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Portugal On My Mind

At The Spanish Table in Berkeley I buy wines with a very specific national focus. Spain, Portugal, Chile and Argentina. That’s it.

Still, selecting wines from just the countries we represent, I go through periods of intense interest in one style or region or winemaker and I take home lots of wines from wherever/whatever/whomever is my current obsession. Lately I have been really enjoying the wines from Portugal, specifically the reds from the Dão region and the whites from Vinho Verde.

Not so long ago Dão wines were often rustic, chunky reds that displayed little in the way of freshness or complexity. These days, and especially this time of year, I have been enjoying a range of Dão wines, both young and more mature, that show off the improvements in quality for wines from this region.

In Vinho Verde, as with Dão, the quality level is rising with each year. Intrepid importers who once only shipped inexpensive, non-vintage blends for summertime picnics now supply us with some top notch varietal wines from this region on Portugal’s northern border.

As spring continues to unfold in the Bay Area I find that these Portuguese wines match the season perfectly. Lively, youthful aromas, bright fruit character and intriguing mineral notes pair wonderfully with a springtime menu. These wines, many of which have yet to be discovered by food and wine lovers in our little corner of the globe, offer a clear sense of place with styles and characteristics that are distinctly Portuguese.

To get a feeling for these wines, I suggest pairing them with a typical Portuguese dish, and few foods in Portugal are more typical than salt cod. Here is a classic version of a baked casserole that also has the advantage of using up some of those hard boiled Easter eggs that many of you will have on hand right now.

Salt Cod and Potato Casserole – adapted from The Food of Portugal by Jean Anderson

(Serves 6 as a main course)

Ingredients:

1 lb. Dried salt cod fillet

1 Large yellow onion

2 lbs. Yukon Gold (or Russet) potatoes

1/3 cup Minced parsley

1 tblspn. Butter

3 tblspns. Portuguese olive oil

3 Hard boiled eggs, peeled and cut in wedges

12 Oil cured black olives, pitted

1 tblspn. Salt

1 tblspn. Ground black pepper

Directions:

One day ahead, soak the Salt Cod in cold water, changing the water twice in 24 hours.

The next day, drain the Cod and poach it in 1 quart of simmering water on the stove for twenty minutes or until the fish starts to flake apart.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. While waiting for the oven to come up to temperature, slice the onion in thin rings and sauté in a clay cazuela on the stove top with the butter and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil until the onion has softened and taken on a bit of color. Remove the onions when cooked. Peel and slice the potatoes in thin rounds and add them to the cazuela with the rest of the olive oil. Sauté the potatoes until they start to soften and fall apart. Mix in the cooked onions along with the salt, pepper and half of the parsley. Tuck big flakes of the cod into the potato and onion mixture. Top with the pitted olives and bake uncovered in the oven for 30-40 minutes until lightly browned on top. Remove from oven and garnish with wedges of hard boiled eggs and the rest of the parsley. Serve with a green salad and any of the wines below.

Broadbent Vinho Verde $10.99 An excellent example of top quality Vinho Verde. Composed of 50% Loureiro, 40% Trajadura and 10% Padernã it is light in color with lemon and grapefruit aromas. On the palate it offers more citrus as well as a bit of flinty minerality carried along by slight effervescence that makes the wine refreshing and easy to drink.

Ponte de Lima Adamado 2006 $9.99 This Vinho Verde is fresh and a bit fuller bodied than some others from this region. The extra dollop of fruit character is round and generous, adding weight to the flinty/spritzy Vinho Verde style. I pair this with a composed salad of butter lettuce, white asparagus and top shelf Ventresca tuna.

Solar de Serrade Alvarinho 2006 $17.99 In Portugal, Vinho Verde is often thought of (with good reason) as a simple, spritzy white wine for picnics and parties. This Vinho Verde on the other hand is a whole different story. Made from the Alvarinho grape (Albariño in Spain), this elegantly dry and flinty white wine is finely balanced and fragrant. If you are curious about just how good Vinho Verde can be, this is a perfect place to begin your investigation.

Quinta dos Grilos 2005 $15.99 Grilo is Portuguese for cricket, and while you won’t find any crickets in this wine, the flavor may remind you of a warm summer night in the back yard, grilling something tasty, swatting mosquitoes and listening to the (you guessed it) crickets. From the Dao region of Portugal, this red wine is bright and savory, with cherry-like fruit overlaying a tannic core. Chirp!

Primavera Dão 2003 $14.99 The Dao region was once among the most desirable sources of quality red wines in Portugal. These wines were dry and earthy with rich but oxidized fruit character. Over time this style fell out of favor with the international market (the Portuguese still love the old style). Flash forward to the current day and we see some fresh, fragrant Dão wines that still retain some elements of the old style. This wine is a perfect example of how this region is blending modern style with traditional heritage. Fashioned from a blend of Touriga Nacional Tinta Roriz and Touriga Franca, the garnet color and the dark berry fruit character balance fine tannins and background minerality.

Cardeal Reserva 2002 $13.99 This Dão wine is made from 100% Touriga Nacional, one of the traditional varieties used in Porto. This wine was aged in barrel for over a year and has bed come softer and rounder from several years of bottle age. Still, the barrel character gives this wine a bit more of the old school Dão character, blending well with the dark berry fruit. Serve this with some grilled sardines for a traditional pairing.

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Filed under Portugal, Recipes, Red Wine, White Wine

Volunteer Tomatoes

One of the great joys of summer is a perfectly ripe tomato, served fresh from the garden, still warm from the sun.

