Category Archives: California

A Trip To Caliberia

The Spanish Table in Berkeley just received a batch of new Caliberian wines, but before you start planning a visit to the region I should warn you that there is no such a place, or rather, that place is right here, all around us. ‘Caliberian’ is the name we have given to our new collection of red, white and rosado wines composed of Iberian grape varieties grown in local soils. In honor of Independence Day we are offering up a bunch of Spanish/Portuguese styled wines that are made right here in America. We have Albariño from Monterey County and Verdelho from the Central Valley for whites and a red blend of Tempranillo/Garnacha from Lake County as well as a Tinta Roriz/Touriga/Tinto Cão blend from the Santa Cruz Mountains. In all we have over a dozen selections made by local producers working with small (miniscule, really) quantities of fruit from the patchwork of Iberian grape varieties planted all across the state. Caliberian wines are not yet well known, but based on these early results this style will grow significantly in years to come. If you are a domestic wine aficionado this is your chance to celebrate American independence with an Iberian accent. If you love the wines of Spain and Portugal, now is your opportunity to re-Cali-brate your perspective on domestic wines.


2009 Bonny Doon Albariño Sourced from a small parcel of Albariño located in the Salinas Valley that is farmed according to the principals of biodynamic viticulture (Demeter certified), this crisp white wines exhibits classic Albariño minerality and tart citrus fruit character. Bright acidity coupled with a moderate (12.8%) level of alcohol make this a perfect summertime wine to serve with raw vegetables, composed salads and simple seafood preparations. $15.99

2009 Caliberico Verdelho Urbanite Cellars makes this wine in the Central Valley town of Galt, within the Lodi AVA, where the white grape of Azorean origin called Verdelho produces bright, refreshing wines with melon/citrus fruit character, round, mouth filling texture and background notes of ginger snaps and spice cake. Low 12.2 % alcohol makes this a perfect cocktail white served as a welcoming apperitivo or at the beginnning of a meal accompanied by marinated vegetables and fried appetizers such as Croquete de Bacalhau. $15.99

2009 Odisea Dream Albariño Several organically farmed vineyards in the Clement Hills subzone of the Lodi AVA are the source of this 100% Albariño wine. Produced in small quantities (336 cases in total) by the Odisea Wine Company (actually just two guys, Adam Webb and Mike Kuenz) this unoaked varietal Albariño was one of the favorites at a recent tasting with The Spanish Table staff. We all appreciated the low 12.5% alcohol as well as the balance and varietal typicity of this tangy, fresh white wine. Grapefruit aroma? Check. Flinty minerality? Check. Gentle background notes of melon and white peach? Check and check. This has everything you want in a good Albariño along with the surprising element of local provenance. Fish tacos with salsa verde are a mighty tasty pairing with this wine. $14.99

2007 Odisea Two Rows Garnacha One of the first  “Caliberian’ wines that we tried a few vintages back, this blend of 85% Garnacha from the Sierra foothills along with 15% Tempranillo from the same location is a fine example of Spanish style and technique applied to California wine. This small production wine (168 cases in total) eschews the extensive use of new oak in favor of brief periods of time in previously used barrels. The dark berry fruit is never obscured by sawmill aroma, allowing the varietal character to shine through. This expressive red wine exhibits just a hint of cedary barrel character, supporting notes of black cherry and mulberry along with background minerality. This juicy mouthful of a wine will work well with grilled anything, but try it with cider brined double-cut pork chops grilled over fruit wood. That’s the stuff! $18.99

2007 Quinta Cruz Concertina This dark, expressive red wine, made in homage to the Vinho Tinto of Portugal’s Douro Valley, is sourced from a small vineyard in the San Antonio AVA of Monterey County. The wine is a blend of traditional Portuguese varieties including Tinta Roriz, Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Tinto Cão. Opaque garnet color and earthy aromas lead onward to dark berry fruit character and rocky minerality. Firm tannins give this wine a bit of old-school Portuguese style.  $19.99

2005 Tejada Tinto This Tempranillo and Garnacha blend from Lake County is our best selling domestic red wine. A single six acre vineyard located in a small mountain cove surrounded by manzanita covered hills and watered by a seasonal waterfall at its eastern boundry is the source for the grapes here. The roughly equal blend is weighted towards a bit more Tempranillo than Garnacha. In true Spanish style the wine is first aged in oak (12-16 months) followed by several years in the bottle before release. Savory aromas of earth and fine grained oak support pie cherry fruit character. A pop of tart acidity makes for a very food friendly wine that will best accompany cured meats, grilled chorizo sausage or a big pan of Paella. $21.99

