Monthly Archives: March 2009

Many Are Tasted, But Few Are Chosen

It is that time of year again.

I speak of the spring tasting season when all the wine importers and distributors conduct tastings for the trade. New wines are featured along with new vintages of familiar favorites. At these events buyers like me get a chance to sniff, sip, compare and contrast dozens (no, hundreds) of wines before choosing what to carry in the store. It all sounds like a fun time and sort of a booze cruise but it is, in fact, a bit of work (yes, I know, poor me).

I used to make a habit of trying all the white wines before moving on to reds but I found that the high acidity of white wines tended to burn out my taste buds early, leaving me with a palate too compromised to accurately taste the red wines. My routine these days is to taste first all the things I am most interested in, switching back and forth between reds and whites. Then I go back and try other wines that I might have missed the first time through. Of course I am not consuming all this wine yet even so after a few hours I have to call it quits because palate fatigue sets in and everything starts tasting the same. Afterwards, with purple teeth, smudgy notes and, most likely, a wine stained shirt I head back home to review my notes and choose what to bring in and sell.

This week I offer you a selection of new arrivals that made the cut. Some of these wines are making a first appearance at The Spanish Table while others have just changed to the latest vintage, warranting repeat investigation.

Laxas 2008 The first 2008 Albariño of the season has arrived. Laxas is a ripe pear and citrus scented wine that displays a greenish tint and a light minerality. This bright, floral white wine is a perfect choice for springtime foods such as fresh cheeses, tender salad greens and fresh vegetables. The price has thankfully not gone up in the new vintage. $17.99

Solar de Serrade Alvarinho 2007 The wine world has ‘discovered’ Portugal (a case of hiding in plain sight, if you ask me) leading to the importation of numerous new and interesting wines that previously never made it out of the country. The Vinho Verde wines of northern Portugal have for many years been associated with cheap, spritzy, non-vintage white wines that are fun, refreshing and simple.  Now we are seeing more elaborate, intriguing wines from this region including this single varietal Alvarinho (Albariño in Spain become Alvarinho in Portugal). The light spritzy effervescence of a typical Vinho Verde is found here with a much drier, more mineral foundation underlying tart citrus fruit character. This crisp, refreshing, low alcohol white wine makes an excellent aperitivo wine as well as a nice accompaniment to lighter meals. $17.99

Muralhas De Monçao Vinho Verde 2007 Another example of the many wonderful wines coming out of Portugal right now, this white wine from the Vinho Verde region is a traditional blend of Alvarinho and Trajadura, bottled with a touch of residual effervescence. Aromas and flavors of white peach and meyer lemon give this wine a bit of roundness to balance the crisp acidity and light minerality. This wine is very popular in Portugal and has happily been showing up around the Bay Area on some by-the-glass lists of numerous restaurants. Try it at home with a big salad and some grilled sardines. $15.99

Mas Malbec 2007 The new 2007 vintage of Mas Malbec serves as a reminder that this has been a consistently solid wine and a customer favorite for several vintages running.  This wine from bodegas Sur de los Andes in Argentina is a private label for the importer Luis Moya who works with the producer to create a young 100% Malbec wine in a well balanced style. Ripe fruit never overwhelms the palate, leaving room for light barrel tannins and rocky minerality. This too is the same price as last vintage. $11.99

Novecento Malbec 2007 As the season changes and the weather warms, I start to bring in more wines intended to accompany outdoor cooking.  This young Malbec from Argentina is expressive and ripe with dark berry fruit fruit character. Dust off the grill, open a bottle of Novocento and start enjoying the sunshine. $10.99

La Planta 2007 Many of you have been waiting for the new vintage of La Planta to arrive. Wait no longer. This lightly oaked red from Bodegas Arzuaga in Ribera del Duero is dark and expressive with earthy nuance and ripe fruit character. Fashioned from the local Tinto Fino grape (Tempranillo by another name) and aged for just a few months in small oak barrels, this wine has a bold character that pairs well with full flavored meaty meals. A mixed grill of chuletas de cordero (lamb chops) and morcilla (blood sausage) would be a perfect pairing here. $15.99

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

Renewal

Following the cycle of seasonal change, the annual wine calendar has returned once again to the moment when new wines enter the market.