In Berkeley gardeners are routinely disappointed by our inability to grow really good tomatoes. Our location due east of the mouth of San Francisco Bay allows a slender tongue of summer fog to snake through this gap in the coastal hills, blow across the Bay waters and blanket a swath of the East Bay in cool gray mist while the rest of the Bay to the north and south remains hot and sunny.

Typically gardeners in my neighborhood forego peppers, eggplant, tomatoes and other summer crops and console ourselves with fava beans and salad greens.

This year however, things are different. The unusually warm, dry weather has brought unanticipated change to my little garden. After re-grading a section of my back yard to improve drainage we temporarily piled the extra dirt in the front yard. Almost immediately, tomato sprouts appeared which by itself was not surprising as the spot we had dug up was where we used to keep the compost bin. The surprise came when, as the season progressed, the tomato seedlings actually thrived.

Having struggled and failed to grow tomatoes in the past I was initially skeptical, but once I saw that these volunteers were vigorously extending green leafy vines I was impressed. When they actually started flowering I rushed to the garden store and bought wire tomato cages to support this unanticipated growth.

At present the little pile of dirt is almost obscured by an unruly tangle of vines and furry green leaves. Rows of little green orbs are replacing the yellow flowers, and a few of these unripe fruits are starting to turn various shades of yellow, orange and red.

Amazing!

After years of disappointment it looks like this may be the summer that I actually harvest tomatoes from my garden.

So what do I do with this unexpected bounty? I’ll make a traditional snack from Catalunya called Pa Am Tomàquet, of course.

Coleman Andrews includes a version of this traditional preparation in his book Catalan Cuisine: Vivid Flavors From Spain’s Mediterranean Coast ($17.95).

Pa Am Tomàquet (Catalan Tomato Bread)

1-2 thick slices of country style French or Italian bread or sourdough bread (the better the bread, the better the final result).

1 small-medium sized fresh tomato at peak ripeness.

Mild extra virgin Olive Oil.

Salt.

2-4 anchovy fillets and/or 1-2 slices of Jamón Serrano.

Grill bread lightly. Slice tomato in half and rub cut side on bread to coat with tomato pulp and juice (discard tomato skin). Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt. Top with anchovy or Jamón and serve.

Pair this classic appetizer with a green salad and a glass of wine for a very satisfying lunch. What wine to serve here, you ask? Read on.

Vinos Rosados:

Muga Rosado 2006 $12.99 We’ve been waiting anxiously for this new vintage to arrive, and while we are happy to finally get a chance to enjoy one of the best rosado wines of the summer we know that it won’t last long due to its stellar reputation and high customer demand.

This pale salmon colored blend of Garnacha, Tempranillo and Viura makes a wonderful companion to lighter food as well as being supremely refreshing on a hot afternoon.

Vega Sindoa Rosado 2006 $9.99 The new vintage of this rosado from D.O. Navarra (the traditional home of Spanish rosado) is a blend of half Garnacha and half Cabernet Sauvignon. Ripe berry aromas and flavors give this wine a bit of extra depth and boldness, making it a perfect wine for paella or other summer meals

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Vinos Blancos:

Abad Dom Bueno Godello 2006 $16.99 D.O. Bierzo is known primarily as a red wine region, but this Bierzo region white wine is made from the local Godello grape that is more common in neighboring D.O. Valdeorras. This yellow gold colored wine is fermented in temperature controlled tanks that preserve all the fresh citrus and melon aromas that are typical of the Godello grape. Bright acidity adds to the refreshing quality that makes this such a perfect accompaniment to composed salads, pasta or poultry as well as a full range of seafood.

Broadbent Vinho Verde $10.99 An excellent example of top quality Vinho Verde. Composed of 50% Loureiro, 40% Trajadura and 10% Padernã it is light in color with lemon and grapefruit aromas. On the palate it offers more citrus as well as a bit of flinty minerality carried along by slight effervescence that makes the wine refreshing and easy to drink.

Soalheiro Vinho Verde 2006 $21.99 Typically, Vinho Verde is light, spritzy and simple non-vintage wine. These days, as people discover the joys of Vinho Verde we are seeing more and more higher priced wines from this region. Soalheiro is a vintage wine produced from the Alvarinho (Albariño in Spain = Alvarinho in Portugal) grape. Well known in Portugal as a top shelf Vinho Verde, this wine is just starting to find a market here in the USA. Flinty mineral background lays a foundation for light floral aroma and bright citrus fruit character. This finely detailed and multi-layered wine cries out for choriço and clams, salt cod and potatoes or other such traditional Portuguese fare.

Vinos Tintos:

Primi 2005 $9.99 One of our favorite wines to serve with paella has just arrived in the new 2005 vintage. This young un-aged Tempranillo from D.O.C. Rioja is juicy and bright. Ruby red color and fresh berry aroma form the basic picture with added complexity coming from the light grape skin tannins.

Cune Crianza 2004 $17.99 If you go to Rioja and walk into any small bar and request a glass of vino tinto, chances are you will be served this wine. This blend of Tempranillo, Garnacha and Mazuelo is aged for two years (12 months in American oak barrels and 12 months in the bottle) before sale. The new 2004 vintage shows dark garnet color with black cherry fruit character and balanced oaky tannins that combine to create a picture perfect example of crianza Rioja.

Sergio Traverso Malbec/Syrah 2004 $10.99 A new Argentine wine from Sergio Traverso is now available in the 2004 vintage. Dark color is the first clue that this is a big wine, and the rich aroma and flavor backs up the initial perception, but with a bit of exposure to oxygen the more subtle characteristics of this wine emerge. The final impression is of a robust, well made red for serving with grilled meat and vegetables.

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Filed under Argentina, Red Wine, rosado, Spain, Uncategorized, White Wine