A little bit of vino with Snow Crab

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If you live in the eastern part of Canada, with the arrival of spring, not only comes the good weather but also the delicious crustacean, the snow crab.

Rivaled only by its crustacean cousin the lobster, crabs sit at the temple of marine epicurean delights. Served alone, these protein-rich shellfish are delicious, but when paired with the appropriate vino they become mind blowing. There’s a simple reason white  wines are the perfect companions for crab dishes: It’s all about the acidity.

When matching crab and wine, both the crab and wine should be ultimately fresh. Fresh crabs retain their sweet natural flavors and snappy texture, while fresh wines feature good acidity. Epicureans around the world employ acidity to bring out the natural flavours of  seafood.We often sprinkle lemon on a dish, while in Thailand lemon grass is used while in Chinese gastronomy, sides of vinegar dipping sauces appear in the table. Naturally, my acidic liquid of choice is a lovely white or sparkling wine.

The best wine to pair with crabs very much depends on the type of crab and how it’s cooked. While good acidity is good way to start as it emphasizes the natural freshness of crabs, other qualities like fruitiness and minerality are also important.

One of the world’s most crab-friendly white wines is Albarino from the wine region Rias Baixas in the northwest of Spain. This is one of the most hilly and rocky wine regions in the world, and it has a rather harsh Atlantic climate. The wines produced in Rias Baixas  are highly aromatic and vibrantly fruity with mouth-puckering acidity. These qualities make them the perfect wines for your ultimat snow crab experience.

Viura is the most important white grape of the Rioja area in north-central Spain As you know Rioja is renowned for its tempranillo-based reds than its whites. Viura makes a less aromatic  wine than the aforementioned albariño, lacking the latter’s exotic aromas, flavors, and overall complexity. A favorite grape of the Spaniards during the summer months, when the temperatures get very hot. With its light alcohol and medium texture, Viura is my go wine with simple crab dishes such as salads or light pastas. Viura can  offer wonderful fruit with mineral notes, wild flowers and spice.

For centuries, Verdejo has been   deprived of its true glory, drafted into producing an oxidized, amber-coloured wine like sherry. It has only risen recently only with a pale color and bone-dry profile and has been  earning its rank  as one of Spain’s most thrilling white bargains.

In the last twenty-five years a revolution in Rueda has changed the style of the wines, and brought the region to the attention of the world’s wine connoisseurs. A reverence for the indigenous variety, Verdejo, has been combined with modern equipment and winemaking techniques to make Rueda one of Spain’s most cutting edge wine producing regions. Much of the harvest is done at night and every step of the winegrowing and winemaking process includes careful handling so that oxidation of the grapes is avoided. As a result, the Rueda Denomination of Origin (D.O. Rueda) was the first quality region to be approved by Spain’s Ministry of Agriculture for the larger Castilla y Leon region.

Verdejo is a fascinating grape, with great freshness and acidity balanced with rich body and notes of citrus, minerality. It goes well with any crustacean such as lobster or snow crab. When the snow crab season arrives, I always keep handy a bottle of Verdejo.

Wine Reccomendations for Crab season

Lagar de Cervera Rias Baixas 2015. SAQ # 13159272. $27.40

Classic mineral character of Albarino, complemented with some exotic stone fruit and tropical flavours. Steely acidity runs through the wine, giving it balance and character. A chic Albarino. Interesting match with a crab Thai salad.

Conde de Valdemar Finca Alto de Cantabria 2015. SAQ # 00860171. $19.85

Very exhuberant nose bringing to mind notes of peaches and apricot with floral and citric nuances. On the palate, it is fresh and round with elegant spices brought by a passage in french oak aging. Perfect with crab pasta dishes.

Ijalba Genoli 2016. SAQ #  00883033. $13.90

Lovely fruity aromas that bring to mind green apple, grapefuit, white flowers and lactic nuances. Dry, elegant and very harmonious. In this bottling, Ijalba brings out the best of the variety. Pair it simply with steamed crab with a touch of lemon.

Basa Rueda 2016. SAQ # 10264018. $16.20

An abundance of citrus and stone fruits on the nose lead prepares the drinker to a dry and elegant palate. The finish brings to mind more lemony and green apple flavours and is very refreshing. Lovely with snow crab and asparagus risotto.

 

How I learnt to love Atlantic Garnacha

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In my formative years of learning about Spanish wines, I had a passion for the wines of the Mediterranean coast and northeast of Spain. Dont get me wrong, I still love them but there are other wines that enchant me as well.

