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Bargain Whites

With our recent spell of hot weather, white wines have been much in demand at The Spanish Table. With the continuing devaluation of the dollar relative to the ascendant euro, well priced white wines are increasingly hard to find.

So what’s a wine buyer to do when caught between rising prices from wholesalers and demand for bargains from customers? I, for one, go shopping. Yes, I dig deeper, paw through catalogs, query my sales reps and basically start turning over rocks looking for tasty, refreshing and reasonably priced white wines.

Guess what? I have found some really delicious Spanish whites that will satisfy your thirst and compliment your meals without busting your budget. These wines come from all across Northern Spain, from Catalunya to Galicia and points in between. None of them are from the current vintage. A year or two in the bottle has toned down the electrifying jolt of acidity that one finds in many newly released Spanish white wines while allowing the green melon and white peach fruit character to emerge. With these wines the bold burst of youthful energy is exchanged for a mellower, more evolved maturity (just like me, no?). I would not recommend cellaring any of the wines on this week’s list as these beauties are all intended for near term consumption. Enjoy them over the course of the summer and as you do, be sure to toast yourself for stocking up on such well priced refreshment. 

If you are in need of inspiration for something to serve with a nice bottle of Spanish white wine, may I suggest this recipe that I tried last week at Bar Cesar in Berkeley where Maggie Pond continues to amaze and inspire me with her take on traditional Spanish tapas.

 

Cucumber Gazpacho

(Adapted from César: Recipes from a Tapas Bar by Olivier Said, James Mellgren and Maggie Pond)

Serves eight as a first course

 

Ingredients:

8 cups                   peeled, seeded and chopped cucumber (about 4 cucumbers)

1 ¼ cups             best quality extra virgin Spanish olive oil

1 cup                     ice water

1 clove                 garlic

1/3 cup                                cava vinegar

2 tablespoons   fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons       sea salt

¼ teaspoon       ground black pepper

½ teaspoon       ground cayenne pepper

 

Directions:

Combine all ingredients except for 1/2 cup of cucumber and ¼ cup of olive oil (reserve these for garnish). Puree in two batches in a blender until smooth. Adjust salt and vinegar to taste. Chill gazpacho in refrigerator (a few hours at least, over night is better). Serve in small bowls or cups garnished with reserved cucumber and a drizzle of olive oil.

 

Paella alert: The ever popular and always delicious Paella class at Kitchen On Fire is back. On Friday June 13th at 6:30 pm I will be leading a bunch of enthusiastic food lovers in this hands-on class that is guaranteed to give all participants the knowledge and confidence to make this classic Spanish one-pot meal at home. Whether you want to make paella for two or for two hundred this high spirited class will reward you with a plateful of Paella wisdom. We’ll be making a few tapas and trying some wines too (hey, it’s me teaching the class, so we’ve got to try some wines, don’t you think?). Go to the Kitchen On Fire website to sign up. This will be the only class like this all summer and the class is limited to 20 participants so act now to secure your spot.

 

Lagar de Bouza 2006 Many of you will remember this Galician Albariño wine from its initial introduction last year.  It is the color of fresh hay and exhibits delicate aromas of citrus and chamomile. Typical Albariño minerality and green grape fruit character are found here in a restrained, gentle style. $8.99

 

Raventos Perfum de Vi Blanc 2005 This wine comes from Raventos i Blanc, the makers of one of our best Cavas. This blend of 60% Macabeo and 40% Muscat from the Penedès region in Catalunya has exchanged its youthful boldness for mature spiciness. Aromas of wintergreen, allspice and green herbs add unusual complexity to this unoaked white wine, underscoring what I perceive as a bit of ginger ale-like flavor (store manager Caty says she tastes “afri-cola”) on the palate. Intriguing! $8.99

 

Abad Dom Bueno Godello 2006 This rare Bierzo region white made from the local Godello grape is ripe and round. Gentle green plum aroma gains reinforcement from flavors of white peach and honeydew melon. Golden yellow color and weighty Viognier-like texture help to create a full bodied yet gentle wine that will compliment spicy summer fare (think Thai take out)and, come to think of it, would also make a fabulous white sangria. $11.99

 

