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Aged & Fortified

As the year draws to a close, and with holiday celebrations in full swing, I want to take just a moment to thank all of you for your continuing support and enthusiasm for what we do here at The Spanish Table.
My holiday wish for each and every one of our loyal customers is that you get a few precious moments (somewhere/somehow, in the next week or two) to breath, relax and reflect upon the past year in all its aspects, positive and otherwise. In keeping with my function here, may I suggest that a small glass of aged Port, Madeira or Jerez (Sherry) wine, sipped slowly in the comfort of your own home, is a very appropriate way to contemplate the past and its relationship to the now and the soon to come.These days, young and quick gets all the attention while old and slow gets pushed to the side and too often forgotten altogether. When you drink a glass of 30 year old Amontillado you  acknowledge the benefits that only come with time and maturity. A 20 year old Tawny Port contains wines from many past vintages, only reaching their full potential over decades of slow elaboration. Madeira wines, from that eponymous island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, hearken back to the days of sailing ships and the Age of Discovery, a time long gone that nonetheless still figures prominently in the modern history of Spain and Portugal. These wines teach us, in no uncertain terms, that age has its benefits and that some things (many of the best ones) take time to create. So pour yourself a little glass of history, and another one for your friends and loved ones, even spilling out a few drops on the bare ground in memory of those no longer extant. Here are a few choices to ease you out of this year and into the next one:

Del Duque VORS Amontillado
The VORS designation is a recent addition to Sherry nomenclature, used to indicate wines that are at least 30 years old. These fortified wines are held for decades in the winery, getting topped off each year with small quantities of fresh stock to protect the wine from oxidation. This richly aromatic wine displays scents of dried fruit, toasted almonds and fresh hay. On the palate it is completely dry and elegant, offering up flavors of walnuts, more almonds and the barest hint of raisin-like fruit character . Brandy-like warmth makes this a particularly appropriate wine for sipping on a cold evening. $39.99(375ml)

Apostoles VORS Palo Cortado Palo Cortado is the rarest of Jerez wines. 30 year old Palo Cortado is even rarer still. Drawn from the best barrels in the bodega, Palo Cortado wines are usually held aside for the personal consumption needs of the wine makers’ families and friends. This particular wine, from the famed Bodegas Gonzalez Byass was recently featured in the San Francisco Chronicle where Jon Bonné recommended it as one of his favorite gift wines. This amber/gold colored wine offers a sublime combination of the toasted walnut and almond flavors present in the Palomino Fino grape paired with the raisin and fig fruit character that comes from the small percentage of Pedro Ximénez blended into this wine. $39.99 (375ml)

Williams & Humbert Don Guido VOS PX A few years ago the VOS designation was created for Jerez wines with at least 20 years of barrel age. WIlliams & Humbert are a well known producer with significant stocks of aged Sherry. This one is dark mahogany colored with rich aromas and flavors of raisins, dates, figs and baking spices. Dense texture and caramel/toffee sweetness adds further complexity to this rich, sweet sherry that pairs well with dark chocolate. Served in small glasses after a meal this can be dessert all by itself $49.99

Ramos Pinto 20 Year Tawny Port In Portugal, Ramos Pinto is a well loved name in the Port wine trade. This winery owns some of the best vineyard sites in the Douro Valley. Their Quinta da Bom Retiro vineyard, one of the oldest vineyards in the region, is the source of all the grapes for this Tawny Port that is one of Ramos Pinto’s most popular wines. The wine is a blend of past vintages with an average age of 20 years, more or less. This amber colored wine displays dried fruit aromas yet is quite dry on the palate. Toasted almonds, walnut skin and coffee bean notes add to the finely tuned balance of flavors. Serve this wine with salty cured meats before dinner or, alternately, alongside a selection of aged cheeses after a meal. $72.00

Barros 1979 Colheita Port Founded in 1913, Barros is a relatively young addition to the world of Port wines, but they managed to build their reputation with their vintage ports and their amazing Colheitas which have won numerous international competitions world wide. Colheita Port (Tawny Port from a single vintage) is nutty and dry with just the barest hint of fruit character. The 1979 Colheita is dark amber in color with brandy-like warmth and aroma. Nutty complexity and background notes of baking spices and toasted oak create a long and aromatic finish. This 500 ml bottle comes in a nifty wooden box, making a gorgeous gift for someone celebrating a 30th anniversary this year. $93.00 (500ml)

Historic Series Madeira


Earlier this week Eric Asimov wrote an interesting piece in The New York Times about
pairing Madeira with savory foods. He specifically mentioned the Historic Series Madeiras from The Rare Wine Company. These unique wines include a portion of older wines blended with a larger portion of younger stocks intended to recreate the flavor of Madeira from days long gone by.
We are proud to carry these wines at The Spanish Table and I can personally vouch for just how great they are when served during (as well as after) a meal.  I have tried these wines with everything from fois gras and lobster to simple rice and pasta dishes. My personal favorite Madeira pairing leans toward anything involving cheese. If you have not yet experienced this distinctive food/wine combination, here are a few suggestions to get you thinking:

