines (I suggest showing up for dinner with the wine in hand).  

Meanwhile, here is a little recipe from my new favorite cookbook to get you warmed up for even more fun in the kitchen as the season progresses.

 

Calabaza Rehogada-Fried Pumpkin (adapted from 1080 Recipes by Simone & Inés Ortega)

Serves 6 as a side dish

 

3 medium sized leeks

3 lb. pumpkin or butternut squash

1 cup extra virgin olive oil

3-4 slices of bread

3 cloves garlic

Salt

 

Cut leeks into 1 inch pieces and rinse well to remove sand. Peel and deseed pumpkin and cut in 1 inch cubes. Tear bread into 1/2 inch pieces. Cut garlic cloves in half. Simmer pumpkin in salted water until tender. Heat oil in large cazuela and fry bread until golden brown. Remove bread from oil and drain. Pour off all but a few tablespoons of oils and reheat cazuela. Add garlic and fry until brown (but not burnt). Remove garlic from oil and discard. Add leeks, pumpkin and fried bread to cazuela and cook over medium heat stirring often until leeks have softened and pumpkin starts to brown. Remove cazuela from heat, adjust salt and serve.

 

 

Cava:

Mont Ferrant Brut Rosado $14.99 I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. Few wines make as welcoming and attractive a cocktail as a tall crystal flute full of this dark ruby colored wine. This rosado cava is a Brut wine so it’s quite dry, but a residual aroma of fresh berries adds youthful liveliness to this wine from one of the oldest Cava producers in Spain.

 

1+1=3 Brut $14.99 A traditional blend of Parellada, Macabeo and Xarel-lo grapes creates a crisp sparkling wine with yeasty aroma and bright citrus fruit character. This wine with a funny name is a bit richer in fruit than some (though still a dry wine) which makes it particularly well suited to serving with food.

 

Montsarra Brut $15.99 You may be familiar with this wine as served by the glass since it has long been a favorite of local restaurant and bar owners (they know quality when they taste it). This traditional Cava offers rich, leesy complexity at a very reasonable price. Assertive bubbles, toasty aroma and bright acidity are what you want in a top notch Cava and this one has them all in abundance.

 

Big Reds:

Alto Moncayo 2005 $43.00 Garnacha is the most widely planted red grape in Spain but you won’t find many as good as what Alto Moncayo makes in D.O. Campo de Borja just south of Rioja. Deep ruby color, extracted aromas of ripe berries and a bright, spicy character that is a perfect match for red meat.  Parker gave the 2004 a 94 point score, but has not yet reviewed the new vintage. Tanzer gave the 2005 a 92(+?) point score.  Her at The Spanish Table we don’t do point scores, but we do rate this one as muy tasty.

 

Alion 2003 $75.00 Vega Sicilia Unico is THE iconic Spanish wine from D.O. Ribera del Duero, but with the current 1996 vintage clocking in at $387.00 many of us will never try it. On the other hand, Vega Sicilia also makes Alion, and the new 2003 vintage of this wine is stunning. It’s rich. It’s earthy, it’s complex and powerful and balanced.  Parker gave this wine 94 points and Tanzer gave it 91. You can decide for yourself since we just got the wine last week.  It’s waiting for you.

 

Termanthia 2005 $195.00 This has to be one of the biggest of the big reds of the season. The 2004 vintage received a perfect 100point score from The Wine Advocate, a publication known for its appreciation of big red wines. The 2005 has just been released and, due to high demand, we got just a precious few bottles for our modest little store. Think single small parcel of 100-150 year old ungrafted Tinto de Toro, miniscule yields, extensive barrel age (20 months) in new oak and you start to understand what’s going on here. The 2005 vintage produced just over 4000 bottles of this wine, so demand will be high and quantities will be scarce. Act now if you want some.

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Filed under Recipes, Red Wine, rosado, Spain, Sparkling Wine, White Wine

Portugal in the news

A few weeks back we mentioned a review in The New York Times of a little known Portuguese wine we carry.  Eric Asimov’s opinion carries a lot of weight and many of you came into the store to try out the $8.99 bargain called Padre Pedro.

