Monthly Archives: March 2008

Portugal On My Mind

At The Spanish Table in Berkeley I buy wines with a very specific national focus. Spain, Portugal, Chile and Argentina. That’s it.

Still, selecting wines from just the countries we represent, I go through periods of intense interest in one style or region or winemaker and I take home lots of wines from wherever/whatever/whomever is my current obsession. Lately I have been really enjoying the wines from Portugal, specifically the reds from the Dão region and the whites from Vinho Verde.

Not so long ago Dão wines were often rustic, chunky reds that displayed little in the way of freshness or complexity. These days, and especially this time of year, I have been enjoying a range of Dão wines, both young and more mature, that show off the improvements in quality for wines from this region.

In Vinho Verde, as with Dão, the quality level is rising with each year. Intrepid importers who once only shipped inexpensive, non-vintage blends for summertime picnics now supply us with some top notch varietal wines from this region on Portugal’s northern border.

As spring continues to unfold in the Bay Area I find that these Portuguese wines match the season perfectly. Lively, youthful aromas, bright fruit character and intriguing mineral notes pair wonderfully with a springtime menu. These wines, many of which have yet to be discovered by food and wine lovers in our little corner of the globe, offer a clear sense of place with styles and characteristics that are distinctly Portuguese.

To get a feeling for these wines, I suggest pairing them with a typical Portuguese dish, and few foods in Portugal are more typical than salt cod. Here is a classic version of a baked casserole that also has the advantage of using up some of those hard boiled Easter eggs that many of you will have on hand right now.

Salt Cod and Potato Casserole – adapted from The Food of Portugal by Jean Anderson

(Serves 6 as a main course)

Ingredients:

1 lb. Dried salt cod fillet

1 Large yellow onion

2 lbs. Yukon Gold (or Russet) potatoes

1/3 cup Minced parsley

1 tblspn. Butter

3 tblspns. Portuguese olive oil

3 Hard boiled eggs, peeled and cut in wedges

12 Oil cured black olives, pitted

1 tblspn. Salt

1 tblspn. Ground black pepper

Directions:

One day ahead, soak the Salt Cod in cold water, changing the water twice in 24 hours.

The next day, drain the Cod and poach it in 1 quart of simmering water on the stove for twenty minutes or until the fish starts to flake apart.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. While waiting for the oven to come up to temperature, slice the onion in thin rings and sauté in a clay cazuela on the stove top with the butter and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil until the onion has softened and taken on a bit of color. Remove the onions when cooked. Peel and slice the potatoes in thin rounds and add them to the cazuela with the rest of the olive oil. Sauté the potatoes until they start to soften and fall apart. Mix in the cooked onions along with the salt, pepper and half of the parsley. Tuck big flakes of the cod into the potato and onion mixture. Top with the pitted olives and bake uncovered in the oven for 30-40 minutes until lightly browned on top. Remove from oven and garnish with wedges of hard boiled eggs and the rest of the parsley. Serve with a green salad and any of the wines below.

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.

Ponte de Lima Adamado 2006 $9.99 This Vinho Verde is fresh and a bit fuller bodied than some others from this region. The extra dollop of fruit character is round and generous, adding weight to the flinty/spritzy Vinho Verde style. I pair this with a composed salad of butter lettuce, white asparagus and top shelf Ventresca tuna.

Solar de Serrade Alvarinho 2006 $17.99 In Portugal, Vinho Verde is often thought of (with good reason) as a simple, spritzy white wine for picnics and parties. This Vinho Verde on the other hand is a whole different story. Made from the Alvarinho grape (Albariño in Spain), this elegantly dry and flinty white wine is finely balanced and fragrant. If you are curious about just how good Vinho Verde can be, this is a perfect place to begin your investigation.

Quinta dos Grilos 2005 $15.99 Grilo is Portuguese for cricket, and while you won’t find any crickets in this wine, the flavor may remind you of a warm summer night in the back yard, grilling something tasty, swatting mosquitoes and listening to the (you guessed it) crickets. From the Dao region of Portugal, this red wine is bright and savory, with cherry-like fruit overlaying a tannic core. Chirp!