RWC Charleston Sercial Sercial, the driest of the Madeira grapes, creates lean, flinty wines with marked almond aroma and flavor. Toasted barrel character and burnt caramel back notes add to the long and complex experience of this amber/gold colored wine. $49.99

RWC Boston Bual The medium sweet Bual grape is the most popular choice for many Madeira appreciators. This dark amber colored wine is richly aromatic with notes of toffee, tangerine, cloves, burnt match stick, and a hint of brandied raisin.The acidity washes over the palate leaving lingering flavors of minerals, burnt sugar and candied orange zest. $49.99

RWC New York Malmsey Madeira wines made from the Malmsey (or Malvasia) grape reside at the sweet end of the spectrum. The New York Malmsey is dark mahogany in color with rich aromas of dates, figs, raisins and baking spices. Flavors of butterscotch and caramel add to the opulent character of this wine. Bright acidity leaves the flavors practically etched on the tongue. Traditionally served after a meal, New York Malmsey is a dessert course all by itself, but will work beautifully with some aged cheese. $49.99

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Learning About Spain

The Wine Academy of Spain, an educational organization run by Pancho Campo (Spain’s first Master of Wine) stopped in San Francisco last week as part of a US tour currently wrapping up in Washington DC.
I joined a group of Spanish wine enthusiasts for the three day seminar that covered all of Spain’s regions, grapes and winemaking styles. I got to brush up on my Spanish wine knowledge and tried many new wines as well as some familiar favorites.
Esteban Cabezas and his crew did a fabulous job of squeezing a ton of information into a short space of time. I gleaned all sorts of tidbits of information that I will be sharing with you in the days and weeks to come.
My thanks and appreciation go out to The Wine Academy of Spain and to Catavino for sponsoring my attendance to the seminar (I won the scholarship for my why-I-love-Spanish-wine blog entry). Hopefully I passed the exam and in a few weeks will have a handsome Spanish Wine Educator certificate to hang on the wall.
I retried a few wines at the Wine Academy of Spain course that are making a repeat appearance here as a result of a good showing at the seminar. Check out this week’s wine notes for the Aria Brut Cava, Gramona Imperial Cava and the red Fra Guerau Monsant. They are now back in stock and drinking beautifully.

Espelt Vailet 2007 After my recent trip to the Empordá region of Spain (up along the French border on the Mediterranean side) I have been eagerly buying all the wine from this little known, rocky, sparsely populated corner of the globe. A few weeks back we featured the red from Espelt as well as the rosado. The white wine from Espelt has just come back in stock and I recommend it this week as a new option for those seeking bright, fresh white wines with distinctive character. The blend is 60% Garnacha Blanca and 40% Macabeo (Viura for you white Rioja fans). Crisp minerality is supplemented here with a bit of green herb and citrus character. $12.99
Aria Brut This Cava has been a well loved favorite and is finally back in stock here in Berkeley. This frothy blend of the three traditional Cava grapes (Macabeo, Xarel-lo and Parellada)presents a fresh, balanced side of Cava with a bit of green apple fruit adding counterpoint to the mineral foundation. $10.99
Gramona Imperial 2004 For those who appreciate the complexity of long aged Cava, this vintage sparkler is always a welcome sight. 3-4 year of cellar age gives this wine a very Champagne-like character. Adding 10% Chardonnay to the blend of 50% Xarel-lo and 40% Macabeo adds to the similarity with French bubbly. Yeasty brioche aroma, an elegant mineral backnote and a bit of brandied fruit on the finish. $31.99
Fra Guerau 2003 This was one of the first wines that caught my attention back when I started with The Spanish Table. I recently retasted Fra Guerau and was reminded of the pure pleasure that comes from this blend of numerous grapes (Syrah, Garnacha, Cariñena, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, Monastrell) from the Montsant region. Dark garnet color, sweet berry fruit character and well integrated barrel character (thanks to several years of bottle age) make this an easy wine to pair with all kinds of food. $13.99
Zaumau Priorat 2008 Carlos Escolar make miniscule quantities of wine in DOC Priorat. Old vine Garnacha and Samsó (the local name for Cariñena) are blended here in an unoaked red that expresses the rocky terruño of the region in a pure, darkly colored, ripely fruited style. Foregoing the barrel ageing regimen brings the price down significantly for this wine from a region not known for bargains. $17.99
Viña Lanciano Reserva 2001 Nothing says ‘Spain’ quite like a slowly matured Tempranillo from Rioja. This wine,from the superlative 2001 vintage, is composed of the best estate grown fruit from Bodegas LAN. Two years in the barrel followed by 5 years resting in the bottle in the cellar have created an elegant, traditional wine that blends tannic oak with tart cherry fruit character. Aromas of fresh earth, cured meat and wood smoke add depth and nuance to this excellent example of old school Rioja. $28.99

