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Sidra

It will come as no surprise to you, brave readers of this newsletter, that the food and wine traditions from Spain are currently quite popular on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. Thanks to retailers like The Spanish Table, many unique and delicious Spanish products are finding their way into American kitchens and dining rooms, often for the first time.

In spite of all the recent attention, some of Spain’s regional specialties are still hard to find in the USA. The famous Pata Negra ham, for instance, has only just become available here. Wines from lesser known regions are found only in specialty shops like The Spanish Table.

One product that has been noticeably absent from the US market is the traditional hard apple cider from Spain’s northern coastal regions, specifically the sagardo (sidra in Spanish) from the Basque region along the border with France.

Happily, this tart, yeasty farm house cider has begun to take hold here in America. A few weeks ago I announced the arrival of the Basque cider made by Bereziartua, fulfilling a multi-year quest to find, buy and offer this product for sale to our customers. Today we have just received yet another sagardo, this one by Isastegi. Add to this the traditional sparkling cider from Asturias in three styles (one hard cider and two non-alcoholic versions) that we have carried for years and together they constitute the largest collection of sidra/sagardo on the west coast.

“So what’s the big deal with cider” you may ask?

Like Manzanilla in Jerez or Txakoli in Basque Country, the sagardo tradition is best experienced first hand. The place to learn about this traditional beverage is at a Sagardotegi, the typical cider mill that can be found all across the Basque region.

These businesses are usually part family residence, part cider mill and part seasonal restaurant. In the springtime, barrels of freshly fermented cider are tapped for thirsty crowds that gather for a taste of the new vintage as well as for the traditional Sagardotegi meal of omelets, salt cod with fried green peppers, thick bone-in rib eye steaks grilled over charcoal and walnuts in the shell with honey and cheese for dessert. This meal is usually eaten standing up so as to accommodate frequent trips to the barrel room for refills.

To get an idea of how this works, check out this video made at Bereziartua Sagardotegi. To acquaint yourself with (or revisit) the true flavor of basque sagardo, come pick up one of our two new brands of hard cider and pour them with the following recipe.

Chistorra con Sidra (basque chorizo braised in apple cider)

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon, Spanish extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup, thinly sliced white onion

1 lb. basque style chistorra sausage

1 cup, basque apple cider

1 bay leaf

Instructions:

Heat the olive oil in a 10” clay cazuela (or sauté pan). Add the sliced onions to the oil and sauté over medium heat for 5 minutes until the onions get soft and start to brown. Slice the long, skinny chistorra (sometimes spelled Txistorra) into bit sized pieces and brown lightly in the hot oil for about 6-8 minutes. If you are using a clay cazuela, bring the cider and bay leaf to a simmer in a separate pan and then add the hot liquid to the cazuela (adding cold liquid to a hot cazuela can crack it). If you are using a sauté pan you can add the cider straight to the pan without preheating it. Simmer the sausages in the cider for 20-30 minutes until the liquid is reduced by half. Serve hot with some bread on the side to sop up the juices, and more cider to wash it all down.

Isastegi Sagardo This traditional Basque apple cider is cloudy gold colored with yeasty fermented aroma and tart apple flavor. This unfiltered artisan cider displays just a hint of sweet apple character along with apple skin tartness filling in the rest of the flavor profile. At six percent alcohol this makes a nice alternative to beer on a hot afternoon. $11.99

Bereziartua Sagardo This hard cider is unfiltered, cloudy, lightly effervescent and only barely sweet. Yeasty aroma and tart fermented apple flavor are what you want from this most ancient of drinks. In the Basque Country they drink it straight from the barrel in early spring and the rest of the year they drink from bottles like those we have just received. When this stuff becomes wildly popular, remember, you heard it here first. $8.99

El Gaitero Sidra Asturiana This is the most widely recognized brand of sparkling hard cider from the Asturias region on the north coast of Spain. Clear gold color, abundant effervescence and sweet red apple fruit character make this a favorite at parties and family gatherings in Asturias and elsewhere in Spain. $8.99

La Gaita Sidra $2.99

El Gaitero Verde $3.99

El Gaitero in Asturias makes several non-alcoholic apple ciders that are very similar to the regular El Gaitero in flavor, but without the booze. Pretty champagne style bottles with old style labels on the outside, lots of bubbles and sweet apple flavor on the inside.