Garnachas and Monastrell..with their heady aromas of deep black fruit, lead pencil and balsamic spice ( more like a fairy spice for me). Day and night, I will sip these wines from my apartment in Madrid and through the window and i would watch the time pass by listening kind of blue by Miles Davis.

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Back in those days I had a mentor that i was an adolescent with my wine drinking habits. He always used to tell me that my passage to adulthood wine drinking would occur when i started drinking wines with atlantic influence. Those were the wines of Rioja, Navarra and Bierzo. As we head north, the acidities get more pronounced and the fruit gives less gratification. The Garnachas of the north bring to mind red fruit such as raspberries and strawberries. On the mouth, there are fresh and juicy bringing to mind herbal flavors such as diverse teas. They are wonderful but require a bit more attention because these are more introverted wines.

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Famously known for its annual bull-running festival in Pamplona and its endless fields of white asparagus, red peppers and succulent artichokes, Navarra is also the birthplace to some of the world’s oldest Garnacha vines – offering drinkers some of Spain’s best value reds.

In Navarra, the Garnacha style is quite peppery with fine tannins and sour cherry acidity like. The acidity is the product of the terroir of Navarra: Atlantic climate with a combination of poor mountain soil In Navarra Garnacha has traditionally been used to produce pale wines labelled either rosado or clarete.  But more and more, producers are keeping the Garnachas to make singular reds.

One of this producers is Bodegas Artazuri. Part of the group Artadi in Rioja, Artazuri makes a joven entry level Garnacha. It has a very simple elaboration process in which the grapes are destemmed and cold macerated before fermentation occurs at a controlled temperature.

Some of the best wines I have tasted in Navarra are made by Bodegas Artazuri. Juan Carlos Lopez de Lacalle made his name with his Bodegas Artadi in neighbouring Rioja, then moved across the border to neighbouring Navarra to run Bodegas Artazuri in the village of Santa Cruz focusing on just 100% Garnacha wines.

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Garnacha Artazuri. SAQ # 10902841. $15.20

This is a very easy to drink and elegant wine. Lovely nose of coffee, cherry in dark chocolate with  lead pencil shavings. In addition,  crushed peppercorns. On the palate, earthy with a medium to high acidity. It may not be hedonistic like the Garnachas further south but provides a fine intelligent drinking. Also it comes with a very friendly price.  You can pair it with a dish of baked dry cod with tomatoes or a seafood stew. Or if you feel like an Italian mood, fettuccine with shrimps alla diavola. 

 

I cant tell you which wine drinker you should be, but it should be a mix of a connoisseur and expert. For a fun text regarding different wine drinkers, please consult the text of my colleague Yves Mailloux, what kind of wine drinker are you? ( in french).

Hasta luego!!!

 

A pleasant encounter with Bodegas Beronia

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Thousands of years ago the Rioja region was inhabited by the Berones; warriors who called their land Beronia. In 1973 the winery Bodegas Beronia was founded; named in tribute to the fighters of this beautiful land. It was founded on a passion for fine food and high quality wines and is now famous for red wines.

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This is what I learned in a recent encounter with  Matias Calleja Ujarte, the technical director from Beronia in a recent passagein Montreal. Senor Calleja was in a road trip with Cristopher Canale-Parola, the Area Manager for Canada for Gonzalez Byass. Beronia form part of this celebrated  family of wine domains since 1982

Beronia is famous for the experimentation with different types of oak. Matias was one of the first wine makers to experiment with an assortment of barrels and types of wood from different countries. He was also one of the first to try mixed oak barrels using French oak heads and American oak staves. Since 1973, the efforts of Matias has helped the signature style of Beronia, a mid point between the traditional and modern Rioja.

We tasted a number of wines available in the Canadian Market. For me the highlight of the tasting were the different samples of wines made with American and French wood that illustrated well the expertise of Beronia in the area of wood aging. Not to forget the legendary 1973 Gran Reserva that we tasted. This was a very much alive wine and makes wonder if Rioja could ever again make wines with this track record of longevity.

Another interesting wine tasted was the Rueda bottling. Gonzalez Byass has decided to invest in Rueda to demonstrate the potential of the area. The project has been led with Matias and Beatriz Paniagua. I was very surprised to learn by Matias that their Rueda is a 100% monovarietal Verdejo, something that it is rare to see as most Ruedas are blended with Sauvignon Blanc. Like I said before, the inclusion of Sauvignon Blanc blurs the character of the Verdejo and in consequence the terroir of Rioja.

