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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

Monastrell, Mi Amor

Yes, it’s true. I’m in love with a grape.

The object of my affection is the big, juicy, dark, thick skinned Monastrell grape grown throughout Mediterranean Spain (already well known in France where it is called Mourvèdre, this grape is seen in the wines of Bandol and Châteauneuf-du-Pape). In Alicante, Jumilla and Yecla the popularity of this varietal is increasing with each vintage.  Once used as a bulk wine shipped out to various parts of Spain to add depth to a thin vintage, many Spanish winemakers now bottle this varietal on its own or in blends where it plays a substantial, not a supporting role.

Monastrell has become extremely sought after here in the USA thanks to some high profile bottlings as well as some reliable young wines that have proved to be excellent values from vintage to vintage.

This week I remind you about the 2005 Clio, a Monastrell blend that has seriously impressed the wine world in recent vintages. We have also just received a second shipment of the 2005 Juan Gil, a 100% Monastrell that showcases the varietal all by itself. The 2005 Casa Castillo, one of the first Monastrell wines to be bottled as a single varietal wine is back at a better price.  I also have late harvest Monastrell from Alella (just outside of Barcelona) and fortified sherry-like Monastrell from Alicante, produced from stocks that date back to 1948. Now is an excellent time to try this very sought after varietal in all its permutations.

Also this week, we have some tasty bargains that offer big flavor at a small price. Check out the Bodegas Fontana wines below to see what I mean.

In other news, Paella Class is filling up fast, but a few spaces still remain for any of you who wish to learn about this most famous of Spanish dishes. We will be making and eating a big paella accompanied by some tapas to nibble on while the paella cooks. We will also taste five Spanish wines to go with all the food. The date is February 25th at 6:30 pm. The location is Kitchen On Fire cooking School here in Berkeley. The cost is $65 per person. Registration and details can be found at the Kitchen On Fire website.

 

Mesta Tempranillo 2006 $6.99 (was $8.99) Our newest ‘house wine’ comes from Bodegas Fontana in central Spain near Cuenca.

In Spanish shepherd-speak a ‘mesta’ is a meeting of shepherds to sort out intermingled flocks. This young Tempranillo from central Spain is a perfect red wine for all sorts of informal gatherings. Fresh berry fruit character and light tannins make this a well priced option for lighter meals as well as back porch sipping.

 

Fontal Tempranillo Roble 2004 $9.99 (was $11.99) This wine from Bodegas Fontana (like the previous wine) shows what a bit of barrel age does to Tempranillo. The fresh berry fruit character is now nuanced with gentle tannins and spicy aromatic complexity.

 

Casa Castillo 2005 $10.99 (was $12.99) This is a dark ruby colored wine with bright aromas of fresh red berries, and a medium to full-bodied cherry-like fruit character.  A brief period of oak barrel ageing (6- 8 months) lends a bit of tannic dryness to the wine, adding balance to the rich fruit and a bit of spice to the finish.

 

Juan Gil 2005 $16.99 We just got in a second shipment 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.

 

Raspay Tinto “Brut” 2001 $19.99 In the Alicante region along the Mediterranean coast of Spain, Bodegas Primitivo Quiles are best known for a fortified wine called Fondillón, made from the local Monastrell grape in a style similar to Sherry. The same old vine Monastrell also goes into this traditionally styled red wine.  The ruddy, brick red tint and savory tannic aroma give way to dried cherry fruit character. This is no fruit bomb. The old-school Spanish style is very well represented in this bottling that wins my vote for best label art too.  Serve this with a selection of embutidos from The Spanish Table such as Lomo Embuchado, Jamón Serrano and dry cured Chorizo.

 

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.

 

Dolç Mataró $33.99 (500ml) The long forgotten Mataró grape, a relative of the better known Monastrell is used to produce tiny quantities of this sweet dessert wine. Super-ripe late harvest Mataró is hand selected, crushed and macerated in its own juice to extract the maximum of color and flavor from the skins. After fermentation the wine ages for a scant few months in barrel before bottling with minimal filtration in stylish 500ml bottles.  The final result is a sweet wine with opaque purple color, the aroma of fresh violets and a sweet fruit character that for all its intensity still possesses a certain delicacy.

 

Primitivo Quiles Fondillón Reserva 1948 $63.00 Historically, Fondillón was called Vino Noble de Alicante not only because it was enjoyed by royalty (Louis XIV is said to have enjoyed the wine) but also as an indication of a winemaking style that achieves 16% alcohol by volume without resorting to fortification of the wine with spirits as is done in Jerez.

Late harvest Monastrell is picked at ultimate ripeness and the sugars in the grape convert to alcohol at a higher rate than normally. After many years in the solera the wine looses its red color and turns a ruddy amber. Nutty sherry-like aroma and flavor balance gentle but not cloying sweetness. Serve this wine with afternoon cookies and tea. A small glass after dinner is also nice.

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Filed under Misc.Wine, Red Wine, Spain

Vintage Change Is Good

One of the many fun parts of being the ‘wine guy’ is finding new, exciting wines made by little known producers in far flung regions. Another rewarding part of the job is watching wines change from vintage to vintage. This week we have some excellent wines that showcase both the new and the re-new.

Our little corner of the wine world (Spain, Portugal, Argentina, Chile) is in a state of dramatic expansion with new wineries opening and feeding fresh products into the market. Once these new ventures are up and running, the true test of their long term prospects is how well they can maintain quality from vintage to vintage.

