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Grape Love

As Valentine’s Day is this Saturday it is my duty (and a pleasurable one at that) to remind you of the many excellent ways you can express your love with a well chosen bottle of wine.  From the traditional to the unusual, a unique and delicious wine can set the right tone for a romantic evening, add the perfect accent to a cozy dinner for two or even express sentiments that words fail to convey.

Am I attributing too much power to a bottle of fermented grape juice? I think not.  From my (admittedly subjective) perspective drinking wine is about an experience of aroma and flavor that is much more fulfilling and fun when shared with another person.  I see Valentine’s Day as a perfect opportunity to experience a special bottle of wine with someone you care about.

For me, I like a rosado Cava on Valentine’s Day. The rosy hue fits in with the traditional color of the day and the bubbly wine always puts me in a celebratory mood. A white wine with a bit of extra weight and fruit character also fits the season quite well. To this end I suggest an Argentine Torrontes or an Albariño from Galicia that skews more toward the ripe style and away from the dry, flinty side of the Albariño flavor profile. For reds I think something complex and spicy but not overpowering would be a good choice for a celebration of romantic love. I have a few suggestions from South America that fit this category quite nicely, though in very different ways.

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. 

Cavas Hill Artesanía Brut Rosado Cava Just arrived for Valentine’s Day; this bright, rose tinted wine offers up aromas of fresh strawberry and toasted bread followed up by tangy citrus and crisp green apple flavor. Big bubbles refresh the palate and entice the appetite. $11.99

Mont Ferrant Brut Rosado Cava I talk about this wine a lot, but now is the perfect moment to serve this sparkling rosado. It’s dark pink and bubbly, which may be all you need for the occasion, but this is also a deliciously berry scented yet still dry and refreshing cava that not only looks great in the glass but also offers up classic cava aroma and flavor at a reasonable price. $14.99

Reymos Espumoso de Moscatel Sweet sparkling wine from D.O. Valencia. Rich Muscat grape scent, bosc pear and honeydew melon fruit character with light but persistent bubbles. A mere 7.5% alcohol makes this the perfect end-of-meal wine. $11.99

Arte Mayor Brut Nature Cava Dominio de la Vega is a boutique Cava producer in Valencia. They make several wines with increasing levels of age and dryness. This wine is the driest and most mature of the bunch. Zero dosage creates a crisp, lean wine with fine minerality and toasted bread aroma. We got this at a big discount and are selling it the same way. Normally a $50 bottle, we have a few on hand for $28.99

Dominio de La Vega Brut Reserva Cava The same folks who make Arte Mayor Cava also create this Brut Reserva version with a mere hint of residual sugar from a light dosage. The blend here is 80% Macabeo and 20% Chardonnay.   Crisp, toasty character is supplemented by a bit of textural heft and a slight note of baked spiced apple. Also at a significant discount this wine which originally sold for $39.99 is now available for much less while supplies last. $24.99

Do Ferreiro Albariño 2007 The new vintage of this plush, abundant Albariño has just arrived. Gerardo Mendez blends the fruit from various parcels of his small 15 acre estate to create this finely tuned wine. Slatey mineral aroma leads on to rich melon and white peach fruit character with a grapefruit-like citrus note adding counterpoint to this top shelf Galician wine.  $25.99

Cicchitti Torrontes 2007 This new Torrontes offers a different take on Argentina’s indigenous white grape. Normally grown in the northern province of Salta, Torrontes wines are rich and honeyed with a snappy tang of acidity in the background. Cicchitti uses all estate fruit from their property in Mendoza to produce a more mineral wine that retains a bit of typical Torrontes density. This unoaked wine is rich and detailed with notes of ripe apple, green herbs and a bit of tangerine peel all combined in the glass. $14.99

Cicchitti Blend 2007  This Argentine red combines ripe fruity Malbec with the more structured Cabernet Sauvignon and then tops it off with a dash of Merlot (interestingly they only print the word ‘Merlot’ in small type, perhaps as a South American version of the ‘Sideways’ backlash against the ‘M-word’ grape). The ‘blend’ alluded to in the name is 60% Malbec, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot sourced from vineyards in the Valle de Uco and Lujan de Cuyo sections of Mendoza. Bold and assertive, this wine is powerful yet restrained, a positive trait that I find in well made Argentine Cabs and Cab blends. $14.99

Cicchitti Malbec 2006 (375ml) The 100% Malbec wine from Bodegas Cicchitti is dark and earthy, displaying dried leaf aroma, restrained dark berry fruit character and dusty minerality. The balance on this wine is quite fine and elegant rather than the big boozy style that some Malbec wines express. This one is currently available here in the small 375ml size, just perfect for solo diners as well as gift givers. $9.99 

