Our fondness for Spanish wines has been fairly well documented, so it is not surprising that this well-priced old vine Grarnacha from just outside of Zaragoza caught our attention.
Very concentrated deep ruby colour on this wine. Not a lot going on on the nose on this wine. Aromas of sweet dark fruit dominate with a herbal / floral note and hint of black pepper and spice. Flavours of raspberry, strawberry and under-ripe blackberry give way to a black pepper, carmel and vanilla notes. Good acidity and soft tannins, but a little out of balance. Overall a pleasant and interesting wine, but definitely not a blockbuster.
We had this with a delicious ghormeh sabzi (a Persian dish with lamb and herbs) – which was a great pairing. Lamb is a natural pairing for Grenache, and this wine is no exception.
You don’t often see straight Cabernet Franc from Spain, especially not on North American shelves, so this wine from Fincao Los Aljibes in Albacete province in south eastern Spain immediately intrigued us. It did not disappoint. This non-D.O. wine is exactly the kind of wine you hope to discover when you go venturing outside of Europe’s classified appellation system – something unique, modern and rewarding.
The wine has a beautiful garnet colour and aromas of black cherries, mint and spice. On the palate the Aljibes Cab Franc was incredibly well balanced, with soft tannins, bright acidity and a juicy mouthfeel. Flavours of back current, stewed plums, anise and spice were immediately apparent. As the wine opened up notes of blueberries, black pepper and dark chocolate also appeared. The long, smooth finish nicely displays the smooth tannins and leaves you with that hint of chocolate and spice.
We had this with a delicious penne with a Bolognese sauce using our canned crushed tomatoes (which was excellent), but it would probably be even better paired with with lamb chops and roast vegetables.
We coincidentally had on Gotan Project’s Lunatico during dinner, which really does capture of the mood of the Aljibes Cab Franc very well – a modern interpretation of a classic.
This summer when we were in Vigo, Spain a couple of very helpful waiters at a little cafe we stumbled upon got us hooked on Mencía – a red grape varietal that is little known outside of Spain, but makes a wonderful medium bodied, smokey and seductive wine that we find can have a flavour profile that falls somewhere between Pinot Noir and Nebiolo. When we were in Vigo, the stuff we fell in love with all came from Ribiera Sacra DO in Galicia. Prior to gaining our appreciation for this grape in Spain, we had only tried Mencía once prior – a version grown in Bierzo and Valdeorras, the other Spanish regions where this little known varietal is predominantly produced.
While we’ve generally found the best versions from both regions to be equally delicious and fairly similar, we do find ourselves often pining for Ribiera Sacra versions we fell in love with in Vigo.
But enough about us, the Gabo do Xil is produced by Telmo Rodríguez – a Spanish winemaker of unique vision and voice that we have been huge fans of for years. Telmo’s Compañia de Vinos Telmo Rodríguez – essentially a virtual winery that produces largely off-beat Spanish varietals that are intended to capture the essence of the place they are produced. It is from this intention to create unique wines of place that Telmo created the Gabo do Xil.
Now, it pains us to do this being big fans of both Telmo and Mencía, but as much as we wanted to like this wine, it was a little disappointing. While one of the things we normally like about Mencía is its solid backbone of acidity, that much like a good Pinot, makes it a wonderfully versatile food wine, the Gabo do Xil was a little on the thin and acidic side for us. Don’t get us wrong, this was still a nice enough wine, with the nice cherry and tar notes that we’ve found to be characteristic of Mencía, it was came across as a bit of a one dimensional caricature of what this grape is capable. It was frustrating – both Telmo and Mencía are capable of so much more.
If you are looking for a glimpse of what Mencía is capable of, we’d recommend you try a bottle of the Pétalos Bierzo from Descendientes de José Palacios. It is a few bucks more than the Gabo do Xil, but well worth the additional cost as it is an excellent example of the rich, smokey and seductive wine that this grape is capable of.
When you get your hands on a good Mencía, pair it with everything from BBQ salmon to a hearty chorizo or – of course – jamón, which is what we first “discovered” this delicious wine with.
Authentic is a commonly used word to describe the ideal travelling experience. As anyone who has been to Prague, Piccadilly Circus or Patpong Road can tell you, you can find a little slice of (North) Americana anywhere you go, which makes avoiding tourist traps difficult even for a seasoned Hobbyist. Reviews of good restaurants always comment on the authenticity of the dishes or, even better, if the place is “frequented by locals”. Hotels, streets, parks and watering holes are all judged on how untouched they have been by globalization. Is this somewhere you can truly experience something authentic to the area and thus new to you?
