Spanish wine can be a hard thing to define in general terms. Just about every region in Spain makes at least a little bit of wine and the regional variation, numerous grape varieties and the personal styles of individual winemakers can cover an almost infinite range of possibilities.
At The Spanish Table we take pride in offering a wide variety of wines from all across the Iberian Peninsula, and reading this newsletter is one of the best ways to learn about these exciting, enticingly new wines.
My normal habit is to put aside my own personal preferences and to promote new and interesting wines regardless of whether or not I plan to add the wine to my personal collection, but for you, the reader of this newsletter, it might be helpful to calibrate my perspective (for all wine writing is, after all, a matter of personal perspective) by sharing some of my personal favorites with you.
I tend to take home younger wines, though you will find a few more mature bottles in the list below. I, like you, love a wine that delivers excellent quality at a great price, so you won’t see any expensive icon wine on this week’s list (not that I don’t love these wines as well, but a shopkeeper’s budget has certain limitations). What follows are some new items as well as some well loved favorites, all of which have found a place at my dinner table in recent weeks.
Also, since I’m going ‘first-person’ on you this week, here is a recipe from my past that has caught up to me in the best of ways.
I grew up in the south where traditional recipes and regional specialties are more respected than in many other parts of the country. One of the traditional foods I grew up with, and hated, was the dreaded Pimento Cheese Spread. Usually made with ‘American’ cheese, mayonnaise and tasteless pimentos from a jar, this was not a dish that I looked back on with great fondness. Recently, I found myself longing for the flavors of my formative years in Georgia and since nostalgia and food memory are sentiments only barely tethered to logic and reality, I decided to re-try some recipes from my younger days. Not satisfied with simple replication, I wanted to use my more recently acquired Spanish cooking habits to update these traditional southern standbys. I upgraded the ingredients, added a bit of Spanish flair and, well, all I can say is y’all are going to love the results.
Kevin’s Pimentón Cheese Spread (serves 6 as an appetizer)
½ lb. Manchego Tierno Cheese (the youngest Manchego)
½ lb. Idiazabal Cheese
5 whole Piquillo peppers
6 pitted green Manzanilla olives
¼ cup Ybarra mayonesa (made with 100% olive oil)
½ tsp. Pimentón de la Vera Dulce (smoked sweet paprika)
1 tsp. Salt
Cut rind off cheeses and grate finely. Dice piquillo peppers and olives. Combine grated cheese, diced peppers and olives in a bowl with mayonesa, pimentón and salt. Mix completely and refrigerate for an hour before serving on bread. Melt the cheese spread on toast under the broiler for a hot version of this updated classic.
Aviny0 Vi D’Agulla 2006 $12.99 Without a doubt, the white wine I take home most often is this spritzy, dry Muscat from the Penedès region in Catalunya. This refreshing grapefruity white wine is low in alcohol but big on taste. It makes a welcoming aperitif for guests and a perfect Sunday afternoon cocktail after yard work or washing the dogs.
Puerta Novas Crianza 2001 $12.99 My wife and I were recently surprised by this wine. When first released, Puertas Novas was quite firm and oaky, but time has been kind to this Toro region red. With dinner the other night this proved to be a supple, rich, balanced wine (made from the local version of Tempranillo, appropriately named Tinto de Toro). No longer strictly a ‘steak wine’, Puertas Novas now has an elegance that reflects both the wine’s pedigree (2001 was an excellent vintage) and the skill of the winemakers (for those who still want the bigger, more structured version, Valpiculata Reserva 2001 is also still available for $23.99).
Viña Valoria 2005 $14.99 Many of you have come in looking for the perfect red wine to serve with paella and I very often recommend this young Rioja. A few scant months of barrel age lend the slightest touch of barrel character to this blend of Tempranillo, Mazuelo and Graciano. The pure, plum-like fruit character is juicy and refreshing, never overwhelming lighter foods such as rice or pasta dishes (paella specifically!).
Servilio Roble 2006$15.99 This new arrival from Ribera del Duero is bold and ripe. Dark color and a hint of meat locker aroma hint at what to serve with this young red wine. Grilled lamb chops, carne asada, crispy fried Morcilla or whatever meaty meal you prefer will taste even better when accompanied by this wine. At home we love to serve this wine with the Berkshire pork chops we get from Café Rouge here in Berkeley.
Azabache Graciano Reserva 2001 $19.99 I mentioned this wine a few weeks ago, but it bears repeating. 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. Braised beef brisket with pearl onions and potatoes was what I served with this 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. I served this with a selection of embutidos from The Spanish Table such as Lomo Embuchado, Jamón Serrano and dry cured Chorizo.