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Good Press

It has been an busy week for Iberian (and Iberian inspired)wines in the news.
Last week I wrote here about Ron Silva and his Alta Mesa Cellars Tempranillo and Verdelho varietal wines from his Silvaspoons vineyard in Galt CA. Only afterwards did I discover the in-depth article written two days earlier by Mike Dunne for the Sacramento Bee. Ron is a true wine pioneer in these parts and deserves the attention. You can read the article here and remember that we carry both his red Tempranillo ($14.99) and his white Verdelho ($12.99) here in the Berkeley store.
A customer from the East Coast alerted me to a piece in the Washington Post about the Douro wines from Portugal. Dave McIntyre has written a succinct article about the evolution in the Douro Valley, traditional home of Porto, toward more red and white table wines. He mentions several producers which we carry here including Niepoort, Quinta do Vale Dona Maria and Quinta do Vallado.
Several subscribers to this newsletter have kindly sent me links to Eric Asimov’s article this week in the New York Times on the subject of the Ribeira Sacra wines from Northwestern Spain. We have featured these wines at The Spanish Table since they first appeared in the market several vintages ago. These distinctive wines are starting to receive a well deserved bit of attention on a national level.
This week I have rounded up our current selection of DO Ribeira Sacra wines for you to consider. These are all excellent expressions of an ancient region that is only just beginning to renew its true potential. They are also some of my current favorite wines in the shop.
Guímaro Mencía 2007 The ancient terraced vineyards of Ribeira Sacra are so steep that boxes of freshly harvested fruit are hoisted on ropes up to the top of the hill, or, as is the case at Guímaro, lowered into boats on the River Sil below. Pedro Rodríguez is a young winemaker working to renew this long neglected region. The unoaked Guímaro Mencía, sourced from 40 year old vines, is fresh and lively with a touch of wild herb aroma. $14.99
Guímaro Viñas Viejas 2007 The oldest vines from the Guímaro estate are harvested exclusively for this wine that encapsulates the Ribeira Sacra style for pure, balanced aromas and flavors of tart berries and slatey minerality. $28.99
Alodio 2007 The young wine from Enología Thémera is 100% Mencía, fermented in tank and bottled without ageing in oak. Fresh peachy aroma and red berry fruit character give balance to underlying minerality. $14.99
Thémera 2005 Previous vintages of this 100% Mencía wine were more lean and barrel charactered (higher priced too). The 2005 vintage marks a distinct change in style toward a fresher more expressive wine. Still aged briefly in barrels of Acacia and cherrywood, Thémera is a finely tuned example of the Ribeira Sacra style. Sweet perfumed aroma and ripe berry fruit character balance gentle barrel tannins. $23.99
Viña do Burato 2007 Composed of 100% old vine Mencía from Ramón Losada’s Minho River vineyard, this light red is fresh and youthful with the dried leaf aroma that is typical of Mencía. This is the leanest of the D. Ventura wines and also the lowest in alcohol at a mere 12.5% ABV.$17.99
Peña do Lobo 2007 This wine, from a parcel on the Sil River vineyards is 100% Mencía from vines that are over 80 years old. This dark ruby colored wine is subtle and smooth. Silky mulberry fruit character balances background minerality. $19.99
Viña Caneiro 2007 The boldest of the D. Ventura wines, this exclusive bottling sourced from small plots of old vine Mencía grown on the steep slopes of the Sil River Valley is opulent and expressive while still retaining a fresh, lively balance of flavors. Notes of cranberry and pomegranate mingle with flinty minerality. This dark and abundant wine never veers into the overly extracted or the syrupy. It maintains a fine balance of flavors and a solid foundational structure. $24.99

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Filed under California, Portugal, Red Wine, Spain

Empordá

I recently asked a few Spanish friends what they thought of the wines of the Empordá region of Spain . Most of my inquiries were met with blank looks. A couple of people mentioned the scenic Costa Brava, home to numerous small beach towns, secluded coves and at least one world famous restaurant, El Bulli, but few had a perspective on the wines of this area that lies up along the French border on the Mediteranean coast of Spain. So it was with great curiosity that I accepted an offer from The Spain-USA Chamber of Commerce to visit this region with a group of American wine merchants.
Flying in to Barcelona, I was met at the airport and immediately whisked away in a taxi, traveling an hour and a half all the way up to the French border. At the last freeway exit before crossing the frontier we left the main highway and drove up a twisty little road into the rocky, sage colored hills, stopping suddenly at a small inn perched on a hillside overlooking the little village of Cantallops. The air was warm and scented with the aromas of flowering
rosemary and wild thyme. Yellow forsythia in bloom was joined by a landscape of dusty green, lavender and brown hues tinting the steep, rocky hillsides. Cicadas buzzed in the gentle breeze.
“So this is Empordá” I said to myself as I gazed out across the valley from the hotel terrace. “Nice, very nice”.
Soon the rest of the group, wine buyers from New York, New Jersey, Chicago, Texas and California, had all arrived at the same destination and we got down to the business of learning about the local wines.
The primary grape of Emporda is Garnacha, with the local version of Cariñena (known here as Samsó) playing an important secondary role in the production of red wines. Macabeo is the primary grape for white
wines, supplemented by Garnacha Blanca. Other varieties are allowed (Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay, etc) and some wineries are now using these better known grapes in larger proportions.
Empordá winemakers are a mix of old school traditionalists and new wave innovators. Established wineries, including several cooperatives that have historically served the needs of the local community (both by buying the fruit of the local harvest and by selling wine to the local market) are now experimenting with alternate varieties and styles. Young winemakers are, on the other hand, returning to their roots (literally) by rejuvenating old vines and relearning ancient practices that were all but forgotten. This diverse group of winemakers, regardless of their differences, shares an unwavering belief in  the Empordá region as a source of great wine. These cross currents of tradition and innovation create a dynamic environment for winemaking  that is just now starting to capture the attention of wine drinkers here in the USA.
A major factor in determining the character of Empordá wines, the infamous ‘tramontano‘ winds,  did not make an appearance during our visit but we witnessed the result it can have on grape vines. Torn and tattered leaves and stunted gnarly vines are the result of (almost) continuous buffeting by the wind that comes whipping down the valleys from the mountains to the north and west.
The wines we tried over the course of three days of formal tastings, visits to several bodegas and numerous meals were, as a whole, lean and mineral driven, expressing the dry, rocky terruno of this ancient region. In addition to red, white and rosado table wines, the bodegas we visited also make some other type of wine as well. Late harvest dessert wines, and sparkling cava are joined by sweet fortified mistelas and the local vi ranci, a traditinal oxidized wine that  ages for years outdoors in glass demijohns.
Most of the wines we tasted have yet to make it to our part of the globe but The Spanish Table carries several Emprodá wines that you can sample right now to get your bearings on this distinctive region of Spain.

