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Learning About Spain

The Wine Academy of Spain, an educational organization run by Pancho Campo (Spain’s first Master of Wine) stopped in San Francisco last week as part of a US tour currently wrapping up in Washington DC.
I joined a group of Spanish wine enthusiasts for the three day seminar that covered all of Spain’s regions, grapes and winemaking styles. I got to brush up on my Spanish wine knowledge and tried many new wines as well as some familiar favorites.
Esteban Cabezas and his crew did a fabulous job of squeezing a ton of information into a short space of time. I gleaned all sorts of tidbits of information that I will be sharing with you in the days and weeks to come.
My thanks and appreciation go out to The Wine Academy of Spain and to Catavino for sponsoring my attendance to the seminar (I won the scholarship for my why-I-love-Spanish-wine blog entry). Hopefully I passed the exam and in a few weeks will have a handsome Spanish Wine Educator certificate to hang on the wall.
I retried a few wines at the Wine Academy of Spain course that are making a repeat appearance here as a result of a good showing at the seminar. Check out this week’s wine notes for the Aria Brut Cava, Gramona Imperial Cava and the red Fra Guerau Monsant. They are now back in stock and drinking beautifully.

Espelt Vailet 2007 After my recent trip to the Empordá region of Spain (up along the French border on the Mediterranean side) I have been eagerly buying all the wine from this little known, rocky, sparsely populated corner of the globe. A few weeks back we featured the red from Espelt as well as the rosado. The white wine from Espelt has just come back in stock and I recommend it this week as a new option for those seeking bright, fresh white wines with distinctive character. The blend is 60% Garnacha Blanca and 40% Macabeo (Viura for you white Rioja fans). Crisp minerality is supplemented here with a bit of green herb and citrus character. $12.99
Aria Brut This Cava has been a well loved favorite and is finally back in stock here in Berkeley. This frothy blend of the three traditional Cava grapes (Macabeo, Xarel-lo and Parellada)presents a fresh, balanced side of Cava with a bit of green apple fruit adding counterpoint to the mineral foundation. $10.99
Gramona Imperial 2004 For those who appreciate the complexity of long aged Cava, this vintage sparkler is always a welcome sight. 3-4 year of cellar age gives this wine a very Champagne-like character. Adding 10% Chardonnay to the blend of 50% Xarel-lo and 40% Macabeo adds to the similarity with French bubbly. Yeasty brioche aroma, an elegant mineral backnote and a bit of brandied fruit on the finish. $31.99
Fra Guerau 2003 This was one of the first wines that caught my attention back when I started with The Spanish Table. I recently retasted Fra Guerau and was reminded of the pure pleasure that comes from this blend of numerous grapes (Syrah, Garnacha, Cariñena, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, Monastrell) from the Montsant region. Dark garnet color, sweet berry fruit character and well integrated barrel character (thanks to several years of bottle age) make this an easy wine to pair with all kinds of food. $13.99
Zaumau Priorat 2008 Carlos Escolar make miniscule quantities of wine in DOC Priorat. Old vine Garnacha and Samsó (the local name for Cariñena) are blended here in an unoaked red that expresses the rocky terruño of the region in a pure, darkly colored, ripely fruited style. Foregoing the barrel ageing regimen brings the price down significantly for this wine from a region not known for bargains. $17.99
Viña Lanciano Reserva 2001 Nothing says ‘Spain’ quite like a slowly matured Tempranillo from Rioja. This wine,from the superlative 2001 vintage, is composed of the best estate grown fruit from Bodegas LAN. Two years in the barrel followed by 5 years resting in the bottle in the cellar have created an elegant, traditional wine that blends tannic oak with tart cherry fruit character. Aromas of fresh earth, cured meat and wood smoke add depth and nuance to this excellent example of old school Rioja. $28.99

TapasWalk In The News

Last Sunday the San Francisco Chronicle ran a feature on the Spanish wine & food walking tour that I do called TapasWalk. Using my tour as an example, Janet Fletcher wrote a detailed piece on the burgeoning tapas scene now happening in downtown San Francisco. “In this new little world straddling North Beach, the Financial District and Russian Hill,” Fletcher wrote, “a Bay Area tapas enthusiast with good walking shoes can do the sort of bar hopping that many Spaniards enjoy nightly.” She included a lexicon of useful terminology for those less familar with Spanish cuisine as well as a few recipes for traditional tapas that you can make at home (with a few ingredients from The Spanish Table, of course). If you missed it in the paper last week you can still read the article online here.


Txakolí Wisdom


In tandem with last week’s San Francisco Chronicle article by Janet Fletcher about the downtown tapas scene, Jon Bonné put together a detailed and up-to-date summary of the current state of Basque Txakolí wine. If you have yet to experience the distinct joy of Txakolí, this article tells you all you need to know to get started. We carry all the Txakolí wines and (just between you and me) we even have some of the elusive Txakolí rosado still in stock.

Txakolí Etiquette

If you have visited San Sebastian in Spain’s Basque Country you probably noticed how the local bartenders pour the Txakolí wine with an outstretched arm from high overhead. Now our good friends from Vinos Unico have made an instructional video that shows just how to pour Txakolí like a pro. Check them out here:


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

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