Our search for authenticity has brought us to Logrono, the sleepy capital of Rioja, one of Spain’s resurgent wine regions. The city pulls you in immediately. The streets in the centre of the town are all pedestrian not to make them more charming for tourists, but because the 18th century buildings lining the streets are not far enough apart for cars to pass between them. We arrive in the early afternoon and find the Spaniards in siesta: everything is closed and the city is asleep. In order to manage the 36 degree early summer heat, we too partake in siesta. The search for authenticity is tiring and it has been a long drive escaping Barcelona and leaving our fellow travelers behind.
We reemerge in the early evening and order a bottle of crisp local rosé in the setting sun. Those who tell you the Spanish only make red wine are incorrect, whites and rosés aplenty are offered up as a relief from the heat. These lighter wines are wonderful, cool and refreshing, and serve as simple pairings to the Spanish food they were made to match. Rosé complete and the sun now set we head off to our destination for the evening – Logrono’s only very slightly famous Calle Laurel.
Calle Laurel was one of the birthplaces of pinxos, a form of Spanish cuisine very similar to tapas but smaller and most commonly served on a toothpick. While they were (most likely) born here, pinxos have probably been perfected in San Sebastian where world-class chefs use innovative techniques and ingredients to create a gourmet experience. In Logrono, pinxos remain true to their roots; a simple bite served with wine for usually 2 euro and Calle Laurel is where you go to find the best of them.
We walk onto the street and each restaurant has a window opening directly from the kitchen, you simply walk up and order a pinxo and a glass of wine and in second you are handed a wonderful Riojan white, rosé or red and a small bit of something truly special: fresh squid, lightly grilled with a subtle garlic sauce; spicy pork grilled to perfection over an open flame; Spanish tortilla (essentially an egg and potato omelet) on a piece of fresh bread; grilled pimentos with large chunks of sea salt; or the best patatas bravas you have ever had.
As we wander up and down the street in food and wine heaven, not everything is easy. The search for authenticity has taken us out of places where you can make do in English, so pinxos are generally obtained via broken Spanish complimented with hand signals … but there are lots of smiles on both sides of each transaction. A three-piece ensemble plays simple music in the main square; we drop a few euro coins into their hat. We get the impression that the band is not here to make money tonight, that this is just what they do on Tuesdays. Our Euros seem like a small bonus that will no doubt be converted into pinxos during their next break.
After a few hours and many small glasses of wine our final stop finds us at Bar Soriano. The sign above notes it has been there, serving the same thing, since 1954. Soriano is run by three gentlemen in their mid sixties: one of whom handles wine and money, one with a large knife doing prep and one standing over a small, steamy and very crowded grill. The grill has only one thing on it, the one thing Soriano sells and has ever sold: mushrooms. We order four pinxos and exchange our six Euros for four glasses of white wine and four toothpicks. Each toothpick has three perfectly grilled white mushrooms topped with a small shrimp and drizzled with garlic oil and each bite is just what we wanted: simple, authentic and delicious. We finish, crumple our napkins and drop them on the floor (as local custom demands) and look at each other; without speaking we turn back and ask for four more. We have come a long way to find this and now that we have we want to soak it all up – the thrill of a new experience.
Get here: For a true Spanish experience, Logrono should be a stop on a drive from Barcelona to San Sebastian (closest airports are Bilbao and Barcelona, no train access).
Stay here: Hotel Marques de Vallejo
Eat here: Bar Soriano (Travesia de Laurel – of course there is no website)
Drink here: La Taberna del Laurel (Calle Laurel – also try the patatas bravas)
After a long delay (sorry folks), Uncork This returns – and we can’t think of a better comeback wine than this gem of an Albariño from Pazos de Lusco. We can blame part of our absence on our recent tour through northern Spain, including a stop in Rias Baixas – the home of most of the world’s great Albariños – in Spain’s autonomous region of Galicia. While there was lots to love about Galicia (including the exquisite white wines of Rias Baixas and some stunning reds from the much lesser known Ribeira Sacra), one of the standout memories from our time in Galicia was the sight of a city bus painted top to bottom with a Lusco ad on our first day in Vigo. There is something inherently great about any place that features something as great as this wine on their civic buses – not adds for cell phones or energy drinks, but a wonderful and delicious local wine. It was a statement that said, “this is a city that cares about wine; a city that knows good wine and we won’t be sold anything else”. Our kind of place.
