Spanish Gems

At a recent dinner, I was tasked by a couple of friends to bring Spanish wines that were off the beaten path.  The challenge: one of these friends is fond of red Rioja while my other friend dislikes it. Worse yet, they had been disenchanted with their previous selections hailing from the Iberian Peninsula.  I thought I would throw them a curve ball.  I selected two reds, an “unknown” wine from Rioja (Loriñon) and a wine from an “unknown” region (Calatayud).  Obviously, in this particular ocassion, the “unknown” applied to my disenchanted friends.

LORIÑON RIOJA

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Loriñon Rioja, from Bodegas Brenton, is made in a classic old world style.  For starters, the fruit used for this particular Loriñon wine comes from vineyards located in the Rioja Alta, at the highest elevation in the region.  Typically, wines from Rioja Alta are bright and earthy, making them exceptionally food-friendly.  Furthermore, this Crianza has been aged in american oak barrels adding an element of elegance and age-ability.  This peculiar bottling offers aromas of freshly crushed fruit and spiced with fantastic oak undertones.  Although I love oaky Riojas, this iteration is well balanced such that one could taste the layers of fruit, minerals, spices and oak working well together.  For the uninitiated, the predominant grape variety in Rioja is Tempranillo.  According to the Wine Bible, a typical Rioja wine may contain around 60% Tempranillo, %20 Garnacha and smaller percentages of Mazuelo and Graciano grapes.  In terms of the maturing of the wine, crianza means (literally “nursing” in this context) that the wine was aged no less than 12 months in oak barrels and 12 additional month in the bottle.  In case you wonder, Reservas are aged 24 months of which at least 12 months must be in oak barrels and an additional 12 months in the bottle prior its release.  Grand Reservas are aged 5 years, spending no less than 18 mont in oak barrels and 36 months in the bottle. By the way, this wine paired very nicely with grilled lamb rubbed with rosemary and garlic.  I decided to decant this it because at first, it was tight, despite its age.  After two hours in the decanter, it got better and better sip after sip.


 

CALATAYUD

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This Claraval wine is from Calatayud, a relatively new  and small DO in the Province or Zaragoza, acquiring DO status in 1980.  Although there are seven authorized grapes in Calatayud (Garnacha, Mazuelo, Tempranillo, Monastrell, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah) to make red wines, the most relevant grape variety in Calatayud is by far Garnacha.  This 2006 version consists of 50% Garnacha, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Tempranillo and 10% Syrah.  This wine is rich, loaded with notes of chocolate, charred fruit, leather notes.  It finishes with a core of cherry and blackberry fruit that it is almost impenetrable.  At first, I was tempted to pair it straight up with the lamb, which it actually worked well.  However, I thought that after aeration, the perfect partner food-wise was Jamón Iberico and manzanilla olives.  In either case, please do not believe me.  The truth is in the bootle. Try it!

Wines for the soul .. and Soul Food

Fino, Sherry Wine

A few days ago I had the opportunity to chat with Market Research extraordinaire Andrea Burns in Atlanta, GA. We exchanged observations about a seemingly highly regarded IT corporation. Quickly, the evening was waning away and such a fantastic conversation succumbed to the delirium of trying a bowl of homemade gumbo. Obviously, these food lovers immediately debated the merits of using okra as an ingredient in Gumbo. I calmly explained that the most important part of gumbo (now I know, besides the okra!) was pairing it well with a fine wine. Finding a suitable partner for the gumbo was extra challenging because my most gracious hostess has an inclination for really dry wine. What to drink? Well, the complex flavors of dry and nutty Amontillado ‘Sherry’ could not have been better accompaniment for her tasty gumbo. BTW, if you care to know, the word Sherry is simply an anglicization of Xeres, the name of the area (D.O.) in the southwest corner of Andalucia, Spain, where this wine is made. Xeres, was founded by the ancient Phoenicians more then 3000 years ago and at some point or another Greeks, Romans and Moors ruled it. The key to this subtle, elegant and remarkable wine is the combination of Palomino grapes, white chalk and Flor. The chalky white ground in the Xeres vineyards almost bakes the vine by reflecting the strong sunlight up to the ripening Palomino grapes. At harvest time, the clusters of grapes are set down on a mat grass to dry under the sun. Once the the clusters loose water to evaporation, the Palomino grapes are squeezed and the resulting mosto is stored in huge bungs to begin fermentation. The magic happens during this period. These bungs must have a hole for aeration, as Sherry is one of few wines in which oxigenation is actually beneficial for its production. With air flowing into the bungs, a yeastlike fungus starts coating the surface of the mosto. At this point, not even the winemaker knows if the resulting wine will be Fino or Oloroso Sherry. Why? This would depend on the yeastlike Mycoderma vini fungus also known as Flor, the mysterious agent that determines the fate of the wine. The Flor is thickest on wines which will become Fino and thinest on those destined to become Oloroso. Once the Flor finishes imparting flavor to the wine beneath, dies and sinks to the bottom. After the Flor has done its work the wine is racked, graded and fortified with Brandy. Finos are lightly seasoned with Brandy, while Olorosos would take a little more of the spirit. You see, it is not that simple to eat gumbo. You need great conversation, a great cook and a magic moment. The sherry, well, you may get it at the store. I bought this bottle at Whole Foods in The Exchange At Hammond in Atlanta for $22.00.

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Amarone from South America? Not quite, but quite good!

Amarone from South America? Not quite, but quite good!

Enamore is a joint collaboration between Allegrini, the famed Italian producer of Amarone, and Bodegas Renacer, one of the top new-age producers in Argentina.
This wine is produced similarly to Amarone wine in that the grapes are subjected to appassimento, a process in which the grapes are dried outdoors in mats to shrivel until the grapes have lost about 1/3 of their mass, helping them increase sugar concentration. At a glance, the name Enamore is simply the Spanish term for falling in love [with this wine for example]. However, a closer examination of the term would reveal that the word Enamore is a play on Amarone. Scramble the letters in Amarone and you’ll get Enamore. The grapes are sourced mainly from Lujan de Cuyo which is located between 850 and 1000 meters over sea level. Without a doubt, the resulting wine is a complex blend which is composed of Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Bonarda. This fantastic wine exhibits aromas and flavors of earth, chocolate and dark, dried fruits. I would suggest to serve it with roasted meat, earthy dishes featuring mushrooms and game. I bought this bottle in New Hampshire Liquor Store for $23.00. Cheers