Floresta Blanco 2007
The white Floresta from Pere Guardiola is made up of 50% Macabeo, 42% Chardonnay and 8% Muscat. The wine is fermented in tank, not barrel, and thus displays a fresh, lively character with abundant floral aroma unobscured by heavy barrel notes. $10.99
Floresta Rosado 2008 This blend of 50% Garnacha, 40% Merlot and 10% Syrah displays pale pink color, tangy citrus and gentle strawberry fruit character. This light, breezy,well priced wine is refreshing and perfect for hot summer afternoons. $10.99
Floresta Tinto 2007 The red version of Floresta is a blend of 55% Garnacha and 45% Tempranillo. This wine is dark in color but light in character. Tart berry fruit character reinforces spicy black pepper and mineral notes. $10.99
Espelt Coralí 2008 This 100% Garnacha rosado is bright coral colored (thus the name) with fresh berry aroma and tart fruit character. This is a dry rosado that expresses some of the rocky minerality of this region. $12.99
Espelt Sauló 2005 This traditiona Empordá red is a blend of 60% Garnacha and 40% Samsó that spends just a few months in oak before bottling. Tart berry fruit meets lean minerality to produce a wine that combines youthful freshness with a firm structural foundation. $12.99

July 4th Special: American wines with Iberian roots

At the recent TAPAS tasting of American wines made from Iberian grape varieties I was impressed by the wines of Ron Silva’s Alta Mesa Cellars. Ron is sort of the Godfather of Iberian varietals in the Central Valley. He started planting Portuguese and Spanish varieties (he is of Azorean extraction himself) decades before most local winemakers even considered the possibility of using Iberian grapes here in California. His Silvaspoons vineyard in Galt, just north of Lodi has become the source of fruit for numerous other winemakers, many of whom were at the TAPAS event. His knowledge about growing these grapes ins unsurpassed. Tasting through the various iterations of  Silvaspoons fruit vinified by different winemakers it became clear to me that the grape grower here knows best what to do with the product of his own vineyards.
In the spirit of American independence I bring you two Alta Mesa wines made by Ron Silva himself. The white is made from the Azorean variety called Verdelho (supposedly not related to Verdejo) and the red is a  Tempranillo varietal.

Alta Mesa Cellars Verdelho 2008
Bright lemon yellow color with floral aromatics and more citrus character on the palate supplemented by ripe melon and peach notes.The wine has more texture and weight than the scent and flavor would lead one to expect. $12.99

Alta Mesa Cellars Tempranillo 2007 Dark mulberry color and aroma encounter berry-like fruit character that never overwhelms the gentle mineral back note. Brief barrel ageing adds a touch of tannic depth. $14.99

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Filed under California, events, Red Wine, rosado, Spain, Uncategorized, White Wine

Portugal On The Menu

Are you ready to drink more Portuguese wine?

Márcio Ferreira of Viniportugal certainly hopes so.  Viniportugal, a Portuguese wine export trade organization, was in the Bay Area last week meeting with local wine merchants and sommeliers. Márcio Ferreira hosted a lunch (at the impeccable NOPA) organized by Evan Goldstein of Full Circle Wine Solutions to taste a few wines and share some information about the grapes, growing regions and producers of Portugal.

I am happy to report that the wines were very good as is the news in general coming out of Portugal.  The Portuguese wine industry has paid close attention what has worked well in Spain over the last ten years and is applying the lessons learned from the recent success of their neighbor to the east. With recent infrastructure improvements, private investors from within Portugal as well as from other countries are building new wineries and producing an ever widening array of wines across a broad range of styles and price points. Indigenous grape varieties are being recuperated and ancient growing regions are being renovated. Portugal is embracing tradition while simultaneously recognizing the need for modern wine production technology.