Azul Profundo Pinot Noir 2006 The fruit for this wine is sourced from the Bio Bio Valley, Chile’s southernmost grape growing region. This temperate region is quickly becoming one of the most highly regarded areas in Chile for wine production. This climate is well suited to growing the fickle Pinot Noir grape. Azul Profundo is a bright and fresh wine that is reminiscent of a Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast of California or the Willamette valley in Oregon. Crystalline ruby color and fresh berry aroma create an intriguing first perception. Tart, pie cherry fruit character balances but never overwhelms subtle grapeskin tannins. This unoaked red is made in miniscule quantities (only 600 cases were produced) and each bottle is hand numbered. $19.99

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Paella Class

Paella Class is back!  You heard it right friends. This most popular and always delicious Spanish rice dish is the subject of our upcoming Paella and Wine class at Kitchen On Fire Cooking School in North Berkeley. We will delve into the history and origins of this fascinating dish, exploring the many regional variations that have been handed down through the years from generation to generation. Then, working together, we will create a mixed seafood/chicken/pork Paella that we will all share.  In addition to cooking up a big Paella I will also be offering hands-on experience at whipping up some classic tapas to nibble on as the Paella cooks and, since it is me teaching the class, I will be pouring a selection of my favorite Spanish wines to accompany the tasty food.

The date for the class is Monday February 25th. We will start at 6:30 pm. The cost is $65 per person. Registration for this class is through Kitchen On Fire.  The class is limited to 30 participants. You can sign up for the class on the Kitchen On Fire website.

Meanwhile, we have some important wine news to share with you. Once a year we get a small allotment of one of Spain’s most popular wines. I am talking about Clio, the Jumilla region Monastrell that has been an object of intense desire for wine lovers from coast to coast in recent vintages.  This inky dark, plush, opulent wine will definitely satisfy those in search of a Big Red with a fine pedigree and an almost cult-like following. But wait, that’s not all.  We will also be getting a tiny amount of Clio’s elder sibling El Nido, which, though less well known, is every bit as distinguished if not more so than the less expensive Clio. I suggest you call right away if you want some of these wines as they tend to disappear quickly from our shelves.

We also have some new white wines this week as well as some of my favorite reds for under $20. The descriptions are all here right after my latest classic American recipe with a Spanish accent.

 

Kevin’s (Not) Fried Chicken ‘al ajillo’ (serves 4 as an entrée)

1                    Organic Chicken (approx. 4 lb)

1                  Pint Buttermilk

5                     Garlic cloves

½ cup                     Kosher Salt

3 cups       All Purpose Flour

2 tbls.                     Pimentón de la Vera Dulce

1 tbls.                     Ground Black Pepper

 

This recipe for fried chicken is actually made in the oven. The end result is delicious and very similar to the fried version, only without the pot of messy hot oil.

Cut the chicken up into 10 serving sized pieces (2 legs, 2 thighs, 2 wings with wing tip removed, 2 breasts cut in half crosswise). Crush garlic cloves lightly with the flat side of a knife. Combine chicken pieces, garlic, buttermilk and ¼ cup of salt in a large heavy duty plastic bag. Seal the bag and marinate overnight in the refrigerator.

The next day, combine flour, pimentón, pepper and remaining ¼ cup salt in a clean, dry plastic bag (I use leftover produce bags from the market). Remove each piece of chicken from the buttermilk and (without wiping off any remaining liquid) shake them one by one in the bag of seasoned flour and then place each piece skin side up on a wire rack, on a baking sheet (use 2 racks and baking sheets so as not to crowd the chicken pieces). Let the chicken pieces rest for 10-20 minutes while you preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Cook the chicken pieces for twenty minutes skin side up, then turn the oven down to 300 degrees and finish cooking the chicken on the second side for another twenty five minutes.   

 

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

 

Tajinaste Blanco 2006 $14.99 This interesting new white wine, our first from the Canary Islands, is made from the local Listán Blanco grape grown in volcanic soils at high elevation on the island of Tenerife. 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.

 

Do Ferreiro Cepas Vellas 2006 $35.99 We are thrilled to have just received an entire case of this extremely rare Albariño produced from vines reputed to be over 20o 0years old.  Considered by many to be one of the best Albariños, even one of the best white wines in all of Spain regardless of varietal, this firmly mineral wine will evolve over time (2-3 years) an will release more aroma and gentle fruit character as it ages. For immediate gratification this is a white wine to decant and serve with raw shellfish. As pure an expression of Albariño as I have yet tried. Simply stunning.

 

Convento Oreja Roble 2005 $19.99 This 100% Tempranillo wine from Ribera del Duero was aged in oak for a brief 4 months before bottling. Dark color, typical for the region, is matched with ripe berry fruit and just a hint of toasty oak. This smooth red will compliment red meat and hearty winter stews.