New arrivals in the wine department:

Salneval Albariño 2007 This younger sibling to the ever popular Condes de Albarei is a fine example of well priced Albariño. Melon and citrus fruit character balances gentle minerality in this wine. Recently The New York Times praised this wine among several other Albariño wines from the Rías Baixas region, saying “Pleasing, with flavors of white peaches, cantaloupe and lemon.” You can read more of this informative article here. $10.99

Ameztoi Txakoli – Upelean Hartzitua 2007 This is the limited edition Ameztoi Txakoli that spends some time ageing in large neutral oak foudres. Made from the Hondarribi Zuri grape just like the regular Ameztoi, this wine displays the typical flinty minerality and green apple fruit character of Txakoli along with a subtle bit of rich texture and leesy aroma imparted by the big barrels. $18.99

Altos de La Hoya 2006 This wine from Jumilla has always been a benchmark Monastrell from Spain. Ungrafted old vines with fat and lush flavors of deep, sweet dark berries, some black pepper and just a touch of baked earth. Great concentration and richness. This tastes like a much more expensive wine than it is. $12.99

Juan Gil 2006 We just got in the new vintage of this popular Monastrell from Jumilla, made by Miguel Gil, one of the pioneers of this grape and this region. Dark color and concentrated blackberry aroma create the first impression, leading on to sweet dark berry fruit character and a touch of grape skin tannin. A fine example of a pure Monastrell wine. $16.99

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Filed under Recipes, Red Wine, sidra (cider), Spain, White Wine

Strike

It happens every time I travel in Western Europe. Soon after arriving (sometimes even during the flight over) I discover that whatever plans I have made for a certain day will require significant alteration because of one of several varieties of huelga de trabajo (labor strike). Sometimes it’s the bus drivers or garbage collectors and other times it’s the museum ticket takers or other less than crucial service providers, but still it always comes as a surprise to me the visiting foreigner and has a way of messing up my plans. Of course it could also be a Saint’s birthday, bank holiday or other state mandated day off that brings everything to a full stop, leaving us hapless tourists to wander aimlessly in search of amusement, which helps explain why the local residents never seem too put out by the break from routine. They are used to it.

At present, truck drivers in several EU countries are staging protests over the cost of fuel. Unlike the ‘vacation surprises’ that don’t make much news over here, these current strikes are being felt far and wide. The effects are particularly noticeable in the world of imported wine. Suppliers here are running out of certain products and have no estimate on when they will receive new shipments.

So what are wine drinkers to do in this moment of uncertainty? Fear not, I say, for we have plenty of options and choices still available. While the flood of new products is experiencing a temporary lull, we still have hundreds of wines in stock from all across Spain and Portugal (Argentina and Chile too). If your favorite brand is momentarily missing from the shelf, take this opportunity to try a neighboring wine with similar characteristics. It is just like being on a trip to Spain and realizing that you have to change you plans because the trains are not running or your favorite restaurant has abruptly closed for a month long vacation (a month? what must that be like?) leading you to try some alternate place that can often turn into a wonderful new experience.

Speaking of new experiences, this Sunday, June 29th, Berkeley will host the 3rd annual International Food Festival. The Spanish Table will be cooking up a big paella and handing out samples right here in the store starting at 1 pm. This has been one of the big hits of the festival in previous years and will be a tasty introduction to any of you that have yet to experience the fun and excitement of paella first hand.

I will be demonstrating a simple and delicious tapa recipe at 3:30 pm on the Kitchen On Fire cooking stage in the bank parking lot down the street from The Spanish Table. Here is the recipe I will be doing. Come see me on Sunday and get a taste of this quick and easy appetizer, and then take this recipe home and make this for yourself.

I’ll see you at the fiesta!

 

Olivada and Piquillo Montadito (makes about 35-40)

 

1 lb. pitted olives (green or black)

1 sml can of anchovies (55gr./2 oz. net weight)

1 clove garlic

1 sml. Jar piquillo peppers (185 gr./6.5 oz. net weight)

1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

3 ‘baguette’ style French bread

 

Pit olives if necessary. Slice peppers into thin strips. Slice bread into 1/2 inch rounds. Finely mince garlic and combine with olives, anchovies and olive oil in a food processor. Process until mostly smooth. Add a bit more oil if it seems too chunky (it should be spreadable). Spread one teaspoon of olivada on each slice of bread, edge to edge. Garnish with one strip of pepper. Serve.