We drank a lot of excellent Albariños on the trip, some young, some old, some oaked, all delicious and memorable wines. The Lusco was no exception. This bottle had a few years of bottle age on it, but was still relatively young compared to many that we tried. On the nose it showed notes of honey suckle and pineapple. Well balanced, with still very crisp acidity. Notes of apricot, peach and a minerally streak on the palate with a long finish of lemon zest. We had this with grilled salmon, but this one would be great on its own on a warm summer night with El Guincho’s Alegranza for a real taste of Spain.
If you see it around the Lusco Albariño’s little brother the Lusco Albariño Zios is also well with picking up as it is also quite impressive for a few bucks less.
Watch for a more reviews of some of the wines tasted on our travels over the next few weeks.
A bright, fresh and cheerful organic red from Spain’s Navarra region. A blend of Garnacha, Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon, this is nice medium bodied sipper to keep close by as we head towards warmer weather. Not overly complex or the kind of wine you find yourself thinking about days later, but there is something quite satisfying and enjoyable about it nonetheless. Good acidity, with cherry and blueberry flavours and light floral notes balanced by some nice earthy tones and a bit of spice. This one will be very useful around the BBQ – especially if you are joining friends for a mixed grill as this is a very food friendly wine that is going to pair well with a lot of things. We had it with homemade lamb burgers and it really hit the spot – strangely refreshing for a red wine. Musical accompaniment has to be Memory Tapes smooth and easy Seek Magic - accessible, instantly familiar, yet strangely fresh and uplifting for reasons you can’t quite put your finger on.
The difference between graffiti and ‘street art’ can be difficult to define, and also a contentious conversation topic depending on who you’re talking to. However, we think most people would agree that Unurth collects photographic examples of the latter. New work from well-known street artists like Banksy, Escif and others is posted on almost a daily basis. You can also browse extensive collections by artist, by city or by theme.
Unurth’s most recent post of work by Hyuro in Valencia caught our attention, partly because we have Spain on the brain and partly because the arborous design seems fitting for spring. Enjoy!
Amazing value here from the Almansa region of Spain. This is exactly what we were looking for from a low-rent Verdejo – soft, creamy and balanced with an aromatic nose that makes you take notice immediately. We don’t see many wines from Almansa in North America, and most of the Verdejo we see comes from the better known Rueda region, so we didn’t quite know what to expect from this wine. It turned out to be one of those low-risk/high-reward wines that make you feel like a genius for discovering them. Lots of great melon flavours with a touch of honey-suckle and refreshing grassy note with just enough of a citrusy zip to keep it crisp and refreshing. Keep this one in mind as we approach spot prawn season on the West Coast and pair this with Delorean’s Ayrton Senna EP and you’ll swear summer has come early.
Great value in this straight-forward white from the Valencia region of Spain. We’ve been on a bit of a Spanish wine kick of late and are generally big fans of Spanish whites. This wine did not disapoint – especially at the price point. On the nose you get all the big aromatics of the muscat coming through – peaches, golden pineapple, and apricot. Similar flavours come through after it hits your mouth, but is balanced out with a crisp citrus flavour and a tangy sweet lime kick. Incredibly food friendly; we had this with cedar wrapped cod fillets, asparagus and shitake mushrooms – perfect! You could do much worse than this at this price point. Crisp. Clean. Refreshing.
7.5/10.0 $8.00 – 12.00
In this new weekly feature, we will provide you with a couple of suggestions for low-rent wines to get you through the work week.
This week we feature two modern old world treats that are food friendly and sure to impress.
The first, a crisp, clean pinot grigio from Sicily, the Santa Cristina shows beautiful notes of pear, peach and green apple with clean minerality that lingers on the finish. We had this with asparagus stuffed pasta in a gorgonzola cream sauce (which was an excellent pairing), but it would pair well with with heavy fish such as salmon or salty pig parts of all sorts.
7.9/10 $15 -20
The second wine was a rare modern style blend with a bit of bottle age on it from Spain. Great balance, smooth, silky texture, tonnes of dark ripe fruit flavours. This 2004 syrah / tempranillo / cab sauv blend is very tough to beat for under $20. Try this with grilled meats or some thin sliced jamon or chorizo.
8.2/10 $9 -13
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