 

Pago Florentino 2004 $19.99 This opulent La Mancha region Tempranillo has a loyal following which grows as the wine becomes more well known. Jay Miller reviewed this wine for Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate. He rated it 89 Points, saying: “Serious efforts are being made to elevate quality in La Mancha and this is one signpost. The 2004 Pago Florentino is an estate bottled wine composed of 100% Tempranillo from young vines. It was aged for 12 months in new and used French and American oak. Dark ruby in color, it offers up attractive fruity aromas of plums, blueberry, and licorice with smoky, toasty notes in the background. This is followed by a lush, medium to full-bodied wine with a supple texture, ripe fruit, and good flavors in an easy-drinking, user-friendly style. Drink this hedonistic effort over the next 2-3 years. It is a very good value.”

 

Clio 2005 $46.00  Old vine Monastrell from Jumilla is what Clio is mostly made from (along with 30% Cabernet Sauvignon). These thick skinned grapes are picked at full ripeness and treated with great care at every step in this wine’s elaboration. The end result is a dark, full bodied red that will best accompany a full-flavored meaty meal. Josh Raynolds recently reviewed the new vintage of Clio for The International Wine Cellar. He rated the wine 93 points saying: “Inky purple. Vibrant red and dark berries on the nose, with sexy vanillin oak, Asian spices, fresh flowers and bright minerality. A silky, graceful midweight, displaying vivid raspberry and blackberry flavors and slow-building tannic grip. More tangy than the 2004, and at least as elegant, finishing with outstanding clarity and persistence.”

 

El Nido 2005 $140.00 The flagship wine from this celebrated Jumilla region winery is made from the same fruit as the Clio but the proportions are switched around. El Nido is mostly Cabernet Sauvignon with 30% old vine Monastrell. Josh Raynolds also reviewed this wine for Steven Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar. He rated it 94 points, saying “Opaque violet. Seductively perfumed bouquet of red and dark berry liqueur, graphite, Asian spices and incense. This saturates every nook and cranny of the palate with flavors of sweet raspberry, boysenberry, candied licorice, cinnamon and vanilla. Impressively fresh for such flavor impact, thanks to gentle tannins and vibrant finishing minerality. A lingering, subtle strawberry quality underscores this wine’s impression of elegance over brute force.

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Big Reds

At The Spanish Table we are firm believers in eating and drinking according to the seasons. Throughout the summer we have focused our attention on the cool, refreshing white and rosado wines that go so well with summer meals as well as the bold, youthful red wines that are perfect accompaniments to meat on the grill. 

As we move into late summer we start to bring in more hearty, mature red wines as well as richer, more aromatic whites. 

This week we have some new wines that fit these descriptions perfectly. Like the first robin of spring these wines are harbingers of the season to come. It may not feel like it yet in the Bay Area, and we still have plenty of pink/white/red summertime wines, but as the season progresses we will continue to shift our focus toward these more autumnal flavors and characteristics.

Meanwhile, our friends at Happy Quail Farms have been delivering fresh Piquillo peppers to us for the first time. The search for a source for fresh Piquillos has been something of a grail quest for me over the last few years ever since trying one that our store manager (and food newsletter editor) Caty Salas grew in her yard in Oakland. I was so impressed with this homegrown version of the classic Navarra regional specialty that I made a video to commemorate the event.

Now, with access to the plump, crunchy fresh Piquillos from Happy Quail, I get to expand my repertoire of pepper recipes. Here is the recipe for a little tapa that I served to visitors last weekend.

 

Kevin’s Roasted Fresh Piquillo Peppers with Ventresca Tuna

Serves 4 as an appetizer

 

½ lb. fresh Piquillo peppers (5-6 peppers)

1- 4 0z. can Ortiz Ventresca Tuna

3 tablespoons Spanish Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 teaspoon Toro Albala PX Vinegar

1 teaspoon flat leaf parsley, minced

1 teaspoon sea salt

 

Char the peppers briefly over a flame to blister the skin. Let the peppers cool and remove the blackened skin along with the stem end and the seeds. Slice the peppers into thin strips. Drain the tuna and gently separate the pieces into big flakes. Arrange the peppers in a pile on a serving plate and top with the flaked tuna. Drizzle on the oil and vinegar. Sprinkle parsley over the top and salt to taste.

 

Cerveza:

Skol Beer $10.99 In our continuing quest for interesting beer we recently started selling some rare and tasty Argentine micro brewery ales. Based on the success of those new products, this week we are bringing in one of Brazil’s most popular beers.  This crisp, refreshing lager is said to induce sentimental nostalgia among the local Brazilian population. I like the 11.2 ounce bottles. They remind me of the diminutive cañas (small glasses of draft beer) served in Spain.

