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Spain in California

Every school kid in California learns about the Spanish heritage of this part of the world, going back to the days of ‘Alta California’ and ‘El Camino Reál’, but the names of Spanish explorers of the American west coast, names like De Anza, Cabrillo and Portola are no longer associated with historic figures. In modern times these Spanish family names are given to streets, shopping centers and housing sub-divisions. California’s Spanish history is, it seems, hiding in plain sight.

I’m currently reacquainting myself with the vestiges of colonial Spain here in the Bay Area and have noticed that (unlike the Spanish explorers from previous centuries) Spanish food and wine heritage is very much in evidence at present. In particular, this week I want to draw your attention to a few upcoming local events that highlight our shared Spanish history.

First up is a taste of ‘Alta California’ thanks to an enterprising group that goes by the name of ‘TAPAS’, which stands for Tempranillo Advocates, Producers and Amigos Society (hey, it’s a stretch, but it works). According to their website this local organization “is dedicated to the promotion and enjoyment of wines made from all native Iberian grape varietals.”

If you want to experience what the Spanish explorers left behind (other than place names) you can try various wines made from grapes such as Tempranillo, Garnacha, Verdejo and Albariño grown right here in California (and elsewhere in the USA) at an event hosted by TAPAS on Saturday August 9th at Copia (the wine/food museum) in Napa. Billed as “the most extensive tasting of American produced Iberian grape varietals ever offered”, this promises to be a detailed look at how domestic winemakers are responding to the current interest in all things Iberian.

Next in line for a little bit of the  California/Spain mashup treatment is a TV show (the cultural net gets widely cast around here) featuring our favorite dish, Paella, as prepared by local paellero to the stars, Gerard Nebesky. 

On Wednesday July 30th (9 pm PST) The Food Network will air an episode of Throwdown with Bobby Flay wherein the famous New York chef, restaurateur and TV personality will compete against Gerard Nebesky in a round of dueling Paellas.

The show was shot a few months ago in San Francisco and the final dishes created by Señores Flay y Nebesky were judged by Daniel Olivella, Executive Chef of B44 Restaurant in San Francisco as well as by our very own Andy Booth, co-owner of The Spanish Table (these guys know more than a thing or two about paella). Everyone involved in the show was sworn to secrecy about the final result (backed up by signed non-disclosure agreements) so we don’t yet know who actually prevailed in the competition. All will be revealed next Wednesday evening when the show airs for the first time.

For a first hand experience with Gerard’s Paella you can attend a big screen viewing of ‘Throwdown’ during the Wednesday June 30th broadcast, accompanied by the real thing. Gerard will be making his signature paella at Bistro de Copains in Occidental (Sonoma County) for a select group of Paella aficionados. For $30 you get paella, salad and the show, as well as the chance to rub elbows with a genuine TV star (Gerard, not Bobby). Reservations are required for this event. You can contact them by phone at (707)-874-2436.

Here in Berkeley we are excited to announce the arrival of new vintages from some favorite wineries as well as a few totally new items that we are very happy to share with you. What follows are my recommendations from the latest arrivals at The Spanish table in Berkeley.


Muga Blanco 2007 The newest vintage of Bodegas Muga’s popular white wine has arrived.  Made from 90% Viura and 10% Malvasia, briefly aged for 4 months in French oak, this wine is poised between the rich, fleshy style of barrel aged white wine and the crisp, herbal style of the same wine aged in tank. The oak never dominates but only adds a touch of complexity to this excellent and well priced wine. $18.99


Muga Rosado 2007 Another perennial customer favorite from Muga is this rosado wine made from Tempranillo, Garnacha and, interestingly, a bit of white Viura too. This pale pink wine is crisp and lean, not cloying and fruity. The bright acidity and gentle berry-like fruit character maintain a fine balance of berry/citrus aromas and flavors. $14.99


Parés Baltà Ros de Pacs 2007 If you are looking for a tasty organic rosado for serving at your dinner table or sipping on your back porch, then consider this dark and fruity wine from the Penedès region of Catalunya. This blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot is full of strawberry aroma and flavor, with sufficient acidity to keep the wine bright and refreshing. $11.99


Sur Bonarda 2006 We just got a great deal on a stack of this Argentine red wine from a high quality producer in the Mendoza region. The indigenous Bonarda grape produces dark, full bodied wines.  This wine is 100% Bonarda. It is garnet colored and expressive, with blackberry fruit character balancing the amargo back note that Bonarda is known for. $10.99