TapasWalk In The News

Last Sunday the San Francisco Chronicle ran a feature on the Spanish wine & food walking tour that I do called TapasWalk. Using my tour as an example, Janet Fletcher wrote a detailed piece on the burgeoning tapas scene now happening in downtown San Francisco. “In this new little world straddling North Beach, the Financial District and Russian Hill,” Fletcher wrote, “a Bay Area tapas enthusiast with good walking shoes can do the sort of bar hopping that many Spaniards enjoy nightly.” She included a lexicon of useful terminology for those less familar with Spanish cuisine as well as a few recipes for traditional tapas that you can make at home (with a few ingredients from The Spanish Table, of course). If you missed it in the paper last week you can still read the article online here.


Txakolí Wisdom


In tandem with last week’s San Francisco Chronicle article by Janet Fletcher about the downtown tapas scene, Jon Bonné put together a detailed and up-to-date summary of the current state of Basque Txakolí wine. If you have yet to experience the distinct joy of Txakolí, this article tells you all you need to know to get started. We carry all the Txakolí wines and (just between you and me) we even have some of the elusive Txakolí rosado still in stock.

Txakolí Etiquette

If you have visited San Sebastian in Spain’s Basque Country you probably noticed how the local bartenders pour the Txakolí wine with an outstretched arm from high overhead. Now our good friends from Vinos Unico have made an instructional video that shows just how to pour Txakolí like a pro. Check them out here:


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Embrace Tradition

Part of the fun of shopping at The Spanish Table is discovering new wines from little known regions and remote corners of Spain, Portugal, Argentina and Chile. As much as we all love trying new things, sometimes a return to the traditional styles/regions/products that first excited our interest in all things Iberian is a good way to recalibrate our palates and remind ourselves of the origins of all this newness.

This week we are featuring some of the most traditional wines of Spain.

Bodegas Lopez de Heredia is widely acknowledged as the most traditional, the ultra-orthodox, the oldest of old-school wineries in all of Rioja. They make wines as they have done for over 100 years. Only traditional Rioja varietals are used and these grapes are blended in proportions that remain unchanged over time. Modern, temperature controlled stainless steel fermentation tanks are nowhere to be seen in the Lopez de Heredia winery. Instead, they make all their wines in large oak casks that are built and maintained by a staff of expert coopers (not too many of those around any more). The wines are built for long term storage and, as you will see from the vintage dates, are released only after many years of barrel and bottle ageing. The ‘new’ vintages we received this week are from 1996, 1997 and 1998.

This week we are also featuring an Oloroso Sherry that got written up in the San Francisco Chronicle last week, inspiring a reawakening of interest for this most traditional of Spanish wines. Additionally, we just received some new vintages of wines that build on a foundation of historic traditional while expressing a breadth of aroma and flavor that are rejuvenating wine regions which for years have lain dormant and neglected.

So take a step back from your interest in all things new (don’t worry, there’s plenty of new stuff on the way soon) and reacquaint yourself with the classic flavors of Spanish wine, and while you are at it, try (or retry) this version of one of Spain’s most iconic recipes.

Tortilla Española

(serves 6-8 as a first course)

1 lb. Potatoes ( I like Yukon gold or russet, but use what you have as long as they aren’t red or white skinned ‘jacket’ potatoes)

8 large eggs (if you can get ‘pastured’ eggs, they work best and are distinctly more flavorful. Look for them from Kaki Farms at the Berkeley farmer’s market)

2 tablespoons cold water

2 cups extra virgin Olive Oil (sounds like a lot, but you don’t consume it all)

1 tablespoon sea salt

Peel and slice the potatoes in 1/8 inch rounds. (a mandolin slicer works well for this, just be careful with this very sharp tool). Place potato slices in a bowl of water for 5 minutes to rinse off the starch and then dry them on a kitchen towel.

Heat olive oil in an 8” nonstick sauté pan or clay cazuela. Add potatoes as the oil is heating and simmerover low heat for around 20 minutes until the potatoes are cooked and starting to fall apart (try not to brown them). Remove cooked potatoes from the oil and drain in a colander.

Crack the eggs into a large mixing bowl and whisk with the water and salt until smooth and uniform.

When the potatoes are barely warm to the touch, add them to the eggs and let the mixture rest for ten minutes.