 

While we await new products, here are some ‘greatest hits’ from recent newsletters:

 

Luis Pato Espumante Bruto This is the first Portuguese sparkling wine to arrive here at The Spanish Table. Luis Pato, the celebrated and somewhat controversial wine maker works in the Beiras region of Portugal. This sparkling wine is made mostly from the Maria Gomes grape and (starting with this bottling) also includes 5% Arinto in the blend. Lean toasty aroma and tart, leesy fruit character combine with frothy effervescence to create a uniquely refreshing wine. $15.99

 

Bereziartua Apple Cider At last, it has arrived! Many of us have been waiting for years to get our hands on some genuine Basque sidra. This hard cider is unfiltered, cloudy, lightly effervescent and only barely sweet. Yeasty aroma and tart fermented apple flavor are what you want from this most ancient of drinks. In the Basque Country they drink it straight from the barrel from harvest time through the winter and then in spring and summer they drink the rest from bottles like those we have just received. When this stuff becomes wildly popular, remember, you heard it here first. $8.99

 

Raventos Perfum de Vi Blanc 2005 This wine comes from Raventos i Blanc, the makers of one of our best Cavas. This blend of 60% Macabeo and 40% Muscat from the Penedès region in Catalunya has exchanged its youthful boldness for mature spiciness. Aromas of wintergreen, allspice and green herbs add unusual complexity to this unoaked white wine, underscoring what I perceive as a bit of ginger ale-like flavor (store manager Caty says she tastes “afri-cola”) on the palate. Intriguing! $8.99

 

Nuevomundo Cabernet/Carmenere Reserve 2005 This Chilean blend of organically grown Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere from the Maipo Valley is dark and spicy with underlying complexity from 14 months of oak barrel ageing. The more firmly structured Cabernet Sauvignon makes up 60% of the blend and finds counterpoint in the spicy Carmenere which accounts for the other 40%. $11.99

 

Viña Catajarros Élite Rosado 2007 The Cigales region in northern Spain is, along with Navarra, the traditional home of many excellent rosado wines. This particular wine (the first 2007 rosado to arrive from Spain) is produced mostly from Tempranillo with, interestingly, 10% white Verdejo added to the blend. Vivid rose pink color and strawberry aroma blends well with watermelon fruit character and a racy jolt of acidity (from the Verdejo) that maintains the bright, refreshing quality of this wine. $12.99

 

Tio Pepe The best known Fino on the planet is back with a new distributor after a brief hiatus. Gonzalez-Byass makes Tio Pepe from the Palomino Fino grape in the Jerez region of Southern Spain. This dry, nutty wine is ubiquitous in Andalucia and is a perfect accompaniment to toasted almond, olives, cured meats, cheeses and other salty foods. The price has gone down too (how often do you hear that these days), so try some for yourself and see what the fuss is all about. $16.99

 

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Filed under Argentina, Chile, Fortified Wine, Portugal, Recipes, Red Wine, rosado, sidra (cider), Spain, Sparkling Wine, White Wine

WPLJ

One of the big differences between this newsletter and a blog(note: this was written before transferring everything to this format) is that you the readers do not get to comment on what I write and have it posted alongside my weekly ramblings. Occasionally a reader responds to something I’ve written, adding context or perspective that I had not considered, leading me to share their insights with the rest of you. This was the case last week when Jim Kaatz commented on my ‘Portonic’ cocktail recipe. He asked, “Have you ever heard the Mother’s of Invention (Frank Zappa) song WPLJ (white port and lemon juice)? I always thought they were kidding! I guess not!”

Ah yes, Frank Zappa. His name, like a pebble tossed into the cloudy pool of my personal memory, creates concentric waves of nostalgia. Growing up in Atlanta Georgia in the 1970s, high school would have been less educational and much duller without Frank Zappa’s articulate rebelliousness and mind-blowing electric guitar solos (an irresistible combination for just about every teenaged male born in the last fifty years). I had forgotten that MPLJ was the first track off of his 1970 album Burnt Weenie Sandwich. But ‘FZ’ (fanboys called him that even before we ourselves were called ‘fanboys’), genius composer that he was, did not actually write MPLJ.

