Celebrate the arrival of Spring with Rioja!!!

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I have a soft spot for the wines of Rioja. When I first got into Spanish wines, I started drinking wines from the south. However, with time and tasting experience, I went further north in Rioja  searching for  the elegance and harmony that only continental climate wines can provide.

Spring is a difficult time for me. I suffer from something called seasonal affective disorder (SAD). While most people get the winter blues because of the cold weather and the dark days, for me is the opposite. When I have my down days, I cheer myself up with music, light walks and of course making food and drinking wine.  Before I was a wine lover, music was my passion. I am able to enjoy all kinds of music but I am specially fond for vocal jazz and flamenco.

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One of the advantages that Spring offers me is that I can cook more outdoors using the BBQ. I love grilling all kinds of meat in a hot BBQ from marinated plumper chicken breasts to fancy cuts of reds meat such as Filet Mignon or Flank Steak. In the weekdays, I use the gas BBQ but on the weekends with more time I turn to the charcoal grill.

Rioja has a perfect affinity for BBQ meats. Basically, you want a wine with enough power to work with a chicken leg with a sweet and spicy BBQ sauce or a well-charred steak. Something big but not too much overpowering, not too dry and austere, and the most important factor: easy to drink.

Here are my top five Riojas to get you started for BBQ season:

ijalba

Ijalba Graciano 2015. SAQ # 10360261,$21.50

On the nose aromas of graphite, dry blueberries and black seaweed. On the mouth, fresh tasting with an excellent balance between concentration and acidity. Lovely flavors of sandalwood and black licorice complemented by firm and muscular tannins. Drink now or keep for the next 5 years.

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Marqués De Riscal Reserva 2013. SAQ # 10270881, $24.40

Fine tuned nose of cassis jam, wild oregano, iron and licorice. On the mouth, quite structured with a good acidity and chunky tannins. This reserva from Riscal shows a modern interpretation of this traditional Riojan producer.

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Marqués de Caceres Reserva 2012. SAQ # 00897983, $22.55

Lovely nose displaying resonant notes of wild blackberries with balsamic nuances of licorice and star anise. Silky with fine tannins and long flavors reminiscent of spice bread pudding. Best reserva that I have ever tried from this producer.

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Bodegas Faustino, Faustino I Gran Reserva 2005. SAQ # 10483026, $28.45

Textbook classical Rioja aromas. On the nose, predominant notes of vanilla, tobacco with cloves leading to a crescendo of ripe strawberries and raspberries. On the palate, it has an incredible depth of flavours and elegance. However, it needs to be decanted for a few hours to show its best. Drink now or keep for the next decade.

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Finca Valpiedra Reserva 2010. SAQ #  13566687, $31.50

Powerful with nuances of espresso, smoke, dark chocolate leading to  fig and cassis jam aromas. Very suave with finely woven tannins. Long finale.

Happy Arrival of the 2018 BBQ season!!

 

 

A salute to Classical Rioja!

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Photo: Bodegas Valdemar

I first heard of the term “Classical Rioja” when dining out with a well-to-do gentleman in the Madrid restaurant Botin. This restaurant is one of the oldest in the world. In fact, according to the Guinness world record, it is the most ancient establishment in the world, serving meals since 1725 without any interruptions. Botin is an “asador”, a place that specializes in roasting meats. They cook an average 50 suckling pigs a day. So if you ever visit Madrid, make sure that you visit this landmark institution.

Me and Jose had several Riojas that he brought from his cellar. In the course of that evening we had several legendary wines that include an Imperial CVNE Gran Reserva 1976, Marques de Riscal Rioja Reserva 1968 and Marqués de Murrieta Rioja Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial and 1978.I had a very difficult time understanding and appreciating these wines. I was in a phase of drinking Alta expresion Rioja and super extracted Priorat wines and my palate was not calibrated for mature wines. It took me further training and more tasting experiences with examples such as Vina Tondonia Gran Reserva 1964 to love Classical Rioja.