Blanco Nieva Pie Franco 2005 This top shelf white from Rueda is made from 100% ungrafted old vine Verdejo. The sandy soil of Rueda protected the local vines during the phyloxera blight of the early 20th century. The remaining vines are as big as tree stumps and produce miniscule quantities of tiny but flavor filled grapes which, after being harvested by hand, are fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks to retain the maximum of fresh fruit character. A few years of bottle age have softened the tart acidity and turned what was once reminiscent of granny smith apples and grapefruit into something closer to golden delicious apples and meyer lemons.  $14.99

 

Señorío de Sarría Rosado 2007 Navarra is the traditional home of Spanish rosado wines. This new arrival is made from 100% Garnacha which, after harvest, undergoes 24 hour cold maceration on the skins before fermentation in tanks (no oak). The pink wines of this region have been made this way for as long as anyone can remember. The bright aroma and flavor of fresh strawberries is front and center here. Additional watermelon flavor lingers on the finish. Pour this on the back patio after a long work week and experience transcendent relaxation. Just be sure to buy at least two bottles because you can drain that transcendent relaxation pretty fast during the course of a warm summer evening. $10.99

 

Riolanc Vendimia Seleccionada 2006 For you dyed in the wool red wine drinkers, here’s one for you. We just got a new shipment of this young red wine from the Rioja Alavesa sub-zone, made from 100% old vine Tempranillo. Whole bunch fermentation is used here to create a wine with great freshness and bright fruit character. This too is an excellent choice for sipping in the back yard by the paella fire. $10.99

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

Valentine Wines

When I was a little kid at Briar Vista Elementary School in Dekalb County Georgia, Valentine’s Day was celebrated by all the school children decorating paper lunch bags with red and pink paper hearts and taping them up in ‘home room’ on the radiator by the window to collect the mostly pre-fab Valentine’s Day cards that would be purchased by the parents at the local drug store for all us children to distribute amongst our classmates.

These days, I like to concentrate my Valentine sentiments closer to home by cooking a special meal for my wife. Some fresh flowers set the scene. A few thoughtfully chosen courses and an excellent wine express my feeling better than words. A nice dessert rounds out my culinary love letter.

If this is your idea of a good way to spend Valentine’s Day, read on. We have a fabulous selection of special wines to woo your sweetheart with, and a simple recipe for a classic Spanish dessert (with a touch of my southern heritage) that will endear you to whomever you make it for.

 

Kevin’s Buttermilk Flan (serves 4 or 2 with leftovers)

6                              large eggs

1 & 1/2 cups       Buttermilk

½ cup                   heavy cream

1 tblspn.               Mexican Vanilla concentrate

½ cup                   sugar

1/2 tspn.              salt

 

Divide the sugar in half and add ¼ cup to a 9” clay cazuela. Place the cazuela on the stove and heat over a medium flame without stirring until the sugar has melted and turned a dark caramel color (it will start slow at first but do not walk away lest you burn your sugar). Turn off the heat and let the cazuela cool. You will have a hard caramel coating on the inside of the cazuela when you are done.

Beat 4 whole eggs and 2 egg yolks together in a bowl with the sugar and salt until blended. Add the vanilla, buttermilk and cream.  Mix well and strain through a fine sieve. 

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. The flan needs to cook in a hot water bath, so place the caramel coated cazuela in a larger oven proof container (I use a 10 inch cake pan) and set on the middle rack of the oven. Fill the cazuela with the flan mixture first, then fill the outer cake pan with boiling water to surround the cazuela with gentle moist heat (do this in the oven so you do not have to carry the sloshing flan and hot water bath to the oven). Cook for 30 minutes and check for doneness. The flan should still be jiggly but not liquid when fully cooked. If still undercooked, allow ten minutes more in the oven (take the flan out of the oven before it sets completely or it will be dry and grainy).

Remove the flan filled cazuela from the water bath and allow to cool completely (refrigerated over night is best). To serve, run a sharp knife around the edge of the flan to loosen it and invert the cazuela on a serving plate. Serve the finished flan with sliced seasonal fruit and a nice glass of sweet wine.  

 

Mont Ferrant Brut Rosado Cava $14.99 I talk about this wine a lot, but now is the perfect moment to serve this sparkling rosado. It’s 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.