Capote Velho What A bargain! This non-vintage red wine from who knows where in Portugal has absolutely no pedigree but really delivers on freshness and versatility. This is a full liter of wine that possesses gentle berry-like fruit character and moderate tannins coupled with a moderate level of alcohol (11.5%). Like a no name house wine in a little Portuguese bar or restaurant, this red tastes great by itself and will also accompany, but not overshadow, a broad range of foods. $11.99 (1 Liter)


Grilos 2005 This red wine from the Dão region in Portugal is an excellent example of the improvements taking place in the region. No longer home to just funky/earthy/rustic reds, winemakers in the Dão region now make many bright and intriguing wines such as this blend of Touriga Nacional and Alfrocheiro grapes that age for a mere 6 months in oak before bottling. Tart red berry fruit character and lightly oaked tannic core combine with aromas of pomegranate and wet stones. Was $15.99, now $12.99


Vina Alberdi Reserva 2001 The wines of La Rioja Alta are among the most traditionally styled of Rioja reds. The new Viña Alberdi, from the superlative 2001 vintage, has just arrived. Odd label change (blue skinned matrons in red sun dresses sipping wine) notwithstanding, this old school Rioja is brick red in  color with toasty barrel aromas along with notes of cigar box, cedar and minerals. Pie cherry and dark plum fruit character are in balance with the other elements. This is an excellent choice for long term cellaring but is drinking very well right now if given some air before service. $24.99




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

Holiday Wines, Version 1.4, The Big Gift

Sooner or later around this time of year you are probably going to want to buy something nice for someone deserving.  Some people are easier to shop for than others.  The easy-to-shop-for people will be happy with the same thing year after year, but if you have run out of unique and thoughtful gift ideas for that difficult-to-shop-for person on your list, read on.

During the holiday season The Spanish Table always puts together some special gift box assortments of Spanish wines.  We have several multi-bottle gift packs to choose from this year as well as some very exclusive single bottles in magnums and splits presented in attractive wooden cases.  Mature vintage Riojas, rare 30 year old VORS Sherry, both red and white late harvest sweet wines as well as older Vintage and Tawny Ports all make excellent gifts and can be combined in an endless range of variety and flavor. Some of these hard-to-find wines only make an appearance during the Holiday Season so even if your gift list is complete you will want to check out the current selections to see if anything appeals to your personal taste.

For those of you with extra time on your hands (Ha! Who am I kidding?)…For those of you with thirsty guests to satisfy, here is a seasonal version of Sangria for your next holiday get-together.


Blood Orange and Cranberry Sangria

(adapted from The Spanish Table Cookbook by Steve “El Jefe” Winston)

Serves 4


1 cup water

1/2 cup sugar

1 lb. whole fresh cranberries

3 Moro Blood oranges, sliced into rounds

1 bottle (750ml) Raventos Perfum de Vi Blanc (or other aromatic Spanish white wine)

1 12 oz. can Limon Kas (or other lemon-lime soda)

1 0z.  Spanish brandy


Put water, sugar and cranberries in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove cranberries from heat and cool to room temperature.

Combine cranberry mixture with sliced blood oranges and brandy in a 1-1/2 liter open topped pitcher and let the mixed fruit macerate for an hour or two.

Right before serving, add the wine and the Limon Kas to the pitcher, stir to mix and pour into tumblers filled with ice. Garnish with a slice of the orange and a few extra cranberries.




Lan Gift Pack $42.99 Bodegas Lan, located in the Rioja wine town of Fuenmayor, craft some of our most popular red wines. This sampler includes one of each of their primary brands. The Lan Crianza 2004 is bright and lively. It is one of my favorite wines to serve with Paella. The Lan Reserva 2001, from a superlative vintage is silky and smooth. Serve it with wintery soups and stews. The Lan Gran Reserva 1998 is mature and elegant. Serve this wine with cured meats and aged cheeses. The Lan Gift Pack is priced a little bit more than 10% off of regular retail for these items.