Classical Rioja wines represent elegance and subtlety instead of power and concentration. They are balanced, pleasant with a long persistent finish. The style was characterized by an emphasis on American oak aging which became its most recognizable  trademark. These are wines that show predominant tertiary aromas as a result  of the evolution of the wine in cask where the fruit becomes delicately embedded in the wood. In the mouth, these are very fresh wines with a high acidity leading to round tannins product of  barrel aging. They are at least 75 % tempranillo with the remaining balance consisting of Mazuelo, Garnacha and Graciano. This the old school Rioja, the style that I love the most.

Why is like this?. To understand Classical  Rioja, we must go back to the late XIX and explores its relationship with Bordeaux. The Bordelais taught the Riojan winemakers the use of the wood barrel for fermentation and maturation. Before that, Rioja wine was just simple stuff stored and served in hog’s skins. There is an important name to remember in the Classical Rioja style development: Manuel Quintano ( Marques de Riscal). To quote Ana Fabiano in her book, The Wine Region of Rioja:

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Photo: Todocoleccion.net, Marques de Riscal

It was in 1858 that Don Camilio Hurtado de Amezaga, the Marques de Riscal, was asked by the Diputacion Foral de Alava ( the Provincial Council of Alava) to find an expert in Bordeaux to teach winemaking techniques to the region’s vintners. That man was Jean Pineau of Chateau Lanessan, who spread the gospel of oak aging. By the end of the nineteenth century the wines from both Marques de Riscal and Marques de Murrieta were being aged in oak barrels.

However at the time French oak barrels were difficult to obtain and the Riojan winemakers decided to obtain their wood from the ex American colonies whose oak was very affordable and quite available.Ageing in American oak had many advantages that made the wines very attractive to Spanish drinkers who had never before been able to enjoy high quality wines from their own country. The rich oak vanilla flavour became a fundamental part of the wine style, as did the silky texture and smooth tannins. This came from the long oak ageing which also ensured, together with careful racking, that the wines had little or no sediment in the bottle, something that is much appreciated  to this day.

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Photo: OcioAmazonas. Marques de Murrieta

The classical history of Rioja wines can also be credited  to Luciano de Murrieta (also known as  the Marqués de Murrieta) who traveled to Bordeaux and returned to establish the first commercial bodega in the region by 1852. The new King of Spain, Amadeo de Saboya, gave him the Marqués title and praised him for making Médoc style wines. The 1855 classification of Bordeaux had inspired many other red winemaking regions around the world to produce similar style wines.

Bodegas Valdemar

A very important Bodega in Rioja crafting some of the classical wines that I enjoy the most is Bodegas Valdemar. Valdemar’s history goes way back to 1899 when the Martinez Bujanda family set up shop in the small village of Oyon in Rioja Alavesa. Today, the winery compass five generations of winemaking in Rioja.  Valdemar follows the Riojan tradition of blending fruit from the three subregions of Rioja; However, Valdemar is different from the other Bodegas because all of their fruit is estate owned.  Valdemar owns more than 1000 acres ( 425 hectares) of vineyards in the region.

Not long ago, I recently had a chance to meet Roberto Alonso, the export director of Bodegas Valdemar for a tasting of their wines available in the SAQ. The invitation was a courtesy of their importer in Quebec, Selections Oeno.

Tasting Notes 

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Conde Valdemar Viura Verdejo 2016. SAQ # 13385309, $14.35-( 85% Viura, 15% Verdejo)

Lovely nose. I am in love with its fine bouquet Very aromatic. Notes of green apple, yellow pepper, endives complemented by white pepper as well as Acacia and jazmin leaves. Round and caressing with a mouthwatering acidity and very elegant finale.

Inspiracion Valdemar Tempranillo Blanco 2016.  SAQ # 12591821, $17.31-( 100% Tempranillo Blanco)

Ripe pear with lemon meyer notes and floral undertones such as camomille. On the mouth,crisp and vibrant with a delicious saltiness and wonderful retronasal flavors that  bring to mind crushed yellow fruits. Excellent quality price ratio as well.

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Matching the Valdemar wines with roasted suckling pig. Classical Rioja has a natural affinity for meat dishes.

Conde de Valdemar Crianza 2013. SAQ # 897330, $14.91 ( 90% Tempranillo, 10% Mazuelo)

On the nose, a classical Rioja nose that brings to mind prune jam, bitter orange peel, vanilla favoured cigar tobacco and black cherry. On the mouth, round and elegant. This wine is quite subtle with satiny tannins and a spicy finish.

