Tag Archives: sur de los andes

Many Are Tasted, But Few Are Chosen

It is that time of year again.

I speak of the spring tasting season when all the wine importers and distributors conduct tastings for the trade. New wines are featured along with new vintages of familiar favorites. At these events buyers like me get a chance to sniff, sip, compare and contrast dozens (no, hundreds) of wines before choosing what to carry in the store. It all sounds like a fun time and sort of a booze cruise but it is, in fact, a bit of work (yes, I know, poor me).

I used to make a habit of trying all the white wines before moving on to reds but I found that the high acidity of white wines tended to burn out my taste buds early, leaving me with a palate too compromised to accurately taste the red wines. My routine these days is to taste first all the things I am most interested in, switching back and forth between reds and whites. Then I go back and try other wines that I might have missed the first time through. Of course I am not consuming all this wine yet even so after a few hours I have to call it quits because palate fatigue sets in and everything starts tasting the same. Afterwards, with purple teeth, smudgy notes and, most likely, a wine stained shirt I head back home to review my notes and choose what to bring in and sell.

This week I offer you a selection of new arrivals that made the cut. Some of these wines are making a first appearance at The Spanish Table while others have just changed to the latest vintage, warranting repeat investigation.

Laxas 2008 The first 2008 Albariño of the season has arrived. Laxas is a ripe pear and citrus scented wine that displays a greenish tint and a light minerality. This bright, floral white wine is a perfect choice for springtime foods such as fresh cheeses, tender salad greens and fresh vegetables. The price has thankfully not gone up in the new vintage. $17.99

Solar de Serrade Alvarinho 2007 The wine world has ‘discovered’ Portugal (a case of hiding in plain sight, if you ask me) leading to the importation of numerous new and interesting wines that previously never made it out of the country. The Vinho Verde wines of northern Portugal have for many years been associated with cheap, spritzy, non-vintage white wines that are fun, refreshing and simple.  Now we are seeing more elaborate, intriguing wines from this region including this single varietal Alvarinho (Albariño in Spain become Alvarinho in Portugal). The light spritzy effervescence of a typical Vinho Verde is found here with a much drier, more mineral foundation underlying tart citrus fruit character. This crisp, refreshing, low alcohol white wine makes an excellent aperitivo wine as well as a nice accompaniment to lighter meals. $17.99

Muralhas De Monçao Vinho Verde 2007 Another example of the many wonderful wines coming out of Portugal right now, this white wine from the Vinho Verde region is a traditional blend of Alvarinho and Trajadura, bottled with a touch of residual effervescence. Aromas and flavors of white peach and meyer lemon give this wine a bit of roundness to balance the crisp acidity and light minerality. This wine is very popular in Portugal and has happily been showing up around the Bay Area on some by-the-glass lists of numerous restaurants. Try it at home with a big salad and some grilled sardines. $15.99

Mas Malbec 2007 The new 2007 vintage of Mas Malbec serves as a reminder that this has been a consistently solid wine and a customer favorite for several vintages running.  This wine from bodegas Sur de los Andes in Argentina is a private label for the importer Luis Moya who works with the producer to create a young 100% Malbec wine in a well balanced style. Ripe fruit never overwhelms the palate, leaving room for light barrel tannins and rocky minerality. This too is the same price as last vintage. $11.99

Novecento Malbec 2007 As the season changes and the weather warms, I start to bring in more wines intended to accompany outdoor cooking.  This young Malbec from Argentina is expressive and ripe with dark berry fruit fruit character. Dust off the grill, open a bottle of Novocento and start enjoying the sunshine. $10.99

La Planta 2007 Many of you have been waiting for the new vintage of La Planta to arrive. Wait no longer. This lightly oaked red from Bodegas Arzuaga in Ribera del Duero is dark and expressive with earthy nuance and ripe fruit character. Fashioned from the local Tinto Fino grape (Tempranillo by another name) and aged for just a few months in small oak barrels, this wine has a bold character that pairs well with full flavored meaty meals. A mixed grill of chuletas de cordero (lamb chops) and morcilla (blood sausage) would be a perfect pairing here. $15.99

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

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

 

 

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

Outdoor Entertainment

Among the many reasons to love living in the Bay Area are the numerous outdoor concerts, plays and other performances that reappear each year like seasonal fruits and vegetables when the weather gets warm.

Last night I was at the California Shakespeare Festival pouring samples of a few Argentine wines we carry. Several theater patrons commented on how the fragrant Sur de los Andes Torrontès white wine was a perfect match for the cool twilight hour before the performance.

This weekend I’ll be packing a picnic for an outing (on public transit, of course) to Stern Grove in San Francisco to see Os Mutantes (legendary Brazilian psychedelic band from the 60s) and Los Amigos Invisibles (unique and super-danceable Venezuelan jazz/funk). A dry, spritzy, low alcohol Portuguese Vinho Verde will surely be among my pic-i-nic basket goodies (‘Oh Yogi, this wine is dee-licious’).

The San Francisco Mime Troupe is celebrating their 48th season of free political theatre in the parks around the Bay Area (this weekend in Berkeley at Cedar Rose Park). Usually, as we wait for the show to start, I spread a blanket on the grass and open a bottle of Spanish rosado. The wine pairs beautifully with tuna stuffed piquillo peppers and other light fare (it’s a good match with progressive politics too).