In the year ahead I expect to see more Portuguese wines showing up on local restaurant wine lists. At The Spanish Table I am adding a few wines from the tasting last week (read about them below) that I think are perfect choices to help you become more familiar with a country whose wines deserve more attention. Look forward to more choices in Portuguese reds (and whites too) as the year progresses.

Locally, I just read on the internet that a Catalan tradition known as a ‘Calçotada’ is happening next Monday in Napa at Ubuntu restaurant.

‘Calçots’ are a variety of green onion (somewhere between a scallion and a leek) that are traditionally harvested at this time of years,  grilled over a wood fire and wrapped in newspaper where they steam a bit before being consumed out of hand after a dip in rich, nutty/peppery Romesco sauce and a sprinkle of sea salt. Never having attended the real deal in Catalunya, I am anxious to check this out for myself. I’ll report back if I make it up to Napa on Monday.

Speaking of Romesco sauce, you can buy one of several brands of Romesco sauce here at The Spanish Table and liven up not only grilled onions but also just about anything grilled from fish to beef. If you are feeling like making your own, here is a recipe adapted from the César Cookbook that many customers rave about.

Salsa Romesco (makes about 2 cups)

Ingredients:

1 cup blanched marcona almonds

4 dried ñora peppers

½ cup day old bread pieces

¾ cup piquillo peppers

1 clove garlic

¾ teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon picante smoked paprika

¾ cups extra virgin Spanish olive oil

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon sherry vinegar

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

Directions:

Toast the nuts in a 350 degree oven for ten minutes until light brown, then allow to cool. Rehydrate ñora peppers by simmering in 1 cup of water for 5 minutes. After the peppers have cooled in the water remove them and soak up the remaining water with the day old bread.  Pulse the room temperature nuts in a food processor until coarsely ground.  Add the rehydrated ñoras, piquillo peppers, soaked bread, garlic, salt, sugar and smoked paprika to the food processor and blend to a thick paste. With the machine running, drizzle in the olive oil followed by the lemon juice and both vinegars. Blend to a slightly chunky puree. Serve this in a bowl alongside grilled vegetables, fish, meat or just about anything that could use a little zing. The unused portion keeps well in the fridge for a week.

Paella Class: The first paella and wine class of the year is coming up at Kitchen on Fire cooking school here in Berkeley and a few tickets are still available. The date is Monday February 23rd at 6:30 pm. The cost is $65 per person and includes hands-on instruction to create several tapas and a large paella mixta, all of which will be consumed during the class. Several paella-friendly Spanish wines will also be sampled. Kitchen on Fire is handling the signup for this fun and popular class. Go to their website for more details.

Capote Velho This non-vintage red ‘vinho de mesa‘ from Portugal really delivers on freshness and versatility. This is a full liter (1.5 regular sized bottles) of wine with gentle berry-like fruit character, bright acidity and soft grape skin 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. I just retried this wine a few days ago and not only is it in perfect shape but it has gone down a buck in price since the last time I ordered it. This is an amazing bargain. $10.99 (1 liter)

Quinta de San Francisco Tinto 2005 From a little known region called DOC Óbidos located just north of Lisbon comes this red wine composed of 60 % Castelão, 20% Aragonez and 20 % Touriga Nacional. Garnet colored with a brickish tinge, this wine displays initial aromas of fresh berry and fresh portland cement. I get more mineral notes and light mulberry fruit character on the palate along with a bit of black pepper spice. Eight months of barrel age lends a gentle tannic note to the wine. One of my favorite wines from the recent Viniportugal trade tasting. $11.99

Cartuxa Évora 2004 This wine has a long history in the Alentejo region of eastern Portugal. The winery was established in 1896 on the site of an ancient Carthusian monastery. In 1957 Vasco Maria Eugenio de Almeida bought and refurbished the winery which now carries his name as part of his philanthropic efforts to improve the Alentejo region. Cartuxa is composed of a blend of of Periquita, Aragonez, Trincadeira, Moreto and Alfrocheiro grapes. The wine displays dark garnet color that fades to brick red at the rim of the glass. Loamy mushroom aroma intermingles with the scent of fresh earth. The wine mixes flavors that are savory and lean (black olive, oak, white pepper) with bold fruit flavors of black currant and plum. Firm tannins add texture and indicate that this wine will hold its character even after years in the cellar. We featured the 2003 vintage of this wine in our wine club a few years ago, priced at $25.00. Would you believe that the price has gone down a bit since then? $21.99

Altozano Blanco 2007 This fresh, food friendly Spanish white wine was the big hit of our recent Gonzalez-Byass wine dinner at César in Oakland. Made by the same folks who bring you the ever popular Tio Pepe Fino Sherry, this Castilla region blend of Verdejo and Sauvignon Blanc is bright and tangy with green herb aroma and grapefruity citrus flavor. $9.99

