Monthly Archives: June 2009

Bag In Box

Have you tried any of our new ‘bag in box’ wines? I know, I know, box wines don’t have the greatest reputation but I have recently changed my mind about this particular style of wine packaging.
I first started experimenting with bag in box wine to address concerns about the environmental cost of shipping heavy glass bottles around the globe. What I found was that the problem with box wine was not the bag or the box, it was the wine. The juice inside the box was just not that interesting. Happily, we have found some Portuguese wines that have been successful here in the bottle and are now also available in the box.
Not all wines are appropriate for the box. This package is best when used for young wines intended for near term consumption. Wines that need time to mature should still be packaged in glass bottles, but after tasting the same wines in bottle and in box I am satisfied that the box can be a great way to go. The main advantage of the box is that it keeps the wine fresh from the first glass to the last drop. Another benefit is that the price drops considerably when buying the wine in box rather than by the bottle.
Lynne Bennett wrote a nice piece last week in the San Francisco Chronicle about taking box wines along on a picnic, which is a fine idea (less weight, more wine). A customer here in Berkeley stocks up on box wine to use as “earthquake supplies”. I have had great success just keeping a box on the counter or in the fridge at home to use as needed. I have taken to decanting a dinner’s worth of wine at a time so as to let the wine open up a bit in the air.
Here is our current selection of bag in box wine:

Alandra Branco 3 Liter ‘Bag in Box’ This young Portuguese white wine is floral and fruity yet possesses a bright element that keeps it refreshing. I used this last week for a delicious sangria using apricots, raspberries and Meyer lemons. The box, which will fit perfectly in your refrigerator, holds 4 bottles worth of wine so the cost comes out to $3.75 per bottle. $14.99
Alandra Tinto 3 Liter ‘Bag in Box’ The red Alandra in the bottle has been a popular ‘house wine’ around here. The wine is juicy and fresh with ripe berry fruit character. The same wine in box brings the price down to $4.00 per bottle (versus $6.99 in glass). $15.99
Quinta do Figo 5 Liter ‘Bag in Box’ This is a darkly tinted, expressive red wine from Portugal’s Estremadura region. It expresses black cherry fruit character, medium weight tannins and earthy background notes. The price here comes down to $3.90 per bottle’s worth of wine. $25.99
Capote Velho 5 Liter ‘Bag in Box’ My original review of this wine said “What A bargain! This non-vintage red wine from who knows where in Portugal has absolutely no pedigree but really delivers on freshness and versatility. This wine possesses gentle berry-like fruit character and moderate tannins coupled with a moderate level of alcohol (11.5%). Like a no name house wine in a little Portuguese bar or restaurant, this red tastes great by itself and will also accompany, but not overshadow, a broad range of foods.” We now offer this same wine in the more economical, environmentally friendly ‘Bag in Box’ size that contains five full liters of wine for $6.00 per liter (equals $4.00 per regular 750ml bottle). $29.99

Canary Islands Wine

The new vintage of Tajinaste wines, brought in by the intrepid importer José Pastor, has just arrived. These are some of my current favorite wines in the shop and if you have yet to try them, you are in for a treat.
On the island of Tenerife, in the demarcated Valle de Orotava region, the García Farráis family has operated a small winery since 1977. Using vines that date back to the early years of the 20th century they make wines from the Listán Negro and Listán Blanco varieties that are indigenous to this region. The vines grow low to the ground in craters hollowed out of the black volcanic soil to protect them from the strong winds that constantly buffet the island. The vines are braided together to further strengthen them from the elements. This unique environment produces pure, earthy wines. The white is tart and herbaceous. The red is lean and mineral. A small portion of both wines spends a brief period in neutral oak, imparting not so much barrel character but rather just a bit of added textural density.
Tajinaste Tinto Tradicional 2008
The wine is cloudy lavender in color with light texture and sweet floral perfume. Firm minerality creates a foundation which supports fresh mulberry fruit character and gentle tannins. $21.99
Tajinaste Blanco 2008
This interesting white wine, our first from the Canary Islands, is made from the local Listán Blanco grape. Pale straw color and mineral foundation frame aromas of white peach and lemon zest.  This gentle yet lean white will compliment subtly flavored vegetable dishes and cold seafood appetizers. $19.99

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Filed under Portugal, Red Wine, White Wine

Spanish Wine Class

So Catavino  and The Wine Academy of Spain are offering a scholarship for a three-day Spanish wine seminar in San Francisco plus a chance at a trip to Spain for those who post a blog entry that answers this question:

“Why do you want to learn about Spanish Wine?”