Some of these events take a bit of advance planning and preparation. When you see that an event is ‘free admission’, as many are, you will always need to plan on arriving early and claiming a space for your group or be prepared to enjoy the performance from a distance (sometimes a very long distance). Bring food of course (including wine and extra water), but also a newspaper or magazine to read while you wait and an extra sweater or blanket for the always unpredictable Bay Area weather. Also, though these events are often free and open to the public, a cash donation of some sort helps insure that these cultural events continue to reappear in years to come (don’t worry about the where and the how…the volunteers with the collection buckets will find you).

These events only last until the start of the rainy season so it’s important to get out there and enjoy the cultural cornucopia while it lasts. Here are some trusty favorites as well as some new arrivals from The Spanish Table’s wine department to jump start your pre-show picnic plans.

Cerveza:

Jerome Cerveza Roja $6.99 (660ml)

Jerome Cerveza Negra $6.99 (660ml)

Just in time for the heat of summer comes this lineup of microbrewery ale from Argentina.

Named after the family German Sheppard (who’s profile is featured prominently on the label) Jerome Brewing Company is a pioneer in the production of small batch (and I mean really small, as in 5 barrels a day) Argentine ales. We currently carry the Roja, a bold, hoppy ale that reminds me of some of our local bay Area brews, as well as the Negra, a dark and creamy version of a british stout.

Blanco:

Avinyó Vi D’Agulla 2006 $12.99 The Avinyó Cava that we carry (the traditional Brut Reserva As well as the new Brut Rosado) is always top notch. This small winery also produces a traditional summer wine called Vi D’Agulla (translates literally as ‘needle wine’). This lightly effervescent white wine made from Petit Grain Muscat is floral and aromatic like a Moscatel, but only gently sweet. The light bubbles lift the scent and give the wine a lively, fresh character. The prickly effervescence is what gives the wine its name. Serve Vi D’Agulla as a welcoming cocktail to your dinner guests and watch the smiles spread with each sip.

Barbadillo Palomino Fino 2006 $6.99 It’s back! The most popular white wine in Spain has returned in the new vintage. Made from the local Palomino Fino grapes, blended with a bit of Viura so I’m told, this young white wine from Cadiz in the south of Spain is refreshingly simple and bright. Add some melon and citrus and you have the makings of an excellent Sangria blanco.

Sur de los Andes Torrontés 2006 $11.99 For an Argentine version of Sangria blanco, try using this ripe, Viognier-like white wine from Mendoza. Rich, floral aromatics and peachy fruit character call out for some stone fruit and sparkling tonic water.

Granbazan Ambar 2005 $21.99 This excellent top shelf Albariño displays a flinty mineral foundation underlying bright citrus fruit and slightly oxidized complexity. Very popular in Spain, but almost unheard of in the USA.

Rosado:

Artazuri Rosado 2006 $12.99 The newly arrived 2006 vintage of this dry rosado is made from 100% Garnacha grapes grown in the high altitude vineyards of D.O. Navarra, the traditional home of Spanish rosado. This perennial customer favorite displays gentle fresh berry scent along with a bright citrus fruit character. The finely detailed aromas and flavors blend effortlessly in this excellent summertime wine.

Tinto:

Arbanta 2005 $10.99 An excellent young Rioja produced from Organic fruit. Recently rated 89 Points by The Wine Advocate, Jay Miller reviewed the wine, saying “The 2005 Biurko Gorri Arbanta offers superb value, among the best in my Spanish tastings. It is 100% Tempranillo, tank fermented and aged. Medium ruby in color, it exhibits remarkable aromatic complexity for its price point with cherries, red currants, and spice in evidence. The wine is elegant, balanced, and fruity right through the lengthy finish. Drink it over the next 1-3 years.

Torremayor Crianza 2004 $12.99 Viña Santa Marina is an innovative winery located in the far flung Extremadura region in western Spain. They make a popular wine called Gargola as well as this barrel aged crianza wine made from 100% Tempranillo. Bright cherry-like fruit with firm but well-integrated tannins. An excellent value.

Peique Mencía 2006 $13.99 One of my favorite young Mencía grape wines from D.O. Bierzo has just arrived in the new 2006 vintage. Vibrant fresh cherry fruit character encounters dry oak leaf aroma and flinty background mineral aroma and flavor. Perfect for summer cookouts in the back yard or wherever you may be.

Collectors wines:

Hacienda Monasterio 2003 $42.99 Peter Sisseck of Pingus fame makes this dark colored and deeply flavorful D.O. Ribera del Duero wine. It is a perennial favorite that we receive limited quantities of once a year. Steven Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar gave this wine 92 points, saying “Deep ruby. Explosive, sexy aromas of cherry, plum, incense, freshly ground coffee and succulent herbs. Focused and deep, with red and dark berry flavors complicated by candied violet, smoky bacon and cracked pepper. A ripe, weighty wine with a dense, chewy texture and compelling freshness, especially for the year. Finishes with a note of sweet cherry preserves, fine tannins and excellent length.”

Hacienda Monasterio Reserva 2001 $72.00 The Hacienda Monasterio Reserva from the phenomenal 2001 vintage has just arrived. Using the same carefully selected fruit as the younger crianza wine, this Reserva sees longer barrel maturation to smooth out the tannins and bring out the dark berry fruit character. This very special wine is very limited in availability. We have one 12 bottle case to share with you, so act soon if you want some for your cellar.

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Filed under Argentina, beer, Red Wine, rosado, Spain, Uncategorized, White Wine