Conde Valdemar Reserva 2010. SAQ # 882761, $20.45 ( 85% Tempranillo, 10% Graciano and 5 % Garnacha)

A fantastic reserva with vibrant notes of ripe black cherry, fig jam, pepper sauce and delicate nuances of red meat. On the mouth, elegant with soft tannins displaying a wonderful harmony and balance.Lovely retronasal  flavours of blackcurrant, roasted peppers with smoke and fountain ink. Very long with a lingering aftertaste. Still can be easily kept for another 10 years.

Conde Valdemar Gran Reserva 2008. SAQ # 325084, $31.75 ( 85% Tempranillo, 10% Mazuelo and 5% Graciano)

A lovely mature classical Rioja. Subtle Tertiary notes such as wet mountain leaves and mahogany wood with montecristo cigar tobacco, cacao, dry coriander and cumin. In the palate, structured with firm tannins, good acidity and zen like balance. Graceful with many years of life ahead.

Valdemar Inspiracion Tempranillo 2012. SAQ # 11903344, $18.60 ( 80% Tempranillo, 10% Graciano, 10% Maturana)

On the nose a pitted cherry note with prune and cassis marmalade.. Woody yet pleasant in a modern style with an echo of a traditional Rioja.. Delicious red fruit flavours, nicely concentrated but not very extracted with a  racy finale.

Artadi, Rioja Grand Cru

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When you participate in a fine wine tasting, it always helps to have some background information on the wines that you will taste. Otherwise, you will fail to grasp the essence of the producer philosophy. If you don’t do your homework, you risk reporting inaccurately the whole picture and at the end you may simply give the wrong impression to the reader. With this principle in my mind, I recently participated in a tasting of the wines of Artadi.

The invitation was a courtesy of their Canadian importer Trialto and the event took place at the restaurant Tapeo and was held by one of the young coowners of the winery, Carlos Lopez de la Calle.

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Carlos Lopez de la Calle

Bodegas Artadi is, in fact, the name by which the Cosecheros Alaveses cooperative is known, a boutique project born in 1985 in which several viticultural partners got together to prove that a grapegrower wine could have a chance to be a grandiose wine. And they got it, with all the wines in the portfolio of Artadi. In the 1990s, under the direction of Juan Carlos López de Lacalle, the winery saw an unprecedent growth, both nationally and internationally, and extended its horizons to new wine regions with the creation of Bodegas y Viñedos Artazu (Navarra) and Bodegas y Viñedos El Sequé (Alicante).

In December 2015 after a long time of reflection, Artadi decides to abandon the Rioja DOC. This was a decision based on an incompatibility of the winery image and values with the administration of the DOC. According to Mr. Lacalle, the quality standards of Rioja were unsatisfactory , specially with regards to the high production yields of the appellation. Artadi did not want to be part of an association that was and still is endorsing ” supermaket wines”. The decision was well documented in the well written article “Por qué Artadi deja la DO Rioja” by Victor de La Serna in the Spanish Newspaper El Mundo.

With the decision, Artadi officially adopts the French winemaking model of production. In France, the appellations are classified in areas, municipalties and growths. For instance, in Burgundy and Alsace distinctive terroirs are recognized and producers are allowed to mention the specific wine origins on their bottle labels. Under the Rioja system ( Joven, Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva), simply the terroir lines are blurred.

In Spain, this detailed knowledge of the land to make qualitative wines have existed for a long time. However, in the pursuit of quantity versus quality by the biggest producers, it was was taken for granted. Nowadays, it is starting to be recognized by the DO authorities by the adoption of a single vineyard Rioja category classification. Although there is some skepticism, about it. For further reading, consult the article: Sólo un parche en la DOC Rioja appeared in El Mundo as well.

What is the legacy of Artadi for Rioja winemaking?. Artadi were pioneers in breaking away from the traditional Crianza category and highlighted the importance of vine age. Its Pagos Viejos, produced since 1990, was the first grounbreaking wine for the winery. Since 1991, Viña El Pisón, arguably Artadi’s most important vineyard, has been bottled separately. Located in Laguardia, El Pisón occupies 2.4 hectares of vines planted by Juan Carlos’ grandfather in 1945 and is the equivalent of a Bordeaux Grand Cru in terms of personality, extraordinary qualities and aging potential. In my experience, few Spanish fine wines have the potential of expressing the energy that emanates from El Pisón.