Wines tasted

Beronia Rueda Verdejo 2016 LCBO # Vintages: 461327. 2015 was retailing at $11.25. In Quebec, private import by Univins

Lots of green apple, pear and lemon yogurt character with delicate herbaceous nuances. Medium body, refreshing with flavors of confit grapefruit. Very harmonious finale. The wine to have with crab cakes or fried calamari.

Beronia Tempranillo 2014. LCBO # 243055. 2013 was retailing for $13.95. Available soon in Quebec

Cofee, chocolate and prunes in brandy. Noble tones of wood. Full body with supple tannins. Flavors of cherry bomb and halzenut cream. Long. Pair with beef stuffed peppers. Amazing quality for a joven wine, steering toward a crianza.

Beronia Reserva Roble Americano 2014  ( Experimental sample)

Lots of spiced black fruit and irish cream. On the mouth, structured with a medium acidity and fleshy tannins. On the palate classic american oak flavors such as coconut and orange peel. For many, the flavors of American oak could be an adquired taste but I enjoy fondly the style

Reserva Roble Frances 2014 ( Experimental sample)

Very spicy nose.  Vanilla and Cinnamon with mineral nuances such as iron and black damson plums. On the mouth, fruit driven with tannins quite accessible. Well balanced.

Reserva Roble Mixto 2014 ( Experimental sample)

Intriguing nose with cloves and chinese orange. Cola and black fruit. Balanced with a round texture. Very elegant. The best of both worlds

Beronia Reserva 2012. SAQ # 11667231. $20.55. LCBO Vintages: 50203. $20.95

On the nose, smoke and espresso beans. Nice minerality. Voluminous in the mouth with earthy and elegant flavors. Tannins needs a few years to be resolved. One of the best reservas available in the Canadian market. Pair it with braised deer with vegetables.

Beronia Gran Reserva Rioja 2008. LCBO Vintages: 940965. $37.95

Sour cherry, dark olives in brine, prunes in eau de vie. Structured with mature tannins. Well balanced and elegant. Pair it with grilled lamb chops.

Beronia Gran Reserva 1994.

Very earthy showing a stream of tertiary aromas. It actually brought to mind mushrooms, fish sauce and other vegetable nuances. Some of the participants though that the wine was corked but what it actually needed was some time to open it up.

Beronia Gran Reserva 1973

Gorgeous wine. Full of live and vitality. Tones of coffee, moka with dry orange peel. On the mouth, very subdued with retronasal flavors of bark wood. Fully mature tannins. Amazing wine. It was verging towards an old noble Burgundy.

 

 

Wine and Health: Rioja Congress 2017

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Today is a pretty good day. First, because this eternal flu seems to be  going away. After many days drinking water and little wine, I can finally go back slowly to my regular drinking habits. and also my writing too.  Since my sojourn in Spain, I developed a good habit of having wine on a regular basis with my meal.

When I was living in Madrid, I used to live on Fernando Catolico street on the quiet residential district of Chamberi. I rented a room with breakfast and supper included. Lunch was on my own and also wine. By trial and error, I discovered this wonderful little restaurant just 5 minutes away from my flat. Restaurant La Tuna on the 68th civic number of that street. It is a family owned operation. I think the family came from the La Mancha wine region. What I definitely know is that they were a family of vinegrowers.

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Food at La Tuna was not exactly gastronomical fare, more in the lines of comfort food. The menu will change daily but it rotated a few weeks or so. For 3 plates and a bottle of wine, they would charge 10.00 Euros. That was a sweet deal. I used to have lunch, almost every day. Friday was my favorite. They used to serve homemade breaded chicken escaloppe with a hearty portion of french fries. For starters, there was a magnificent lentil soup with chorizo bites and for desert there was always a classic Spanish dessert such as Crema Catalana.

The wine used to be pretty acceptable. It was a mostly a blend of Cencibel and Tempranillo, fruity and rustic with a brawling acidity.  The kind of wine that you would gulp it down.

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Drinking wine on a regular basis, is always a good thing. While browsing the Spanish wine news, I just found out that the VIII International Wine Health Congress will be celebrated in Rioja.  This is a congress in which the latest findings of  wine consumption on health will be discussed. If you want to read the whole article, you can check it out at the Spanish newspaper, El Mundo.

These are the points that there will be discussed:

  1. Personalized diets according to age group
  2. Diet effects over gene transmission. For instance, how the food diet of grandparents affect their grandchildren.
  3. New focus studies over wine polyphenols.
  4. New protective elements of wine.
  5. Wine effects over intestine microbiology
  6. Wine and the mediterranean diet.
  7. polyphenols effects on diabetes.
  8. Wine polyphenols effect on diabetes.