In Berkeley we have just started to receive new vintages of red and white wines from Spain and Portugal (Argentina and Chile too).

First up are the red wines appearing now, followed in a few weeks by the new crop of young white wines.

Some of these ‘new’ wines have slowly matured for years, as the winemakers patiently delayed their release. Unlike many domestic wines that come with a caveat from the merchant that goes something like “This is a great wine. Don’t drink it for three years”, Iberian wines are purposely aged in the bottle at the winery before they are considered “ready to drink”.

Consider the practice of bottle ageing as one of the many little side benefits of buying Iberian wine, especially since  few people have genuine wine cellars anymore (in fact most of us consume wines within 24 hours of purchase).

Additionally this week, we have found some more great deals on some current vintage wines that have gone down a bit in price. Every little bit helps these days and these lower prices mean you do not have to sacrifice quality in order to maintain a thrifty lifestyle.

We will start to see 2008 white and rosado wines in about four to six weeks.

Martin Fierro Blanco 2007 In the San Juan region of Argentina, Bodegas Bórbore makes this white wine from a blend of 80% Chardonnay and 20% Torrontes. This unoaked wine blends the crispness of Chardonnay with the more floral Torrontes (the indigenous white grape of Argentina). Previously available for $8.99, we just brought in a stack of this wine at a better price, now $6.99.

Martin Fierro Malbec 2006 Named after the protagonist of an epic poem about the ‘gaucho’ era, this dark, expressive wine evokes the wide open spaces and Andean backdrop of San Juan province in northwestern Argentina.  A bit leaner than the Mendoza region Malbec wines further to the south, this very well priced red has seen a few years of age, moderating the ripe fruit character and adding balance and roundness to the finished product $6.99

Nomad 2005 Jeff Jarvis and Jessica Tomei are husband and wife winemakers working in the Sierra foothills (Jarvis Tomei Syrah) as well as in Chile where, along with fellow American T.J. Evans, they make Nomad from a blend of 75 % Cabernet Sauvignon, 16 % Syrah, 7 % Carmenère and 2 % Malbec. This ripe, spicy red is finely tuned and expressive with moderate barrel character and smooth texture. This small production bottling (2,000 cases in total) was $14.99 when first released. The price is now a bit better. $13.99

Ricardo Santos Malbec 2007 This was the first Malbec to catch my attention back when we first started stocking wines from Argentina. The 2007 vintage of this single vineyard wine has arrived and it appeals to me because, as in vintages past, this wine shows some restraint in its expression of fruit character. The dark berry flavor typical of Malbec is present to be sure, but it doesn’t overwhelm the other aspects of the wine, including tart barrel tannins, cigar box aroma and background minerality. The price on the new vintage remains, happily, unchanged. $17.99

Petalos 2007 The newest vintage of this plush red from the Bierzo region has just arrived. Produced from biodynamically farmed small hillside parcels of old vine Mencía grown in rocky slate soil around the village of Corrullón, Petalos creates a rustic first impression with obscure garnet color and loamy aroma. Opulent dark berry fruit character and fine minerality add definition and elegance.  Several months in oak barrels adds tannic depth, crating an expressive character that is unique to this region. The previous vintage came in at $23.99. The new vintage is a bit better priced at $21.99

Muga Reserva 2005 The news is good for the numerous followers of Bodegas Muga. The new 2005 Muga Reserva has just been released. This traditionally styled Rioja displays a flavor profile that is instantly recognizable to those who know and love this winery. Long, slow maturation in barrel gives Muga Reserva a distinct note of tannic oak. Extended bottle age assures that the barrel character is well integrated and balanced by bright Tempranillo fruit. The depth and complexity of Muga Reserva can be enjoyed right away, straight from the bottle (no decanting needed) and will grow more refined and elegant with a few years of age. $28.99

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Bar Lata

What is it about a small Spanish tapas bar that inspires thirst, hunger and conviviality all at the same time? The atmosphere is informal and friendly, the food is simple and ready to serve, the wines are well chosen and everything is modestly priced. It’s fast food for people who care about what they consume.

