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Popularity Contest

This weekend many of us will devote ourselves to a trade association’s annual awards ceremony that, over the years, has grown into the enormous spectacle known as ‘The Oscars’.

I love movies as much as anyone (heck, I was a film student in college), but I am always surprised at our collective desire to participate in the Academy Awards. To my jaded eye, the whole thing is a big budget version of ‘salesman of the year’.

You see, back in my corporate days (after I realized that the filmmaker thing was not working out, but before I decided to chuck it all in and sell wine for a living) I was the guy behind the curtain pressing buttons and flipping switches for innumerable awards ceremonies. It didn’t matter who was getting awarded. Realtors, software developers and athletic footwear marketers all got the same thrill out of a bit of recognition and popularity backed up by fog machines, wiggly lights and big screen video images of themselves all choreographed to (almost invariably) Tina Turner’s ‘Simply The Best‘ blasting from an oversized sound system.

Now we find ourselves in the era of the ‘social network’ where popularity and celebrity have moved into a whole new sphere.

On the internet these days everyone has the same questions:

“Will you ‘follow’ me?”

“Will you ‘friend’ me?”

“Will you ‘link’ to me?”

The personal is now public and the ability to attract a crowd, an audience, a fan base has become a goal for many of us as we go about our daily lives.  Internet sites like Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and Myspace have created opportunities for sophisticated self promotion that were previously only available to bona fide celebrities (movie stars, musicians, politicians and so forth) who accept, grudgingly at times,  that public exposure is a part of their job. Thanks to the internet we can now all look forward to not just 15 minutes of fame but a whole lifetime in the spotlight, if we wish.

All this seeking of approval got me thinking about the relative popularity of wines from The Spanish Table (yes, I can turn anything into a wine question). Looking back over the last year or so I can definitely point to numerous wines that have met with great popular success. Few of these wines were supported by high scores or glowing reviews in the wine press but nonetheless, with a little encouragement on our part, these wines have found their way into your shopping basket and onto your table over and over again. So today I offer you a ‘greatest hits’ selection (by no means complete) of some customer favorites here in Berkeley.

Obra Roble 2006 This lightly oaked Tempranillo from DO Ribera del Duero sells out regularly here.  Darkly tinted and abundant with earthy aroma and ripe berry fruit character, this wine from Bodegas J.C. Conde, known for their much more expensive ‘Neo’, is a well priced expression of typical Spanish style from this well loved region. $10.99

Peñafiel Joven 2004 This really is a wine that people buy by the box. Our most popular ‘house wine’ is an unoaked Tempranillo from DO Ribera del Duero. The years have been kind to this wine. The juicy, assertive flavor has softened with age, creating a smooth wine with gentle fruit character (more mulberry than blackberry) and dusty minerality. $6.99

D’Abbatis Blanc de Blanc 2005 This bone dry vintage sparkler, made from 100% Parellada (one of the traditional Cava grapes) is toasty and crisp with fine bubbles and yeasty aroma. A hint of grapefruit and green apple add complexity and balance to this sparkling wine that always sells out quickly. $17.99

Mont Ferrant Brut Rosado I would be remiss if I did not mention this well loved and darkly tinted bubbly wine even though I just put it in the newsletter (again) last week. This berry scented yet still dry and refreshing Cava not only looks great in the glass but also offers up classic Cava aroma and flavor at a very reasonable price. $14.99

Fefiñanes Albariño 2007 America has recently realized that Spain makes excellent white wines. The grape responsible for this awakening is Albariño and in DO Rías Baixas few Albariños are as well made as Fefiñanes. This is to be expected as they have been making wine in this region longer than just about everyone else. This is a finely balanced wine that blends lean minerality with tart citrus fruit character. Crisp and refreshing, this top shelf Albariño has been a great success vintage after vintage. $24.99

Dios Baco Amontillado In the Jerez region of southern Spain, a small glass of dry Sherry is  the cocktail of choice. Here in the USA Jerez wines have suffered from years of misperception (no, Sherry is not all treacle sweet), but thanks to wines like Dios Baco Amontillado that stereotype is starting to fade from view. This amber/gold colored wine is nutty and dry, with just a hint of raisiny fruit character in the background. Customers at The Spanish Table have chosen this wine year after year as a favorite choice when just a little glass of something delicious is in order. $22.99

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Filed under Fortified Wine, Red Wine, Spain, Sparkling Wine, White Wine

New Stuff

One of the exciting parts about working in this little shop devoted to the food and wines of Spain, Portugal and Latin America is the opportunity to try new things on a daily basis. With the wines, not only do we get to try new styles, producers, grape varieties and growing regions but we also get to re-try the wines all over again with each new vintage.