It reminds me of that Talking Heads song, Once In A Lifetime.

“And you may ask yourself-well…how did I get here?”

It’s a good question.

I ended up as the wine buyer for The Spanish Table in Berkeley almost by accident. Eight years ago I was a corporate manager with many ‘dot com’ clients. When the boom turned to bust I suddenly found myself on the street after 13 years with the same company. Broke, out of work and turning forty, it was time to examine my options and reevaluate my priorities.   

At exactly the same point in time a little shop specializing in the food and wine of Spain opened up in my neighborhood. The Spanish Table, in business in Seattle WA since 1995, had just branched out to a new town. The owners chose Berkeley because of this city’s reputation for having open minds and hearty appetites.

After just a few trips to this new outpost of Iberian culture I was hooked. The ingredients were similar to the French and Italian cuisines that I knew and loved but the flavor combinations were distinctly different. A whole new world of great things to eat and drink had revealed itself to me.

One day, while on a visit to indulge in my newfound passion for aged Rioja wine I saw a sign of my future. This was not a figurative indication mind you but a real printed sign, in the window at The Spanish Table. “Help Wanted, part time.”

“And you may ask yourself – How do I work this?”

Learning about Spanish wine was like discovering a spare room in your house that you never knew existed. I grew up in a family that drank French wine, end of story. My few attempts at exploring Spanish wine were limited to a few unpleasant experiences with wire mesh wrapped bottles sporting heraldic crests on the labels and containing tired, dusty, brown juice inside. What a revelation it was to find grapes/regions/producers that were previously unknown to me. The broad range of styles encouraged exploration and experimentation. Every night I would take home a new bottle to taste and learn about. My passion for Spanish wine had taken hold.

“And you may ask yourself – Where does that highway go?”

The thing is, the Spanish wine world is in the middle of a dramatic transformation. What was accepted wisdom about ‘The Wines of Spain’ no longer holds true. Where once there was Rioja and Jerez with not much in between, now we have an explosion of new ideas and flavors. Regions that had fallen into obscurity are now revitalized and thriving. Old vines are once again producing fruit for new bodegas that seek to incorporate the past into the new modern era. The Spanish wine map is literally being redrawn every year. To keep up with all the changes requires diligence and focus. Even working here in the midst of so many Spanish wines (Portuguese, Argentine and Chilean wines too!) I know that I have a lot to learn.

The Wine Academy of Spain is touring the USA this summer sharing the story of Spanish wine with all who wish to partake. The work they and businesses like Catavino are doing helps propel Spanish wine beyond being just the latest trendy thing to drink.  Educational efforts like this along with the as yet largely untapped use of the Internet (they’re working on that too) carry the excitement and diversity of all that is happening in the Spanish wine world to a broad public that is eager for information and inspiration. This is an effort I support wholeheartedly and I am excited to see that San Francisco is a stop on their itinerary.

“And you may ask yourself – Am I right? …am I wrong? 

And you may tell yourself – My god!…what have I done?”

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Bold Reds From Spain And Beyond

We have been featuring plenty of bright, refreshing white and rosado wines lately, so this week we will catch you up on some of the dark, expressive red wines that have arrived here recently.