This congress is a shining light while many European health policies consider wine simply as an alcoholic beverage and not as a food. Along our shores, in a study done by celebrity Chef Ricardo and Leger Marketing reveals that Quebecers are the largest wine consumers across Canada. whatever this Congress effects would have any impact on the Canadian scientific community is to be seen. Already, they are skeptical about the positive effects of wine consumption.

This is a time of Bonanza for Spanish wine sales in Canada. According to the news agency EFE, in the first six months of 2016 alone, sales increased to a healthy 10 percent for a value of some $45.7 million. Interesting fact, is that much of the growth occurred in the Ontario province, which is the second largest market after Quebec. For the full press release of EFE, click here.

However I am confident that much of the growth of Spanish wine sales will come from Quebec in the near future. As I write this, the SAQ ( Quebec Liquor Board) continues in their cost saving program for wines of the regular catalog to regain parity with the LCBO. This is wonderful opportunity for the Spanish wine industry. However they have to act fast and not sleep on their laurels.

Good, tasty and friendly wines for your pocket

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Nobella Viura 2016. SAQ # 12698311. $8.00

It is still quite possible to drink Spanish wine, even if you are very limited in your income. Simple yet with delicious fruit orchard notes. Medium body and fresh. Nice white to have with a quick fish dinner on monday night. Nothing complicated, just pleasure.

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Ijalba Solferino Rioja 2014. SAQ # 13004449. $15.05

Ijalba does it again with this organic blend of mostly Tempranillo with Maturana. Solferino grapes are pressed by foot and is made with the carbonic maceration style. On the nose, this Rioja is very expressive of ripe red fruits, with a hint of licorice and church incense. On the mouth, very round and friendly with flavors bringing to mind more red fruits and red licorice. Soft tannins with a medium-long finale. Possibly the best value in the Spanish category at the SAQ

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Solaz Tempranillo-Cabernet Sauvignon 2014. SAQ # 00610188. $11.05

Simple aromas of dark plums, toasted wood and dry italian herb spice. On the mouth, easy-going with a medium acidity. Savoury and vinous with a rather short finale. Its a good choice to have with a chicken club sandwich.

 

Vina Ijalba-The Quintessential Rioja wine.

The Ijalba Family

Readers of my blog may be familiar with the wines of this emblematic Riojano producer. I had a chance to taste many of their wines since the creation of this blog. So today’s post is like a visit to and old friend.If you are new to my page, you are about to discover some pretty darn unique wines. If you are a regular, my post will be like a review

My first encounter with Viña Ijalba was about 15 years ago. Back in 2002, I was a wine rookie living in Madrid looking for a top quality Rioja producer with a price range to fit in my student allowance. In an obscure tasting of countless Rioja wines at the UEC ( Union Espanola de Catadores), the Ijalba wines really stood out for their clarity of fruit, elegance, freshness and discrete use of oak.

The winery was founded in 1975 and currently has 80 hectares under their wing, farmed organically. Ijalba has indeed, gained much acclaim both within Spain and internationally for their incredible result with organic viticulture, as well as their expertise of obscure varietals. These wines, almost in extinction are amongst the few modern Riojas that contineue to impress me with their balance and style, without sacrificing Rioja “personality”. The winery was the first Rioja winery to convert to organics, and a peculiarity  for the region, is that all grapes used for the wines are 100% estate-grown.

Ijalba contiues to  set the tone for environmental awareness in the region, from its organic production to its extensive re-cycling and environmental certification for the winery.  Originally, the vineyards were all planted in abandoned  quarries, which justify the remarkable minerality they are endowed with, especially their bolder reds and, in particular, after some bottle age. The estate’s other distinction is the championing of the less-known varieties of Rioja such as the two Maturanas  and Graciano.

Wines available at the SAQ:

Viña Ijalba 2014 Graciano. SAQ # 10360261. $21.95.

Ijalba’s mission statement is to resurrect the traditional grapes of Rioja, and this wine  from their  20 hectare Graciano vineyard (the largest in the world) has been the flagship since they premiered the varietal bottling in 1995. Growers renounced  from Graciano because of its problematic low yields, but the freshness  and mindblowing perfume of the grape are an important part of what makes Rioja blends distinctive. 2011 brought to this wine an unexpectedly lush texture and seductive blackberry flavour.  Compared to the 2012, the 2014 is heftier with well endowed woody aromas.  In the mouth, it has that trademark clarity of fruit with a dark seduction on the palate.