Beronia Crianza 2005 Another wine featured and enjoyed at the recent Gonzalez-Byass wine dinner was this barrel aged Rioja from Beronia (the Rioja region winery of Gonzalez-Byass). This blend of mostly Tempranillo blended with small amounts of Garnacha and Mazuelo spends 12 months in oak (American and French) before bottling. The barrel character plays a prominent role here but never overwhelms the cranberry and cherry fruit character. The various elements in this wine are well knit, unlike some wines where the oak envelopes the wine like a woolen blanket, obscuring all other scents and flavors. This is a very “Spanish tasting” wine at a very reasonable price. $14.99

Tejada 2005 This Tempranillo/Garnacha blend was the best seller of our recent experiment in wines made from Iberian grapes grown in California. Back in 1999 Spanish natives Celia Tejada and her brother Ivo started this small family winery in Lake County. They planted part of their 80 acre property with 3.5 acres of Tempranillo and Garnacha (the grapes they remembered from home). This small estate vineyard is the source for the fruit that goes into two Tejada wines (this one and a more mature reserva). The blend here is 58% Tempranillo and 42% Garnacha. This is a dark garnet colored wine with fresh red berry fruit character, mid-weight barrel tannins and a lean, savory element that helps retain the Spanish style of the wine. $21.99

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

American Holiday

Thanksgiving Day kicks off what we Americans call ‘The Holiday Season’. Unlike European countries where the calendar is studded with holidays both secular and religious, in the USA we can go months without any official time off. Between the 4th of July and Halloween just one day, Labor Day, is a widely observed holiday, so now that the season is upon us, we have some catching up to do.

As I have said many times before, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. What’s not to love about a national celebration devoted to food (and football)? Freed from any religious associations, Thanksgiving is an equal opportunity holiday, open to all who wish to partake in the joys of a big family meal.

The menu itself is open to broad interpretation, from Norman Rockwell traditionalism to post-modern tofurkey-ism. All tastes, culinary perspectives and even dietary restrictions can be woven into the fabric of a Thanksgiving feast. The only limitations to a successful Thanksgiving are a lack of time and/or imagination. My recommendation for those of you who have neither inclination nor inspiration to whip up a favorite family recipe is to contribute an excellent bottle of wine to the celebration.

For the first time, The Spanish Table now has genuine American wines (made from Iberian grape varieties, of course) that will perfectly match this most American of meals. I have several suggestions for you this week for domestic wines to go with Turkey and gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce and the rest of a traditional Thanksgiving menu. Additionally, I have been finding great bargains wines from Spain and Portugal that combine high quality with low price. I have several new ‘house wines’ for you this week as well as some other very reasonably priced wines that will also compliment a festive holiday meal (or any meal for that matter).

Keep reading to learn more about this week’s new wine, but first here is something I read in The New York Times that I cannot resist passing along. This recipe uses the leftovers from my favorite American holiday to add a twist to one of my all time favorite Spanish tapas, the fried croqueta.

Croquetas de Jamón y Piquillo, Estilo New York Times

(Makes approx. 3 dozen)

Ingredients:

3 cups mashed potatoes, chilled

2 1/4 cups plain bread crumbs

2 ounces serrano ham (about a half-cup), diced small

1/2 cup piquillo or roasted red pepper, diced small

5 large eggs

1 egg yolk

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, more to taste

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste

1 cup all-purpose flour

Olive oil, for frying.

Directions:

In a large bowl, combine potatoes, 3/4 cup bread crumbs, ham, pepper, 1 egg, the yolk, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, paprika and salt. Mix well.

Place remaining 4 eggs in a wide, shallow bowl and beat lightly. Place remaining 1 1/2 cups bread crumbs in a second bowl and flour in a third. Season bread crumbs with 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper.

Taking about 2 tablespoons of croquetas mixture at a time, form into 3-inch fingers. Dip each finger first in flour, tapping off excess. Dip in egg mixture, letting excess drip off, then bread crumbs. Transfer each finger to a large baking sheet. When you have finished forming all croquetas, cover tray with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 12 hours.

When ready to fry, heat 1/4-inch oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Fry croquetas in batches, turning once, until dark golden all over, 2 to 3 minutes a side. Transfer to paper towel-lined plates and sprinkle with additional salt, if desired. Serve hot.

Aforado 2005 Albariño grapes (along with small percentages of Caino and Loureira) go into this crisp, dry white wine from Galicia on Spain’s Atlantic coast. Abundant citrus fruit character with a foundation of fine minerality. A few years of bottle age have softened the acidity and mellowed the fruit character, creating a gentle version of what was once a tart, tangy wine. When first released this was a $15 wine, but is now ‘house wine’ priced at $6.99 (with a special discounted ‘house wine’ price of $5.99 when purchased by the case).