Primavera Dão 2003 $14.99 The Dao region was once among the most desirable sources of quality red wines in Portugal. These wines were dry and earthy with rich but oxidized fruit character. Over time this style fell out of favor with the international market (the Portuguese still love the old style). Flash forward to the current day and we see some fresh, fragrant Dão wines that still retain some elements of the old style. This wine is a perfect example of how this region is blending modern style with traditional heritage. Fashioned from a blend of Touriga Nacional Tinta Roriz and Touriga Franca, the garnet color and the dark berry fruit character balance fine tannins and background minerality.

Cardeal Reserva 2002 $13.99 This Dão wine is made from 100% Touriga Nacional, one of the traditional varieties used in Porto. This wine was aged in barrel for over a year and has bed come softer and rounder from several years of bottle age. Still, the barrel character gives this wine a bit more of the old school Dão character, blending well with the dark berry fruit. Serve this with some grilled sardines for a traditional pairing.

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Filed under Portugal, Recipes, Red Wine, White Wine

Rites of Spring

I can always tell that spring has arrived in the Bay Area when customers start buying white wine, large paella pans and gas rings for cooking paella in the back yard. With the arrival of warmer sunny weather it seems as though we, in unison, as if responding to some primal instinct, turn our thoughts to outdoors cooking and eating.

Although it may not be sunny and warm on the East Coast, Eric Asimov from The New York Times wrote an informative article about the white wines of Rueda a few weeks ago and many of you have responded enthusiastically by clipping the article and bringing it in to use as a shopping guide. Of course we don’t have all the same wines in California that are available to shoppers in New York, but we do have some of the wines that were mentioned as well as some personal favorites that they missed. These wines are refreshingly different from many domestic whites and pair well with a first-of-the-season back yard paella.

Here is a recipe for a springtime paella that I adapted from a recipe that one of the owners of The Spanish Table, Steve Winston, included in The Spanish Table Cookbook.

Asparagus and Shrimp Paella

(serves 4-5 as a main course)

Ingredients:

6 cups canned clam juice

1 Tblspn Pebrella (dried wild Spanish thyme)

8 cloves garlic (half the cloves lightly crushed and whole, the other half chopped)

1/3 cup Spanish olive oil

1 lb. fresh Asparagus, cut in 1 inch segments

1 tspn. sweet Spanish paprika

1/2 tspn. Spanish saffron

1 ½ lb. large shrimp in the shell, peeled and cut in half crosswise

2 cups Bomba rice

Directions:

Combine the clam juice with the pebrella, shrimp shells and the lightly crushed garlic cloves in a pot and simmer for 20 minutes. Strain the broth and continue to simmer.

Heat the olive oil in a 6 portion paella pan on the stove top. Sautee the asparagus segments in the oil for one minute. Add the chopped garlic, saffron and paprika and sauté for 30 seconds. Add the rice and stir to coat with the oil. Add all the simmering stock to the paella pan and continue to cook at a medium simmer for ten minutes. Add the shrimp and push down into the partly cooked rice. Continue to cook the rice at a low simmer for an additional ten minutes. When all the broth has been absorbed, turn off the heat and rest the paella for five minutes before serving.

 

Las Brisas Rueda 2006 $10.99 This fresh young blend of Verdejo and Sauvignon Blanc is a wonderful ‘back yard white’. It is described well by The new York Times as possessing “Citrus and herbal aromas with stony mineral flavors.”

Montebaco Verdejo 2006 $14.99 (was $18.99) For those seeking 100% Verdejo wine from Rueda, you will not find many as good as this for the price. Straw colored with a green tinge, floral aroma and grapefruit-like flavor all combine with bright acidity to create a refreshing and complex wine for springtime dining. The New York Times gave this wine 2 1/2 stars and described it as “Richly textured yet zesty with honeysuckle, pear and citrus flavors.” The price just got better on this wine, but the 2006 vintage is coming to an end so this bargain will not last long.

Oro de Castilla 2007 $14.99 The first of the 2007 Spanish white wines to arrive in our store is this 100% Verdejo from Hermanos Villar in Rueda. Richly floral in aroma yet crisp and bright on the palate, this new wine will please those who know and love Rueda whites as well as newcomers to the varietal and the region.

Solar de Serrade Alvarinho 2006 $17.99 In Portugal, Vinho Verde is often thought of (with good reason) as a simple, spritzy white wine for picnics and parties. This Vinho Verde on the other hand is a whole different story. Made from the Alvarinho grape (Albariño in Spain), this elegantly dry and flinty white wine is finely balanced and fragrant. If you are curious about just how good Vinho Verde can be, this is a perfect place to begin your investigation.