We are happy to report that several of our favorite wines from last year are back again in fine form, demonstrating that high quality wines are now made all across Spain. Both the Jaun Gil (old vine Monastrell from D.O. Jumilla, in hot, arid Southeastern Spain) and the Pétalos (Mencía grapes from D.O. Bierzo, in cool, green northwestern Spain) are available in their new vintages. Neither of these wines existed 10 years ago. They are very different stylistically, but both have been become very popular with both the staff and the customers of The Spanish Table.

For new-new wines this week we have a couple of whites that satisfy even the most jaded of been-there-tasted-that palates. The Montebaco Verdejo is a new wine from a winery normally associated with hearty red wines and our latest Basque white is from the lesser known D.O. Bizkaiko Txakolina region that surrounds Bilbao. Neither of these wines are well known but if you have a taste for distinctive and the finely crafted whites, both of these wines deserves your attention.

Finally, in the newer-than-new category we bring you a unique and novel concept in wine production. Patrick Campbell from Laurel Glen winery in Sonoma County has for years traveled to Argentina seeking excellent vineyards. Now that he has found the right fruit, he makes several single varietal wines in Argentina which, after primary fermentation, are loaded in bulk onto ships and transported to the Laurel Glen winery in Graton California for barrel ageing and bottling. The end result is the Terra Buena line of wines which include a Malbec, a Tempranillo, a Chardonnay and a Torrontes. These youthful, fresh, abundantly flavored wines are well priced and eco-friendly too (no shipping of heavy glass bottles).

You can check out the details on each wine below, but meanwhile, here’s a quick recipe for a wine friendly snack, adapted from the inspirational Tapas: A Taste of Spain in America by celebrated chef José Andrés. He made these for a demonstration in our store back when the cookbook first came out. We’ve been making them ever since.

Green Olives filled with Piquillo Peppers and Anchovy

1 jar Ybarra pitted Gordal Olives

1 jar Matiz organic Piquillo Peppers

1 jar Ortiz skin-on Anchovy fillets in Olive Oil

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Toothpicks

Cut through one side of each pitted olive so that it resembles an open clam shell. Slice the peppers and the anchovy fillets into long thin strips. Wedge one strip each of pepper and anchovy into the cut side of an olive so that the strips poke out each end of the olive and clamp shut with a toothpick. Repeat this process until you have a plate full these little one-bite tapas. Drizzle with Olive oil and serve.

Vino Blanco:

Terra Buena Torrontes 2006 $10.99 Floral aroma and rich texture characterize this Argentine white wine. Abundant pear and melon fruit character with enough acidity to give the whole ensemble an unexpected lightness. A delicious bargain.

Gurrutxaga Txakoli 2006 $15.99 Our latest Basque Txakoli wine comes from the Bizkaiko Txakolina region located a bit inland from the Cantabrian coast. The firm flinty minerality of a coastal Getariako Txakolina wine is moderated here and replaced by a more pronounced yet still gentle fruitiness with notes of melon and grapefruit.

Montebaco Verdejo 2006 $17.99 Montebaco is best known as a producer of top notch Ribera del Duero red wines (see below). This is their first white wine, made in D.O. Rueda from the Verdejo grape. A lively mouthful of finely tuned quince and quinine flavors makes this an instant crowd pleaser. Josh Raynolds reviewed this wine for Steven Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar. He rated it 89 Points and said: “Pale yellow. High-pitched citrus and pear aromas are impressively vivid and expansive. Crisp lemon-lime and orchard fruit flavors display an intriguing blend of depth and energy, picking up a zesty white pepper quality with air. Finishes clean and brisk, with very good length.”

Pétalos 2006 $23.99 The 2001 vintage of Pétalos was a profound experience for me. I’d never previously tried any Mencía grape wines from D.O. Bierzo but this wine won me over instantly with its combination of poise and power. Loamy dried leaf aroma and berry-like fruit with deep, dark garnet color. Subsequent vintages have reaffirmed my appreciation of this grape/region/producer. The 2005 was opulent and assertive. The new 2006 shows more elegance and precision.

Juan Gil 2005 $17.99 The biggest success story of the last year has certainly been the huge upwelling of interest in the wines of D.O. Jumilla. The dark, ripe Monastrell grape has become extremely popular among appreciators of dark, full-bodied red wines. The 2004 Juan Gil sold out in a matter of months. The new 2005 vintage delivers more of this same abundant, spicy, rich fruit character with foundational minerality.

Montebaco Crianza 2004 $23.99 We have previously carried the Semele crianza from this winery. Montebaco crianza is a fuller, more concentrated wine than the lower priced Semele. Traditional Ribera del Duero style is much in evidence here, with earthy tannins, bold black cherry fruit character along with spicy oak in the mix. Jay Miller reviewed the wine for The Wine Advocate. He rated the wine at 90 Points, saying: “The 2004 Montebaco is 100% Tempranillo aged for 15 months in French and American oak, about one-third new. The color is a glass-coating opaque purple and is followed by intense aromas reminiscent of vintage port. In the mouth the wine is super-ripe with oodles of sweet, tightly wound black fruits, a firm structure and good acidity, all of which are in harmony. Give this full-bodied, tasty wine 3-4 years of additional cellaring and drink it for 10-12 years thereafter.

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Filed under Recipes, Red Wine, Spain, White Wine