Well guess what? This week the same writer in the same newspaper published a piece entirely on the red wines of the Douro region of Portugal (Port’s Not-So-Sweet Cousin), and I am happy to report that The Spanish Table carries all but one of the wines that were reviewed. Some of the vintages and prices are different than in the article, but the fact remains that The Spanish Table is an excellent source for high quality Portuguese wines at all price points.   

Rather than simply copy and paste the information from The New York Times article (which you should read for yourself, and check out the tasty sounding recipe too!) I have re-purposed some of my own previous notes on these wines to give you a little more perspective on these delicious and interesting wines (many thanks to Eric Asimov for doing my job this week in addition to his own).

Vinha da Palestra 2003 $11.99 The “best value” candidate from The New York Times article is this wine. We featured it in our wine club earlier in the year (wine club members are ahead of the curve yet again). This is a young Portuguese wine from D.O.C. Douro composed of roughly equal parts Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca and Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo by another name) that offers a gentle glimpse at the powerful Douro reds of days gone by. This new style of Douro trades rustic power for poise and balance. The brash tannins are pushed to the background in favor of bright fruit character and lively acidity. Hints of smoky oak are faintly discernable though present in sufficient quantity to remind one of where this wine comes from. Serve Vinha da Palestra with your favorite Portuguese chicken recipe (there are so many) and a big salad.

Sogrape Douro Reserva 1999 $15.99

The Times reviewed the 2003 vintage which was the final year for this wine. Going forward, Sogrape has rebranded the wine as Callabriga and it is now produced in a Douro, a Dao and an Alentejo version. This is a mature, full-bodied wine with loads of concentrated dark fruit and tannic oak flavors. This balanced, spicy wine offers abundant pleasure straight from the bottle (no breathing time needed).

 

Quinta dos Quatro Ventos Reserva 2003 $22.99 This reserva level Douro red , composed of a blend of Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz and Touriga Nacional sees 14 months of barrel age in a combination of French and American oak. Dark garnet color with concentrated berry aromas and flavors augmented by spicy tannins and earthy foundation.

 

Vertente 2004 $27.99 In the Douro valley in Portugal the Niepoort family are long-time port producers and, more recently, innovative red wine producers as well. Dirk Niepoort is leading the table wine renaissance in the Douro and while most of his excellent products carry significant price tags, Vertente is made specifically to satisfy the buyer looking for distinctive Portuguese wine in the under $30 price range. They use the full range of Douro grapes (too many to name) to produce this wine that displays dark color, vivid, spicy aroma, ripe berry fruit, good acidity and slate-like minerality.

 

Casa de Casal de Loivos 2003 $35.99  Looking for a well priced, small production wine from the Douro region in Portugal? Check out this younger sibling to the well-known and more expensive Quinta de Vale D. Maria Douro red. Opaque garnet color, concentrated port-like aroma and rich fruit character are what you expect from this region and this wine delivers all of the above with some additional wild herb notes in the background.

2004 Quinta Vale D. Maria $43.99 Cristiano Van Zeller is a pioneering winemaker in the Douro Valley .He was the former enologist and owner of the famous Quinta Do Noval Estate, best known for the production of Port wine. Starting in 1996, he began to produce table wine as well in small quantities. This wine is made from a long list of typical Portuguese grape varietal including but not limited to Rufete, Touriga Nacional and Tinta Amarilla. 21 months of barrel age lend tannic complexity to this elegant, concentrated red wine.

2002 Pintas from $43.99 Jorge Borges and Sandra Tavares da Silva are the husband and wife team behind Pintas. Jorge has close ties with Dirk Niepoort (See Vertente above) and Sandra has worked for many years with Cristiano Van Zeller (see Vale D.Maria above). This well connected couple now makes their own wine (in miniscule quantities) called Pintas. Dozens of regional grape varieties, many of them from old vines combine to create this opulent, balanced wine that features the combination of poise and power that typify the best of the Douro region red wines.

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Filed under Portugal, Red Wine