So why has ‘tapas’ become a pejorative word that evokes a fad several years past its prime?

My often voiced opinion is that the tapas concept has been turned on its head. The word ‘tapas’ has become restaurant code for ‘tiny appetizer’. A round of tapas with friends is a self contained snack while an appetizer is the first course of a full meal. This distinction has been hard to make due to a lack of proper tapas bars here in our part of the world. That is about to change.

Yesterday Daniel Olivella from B44 in San Francisco opened his new Bar Lata on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland.

In keeping with tradition the space is diminutive and simply decorated.  A long and varied list of cold and hot tapas is well paired with a wine selection that covers all of Spain. A unique collection of “canned” (lata = can) items are made in house and, in homage to the many superlative canned foods of Spain, are served in little oval shaped metal tins (the Lata de Pulpo was a traditional mix of octopus and potatoes dressed with extra virgin olive oil and a hearty dusting of smoked paprika).

Last night, seated in the corner with a view of the entire space I contentedly sipped a glass of cold, crisp Manzanilla while all around me the many wines of Spain, objects of my personal and professional passion, were flowing busily from bottle to glass. On one table a red Garnacha blend from Montsant was passed around amongst a cheery group of six. On another table bottle after bottle of Galician Albariño was happily consumed by an increasingly boisterous couple. Up front at the bar glasses of frothy Cava were handed out to a group of newly arrived patrons.

“This” I said to my wife “is my kind of place”.

In honor of my newfound home away from home, this week we feature a few the wines seen at (or inspired by) Bar Lata that are also found here at The Spanish Table. They have a pretty extensive list so if you go and try something you like, let me know and if I don’t have it already, I’ll get it.

Meanwhile across the Bay: I will be leading a wine class next week in San Francisco on Thursday March 19th at 7 pm at 18 Reasons (593 Guerrero St @ 18th St), a gallery in the Mission whose motto is “bringing the community together through food and art”.  The theme the evening is “Spanish Bubbles” and will include a tasting of sparkling Cava, lightly effervescent Txakoli from Basque Country and Vi D’Agulla from Catalunya as well as a sweet sparkling Muscat from Valencia. Background notes on the wines will be available during the event along with discounted purchasing opportunities. Appropriate snacks (dare I call them ‘tapas’?) will be prepared by the 18 Reasons crew. All of this can be had for the extremely tasty price of $10 ($5 dollars for 18 Reasons members). Go to their web site, http://18reasons.org/ for details and directions or call them at (415)-252-9816.

San León Manzanilla Clásica This wine, with an average age of 8 years, is palest straw colored and full of yeasty, saline aroma (like a fresh sea breeze) and toasted almond and chamomile flavors. If you are a Manzanilla lover this is an excellent new wine to add to your list. If you have not yet had a chance to try this most distinctive Spanish wine, this is the perfect place to start. $12.99 (375ml)

Gran Barquero Fino In the hills of Andalucia, just south of Cordoba in D.O. Montilla-Moriles they make fortified wines using the Pedro Ximénez grape.  These wines share the same production techniques as Sherry from D.O. Jerez further south. Gran Barquero Fino is pale straw colored, bracingly dry, lean and full of toasted almond aroma. $17.99

Sete Cepas Albariño 2007 This well priced Albariño is pale yellow tinged with green. Grapefruit aroma, lean minerality and light, refreshing texture are all to be found in this young white wine from Galicia. $12.99

Avinyó Vi D’Agulla 2007 Made in the Penedès region of Catalunya, this wine from the makers of Avinyó Cava is composed of Petit Grain Muscat, fermented to dryness and bottled with a bit of residual effervescence. The rich Muscat scent is present here but the sweetness usually associated with this grape is only barely perceived. In its place is tart citrusy fruit character and background flintiness. This wine was originally $14.99 but is on sale while it lasts for $11.99