Since then, three new single vineyard wines were launched in the 2000s. Pago Valdeginés is born from 7 hectares of east-facing vineyards in Laguardia, La Poza de Ballesteros comes from 3.6 hectares of west-facing vineyards in Elvillar de Alava and El Carretil, a southwest-facing plot measuring 5.3 hectares.

Artadi has been much criticized by its high prices and making wines for an elite. However, price is just a matter of perception. For this, I have to say that what is expensive for me might be not be for another client. My role here is not to criticize on a winery pricing policy but rather to inform and make the reader discover.

I applaud the initiative of Artadi to leave the Rioja appellation system. In doing this article, I found out that 85% of Rioja vineyards are grower owned. It is for sure, that Artadi has the grower in mind.

Thanks for reading.
Artadi wines at the tasting:

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Artadi Valdegines 2015. SAQ # 13214366. $72.50

( A single vineyard situated in the village of Laguardia at 600m of altitude in deep clay-limestone soils. 100% Tempranillo vinified in wooden open-top vats with cold maceration for 24-48 hours and fermentation during 10-12 twelve days with two daily “pisages” in and a small pumping over. Aging: malolactic fermentation and aging for 12 months in new French oak barrels)
An amazing symphony of wild black fruits, ghana cocoa, licorice liqueur. A really multi layered bouquet expression. On the mouth, very focused with bright and earthy almost ethereal nuances. The oak is present but well integrated. Very polished in the midpalate with cashmere and finely woven tannins. It has a particular very plesant taste that brings to mind seaweed and burnt pipe tobacco. Approachable now but I will forget in a cool and dark cellar for the next 5-7 years because this wine has a lot more to say.
La Poza de Ballesteros 2015. SAQ # 13214374. $129.25

( A single vineyard in Elvillar at 600 meters of altitude, laid on deep clay-limestone soil
100% Tempranillo vinified in wooden open-top vats with cold maceration for 24-48 hours and fermentation during 10-12 twelve days with two daily “pisages” in and a small pumping over. Aging: Malolactic fermentation in barrel. Aging for 14 months in new French oak barrels)
This wine has a strange combination of hedonistic and masochist wine drinking. The nose is so vivid showcasing a powerful kaleidoscop of ripe black fruit nuances. Fascinating, like looking a Goya painting. Beyond fruit, there are so many spices intertwined to each other: cloves, nutmeg and black cumin. All of the jumping out from your glass. On the palate, the wine has an indredible lenght and elegance, but is very structured almost stoic if we can say that of a wine. Definitely, this is a wine for the long haul. Buy 3 bottles and follow its development for the next 20 years

El Carretil 2015. SAQ # 13214382. $253.00

( From a single vineyard in the village of Laguardia at 500 meters of altitude on deep clay-limestone soil. The variety: 100% Tempranillo vinified in wooden open-top vats with cold maceration for 24-48 hours and fermentation during 10-12 twelve days with two daily “pisages” in and a small pumping over.Aging: malolactic fermentation and aging for 12 months in new French oak barrel)

The nose of this wine transport me into oblivion. A core of black fruit with notes of black olive tapenade, wet earth and iron. Potent, rich, energetic and dense, quite tannic at the moment with an electric mineral finish. It has the elegance of the best Margaux wines. If you are looking for deep sensations you must try a bottle of El Carretil. If money is not an issue, buy 6 bottles and explore its development for the next three decades.

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Vina El Pison 2015. SAQ # 13210605. $394.75

( From a single vineyard site in the village of Laguardia at 480 meters of altitude on deep clay-limestone soil.The variety: 100% Tempranillo vinified in wooden open-top vats with cold maceration for 24-48 hours and fermentation during 10-12 twelve days with two daily “pisages” in and a small pumping over. Aging: malolactic fermentation and aging for 12 months in new French oak barrels)

The masterpiece of the tasting. Not everyday you can taste and drink a glass of El Pison. The wine nose pulls you in into the glass into something that I describe like an infinite ocean of black fruits. Also, I could feel the rare sensation with this wine that the earth was whispering something to me. Hummus, black earth,roses…. On the palate, so much elegance like a Bordeaux Grand Cru. Still quite linear and austere. El Pison has not finished singing, so get a case ( if money allows) and forget it in your cellar for a long time. Your patience will be rewarded.