New, and yet familiar. That’s how I describe what has arrived here in the past week. We have new wines that have never been featured before at The Spanish Table in Berkeley. We also have new vintages of some wines that were well loved in the previous year and are now out in the latest version. Many of you will recognize some favorites in the list that follows. I highly encourage you to come and try a bottle of the latest vintage to see if it is everything you remember and love from previous years. Some of the wineries may not be familiar but you will recognize the grape varieties and the growing regions. This is an opportunity to broaden your perspective on a favorite wine by trying some of what similar winemakers are doing.

The first 2007 white and rosado wines are starting to appear in the market as well as new vintages of red wines from years in the recent past. In the weeks ahead we will feature many more of the latest arrivals with you in this newsletter.

Here, after a brief recipe, are the latest arrivals:

Salmon Stuffed Piquillo Peppers

(Serves 4 as a tapa)

½ lb. Fresh salmon fillet

1 tspn. Kosher salt

½ cup water

½ cup Arte Oliva brand Alioli (garlic mayonnaise)

1tblspn. Toro Albalá 1980 Reserve PX vinegar

1 tspn. Sweet Pimentón de la Vera

8 Whole Piquillo Peppers

¼ cup Nunez de Prado Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Briefly poach the salmon fillet in 1 teaspoon of kosher salt and ½ cup of water until it is just barely cooked through (about 10 minutes). Remove the fillet from the water and cool to room temperature. Combine Alioli, vinegar and pimentón in a bowl. Gently fold in cooked salmon and mix everything without breaking up the fish too much. Divide the filling into eighths and fill each of the jarred piquillo peppers with the mixture. Drizzle the olive oil over the filled peppers and serve.

Amestoi Txakoli 2007 $18.99 I know that I am not alone in my anticipation of the new season of Txakoli wine. Many of you have already been asking for this dry, spritzy, supremely refreshing white wine from the Basque country. Well, wait no longer. Amestoi has landed, winning the prize for first 2007 Txakoli to arrive here. The residual effervescence is at its peak now as is the bright citrusy fruit character.

Crios “Rosé of Malbec” 2007 $10.99 A perennial favorite in our Seattle store makes its first appearance here in Berkeley. Famed Argentine winemaker Susanna Balbo makes this fresh, berry scented pink wine. It is full of strawberry and watermelon flavors. I love to serve this with salmon stuffed piquillo peppers for an all pink and red meal.

Obra Roble 2006 $10.99 The big hit of last summer is back in the latest vintage. This lightly oaked Tempranillo from the celebrated Bodegas J.C. Conde in Ribera del Duero is dark and rich, with velvety texture and just a hint of oak tannin. This wine was a spectacular bargain last year. I am happy to report that even as the Dollar continues to drop in value relative to the Euro, this wine is still the exact same price as last year. Rejoice!

Padre Pedro 2006 $9.99 This red wine from Casa Cadaval in the Ribatejo region of Portugal was reviewed very favorably by The New York Times last year. Many of you tried it based on that bit of positive press and the wine sold out quickly. The new 2006 vintage has just arrived. I find it to be just as tasty as last year, garnet colored with soft tannins and dark plum fruit character. A bit of earthy nuance on the finish.

Ventura Carmenere 2006 $9.99 When pairing spicy Carne Asada tacos (from Casa Latina across the street) with a red wine, I usually reach for a Carmenere from Chile. This typical Chilean varietal produces rich full bodied red wines that also posses a bit of spicy jalapeño-like complexity that works really well with a wide range of dishes on the picante end of the flavor spectrum. Ventura Carmenere is from the Lontué Valley in Chile, where some of the best Carmenere grows. This wine is made with organically grown fruit, something I am seeing more and more of in Chile.

Nuevomundo Cabernet/Carmenere Reserve 2005 $11.99 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%.

La Posta Bonarda 2006 $17.99 In Argentina the Malbec grape gets all the attention but for those who have already explored this varietal I highly recommend trying some of the excellent Bonarda wines that are also available. La Posta Bonarda is dark garnet colored like a Malbec but shows more spicy black pepper and a leaner expression of fruit character. As grilling season begins I suggest trying this wine alongside some thinly sliced grilled skirt steak with a pimentón dry rub.

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Filed under Chile, Portugal, Recipes, Red Wine, rosado, Spain, Uncategorized, White Wine