Pour off all but ½ cup of olive oil from the sauté pan (you can save the leftover oil for another tortilla). Heat the pan until the oil shimmers but does not smoke. Add the potato/egg mixture to the hot oil and stir the contents of the pan with a spatula until the eggs are about half way set. Turn the heat down to low and continue cooking without stirring until the eggs are mostly set and firm. The goal here is to cook the eggs without browning them. If the finished product is pale yellow with just a hint of browning and cooked through but still moist, then you are an official tortilla expert.

Find a plate that fits snuggly over your pan or cazuela (a flat pan lid works well too). Invert the plate on top of the pan and with one hand on the pan and the other hand on the plate (here comes the tricky part) flip the pan over in one smooth motion. Hopefully, the entire tortilla is now resting on the plate. Put the pan back on the heat and add a few tablespoons of the leftover oil before sliding the inverted tortilla back into the pan, cooked side up. Turn the heat to low and let the tortilla finish cooking on the second side. Once it is firm to the touch, slide it out onto a serving plate, slice into wedges (or little squares for a traditional look) and serve with some dressed salad greens and a crisp white wine.

Vino Rosado:

Viña Tondonia Rosado 1997 $26.99 The latest vintage of this truly unique rosado is created (as it always has been) from a blend of Tempranillo, Garnacha and white Viura. Unlike almost all other rosado wines, this one is aged for 4 years in oak before bottling and aged for several more years in the bottle before release. Oxidized sherry-like aromas of toasted almonds and fresh hay. Distinct yet well integrated barrel tannins add complexity to the surprisingly fresh berry-like fruit character.

Vino Blanco:

Viña Gravonia 1996 $26.99 Composed of 100% Viura, aged for 2 years in oak and 8 years in the bottle. I love the sesame seed aroma and flavor that I get from this wine. It mixes well with the assertive acidity and complex yet mellow fruit character. Josh Raynolds reviewed this wine for Steven Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar. He rated this wine at 90 Points, saying: “Yellow-gold. Musky, mineral-accented peach, yellow plum and honey aromas, with a suave vanillin nuance adding complexity. Plush and deep in pit fruit and ripe melon flavors, with a gentle acid lift adding focus. Slow-mounting citrus notes provide refreshment on the finish but this has serious heft and needs to be served with food. There’s a lot going on here.”

Nosis Verdejo 2006 $18.99 It was not so long ago that Verdejo wines from D.O. Rueda were astringent, over oxidized and musty. Changes in production methods have helped create wines of great character that exhibit fresh fruit aromas and flavors along with bright and food-friendly acidity. Nosis is one of the best of these modern Rueda region wines. The new 2006 vintage is exemplary.

Vino Tinto:

Viña Tondonia Reserva 1998 $40.99 This deeply structured red wine is made from a traditional blend of 75% Tempranillo, 15% Garnacha, 5% Graciano and 5% Mazuelo, aged for 5 years in oak before bottling without filtration. With a few more years of bottle age (or after decanting for a few hours) this wine will reveal a core of dark cherry-like fruit that compliments the firmly tannic barrel character. Josh Raynolds also reviewed this wine for Steven Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar. In October of 2006 he rated this wine at 93 Points, saying: “Dark red. Penetrating, complex bouquet of red berries, cherry skin, minerals, dried rose, tobacco , cured meat and baking spices. Youthfully taut, but opens slowly to show de ep cherry and plum flavors with suggestions of succulent herbs and graphite. This medium-bodied wine broadens on the back, the intensely flavored fruit softening and sweetening. A remarkably elegant, balanced and complex wine that’s still very young : I’d give it at least another five years of bottle aging.”

Embruix 2004 $37.99 In the ancient but recently rejuvenated Priorat region, the musician Luis Llach is commonly referred to as the ‘Catalan Bob Dylan’. He is also a well known and respected winemaker. Embruix is his younger wine (the flagship wine is called Vall Llach) made from a blend of old vine Garnacha and Cariñena with additions of younger Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Nearly opaque garnet in color with rich brandied cherry aroma and fruit character. This smooth, elegant wine is an excellent example of the local style at a very reasonable price relative to some of its neighbors.

Vino de Solera:

Dios Baco Oloroso 18.99 Few wines from Spain are more traditional than the Jerez wines from Andalucía. Lately, our best selling Oloroso Sherry (Sherry = Jerez) has been getting some good press. Last week, Jon Bonné from the San Francisco Chronicle wrote about this wine for the In Our Glasses section saying: “Whoever said that sherry was wine for grandmothers should be gagged. Oloroso sherries get more air contact and fortification than finos, and this dazzling example from one of Jerez’s smaller producers mixes deep caramel with baked apple and mineral notes. A sweet hint from added Moscatel wine offsets the trademark tang. Its balance and versatility match it to everything from Chinese takeout to fruit tarts.

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