Flor de Pingus 2006 Dominio de Pingus produces some of Spain’s most sought after wines. The newly released Flor de Pingus is produced in small quantities (I have just 6 bottles here). Produced from the low yield fruit of old vine Tempranillo grown in the clay and gravel soil of Ribera del Duero, Flor de Pingus is an elegant example of regional style. Dusty tannins play off pure, dark berry fruit. This wine combines poise with power in a finely tuned wine. Flor de Pingus is never thought of as a bargain until you consider that the flag ship Pingus retails for around 10 times the price of  Flor de Pingus. $80.00
Viña Soledad Crianza 2001 For those who remember last years’ Rioja Bordón Crianza from Bodegas Franco-Española, I have some good news. I just located a small quantity of another 2001 Crianza from the same bodega. Viña Soledad displays much of the same patina of age that gave Rioja Bordón that Gran Reserva character at a Tinto Joven price. The same brickish tint is found here along with some, but not all, of the resinous barrel character that made Rioja Bordón so evocative of Rioja wines from days long past. The tart cherry fruit character is still extant and the alcohol is an old fashioned 12.5%. The price, well, the price can’t be beat. $9.99
Carmelo Patti Malbec 2004 Carmelo Patti is a winemaking legend in the Mendoza region of Argentina. In business for over thirty years, he makes all his wines himself, by hand, in a small unmarked warehouse. Sicilian by birth, Carmelo Patti is just one of numerous Italian immigrants who have made a name for themselves in the Argentine wine business. Carmelo Patti Malbec 2004 is sourced from 30 year old vines grown at high elevation in Lujan de Cuyo. 12 months of barrel age after fermentation, followed by two years of bottle age before the wine is shipped to market ensures that the wine is fully elaborated and ready to drink upon release. Dark ruby in color, this wine expresses initial aromas of wood smoke and earth. The dark berry fruit character that Argentine Malbec is known for gets a more subtle treatment here. The fruit never overpowers the fine balance of flavors including mushrooms and tannic oak in addition to the berry and pomegranate fruit character. The mineral element comes out mostly in the long, smooth finish. $28.99
Navarro Lopez Old Vines Tempranillo Gran Reserva 2001 We featured this DO Valdepeñas wine from Bodegas Navarro Lopez in a previous release earlier in the year, to much acclaim. We are glad to now have the superlative 2001 vintage in stock. This wine is made from Tempranillo sourced from vineyards over 30 years old. After fermentation the wine ages in oak barrels of 24 months, followed by a long, slow (three years) period of bottle maturation.  The wine is showing a mature, brickish tint, with fully integrated aromas of sappy oak and tart red fruits. Delicate fruit character is lightly oxidized and ethereal. Gentle tannins adds depth and complexity to the experience.  $18.99
Casa de Casal de Loivos 2006 Cristiano Van Zeller has been instrumental in promoting the table wines from Portugal’s Douro Valley in addition to the traditional Porto from this same region. The new 2006 vintage of his wine, the sibling of the more expensive Quinta do Vale D. Maria Tinto, combines dozens of field blended traditional Douro grapes to produce a dark, assertive wine that expresses abundant brambly fruit character, firm tannins and foundational minerality. This robust red will keep well for a decade or more and should be decanted for immediate enjoyment. $48.99
Pago de Carraovejas Crianza 2005 Hey, look what just walked in the door. A stray case of this well loved and hard to find Ribera del Duero red has appeared here (this happened once before with this wine) and is going fast.  Pago de Carraovejas is the name of a single vineyard on the outskirts of Peñafiel in the Ribera del Duero region of Northern Spain. Nestled in the shadow of the famous medieval fortified Castillo de Peñafiel, the 60 hectare estate grows mostly Tinto Fino (Tempranillo) along with small parcels of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  All three estate grown grapes are used in the blend (85% Tinto Fino, 10% Cabernet, 5% Merlot). The wine ages for 12 months in mixed French/American oak barrels before bottling. The rich, dark berry fruit is backed by muscular grape skin tannins and balanced oak. With air (the more the better right now) the wine comes alive with loamy aroma and layer upon layer of ripe fruit character. $39.99

Recipe: Father’s Day Stuffed Piquillo Peppers

Show Dad that you are, in fact, not oblivious to all he has done (and continues to do) for you and the rest of the family. Make him this recipe that takes very little time, can be served hot, cold or whenever he is ready to eat and goes great with a nice glass of hearty red wine.
I liberally adapted this recipe from the new Joyce Goldstein cookbook simply called “Tapas”(2009, Chronicle books, $22.95). I have simplified a few steps by using some of the traditional Spanish products available here at The Spanish Table and added a few additional celebratory ingredients.

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 cup finely diced onion
1/2 pound ground beef
1/4 pound ground pork
1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup coarsely chopped green olives
2 tablespoons small currants
2 tablespoons whole pine nuts
salt and pepper to taste
12 whole Piquillo peppers (8 oz. jar)
1 12 oz. jar of Tomate Frito (or tomato puree)

Directions:
In a 10 inch clay cazuela, heat the olive oil on the stove. Add the diced onion and cook until translucent. Add the ground beef and pork to the cazuela and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the garlic, flour and paprika and cook for one more minute. Turn off the heat and stir in the olives, currants and pine nuts. Allow the meat mixture to cool to room temperature, then spoon everything out of the cazuela and set aside. Pour the Tomate Frito into the same cazuela and bring to a simmer on the stove over low heat. While the sauce is warming up, fill each Piquillo pepper with a spoonful of the meat mixture. Nestle the filled peppers in the sauce, in a circle, points facing the middle. Simmer the peppers until heated through and serve, accompanied by some good bread and any of the wines from this week’s selection.