Brigantia 2001 This lightly oaked red wine is made from Prieto Picudo, an autochthonous grape variety of the Castilla Y León region. Dark garnet color and gamey aroma combine with rich black cherry fruit character and notes of saddle leather and coffee bean. This style of bold, earthy wine is rarely seen at this price. $6.99 ($5.99/each, by the case)

Peñafiel Joven 2004 Young, lightly oaked Ribera del Duero wines have been growing in popularity lately. Peñafiel Joven spends a few brief months in oak, adding the merest whiff of barrel character to this darkly colored, richly flavored red wine fashioned from the thick skinned Tinto Fino grape. $6.99 ($5.99/each, by the case)

Luis Alegre Joven 2006 This light, youthful, unoaked Tempranillo, made in the small Rioja region hill town of Laguardia is a traditional style of red wine made using the maceración carbonica method of whole cluster fermentation that produces fresh, fruity wines in a matter of weeks. This style is favored by the local winemakers in Spain but is not seen very often in the export market where mature, aged wines predominate. This bright, floral red can be served alone, with assorted tapas or at the beginning of a meal as a starter wine. $7.99

Odisea Two Rows Garnacha 2006 Adam Webb and Mike Kuenz founded Odisea a few years ago to make wines in the style of Southern France and Northern Spain. Using fruit from Lodi and the Sierra Foothills, these winemakers have crafted several different wines that, tasted blind, could easily pass as Spanish. Two Rows Garnacha, produced in miniscule amounts (90 cases in all) is a blend of 76% Garnacha, 12% Tempranillo and 12% Petite Sirah. A brief period of barrel ageing, as is typical with Spanish roble wines, adds a hint of oaky complexity to the wine. The crystalline ruby color, tangy, bright fruit character and background earthy/mineral notes are reminiscent of a Calatayud Garnacha or a young wine from Rioja Baja and will pair well with turkey and gravy. $19.99

Tejada 2005 Back in 1999 Spanish natives Celia Tejada and her brother Ivo started this small family winery in Lake County. The Tejada siblings planted part of their new 80 acre property with 3.5 acres of Tempranillo and Garnacha (the grapes they remembered from home). This small estate vineyard is the source for the fruit that goes into two Tejada wines (this one and a more mature reserva). The blend here is 58% Tempranillo and 42% Garnacha. Local winemaker Byron Kosuge is involved in the winemaking process which includes a certain amount of time in oak followed by a period of bottle ageing as is done in Spain. The end result is a dark garnet colored wine with fresh red berry fruit character, mid-weight barrel tannins and a lean, savory element that helps retain the Spanish style of the wine. $21.99

Candy Core Late Harvest Grenache 2004 Looking for a wine to pair with cranberry sauce? This little bottle of sweet dessert wine from Dave and Becky Corey at Core Wine Company is made from 100% Grenache (Garnacha to us) from the Santa Barbara Highlands. The grapes are left on the vine until super ripe and then aged for 18 months in barrel (with 8 more months of bottle age) after fermentation. This opaque ruby colored wine retains bright acidity that balances the dense, perfumed sweetness and gives the wine an unexpected lively quality. $19.99 (375ml)

St. Amant Tawny St. Amant is a small California winery that was founded in 1979 by Tim and Barbara Spencer to produce Port style wines (they have since become even better known for their Zinfandel). The non-vintage ‘Tawny’ is made from the Bastardo grape (a traditional Porto variety) sourced from the family estate vineyard in Amador County. According to Stuart Spencer (Tim Spencer died in 2006 and his son Stuart has been running the winery since that time) this wine started was an experiment in single varietal barrel aged Tawny Port style wine gone wrong. After primary fermentation and fortification (as is done in Porto) the wine was sampled and rejected as too rough and astringent. The experimental barrels full of wine were left in the tool shed and basically forgotten for several years. The wine was not racked or disturbed in any way. Down the line curiosity prevailed and the wine was re-tasted. Time and neglect had proved beneficial to the experimental Bastardo Tawny. The years of barrel age softened the acidity. The rough tannins had subsided and sweet, somewhat maderized notes of butterscotch and caramel had infused the dramatically improved wine. Serve this wine with pecan or pumpkin pie for a seasonal treat. $33.99 (500ml)

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Filed under California, Fortified Wine, Recipes, Red Wine, Spain, White Wine

Tempranillo: Here and There

In recent weeks I have been excitedly promoting California wines made from Iberian grape varieties. Imagine my surprise when, earlier this week, while grocery shopping at my local produce store (Monterey Market for you locals) I came upon a bin full of freshly picked Tempranillo grapes.

These large clusters of small, dark grapes were irresistible, especially for someone in my line of work. The fruit was sweet and ripe with thick skins and big seeds. I was pleasantly surprised that these were delicious grapes to eat out of hand, something I had not expected from a wine grape.

The availability of fresh Tempranillo reinforces my opinion that this Spanish grape is becoming more popular here with each passing harvest.

This week we have a new California Tempranillo from Paso Robles. This latest addition brings the number of domestic wines at The Spanish Table to a whopping total of eight. This small collection will continue to grow as we find more wines that come from Iberian varieties and express something of the traditional Spanish or Portuguese style.

Meanwhile, the latest arrivals from Spain are coincidentally all Tempranillo this week. I even have a newly arrived blend of Tempranillo and Malbec from Argentina, further proof that this is a grape to watch in the near term.