 

Can Vendrell Brut Reserva Cava $17.99 One of my favorite Cavas is back in stock! This classic blend of traditional Cava grapes (Macabeo, Parellada, Xarel-lo), from organic vineyards, with extended ageing on the lees and low dosage is a dry wine with great depth and nuance. This is rich enough to serve with food, but dry enough to serve as a cocktail.

 

Reymos Espumoso de Moscatel $11.99 Sweet sparkling wine from D.O. Valencia. Rich Muscat grape scent, honeydew melon fruit character and light but persistent bubbles. A mere 7.5% alcohol makes this the perfect end-of-meal wine. Serve alongside buttermilk flan (recipe above) for a nice change of pace.

 

Don PX Gran Reserva 1979 $27.99 (375ml)  One of Spain’s most distinctive wines. An extremely rare aged wine made from Pedro Ximénez grapes that are partially sun dried before fermentation. The wine is dark and thick as molasses, with concentrated sweetness and flavors of figs, raisins and baking spices. Amazing depth and complexity. This is another perfect match for the flan recipe above.

 

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.

 

Azua Reserva 2003 $12.99 In the Manchuela region of Castilla, just southeast of Madrid, the big, dark, juicy Bobal grape is traditionally used in many of the hearty red wines from this underappreciated part of Spain. Azua Reserva uses 100% old vine Bobal, aged in oak for 12 months and in bottle for an additional 24 months before release. This dark abundant wine is, amazingly, only 12.5% alcohol by volume, making it perfect for those of us who love abundant flavor but tire of the boozy high proof wines that often fit this profile.

 

Riolanc Vendimia Seleccionada 2006 $10.99 Our newest Rioja is this young wine from the Rioja Alavesa sub-zone, made from 100% old vine Tempranillo. Whole bunch fermentation is used here to create a wine with great freshness and bright fruit character. This is an excellent choice for weeknight suppers now. When the weather warms up a bit I’ll be pouring this one in the back yard by the paella fire.

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

Holiday Wines, Version 1.3, The Holiday Party Edition

It’s party season. Parties at the office, parties at friends houses, parties at home.  It can get overwhelming if you are not prepared. Long festive luncheons with old colleagues, slow Sunday suppers with relatives from out of town or an impromptu potluck in the break room at work can all be accomplished with ease if you have a well stocked pantry and/or wine cellar.

Foods that require little or no preparation are essential, as are tasty wines in a variety of styles.  A jar of our exclusive lemon stuffed olives, a wedge of 12 month aged Manchego cheese and a frothy bottle of Cava can go a long way toward creating a fun and celebratory atmosphere any time, anywhere. Silky and elegant red wines set the perfect tone at the dinner table and are perfect accompaniments to traditional slow cooked simple meals like Fabada made with genuine Asturian white beans, Chorizo and Morcilla sausage. Little ivory wedges of Almond Turrón and crumbly Mantecado cookies are well matched to aged, dark amber colored Amontillado or Oloroso from Jerez and make a perfect end to any holiday get together.

For a quick and tasty appetizer, try this recipe that I cobbled together after tasting an amazing version of this dish at my favorite local Portuguese restaurant, La Salette in Sonoma. I served this at a Port tasting that I put together a few weeks ago.  Since then I’ve had several requests for the recipe so I am printing it here for those who would like to make it at home.

 

Patê de Sardinha (Sardine Paté)

(serves 4 as an appetizer)

 

1-can Matiz sardines, drained

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1/4 cup diced onion

2-tablespoons extra virgin cup olive oil

1-tablespoon mayonnaise

1-tablespoon chopped cilantro

1-tablespoon chopped parsley

1-tablespoon Piri Piri hot sauce

1-teaspoon salt

 

Put everything in the food processor and pulse to blend (should end up with a consistency somewhere between chopped liver and hummus). Adjust lemon juice/Piri Piri/salt to taste. Chill for one hour (or over night) and serve with crusty bread.

