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)
¼ lb. Valdeón cheese (or other aged blue cheese)
12 pine nuts
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.