Verasol Garnacha 2005 $8.99 (was $10.99) Here is another great bargain in Spanish wine (red, this time) for springtime enjoyment. This young Garnacha from the Campo de Borja region is youthful yet not simple. The fresh berry fruit is moderated by a touch of minerality which adds complexity and balance. This wine is a bit more reserved than some others from the same grape and region, making it a more elegant option than is common with young Garnacha. The price just dropped a few dollars which is good news too.

Aresan 2002 $16.99 Do you want to taste the future of Spanish wine? This is a good place to start. Bodegas Aresan, located in the Castilla-La Mancha village of Villarrobledo near Albacete is one of a handful of Spanish wineries currently converting to a new designation called ‘Vino de Pago’. This new label will be used only for wines that are produced from estate grown fruit and are produced in a winery located on the same property as the vineyards. So, no buying grapes from somewhere else and no transporting grapes to a distant winery, but any grape varieties can be used that suit the taste of the winemakers even if they are not typical of the region a whole.

This wine, for instance, is a blend of 65% Tempranillo (a traditional variety in La Mancha) along with 35% Cabernet Sauvignon (not permitted in D.O. La Mancha wines). The estate grown fruit is harvested by hand and carefully sorted before crushing and fermentation. After nine months of barrel age, the wine is bottled and shipped. This decidedly modern wine is dark and powerful. Cigar box aromas encounter blackberry fruit character and smoky tannins. The wine starts out firm and structured but becomes more elegant and complex as it opens. California Cabernet appreciators will find much to love about this handsomely packaged wine that sells elsewhere for over $30.

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

The Big Store and The Big Scores

Oh dear, I am falling behind in my updates to you about all that is going on here at The Spanish Table. I missed last week, for which I sincerely apologize, but the pace of business has quickened considerably on several fronts and I should update you on these developments before any more time passes.

First off, we have all been working long hours to install a temporary outpost of The Spanish Table on the ground floor of Macy’s in Union Square. For the next two weeks you can find the familiar faces you know from our Berkeley and Mill Valley stores (mine included) at Macy’s in San Francisco as we help them celebrate all things Spanish during their annual spring flower show. The theme this year is ‘A Mosaic of Spain’. For our part, we have set up a mini-Spanish Table on the ground floor of the main building, right by the escalators, in between the watches and cosmetics. While we will not be spritzing you with perfume or offering makeovers, we will be sampling chorizo, olives, turron and other favorites from The Spanish Table.

Want more? There will be Flamenco dancers in the menswear department. In housewares, Bay Area chefs such as Gerald Hirigoyen (Piperade, Bocadillos), Maggie Pond (Cesar), Daniel Olivella (B-44) and Tyler Florence (he’s Spanish, right?) will be demonstrating a broad range of Spanish recipes with wine pairings hosted by our own Andy Booth. Bedding and furniture on the 7th floor will feature a showing of black and white photographs of Spain. Abundantly colorful floral displays will be found throughout the store. What more can I say other than “would you like to put that on your Macy’s card?”

Meanwhile, The Wine Advocate has just released their latest reviews of several hundred Spanish wines including many of our tried and trusted favorites. This influential publication always brings in new customers interested in trying some of the wines they have just read about. For those of you who have already been trying and buying, I thought it might be fun to compare what I said (and when I said it) about some of the wines that are just now getting their justly deserved bit of attention from The Wine Advocate.

Here we go:

7/12/07- I said:

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 autumn leaf aroma and flinty background minerality. Perfect for summer cookouts in the back yard or wherever you may be.

3/4/08 Jay Miller of The Wine Advocate wrote:

“90 Points-The 2006 Joven saw no oak. Dark ruby-colored, it offers an expressive bouquet of mineral, blue fruits, and black cherry. Smooth, seamless, and elegant, this is a superb introduction to the Mencia grape as well as an exceptional value.”

12/6/07- I said:

Can Blau 2006 $17.99 The new vintage of this well loved red from the Montsant region has just arrived. This dark, opulent blend of Cariñena, Syrah and Garnacha is ripe and bold yet balanced too. Previous vintages have all scored highly in the press and the new vintage is right up there quality-wise. For a soul warming winter meal, pour this with a traditional Cocido (the Spanish version of Italian ‘Bolito Misto’, or for you New Englanders, ‘Boiled Dinner’).