 

D’Abattis Gran Cava 2004 $17.99 This bone dry vintage sparkler, made from 100% Parellada (one of the traditional Cava grapes) is toasty and green apple crisp with fine bubbles and yeasty aroma. California winemaker, Master Sommelier and Bay Area resident Emmanuel Kemiji is involved in this traditional Catalan winery.  Serve this wine with a mix of fried lemon slices and tiny fried anchovies. Let the festivities ensue.

 

Mont Ferrant  Blanes Nature Cava 2003 $17.99 From one of the oldest Cava producers in Spain, this traditional blend of Parellada, Macabeo and Xarel-lo is bright, lively and very dry. Mont Ferrant also makes the ever-popular Brut Rosado Cava that many of you know and love. This wine is more traditional in style and makes an elegant cocktail as well as a dinner wine. Try it with oysters on the half shell.

 

Can Blau 2006 $17.99 The new vintage of this well loved red from the Montsant region has just arrived. This dark, opulent blend of Cariñena, Syrah and Garnacha is ripe and bold yet balanced too.  Previous vintages have all scored highly in the press and the new vintage is right up there quality-wise. For a soul warming winter meal, pour this with a traditional Cocido (the Spanish version of Italian ‘Bolito Misto’, or for you New Englanders, ‘Boiled Dinner’).

Azabache Graciano Reserva 2001 $19.99 Here’s an odd one for you. This is the only Reserva Rioja wine made from the rare Graciano grape. Usually Graciano, which accounts for a mere 5% of the annual harvest in Rioja, is used to blend in with the lighter Tempranillo. Graciano lends structure to blended Rioja. On its own, Graciano can be quite firm and tannic, but with 24 months in barrel followed by another two years of bottle ageing, the wine has become quite elegant and mature. If Crown Rib Roast is in your holiday plans, this wine will add the perfect Spanish accent to the meal.

 

Maestro Sierra Amontillado $21.99 (375 ml)

Maestro Sierra Oloroso $15.99 (375ml)

Maestro Sierra was founded in 1832 by Jose Antonio Sierra, who, as a master carpenter, was responsible for building barrels for all the major Sherry bodegas. Recognized as one of the top coopers in the area, he longed to become involved in the Sherry trade itself. As this business was dominated by the nobility, a start-up such as his was not very welcome. After many hardships he was able to establish and grow his business becoming one of the top Almacenistas (stockholders) of high quality Jerez wines. Poking fun at his struggle, the label depicts an allegorical fox hunt with the “Nobles” hunting the fox (Maestro Sierra).

Pilar Pla Pechovierto currently owns Maestro Sierra. Doña Pilar is a widow whose husband was a direct descendent of the Sierra family. She respected her husband’s wish that the winery remain in operation after his death and over the last thirty years she has kept the winery open, selling very limited stocks of wine to a few of the large bodegas. Because the wines have virtually remained unmoved due to the almost non existent business, the stocks at Maestro Sierra are some of the oldest in Jerez. The soleras at the winery are easily over 60 years old and some maybe close to 100 years old.

Maestro Sierra Amontillado is amber gold in color with a rich aroma of almonds and fresh hay. A very gentle note of raisin-like fruit character is present here. This wine pairs well with aged cheeses and cured meats. The Maestro Sierra Oloroso is dark amber with flavors of walnuts, butterscotch and figs. Serve this wine in a small glass to your special someone, after a big meal, on the bear skin rug, next to the roaring fire, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

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Holiday Wines, Version 1.0

Yes, my friends, it is that time of year again. The eating season is fast approaching, so it’s time to start thinking about big family meals, gift giving and general holiday merrymaking.  Thanksgiving is just two weeks away, with the rest of the annual end of year festivities following close behind.

At this time of year visiting family, friends and business associates all demand more than just your time and attention. They also want to be fed, and alongside something tasty to eat they will want a refreshing glass of something festive with which to toast your hospitality.  With this scenario in mind I offer you version 1.0 of our holiday wine buying guide. As the season progresses we will offer updates and new suggestions, always with the aim of supplying you with the best wines for whatever holiday plans you may have.

This week we focus on some basic requirements for the season; sparkling Cava and top shelf reds.

Cava is such a welcome and well priced wine that I feel it would be a disservice to you if I do not suggest that you pick up a mixed case of this Spanish bubbly to have on hand for organized as well as impromptu holiday get togethers. The prices are right and the wines go with just about anything.