Time for Vinos y Paella

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Finally the temperatures have started to rise and the rain is wearing off in this part of Quebec where I live. As we enter deep in the summer, all i want to do is cook and drink outside. One of the dishes that I love do in the summer is a big Paella.

For me paella is the ultimate Spanish dish for the summer weekends. When I used to live in Spain, I had it good restaurants in Madrid and also being a guest in some of my friends  homes back there in those golden yet far remote times.  It is a very intimate and friendly dish.

As a child growing up in Venezuela, I also had fond memories of eating Paella with my family and friends. Back in those times,  my grandparents were friends with a lovely couple from Spain that also resided in Venezuela. They nicknamed, the coquis, don’t ask why, I had no idea. Their names were Paco and Mara

When i was 8 or 9, in an easter holiday, we spent some time with them in Higuerote, a coastal city, not far away from Caracas.  The coquis were a pair of bon vivants. They knew their food and drink inside out. They had a beach chalet where they used to go on the weekends

On good friday while I took off with my aunts to the beach, Paco and Mara prepared the Paella, outside the backyard of their house. It was a seafood paella, stunning. Up to this day, I remember the fragrant aromas of the spiced rice with sofrito and saffron with the flavors of the seafood. It was a very familiar affair.

 

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Since Paella is a very relaxed meal, you want to drink easy-going wines, to stimulate conversation. A paella party is not the proper time to open a big expensive Ribera del Duero or a luxurious Priorato.  Stick with modest whites, rosados and light reds. The regions that you should be looking for include Rueda, Rioja and Navarra.

The drinks that you will have before the Paella are as important as the wines that you will have during the main meal. While preparing the Paella, you want wines to go with Tapas. Basically, you are looking for an aperitivo that will stimulate your appetite.  Some of the tapas that you will customary will see include Jamon, patatas bravas or cheese.

 

Cava works best. However, it is always handy to have a nice vermouth in case some of your guests don’t appreciate sparkling wine. Paco used to like to drink Johnnie Walker black label, a custom that he adopted from the Venezuelan natives. However, avoid having any spirits before, otherwise you will be drunk by the time you eat the Paella.

Here is my personal suggestions, on the wines you should have with paella:

Wines to have while making the Paella

Parés Baltà Blanca Cusiné Penedès 2010. SAQ Code # 12591021. $35.25

Delicate notes of honey, nougat with toasty notes of hazelnuts, almonds and macadamia nuts. On the mouth, very fine with a silky texture and smooth bubble bringing to mind white fruits and ripe fruits. Long and tasty finale.

Gonzalez Byass La Copa Vermouth Rouge.  SAQ Code # 13137647. $24.35

Lovely aperitivo starting on blood oranges with hints of clove and cinnamon. On the palate, it is sweet but not overdone. Flavors bringing to mind Italian Chinotto. Light, minty and very balanced.

Wines to have while eating the Paella

Whites:

Compania de Vinos Telmo Rodriguez. Basa Rueda 2016. SAQ # 10264018. $16.20

Broding yellow fruits, mountain herbs such as  chamomille, Fresh and zesty. elegant and quite balanced. Drinking very easy and dangerously.

Hermanos Lurton Rueda 2015. SAQ #  00727198. $15.60

Zesty with a nectarine-peach character on the nose. On the mouth, crisp and  subtle with a round almost creamy texture. Flavors bring to mind fennel and white orchard fruit. Very elegant with a long finale bringing to mind tropical fruits. 

Reds:

Rioja Cune Crianza 2012. SAQ # 13087248. $15.25

Delicious tones of black fruits such as cherry, c assis and prunes. Well spiced bouquet bringing to mind paprika, cofee bean. Fresh and ample in the mouth with generous tannins.