 

Vino Blanco:

Versatus 2006 $12.99 Galician white wines from the Ribeiro region have not gotten as much attention as the Albariño wines from neighboring Rías Baixas. Versatus is a D.O. Ribeiro wine composed of equal parts Treixadura, Palomino, Godello and Torrontes. The flinty, mineral element is predominant in this crisp, light bodied wine.

 

Santiago Ruiz 2006 $17.99 The newest vintage of this bright, aromatic white wine from Galicia is a blend of estate grown Albariño, Treixadura and Loureiro, vinified completely in stainless steel. Pale lemon color with aromas of citrus blossom and tropical fruits. Crisp acidity and background minerality add balance to the wine and maintain the refreshing quality that makes this such a perfect wine for pairing with light appetizers and seafood.

 

Do Ferreiro 2006 $24.99 The new 2006 vintage of this 100% Albariño wine reminds us of why this producer retains almost cult status among Spanish white wine appreciators. The various components of this wine (color, texture, aroma, flavor) are precise and balanced. The gently perfumed floral aspect never overwhelms the citrusy fruit character which in turn balances the firm minerality. An excellent wine for a special meal.

 

Vino Tinto:

Vina Herminia Tempranillo 2005 $11.99 Located in the Rioja Baja subzone of D.O.C. Rioja, at the southeastern end of the region, Viña Herminia belongs to the Luis Caballero group of companies, also owners of Lustau in Jerez. This wine is 100% Tempranillo sourced from a combination of estate grown fruit as well as fruit purchased from the local coop. Temperature controlled fermentation in stainless steel (no oak barrels) helps retain the fresh berry fruit character of the wine. Dark garnet colored, Viña Herminia displays ripe berry aroma and abundant, youthful fruit character.

 

Convento Oreja Roble 2005 $15.99 This young Ribera del Duero region wine, fashioned from the local Tinto del País grape and aged for 4 months in oak is structured and ripe while retaining a certain youthfulness. Dark berry aromas and flavors with gentle tannins and background minerality.

 

Corpus del Muni Roble 2005 $17.99 A blend of Tempranillo, Syrah and Garnacha produced just outside of Toledo in central Spain. Dark garnet color with aromas of berries and spicy oak. Black cherry fruit character with earthy tannins. A few months of barrel age lends complexity to the blend without stripping the final product of its youthful demeanor.

 

Termes 2005 $26.99 The Toro region wines from Bodegas Numanthia Termes have become very popular among our customers who appreciate concentrated, powerful red wines. The more exclusive Numanthia and Termanthia (the latter rated a perfect score of 100 by The Wine Advocate in the 2004 vintage) have already sold out in their previous vintage, but the newest release is this, the youngest of their wines. Sourced from small plots of old vine Tinto de Toro and aged in oak for 16 months before bottling, this rich, structured, tannic red allows those of us on a budget to taste at least something from this highly rated producer. Give this one lots of air and serve with wild boar or grilled buffalo steak.

 

Alonso del Yerro 2005 $35.99  This wine is made from 100% Tempranillo sourced from the family owned 65 acre vineyard. Aged for 12 months in oak before bottling, this wine captures the essence of the Ribera del Duero region. Dark garnet color, rich fruit character and firmly tannic structure are what one looks for in wines from this region. Alonso del Yerro expresses all of these attributes in a finely balanced offering that possesses both elegance (not a common descriptor in this region) and precision.

 

Mas de Can Blau 2004 $42.99 We love the inky dark, juicy, ripe Can Blau from D.O. Montsant and so do you. It is so popular that we have trouble keeping it in stock. Now this producer has released a more mature version produced from the fruit of their oldest vineyards and aged for 20 months in oak before bottling. This is a big, powerful red that will age well for years to come. Mas de Can Blau has been well reviewed by both Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate and Steven Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar. Both publications awarded the wine 92 Points.

Josh Raynolds (IWC) wrote: “Deep, saturated red. Explosively perfumed nose features exotic scents of blackberry, cassis, cola, sandalwood, patchouli and smoked meat. Broad, deep and remarkably sweet, with lush dark fruit flavors showing remarkable depth and purity. Intense mineral accents and firm tannins add structure and precision.

Jay Miller (WA) said: “The 2004 Mas de Can Blau, the first vintage of this cuvee, comes from the estate’s oldest Cariñena, Garnacha, and Syrah vines. It received malolactic fermentation in barrel, was aged for 20 months in new French oak, and bottled unfiltered. Dark ruby/purple-colored, it offers a flamboyant nose of pain grille, scorched earth, tar, and kirsch. Full-bodied with a supple texture, the wine has layers of sweet fruit, nicely integrated oak, tannin, and acidity, in its racy personality. Drink this outgoing wine over the next 8-10 years.”

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