Also popular at this time of year are rich red wines from top notch producers. Few gifts are as welcome as a great bottle of excellent red wine and bosses, clients, coworkers, friends and family members will well remember your thoughtful generosity long after the bottle is empty. And, if you work it right, you may even get to share in the joy of consuming these critically acclaimed celebrity wines (I suggest showing up for dinner with the wine in hand).  

Meanwhile, here is a little recipe from my new favorite cookbook to get you warmed up for even more fun in the kitchen as the season progresses.

 

Calabaza Rehogada-Fried Pumpkin (adapted from 1080 Recipes by Simone & Inés Ortega)

Serves 6 as a side dish

 

3 medium sized leeks

3 lb. pumpkin or butternut squash

1 cup extra virgin olive oil

3-4 slices of bread

3 cloves garlic

Salt

 

Cut leeks into 1 inch pieces and rinse well to remove sand. Peel and deseed pumpkin and cut in 1 inch cubes. Tear bread into 1/2 inch pieces. Cut garlic cloves in half. Simmer pumpkin in salted water until tender. Heat oil in large cazuela and fry bread until golden brown. Remove bread from oil and drain. Pour off all but a few tablespoons of oils and reheat cazuela. Add garlic and fry until brown (but not burnt). Remove garlic from oil and discard. Add leeks, pumpkin and fried bread to cazuela and cook over medium heat stirring often until leeks have softened and pumpkin starts to brown. Remove cazuela from heat, adjust salt and serve.

 

 

Cava:

Mont Ferrant Brut Rosado $14.99 I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. Few wines make as welcoming and attractive a cocktail as a tall crystal flute full of this dark ruby colored wine. This rosado cava is a Brut wine so it’s quite dry, but a residual aroma of fresh berries adds youthful liveliness to this wine from one of the oldest Cava producers in Spain.

 

1+1=3 Brut $14.99 A traditional blend of Parellada, Macabeo and Xarel-lo grapes creates a crisp sparkling wine with yeasty aroma and bright citrus fruit character. This wine with a funny name is a bit richer in fruit than some (though still a dry wine) which makes it particularly well suited to serving with food.

 

Montsarra Brut $15.99 You may be familiar with this wine as served by the glass since it has long been a favorite of local restaurant and bar owners (they know quality when they taste it). This traditional Cava offers rich, leesy complexity at a very reasonable price. Assertive bubbles, toasty aroma and bright acidity are what you want in a top notch Cava and this one has them all in abundance.

 

Big Reds:

Alto Moncayo 2005 $43.00 Garnacha is the most widely planted red grape in Spain but you won’t find many as good as what Alto Moncayo makes in D.O. Campo de Borja just south of Rioja. Deep ruby color, extracted aromas of ripe berries and a bright, spicy character that is a perfect match for red meat.  Parker gave the 2004 a 94 point score, but has not yet reviewed the new vintage. Tanzer gave the 2005 a 92(+?) point score.  Her at The Spanish Table we don’t do point scores, but we do rate this one as muy tasty.

 

Alion 2003 $75.00 Vega Sicilia Unico is THE iconic Spanish wine from D.O. Ribera del Duero, but with the current 1996 vintage clocking in at $387.00 many of us will never try it. On the other hand, Vega Sicilia also makes Alion, and the new 2003 vintage of this wine is stunning. It’s rich. It’s earthy, it’s complex and powerful and balanced.  Parker gave this wine 94 points and Tanzer gave it 91. You can decide for yourself since we just got the wine last week.  It’s waiting for you.

 

Termanthia 2005 $195.00 This has to be one of the biggest of the big reds of the season. The 2004 vintage received a perfect 100point score from The Wine Advocate, a publication known for its appreciation of big red wines. The 2005 has just been released and, due to high demand, we got just a precious few bottles for our modest little store. Think single small parcel of 100-150 year old ungrafted Tinto de Toro, miniscule yields, extensive barrel age (20 months) in new oak and you start to understand what’s going on here. The 2005 vintage produced just over 4000 bottles of this wine, so demand will be high and quantities will be scarce. Act now if you want some.

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