 

This wine was outstanding with a dish of homemade smoked ricotta ravioli in a tomato sauce. The bold structure of the wine was molding the acidity of the sauce in the palate while the minerality of the Graciano was a dandy complement smoothing out the pungent flavours of the ravioli.

Ijalba Reserva 2012. SAQ # 00478743. $21.35

As always a careful blend of the oldest tempranillo and Graciano from Ijalba. Very spicy nose bringint to mind balsamic notes with a mix of red and black morello cherries. In the palate, powerful  but with  a firm structure, good acidity to keep in checks the wine.

 

Simply, a match made in heaven. You may think that a glass of white will work best. But I find that the spices and bold flavors of the seafood in the paella go hand to hand with the aromatic notes of the wine. In addition, the crispy texture of the rice, subtle the rough edges of the wine.

Two Hearty red wines to complement your meat fix

Yesterday, I was BBQ a tough piece of pork loin in the BBQ. I did a marinade of tamari, brown sugar and sambal olek with a touch of bourbon and sesame oil. It was stunning and it was a perfect match for two previous reds that I tasted in the morning. One from Ribera del Duero and Toro.

Yaso 2012. DOP Toro. SAQ # 12298975. $21.25

Charming red fruits and spice. Full body, nice freshness with ultra fine tannins. Not too much oak with pleasant notes of flowers such as roses and violets. Long and very elegant.

Senorio de los Baldios Crianza 2009. DOP Ribera del Duero SAQ # 12417807. $22.10

Very spicy nose. Quite aromatic bringing to mind cloves, anise, stewed prunes. On the mouth, structured and potent. Cocoa, cofee with lots of lush new wood. Grainy tannins. A beast of a wine. Excellent candidate for a cellar.

And I pair these with the below picture. The Yaso worked better complementing and bringing a certain freshness to the asiatic notes of the pork. The Ribera del Duero was good too, specially with the charred parts of the meat but it had a bit too much power for the meat. It would have been better with beef.

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Vinos de Madrid: Bodegas Maranones

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2016 is  gone and it has been a year of austerity for me. Not much cash in my pocket, so it was one of the years in a long time that I spent less on wine. I have always sticked to Spain for wine but in this brutal year that is about to finish, even more for their fine values.

Not only Spain produces wines friendly for the pocket but also is a continous source of discoveries and wow factor. My latest musing has been with an appellation that many Canadian wine lovers dont now: Vinos de Madrid.

The SAQ only list 3 wines in their catalog from this appellation. I hope that they continue to list more since it is a place to watch for.

Madrid is not only the capital of Spain but also one of Europe’s great cultural centers. Tourists invade  Madrid to see its museums and plazas and to enjoy some of their greatest resturants. However,  many visitors don’t realize that Madrid has a wine region all its own, the Vinos de Madrid Denomination of Origin (DO).

The DO is divided into three subzones: Arganda, Navalcarnero and San Martín de Valdeiglesias. Arganda, southeast of Madrid, is the largest of the three. San Martín, to the extreme southwest, is the next largest, while Navalcarnero, also in the southwest, is smallest. The climate is of the continental type.  If you ever find yourself visiting Madrid, this make a nice day trip.

Bodegas Maranones is the proyect of Fernando García Alonso, co-founder of Comando  G). The estate is comprised of 20 hectares between  old bush vines (between 30 and 70 years old) of local varieties (mainly Grenache and Albillo) in a Mediterranean forest, at an altitude of between 650 and 850 meters above sea level.

The winery employs organic farming methods. Each plot is vinified separately and manually, in order to express the characteristics of each soil and vintage. The principles of biodynamics are applied on the vineyards and during the winemaking process as well.

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Bodegas Maranones 30000 Maravedies 2014. SAQ # 12769571. $23.10

Maravedíes were an ancient form of currency once used in Castilla and 30,000 Maravedíes was the sum that Don Alvaro de Luna paid a local monastery, centuries ago, for the land where Bodega Marañones is now located. It is an appropiate name for this “village” wine made from three terroirs that Fernando farms: Manrañones, Andrinoso and Dehesa. Made primarily from Garnacha, there is about 10% Morate and a tiny amount of Syrah included in the blend.

The wine  starts with an amazing nose of fresh picked cherries, then continue with  layers of cracked pepper, fresh leather, rhubarb and  green pepper, with nuances of mint, plums and fig.  The wine goes on and on and become richer and more complex with a blueberry red fruit compote.

I hope that in 2017 my wine fortunes will improve so I will continue in my discovery quest.