El Albar Barricas Toro 2000. ( Private Import, $26.95, vins fins)

 If your Paella has spicy chorizo or rabbit, this aged Toro could be a wonderful partner. On the nose, sultana raisins, cacao, black truffle with lots of floral undertones. Quite elegant, and round with mature tannins.

After the paella, with a bowl of vanilla ice cream and balsamic vinegar condiment:

Pedro Ximenez de añada 2013. SAQ # 12653869. $21.80

Nose on the typical  Pedro Ximenez variety bringing to mind raisins and plums. Lovely orange peel (evolving towards marmelade) and a hint of apple blossom. Some candied tangerine and hints of fresh corinth grapes develop with time in the glass. The mouth is very sweet, bringing to mindcaramel and brown sugar flavours. Also dominant  notes of membrillo, the quince jelly they make in Andalucia. Very long with an aftertaste that brings to mind sweet almond paste.

 

 

 

 

A wine for each can of preserves

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They are always there. In some lonely house drawer, or in our pantry. They are a fast solution when we are very hungry or when do we receive an unexpected visit. I am taking about tin cans. For years they,  have been underestimated perhaps for being too practical and for their mundane presence in all the houses, but for a while their quality has been improving  and they have become in some cases true objects of desire.

Not long ago  I read an article on tin cans in the Spanish newspaper, El Mundo. The title was: Latas de conserva: de comida de subsistencia a producto de culto. In english, it means: Tin Cans: from subsistence fare to cult products. The article explains well the high quality and almost artisanal aspect of the Spanish tin industry. I highly recommend that you read it. Having lived in Spain, I can corroborate this fact. You can find amazing preserves for 3 or 5 euros.

In the last few years, the popularity of high quality tin cans has exploded in Quebec, Canada. From every hipster restaurant from Au pied du Cochon to Le Vin Papillon and Maison Publique, you see on the menu a plate consisting of a conserve or two. However, it was not all the times like this.

In my recollection when I came to Montreal in 1994, there were maybe 2 or 3 fine grocery stores where you could gourmet tin cans. I used and still  go on a regular basis to la Libreria Espanola, where they have an excellent selection of Spanish Tin Cans.  Les Douceurs du Marche in the Atwater market has some good stuff as well.

Wines and Tin Cans.

The combinations are endless , due mainly to the wide range of products and flavors of the preserves, and to the great variety of  Spanish wines of  premium quality that we enjoy today in the Canadian market.

For clams and mussels, I like different whites such as Marqués de Cáceres Verdejo Rueda 2015 ( SAQ # 12861609, $14.00. LCBO VINTAGES #: 461400, $14.95) or Paco & Lola Albarino 2015 ( SAQ # 12475353, $17.20. LCBO VINTAGES #: 350041)

For the fish and seafood preserves that involve some type of sauce, I will choose an intense and aromatic Verdejo such as El gordo del Circo ( SAQ # 12748171, $20.95. LCBO VINTAGES # 441220, $17.95). With sardines and sardinillas, I will choose a wonderful rosado such as Torres Vina Esmeralda 2016 ( SAQ # 13204803, $17.00. LCBO VINTAGES # 490920. $13.95.

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What about anchovies?

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Txakolis, would be muy first choice of wine when to drink with anchovies. Sadly, there is very little in Canada and the tiny amounts are only available in private imports.  With anchoas en conservas, I will go  for La Gitana Manzanilla ( SAQ # 12284039, $22.05. LCBO VINTAGES#: 745448, $16.95 for 500 ml. The pungent and umami like flavours of the anchovies would compliment nicely the briny and chalky notes of  La Gitana.

Asparagus and Artichokes.

 

For me, it is hearsay talk is difficult to match wine with the abvove two vegetables.  For the delicates flavours of the Asparagus, I would choose a Baron de Ley 2016 ( SAQ # 10357572, $14.30). A mostly monovarietal Viura, with its non intrusive floral and citric notes will not disturb the delicate notes of the asparagus.

For the picky artichoke, the perfect partner would be another  manzanilla. This time, I would choose the Gonzalez Byass Tio Pepe Extra Dry ( SAQ # 00242669, $19.45, LCBO #  231829, $17.95. A lovely wine that displays notes of green almonds, tobacco with green apple peel.

Whate are some of your experiences matching preserves and wine?

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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.