A quick search of the internets (ain’t modern life grand?) reveals that MPLJ does indeed stand for White Port and Lemon Juice, the favorite drink of the original composer, ‘Lord’ Luther McDaniels who originally recorded the song back in 1956 (here in Berkeley, no less) with his short-lived doo-wop group called The Four Deuces. Before Zappa covered the song in 1970 the original version was used as the jingle for Italian Swiss Colony wines (another cue for nostalgia) to sell their, you guessed it, white port.

After the Zappa version came out in 1970, the New York radio station WABC changed their name to WPLJ and featured the kind of music, ‘album oriented rock’, or AOR in radio lingo, that I loved during that time (Eagles, Led Zeppelin, Electric Light Orchestra and so on), but I didn’t grow up in New York so that is perhaps more of a topic for someone else.

Type WPLJ into youtube (we didn’t have that back in the 70s, let me tell you) and you can listen to both versions of this classic song (the links, for the search-impaired are http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GNA-jRm-nvQ for the original, and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VLFjkEpwGfE&feature=related for the Zappa cover). 

Many thanks to Jim Kaatz for starting me down this path of internet fueled remembrance. Also, though Frank Zappa is no longer with us, ‘Lord Luther’ is supposedly (if the internet, source of all wisdom, can be trusted) still making music and living in Salinas, just as he did fifty years ago as a younger man singing with The Four Deuces.

But I digress. What is new in the wine world at The Spanish Table? Plenty, but this week only some of it is actually wine. I am very excited to (finally) report that we have secured a supply of Basque apple cider at an excellent price. We also have Spanish and Portuguese beer, new Manzanilla Sherry and a sparkling white wine from Portugal that is growing in popularity with each passing week. And, yes, we have plenty of white Port and more new wines for summertime sipping too, so whatever your personal preferences are beverage-wise, come visit and see what’s happening here in the heart of Berkeley, home of great things to eat, drink and sing about.

“Well I feel so good, I feel so fine
I got plenty lovin’, I got plenty wine
White Port & Lemon Juice,
White Port & Lemon Juice,
I said White Port & Lemon Juice,
Ooh what it do to you!”

Bereziartua Apple Cider Many of us have been waiting for years to get our hands on some genuine Basque sidra. This hard cider is unfiltered, cloudy, lightly effervescent and only barely sweet. Yeasty aroma and tart fermented apple flavor are what you want from this most ancient of drinks. In the Basque Country they drink it straight from the barrel from harvest time through the winter and then in spring and summer they drink the rest from bottles like those we have just received. When this stuff becomes wildly popular, remember, you heard it here first. $8.99

Estrella Galicia Beer When visiting wineries in Spain I often get the same bizarre sounding question. “Would you like a beer before we taste the wines?” Traveling in Spain can be hot, thirsty work, so this is actually a reasonable way to proceed. While Spain has many excellent beers, this excellent lagar from Galicia is currently the only Spanish beer available here in California. Blonde color, yeasty aroma and crisp flavor are just what you want after a hot day to reawaken the appetite. $10.99 (6 pack)

Sagres Beer In Portugal, this is a major brand. Sagres is served everywhere. This classic lagar style brew is crisp and light with clean hoppy flavor. It makes a perfect accompaniment to a classic Portuguese sardine sandwich. $7.99 (6 pack)

Luis Pato Espumante Bruto I mentioned this wine a few weeks ago. We ran out for a brief period, but it is now in stock once again. This is the first Portuguese sparkling wine to arrive here at The Spanish Table. Luis Pato, the celebrated and somewhat controversial wine maker works in the Beiras region of Portugal. This sparkling wine is made mostly from the Maria Gomes grape and (starting with this bottling) also includes 5% Arinto in the blend. Lean toasty aroma and tart, leesy fruit character combine with frothy effervescence to create a uniquely refreshing wine. $15.99

San León Manzanilla Clásica Previously unavailable in the USA, San León is a new addition to our selection of Jerez wines. Herederos de Argüeso has been making wine in Jerez since 1822. They produce a full range of Sherry but they specialize in the production of Manzanilla. 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)

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Filed under beer, Portugal, Spain, White Wine