Rioja Alta Gift Pack $97.00 La Rioja Alta was established in 1890 in the little town of Labastida and maintains traditional Rioja winemaking practices while also embracing many of the latest technological advances. La Rioja Alta own 750 acres of vineyards from which they can source top quality grapes, resulting in excellent fruit and richness throughout their wines. The Vina Alberdi Reserva 2000 is a blend of 80% Tempranillo and 20% Mazuelo. Medium ruby in color, it exhibits a nicely developed and expressive nose of cedar, spice, and red currants. This wine is aged in new oak for one year followed by several more years in second use barrels before bottling; creating a wine that is light to medium-bodied, seamless, elegant, and ripe. Viña Ardanza Reserva 1999 is traditionally the richest and most expressively fruity of La Rioja Alta’s wines, with 20% Garnacha in the blend. The wine is aged in American oak for three years and then for a further two before release. With a brilliant deep cherry color and a terracotta rim, the wine has notes of ripe berry fruit, with hints of cinnamon, spice and vanilla.  The rare  1995 Gran Reserva 904, composed of 90% Tempranillo and 10% Graciano, displays ruby color with a brick red tint. Earthy mineral aromas intermixed with smoky tobacco, scorched earth, red currants, sweet cherries, and spice box jump from the glass of this complex, nuanced red. The Rioja Alta Gift Pack is priced a little bit more than 10% off of regular retail for these items.



Faustino Gift Pack $399.00 The most prestigious of our boxed sets is this vertical of Faustino’s amazing Gran Reserva Riojas. Bodegas Faustino is the largest exporter of Gran Reserva wines from Rioja, accounting for more than one third of Gran Reserva wine exports from the region. Bodegas Faustino is a proud custodian of the Rioja region’s traditional winemaking style and has earned a well deserved reputation as a source of truly world-class fine wines. Included in this sampler are 4 bottles of Faustino Gran Reserva (1964, 1970, 1982, and 1994) as well as a lovely crystal decanter embossed with the Faustino logo. A truly unique gift.


Les Terrasses 2004 Magnum $80.00 (1.5 Liter) Alvaro Palacios is one of the most celebrated of Spanish winemakers. He was instrumental in the rejuvenation and subsequent popularity of wines from the Priorat region. Les Terrasses is a Priorat wine that is made from 60% Cariñena, 30% Garnacha, and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon aged for one year in a combination of used French and American oak. This dark, opulent wine would make a perfect match with a hearty, slow cooked winter stew. The big bottle makes a wonderful gift (packaged in its own wooden case) for someone who loves to entertain and has a big crowd to feed.


Maestro Sierra VORS Oloroso 1/14 $81.00 (375ml) The Maestro Sierra story is fascinating. 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. The Oloroso 1/14 is so named because it is drawn from the final barrel of a 14 barrel solera (a solera is the group of barrels traditionally used to age Jerez wines). This wine is categorized as a VORS wine indicating at least 30 years of age. The actual age of this solera here is very hard to determine as the wines have been here for as long as anyone can remember. The 14 butts of this wine have spent at least 50 years in the solera system. Each year a new vintage is added to the solera and a portion of the solera is drawn off for bottling.

Oloroso 1/14 is medium amber colored, with slight raisin-like sweetness, complex flavors of burnt sugar and butterscotch and outstanding length.


Domecq 51-1a VORS Amontillado $88.00

Domecq Sibarita VORS Oloroso $88.00

Domecq Venerable VORS PX $88.00

The House of Domecq has spent almost three centuries pleasing sherry-drinkers of every stripe, including the royalty of Spain and England. In the bodega Domecq has an incredible advantage: an ancient lineage of soleras. Their oldest solera, used in making the Sibarita Palo Cortado, was founded in 1792, and other Sherries are aged in soleras dating from 1830, 1902, and 1919. Great age gives their Sherries depth and power, and Domecq has been careful to insure that the añada (the new wine being added at the top of the solera) is high quality, since compromising such a legacy would be a great waste. To do so they have invested in state-of-the-art facilities in the winery. The 51-1a Amontillado is named after its solera. A complex combination of fruits (raisins and figs, primarily) and savory components such as chestnuts, dark bread, and baking spices are accented with a delicate briny note. This sherry unwinds into a long, warm finish. The Sibarita Oloroso is medium-bodied, with aromas of fruitcake, prunes, and dates.  This Oloroso maintains the Domecq family traits of power and intensity framed with cleansing acidity. From a solera founded in 1792, only 370 cases are withdrawn and released each year. The Venerable PX offers a rich blend of dark chocolate, molasses, and figs. This dark, sweet wine is round, big, and elegant in the mouth, demonstrating just how spectacular these mature wines can be.

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Filed under Fortified Wine, Recipes, Red Wine, Spain