Coral Mustang Tempranillo 2004 Sourced from the Vista Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles, this 100% Tempranillo wine is produced in small (400 cases) quantities by Penelope Gadd-Coster and her husband Frank Coster at their family winery in Healdsburg. This dark, spicy red wine expresses the rich side of Tempranillo that shows some similarity to the Tempranillo wines of the Toro region in Spain where the grape goes by the name Tinta de Toro. Coral Mustang Tempranillo is aged in second use oak barrels for 13 months which imparts a note of tannic complexity to the final product. The wine is bottled without filtration, adding to the initial impression of richness. Let this wine breath a bit before serving and the more nuanced elements (sweet red berries, black pepper, pomegranate) will come forward. $18.99

Urban Uco 2006 José Manuel Ortega founded Bodegas y Viñedos O. Fournier in 2000.

A banker by trade and Spanish by birth, Ortega followed his passion for wine to Argentina where he started a winery in the Uco Valley region of Mendoza province. He bought land for vineyards (currently he owns over 700 acres of which 230 are planted) and in 2004 completed a winery/hotel/restaurant complex where the wines are made. Urban Uco 2006 is a 50/50 blend of Tempranillo and Malbec from the Uco Valley in the Mendoza province. The high altitude bush vines, many of them over twenty years old, produce a wine that combines the power of Malbec with the finesse of Tempranillo. This lightly (3 months) oaked blend shows gentle barrel tannins and balanced fruit character. $10.99

Urban Roble 2005 Meanwhile, back in Spain, José Manuel Ortega bought a winery in the Ribera del Duero region. The San Juan López winery was renamed Bodegas O. Fournier after the purchase in 2002. In addition to a winery dating from 1979, the purchase included 260 acres of land, 150 acres of which are established vineyards with 80 acres planted to old vine Tinta del País (Tempranillo). Urban Roble 2005 is a young red wine that exhibits abundant regional style. This robust young wine is composed of local Tinta del País grapes sourced from old vines. After fermentation the wine ages in small oak barrels for 4 months before bottling. The dark garnet color mimics aromas and flavors of ripe dark berries. Tannic oak adds contrast without overwhelming the rich fruit character. Background notes include chalky minerality and a bit of spice on the finish. $13.99

Izadi Crianza 2005 The latest vintage of this all Tempranillo wine from the heart of Rioja is made by young (UC Davis educated) Lalo Anton who is slowly taking over winemaking responsibility at Bodegas Villabuena from his father Gonzalo. Izadi is a traditionally styled Rioja where long periods of oak barrel ageing are followed by further maturation in bottle before release. This Crianza wine spent 12 months in barrel followed by an additional 12 months in bottle. Firm barrel tannins dominate the initial impression, followed closely by tart red berry fruit character. This bold, assertive wine is ready to enjoy right away but will age gracefully for years to come. $19.99

Villacreces Reserva 2001 Finca Villacreces was founded in 1994 by Pedro Garcia-Cuadrado in the heart of the Ribera del Duero region of Northern Spain. The property, which was purchased by the Anton family (the owners of Izadi in Rioja) in 2003, has 105 acres of vineyard, much of it older vines but, with new plantings in progress, will soon have 160 acres in production. Villacreces Reserva 2001 is dark, rich and full bodied. A blend of 75% Tempranillo, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Merlot, the wine is opaque purple in color with aromas and flavors of black cherries, cocoa powder and cedar. The substantial barrel tannins are fairly well resolved by now and the wine leaves a final impression of freshness combined with rich elegance. $36.99

Cillar de Silos Crianza 2005 The latest vintage of this full bodied Ribera del Duero is now available. Dark garnet hue and powerful aromas of ripe berries assert the bold character of this wine. A year in oak adds substantial tannins which integrate well with the expressive black cherry fruit character. Earth and mineral notes underlie the rest of the flavors and aromas. $29.99

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Vino Iberesco

Two weeks ago I wrote about a new thing we are trying here at The Spanish Table. After many years as an all-import wine merchant, domestic wines are now starting to make an appearance on our shelves.

As mentioned in the previous newsletter, “Starting this week we have a new section of California wines made from Spanish and Portuguese grape varieties such as Tempranillo, Garnacha, Graciano, Cariñena, Albariño, Verdelho and anything else I find that has Iberian origins and grows here in the USA. … These new wines, while remaining true to their California origins, are stylistically anchored in the winemaking traditions of Spain and Portugal.”

I am happy to report that you, our loyal customers, have taken a liking to these artisanal, hand made wines. The initial response was so enthusiastic that this week I have added four more domestic, Iberian styled wines to our growing selection of vino iberesco (the term I’m currently using to lump them all together).

This week I offer you a varietal Tempranillo from Santa Barbara as well as a Tempranillo blend from the Sierra Foothills. I also have two domestic dessert wines coming in this week. One is a late harvest Garnacha from Santa Barbara and the other is a Tawny Port style wine made from Bastardo (the traditional Portuguese grape variety, not the hurled insult!).