3/4/08 Jay Miller of The Wine Advocate wrote:
92 points -The 2006 Can Blau is one of the finest values in the marketplace. Composed of 40% Carinena, 40% Syrah, and 20% Garnacha, this purple-colored wine has great aromatics for the price point. It offers up smoke, pain grille, pencil lead, scorched earth, blueberry, black cherry, and blackberry. Balanced, round, and ripe on the palate, the wine already reveals some complexity and enough structure to blossom for another 2-3 years.”

10/19/07- I said:

Senorio de P.Peciña Crianza 2000 $18.99 Produced from a blend of mostly Tempranillo with small additions of Garnacha and Graciano, this Crianza level wine spends an extended period (2 years) ageing in French and American oak barrels, with an additional year of bottle ageing before release. The bright cherry-like fruit and resiny tannic barrel character that are typical of traditional Crianza Riojas are present here in a finely tuned frame. Serve this wine with sliced Serrano ham or cured Spanish chorizo for a classic flavor pairing.

3/4/08 Jay Miller of The Wine Advocate wrote:

“90 Points –The 2000 Pecina Crianza is 95% Tempranillo with the balance Graciano and Garnacha from organically farmed estate fruit. It was aged for 24 months in seasoned American oak before being bottled unfiltered (as are all of these wines). Dark ruby-colored with a brick rim, it exhibits a nose of cedar, earth, mushroom, tobacco, and blackberry. This leads to a stylish, elegant wine with good concentration and depth that should drink well for another 6 years. It is an excellent value in traditional Rioja.”

9/6/07- I said:

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.

3/4/08 Jay Miller of The Wine Advocate wrote:
91 points -The 2006 Petalos del Bierzo is purple-colored with a fragrant nose of violets, lavender, mulberry, and blueberry. Ripe, supple, and sweetly fruited, it will evolve for 2-3 years and drink well through 2015. This estate was started in 1998 by Alvaro Palacios. It has steep hillside vineyards and 60- to 100-year-old vines planted in 100% Mencia, a varietal indigenous to Bierzo, a cool-climate D.O.”

11/8/07 – I said:

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.

3/4/08 Jay Miller of The Wine Advocate wrote:

95 points -The 2005 Alto Moncayo is a selection of older Garnacha vineyards. Purple colored, it is more expressive aromatically with enticing aromas of pain grille, spice box, floral notes, black cherry and black raspberry. Richer, more layered, and intense, this superb effort has a 60+ second finish.”

10/19/07- I said:

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.

3/4/08 Jay Miller of The Wine Advocate wrote:
90 points -The 2006 Casta Diva “Cosecha Miel” Moscatel undergoes barrel-fermentation in new oak which is gradually arrested for bottling in the following spring. The nose offers up floral notes and honey along with peach, apricot, ginger, and marmalade. Medium-sweet, intense, and long, this tasty elixir will pair well with fruit desserts.”

2/14/08-I said:

Primitivo Quiles Fondillón Reserva 1948 $63.00 Historically, Fondillón was called Vino Noble de Alicante not only because it was enjoyed by royalty (Louis XIV is said to have enjoyed the wine) but also as an indication of a winemaking style that achieves 16% alcohol by volume without resorting to fortification of the wine with spirits as is done in Jerez.

Late harvest Monastrell is picked at ultimate ripeness and the sugars in the grape convert to alcohol at a higher rate than normally. After many years in the solera the wine looses its red color and turns a ruddy shade of amber. Nutty sherry-like aroma and flavor balance gentle but not cloying sweetness. Serve this wine with afternoon cookies and tea. A small glass after dinner is also nice.

3/4/08 Jay Miller of The Wine Advocate wrote:

93 Points –The 1948 Fondillon Gran Reserva is drawn from a solera begun in 1948 but the wine is not fortified. Dark amber/brown in color, it has aromas reminiscent of an Amontillado sherry including almonds, ginger, dates, and assorted dried dark fruits. It finishes sherry-like but without the alcohol and the bite. There is nothing else quite like this uniquely styled dry wine.”

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Filed under Fortified Wine, Misc.Wine, Red Wine, Spain