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)
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
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.