Getting back to imports, we just received the new vintage of Viña Mein, a white wine from the Ribeiro region of Galicia. This crisp, lean, wine has changed importers and, as often happens in these cases, now comes in a nice new package. The fossilized fish on the label emphasizes the flinty, fossil-like minerality found in Viña Mein while suggesting an appropriate pairing (seafood!).

We also just brought in a new Argentine Malbec that offers an abundant yet balanced expression of classic Malbec character. Maipe Malbec is not only a really tasty wine; it is a great value too (something we could all use right now). You can read more about it below.

Paella Class Update: You still have time to sign up for my paella and wine class that is taking place at Kitchen on Fire cooking school here in Berkeley. The date is Sunday October 19th at 6:30 pm. The cost is $65 per person and includes hands-on instruction to create several tapas and a large paella mixta, all of which will be consumed during the class. Several paella-friendly Spanish wines will also be sampled. Kitchen on Fire is handling the signup for this fun and popular class. Go to their website for more details.

Viña Mein 2007 The Ribeiro region of Galicia in Northwestern Spain is less well known than its neighboring coastal region Rías Baixas. Albariño is the grape of choice in Rías Baixas, while in Ribeiro the Treixadura grape predominates. If you have enjoyed the ever-increasing variety of Albariño wines now in the market, you owe it to yourself to try the similarly styled wines from D.O. Ribeiro. The flinty, crushed seashell minerality is emphasized here along with the grapefruity citrus and floral elements that are also found in Rías Baixas wines.

Viña Mein is fashioned from a blend of 80% Treixadura, 10% Godello, 5% Loureiro, and 1% to 2% each of Albariño, Torrontés, Albilla and Caiño. Bright gold color, ripe melon aroma and refreshing citrus fruit character never overwhelm the flinty mineral foundation that maintains the lean focus of this wine. $19.99

Maipe Malbec 2007 Our newest Argentine Malbec is darkly colored and boldly flavored without ever veering into the over extracted style that is common at this very reasonable price point. Ripe mulberry fruit character finds balance in dusty tannins and wild herb aromas. An underlying tart quality (gentle but present) adds complexity to this well priced wine. $10.99

Core C3 Tempranillo 2006 Dave Corey makes wine in Santa Maria, California at a winery that he and his wife Becky started in 2000. Originally they focused on Grenache and Mourvedre (known as Garnacha and Monastrell in Spain) grapes for their wines. The new C3 project also includes Dave’s sisters Melanie Corey-Ferrini and Sherri Corey-Pinero. They produce this single varietal Tempranillo in small quantities (425 cases in total) in addition to a more mature barrel aged Tempranillo/Cabernet blend called Crazy Eights. C3 Tempranillo is a fresh and lively red wine that expresses the more youthful side of tempranillo. Bright garnet color, cherry fruit character and a bit of earthy background all combine to give this wine a foothold in the traditions of both Spain and California. $17.99

Temporary Insanity 2006 Adam Webb and Mike Kuenz make the Odisea ‘Two Rows Garnacha’ that we featured in the last newsletter. Temporary Insanity is their more mature blend of 80% Tempranillo, 10% Garnacha and 10% Syrah. This wine ages in oak for 18 months before bottling. Dark garnet color and assertive barrel tannins create the initial impression here, with ripe berry fruit character and plush texture rounding out the picture. Like their other wines, this small production wine (125 cases in total) tastes very Spanish in style and will continue to develop for many years to come. $24.99

Candy Core Late Harvest Grenache 2004 This little bottle of sweet dessert wine from Dave and Becky Corey at Core Wine Company is made from 100% Grenache (Garnacha to us) from the Santa Barbara Highlands. The grapes are left on the vine until super ripe and then aged for 18 months in barrel (with 8 more months of bottle age) after fermentation. This opaque ruby colored wine retains bright acidity that balances the dense, perfumed sweetness and gives the wine an unexpected lively quality. $19.99 (375ml)

St. Amant Tawny St. Amant is a small California winery that was founded in 1979 by Tim and Barbara Spencer to produce Port style wines (they have since become even more well known for their Zinfandel). The non-vintage ‘Tawny’ is made from the Bastardo grape (a traditional Porto variety) sourced from the family estate vineyard in Amador County. According to Stuart Spencer (Tim Spencer died in 2006 and his son Stuart has been running the winery since that time) this wine started was an experiment in single varietal barrel aged Tawny Port style wine gone wrong. After primary fermentation and fortification (as is done in Porto) the wine was sampled and rejected as too rough and astringent. The experimental barrels were set aside and basically forgotten for several years. The wine was not racked or disturbed in any way.

Down the line curiosity prevailed and the wine was re-tasted. Time and neglect had proved beneficial to the experimental Bastardo tawny. The years of barrel age softened the acidity. The rough tannins had subsided and sweet, somewhat maderized notes of butterscotch and caramel had infused the dramatically improved wine. $33.99 (500ml)

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Filed under Argentina, California, Fortified Wine, Red Wine, Spain, White Wine