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

Summer Wines & Padrón Peppers

Pimientos de Padrón Alert

We interrupt regularly scheduled wine news to announce the arrival of the new crop of Pimientos de Padrón. These small, seasonal  green peppers are traditional bar snacks in the north of Spain and  are one of the few fresh vegetables that we carry here. Simply fry a batch up in some good olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and serve.  We should have these throughout the summer and into the fall. They are still the same price as last year:
$6.99 1/4 lb.

Summer Wines

As we move into the summer season, my attention is drawn to bright, refreshing white and rosado wines that cool me down from the heat of the day and awaken my appetite. I also like to pour robust reds that pair well with grilled food. Here are a few of this weeks’ new selections.

Ochoa Rosado 2008 Our newest pink wine is a classically styled offering from Navarra, the traditional home of Spanish rosado wines. This one is made from the local Garnacha grape and is a lively, bright wine with an orange/pink hue. The light berry-like fruit character is tart and refreshing. $12.99
Ostatu Blanco 2008 The new vintage of this dry, herbaceous white Rioja has just arrived. Made from the local Viura grape (known elsewhere as Macabeo) this wine is fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks, never overwhelming the delicate fruit character with the aromas and flavors from oak barrels. This young wine displays grassy aroma and notes of kiwi fruit and green grapes. $12.99
Mas Torrontes 2008 For those who have loved the Mas Malbec from Argentina, here is a white Torrontes from the same bodega. This new arrival is floral scented (jasmine, honeysuckle)and richly fruity (apricot, crane melon). Racy acidity cuts through the perfume and maintains a fine balance. This is an excellent white to serve cold on a hot afternoon. $10.99
Siesta Brut Ernesto Catena, son of the famous Nicolás Catena (and brother of Laura, another well known winemaker) makes this sparkling wine from a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Palest pink color, yeasty bread dough aroma and bright, tart fruit character are held together by fine bead bubbles. This is excellent bubbly and is one of the best examples I have yet tasted from Argentina. $17.99
Tahuan Malbec 2005 Ernesto Catena’s Malbec is a fine example of an Argentine wine that is bold and expressive without loosing the complexity that makes this region so interesting. The addition of 10% Cabernet Sauvignon adds structure to the juicy, ripe Malbec. The wine spends 12 months in oak, lending tannic depth to the final product. $18.99
Meia Encosta 2007 Portugal continues to produce some really good wines at rock bottom prices. This young wine from the Dão region is fresh and bright. Clear ruby color, cherry aroma and Gamay-like fruit character (the blend here is actually Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz) all work in harmony to express the tart,refreshing style that makes this such a perfect mid-week red. $8.99

Upcoming Spanish Wine & Food Events

On June 14th TAPAS (Tempranillo Advocates, Producers and Amigos Society) will hold their 2nd annual tasting of domestic wines made from Spanish & Portuguese grape varieties. Ft. Mason in San Francisco is the venue for this interesting event. Details can be found (and tickets purchased) on the TAPAS website. The Spanish Table will be in attendance showing off our new cookbook as well as sampling some olives and other imported Spanish snacks to go with all the local vino.

On June 22nd, I will be teaching my Paella And Wine class at the Berkeley cooking school Kitchen On Fire. Participants will get hands-on experience making (and eating) a large Paella Mixta (includes meat, seafood & vegetables) as well as a few simple tapas and a light dessert. We will sample a few appropriate Spanish wines as we go. Class starts at 6:30 pm and we should be done by around 9 pm. This popular event is limited to 30 people with a price of $65.00 per person. Sign up is through Kitchen On Fire, either on the web, or by phone 510-548-2665,(510-265-COOK).

The next TapasWalk Spanish wine & food walking tour is coming up on Wednesday June 24th. I will be leading this tour through downtown San Francisco, stopping in at five different restaurants to sample some of Spain’s unique wines accompanied by a few traditional tapas at each location. Details as well as future tour dates can be found on my blog.

On June 28th The Berkeley International Food Festival will enliven our little neighborhood with the aromas and flavors of many lands. Kabobs, tamales, samosas and other street foods will be available. Here at The Spanish Table we will be making our traditional huge paella which we hand out samples of (free of charge) to the hungry masses. In addition to the food  expect music, dancing, art and sunshine. It will be fun.

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