Can Blau 2007 This dark, opulent Montsant region blend of Cariñena, Syrah and Garnacha is ripe and bold yet balanced too. Judging from the number of bottles of Can Blau that I saw being poured at Bar Lata in Oakland the other night, this is a real crowd pleaser. Personal experience affirms this perspective. $16.99

Senorio de P.Peciña Crianza 2000 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. $19.99

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Daylight Savings Time

How does that little mnemonic device go; “Spring forward, fall back”?

This Sunday we all ‘spring forward’ as we reset our clocks for Daylight Savings Time (and lose an hour in the process). Yes, it will be dark and cold in the early morning hours until the Sun catches up with the clock, but the evening sunlight will extend well past work hours and open up all sorts of possibilities for recreation and entertaining. Get out and walk the dog, go for a run, cook dinner on the patio or just relax in the extra evening sunshine.

Whatever you choose to do with your newfound daylight we have a tasty bottle of wine to go with it.

The big flood of new 2008 wine is still about a month away but we have some fresh new arrivals as well as a few familiar favorites that now sport nicely trimmed price tags to share with you this week. We have some gentle spring-like reds, a few bright, fresh whites and, like the first Robin of Spring, Rosado wines are once again growing in number in the wine department here at The Spanish table in Berkeley.

Here are a few choices for celebrating the return of evening sunshine.

Quinta de Bons Ventos 2007 The new vintage of this light and friendly Portuguese red has just arrived. This blend of Castelão, Camarate, Tinta Miúda and a bit of Touriga Nacional from Casa Santos Lima is made in a typical style for the Estremadura in Central Portugal. Juicy, youthful fruit character combines with low alcohol (12.5%) to create a fresh, lively springtime wine. $10.99

Horzales Crianza 2001 This barrel aged Crianza from Rioja is made in the little wine village of San Vicente de la Sonsierra, home to numerous top quality bodegas. Dark garnet color is just starting to show a brickish tint. Barrel tannins, once substantial, have now softened and integrated with the dark berry fruit character. Long bottle maturation has given a silky texture and an elegant balance to the wine. . This is an example of wines from superlative vintages having the ability to age gracefully. The last few cases are on hand now and for the next few weeks. This wine is on sale and moving fast. $9.99

Sete Cepas Albariño 2007 This well priced Albariño is the newest offering from Bodegas Carballal.  Pale yellow color tinged with green, grapefruit aroma, lean minerality and light, refreshing texture are all to be found in this young white wine from Galicia. It is reassuring to find this well made wine at a price point we have not seen recently from this increasingly popular region. $12.99

Martin Fierro Blanco 2007 In the San Juan region of Argentina, Bodegas Bórbore makes this white wine from a blend of 80% Chardonnay and 20% Torrontes. This unoaked wine blends the crispness of Chardonnay with the more floral Torrontes (the indigenous white grape of Argentina). The result is a refreshing wine with enough body to stand on its own as a cocktail wine. It would also pair well with poultry or rich seafood meals. $8.99

Cillar de Silos Rosado 2007 We are starting to bring in a few more rosado wines in anticipation of warmer weather. This wine, made from the Tinto Fino (Tempranillo) grape comes from Ribera del Duero where red wines predominate. This darkly colored pink wine displays ripe berry aroma with tart citrus fruit character combined with additional fresh berry notes on the palate.  $14.99

Cavas Hill Artesanía Brut Rosado Cava What could be better for a relaxed evening in the sunshine than a bottle of crisp pink Cava? This sparkling rosado offers up aromas of fresh strawberry and toasted bread followed up by tangy citrus and crisp green apple flavor. Big bubbles refresh the palate and entice the appetite. $11.99

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Filed under Argentina, Portugal, Red Wine, rosado, Sparkling Wine, White Wine