Flavor Notes by Robert Rich: Food, Wine, Restaurants & Recipes


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Spanish Cellar and Pantry Tasting

This annual event in San Francisco has built a respectful following because of its quality participants and attention to detail. This offers a rare chance to taste some of the best wines in a great winegrowing nation. The food stands out as excellent also, in keeping with a tradition that respects the finer things in life.

Although I have filed these notes under wine tasting, the food caught my attention the moment we entered the building. I must commend the caterer for this event, whose broad selection of warm and cold tapas impressed everyone in the room: stuffed mushrooms, grilled vegetables, nut crusted cream cheese, potato skins, some very addictive crepe rolls filled with duck breast and herbs, terrine of bacalao (salt cod), and more. I couldn't have dreamt of a better palate cleanser.

Throughout the event, a gentleman was carefully shaving paper thin slices from an entire leg of Spanish ham. This delicacy takes over a year to cure in cool dry caves, resulting in a translucent sweet meat that melts in the mouth.

Purveyors of cheeses, chocolates, olives and sardines offered samples of some of Spain's finest exports.

One of my personal favorites among these came from Aecovi - Jerez, whose representative showed an intense virgin olive oil that had a lingering feisty tannic finish on the palate, almost like capsicum. He also poured samples of their Ferianes brand of sherry wine vinegar and syrupy Arrope sherry reduction. The Arrope reminded me of that precious elixir, balsamico essencia, the sweet thick syrup that forms the heart of balsamic vinegar. I could imagine drizzling a thin line of Arrope on seared diver scallops, or alongside a delicate preparation of abalone, or even pork loin.

Ahh, the wines. Within this excellent array of offerings, I noticed a dialog taking place between my analytical side and my sensualist side. As a winemaker myself, and a lover of winemaking tradition, I like to imagine that I'm a champion of the "old world" style of winemaking, more austere, higher acid, higher tannin, lower oak, lower alcohol, requiring many years of bottle age to reach full potential. Yet, when I base my perceptions purely upon sensual experience, I find myself gravitating toward the modern "International Style" of winemaking. Those wineries that impressed me the most on this day, were those making modern, big ripe wines using more new new oak. (I'm also a sucker for the fresh crisp light-bodied dry white wines that the Spanish make so well.) I feel it's important to admit one's biases when writing tasting notes of this sort. I admit, I became seduced by the modern style despite my inclinations.

Prices quoted as decimals in parentheses are in EUROS, per bottle, wholesale. You can use these as reference points to compare price levels between wines, but after taxes and importation, an American wine buyer might be able to estimate the retail price by multiplying x2 and adding a few dollars.

Bodega Con Banastre
2006 Con Banastre (4.70) A smooth white blend of 50% Chardonnay and 50% Xarel-lo, with no oak. White peach and pear, something tropical and rich underneath, like loquats, nutty on the finish, quite elegant and well made. 2005 Pinot Noir (7.50) A very odd expression of this grape, quite woody and hard, with neither the citrus nor red fruit that one expects, but rather nutty, oily, a bit heavy and more tannic than one might expect. 2004 Con Banastre Crianza (6.00) blends Bordeaux varietals for a rich and smooth earthy concoction, with red-vines licorice and silky low tannin finish. (To give an estimate of relative USA retail prices, the representative told me this would list for about $18)

Bodega de Sarría
I only tried their rosé, 2007 Señorío de Sarría Viñedo Nº5 (3.50), a beautiful crisp dry rosé made from Granache grapes. Nose of rose hip tea and light floral tones, bone dry, elegant. Reminds me of a good Tavel or Bandol Rosé, with that whisper of animal musk.

Bodegas Aires del Duero
I made all sorts of scribbles on this page in my tasting book, because I thought this winery made some of the best wines for the price, at this tasting. All of these wines showed great complexity and balance. 2007 Mania (3.60) a white wine made from 100% Verdejo grapes, this reminded me a bit of a good New Zealand Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, with nose dominated by green grassy fruits like granny smith apple, starfruit and pineapple, juniper and lemongrass. Try pairing this presh tasting wine with grilled asparagus wrapped in Serrano ham. 2004 Tinto Arroyo Crianza (4.60) had a smooth dusty bing cherry fragrance, hints of creosote (mint+tar), with complex flavors of cherry-licorice, and an oaky sweetness that hovers alongside tannins that stick to the teeth. (12 months oak, 12 months bottle age, 100% Tempranillo.) Big wine. 2004 Condesa de Ramos Crianza (4.10) 100% Tempranillo aged for about a year in oak, more austere than the Tinto Arroyo, chalky cherry nose with leathery tannins that need the oak to resolve. Intense, dry, tight, very interesting, and probably needs 3-5 years to find its center. I also tasted the off-list (2004?) Tardencuba Autor (11.00) with huge smooth oak sweetness, deep earthy giant ripe dark fruit, and tannins that lingered so long I think this wine needs a decade perhaps to resolve the leathery tannins. I want some!

Bodegas Arco de Curiel
My only notes for the 2006 Arco de Curiel Joven (3.50) say "light, young, fruity" which fits with the young (joven) designation. Intresting to me that a tough grape like Tempranillo can work so well in a fruit-driven context like this, more like a Boujoulais. Elsewhere, Tempranillo becomes a leathery tannic monster. The midrange 2005 Arco de Curiel Roble (4.20) has 4 months in oak, 100%Tempranillo grape, and offers mint, licorice, berry brambles and a minty finish with granular tannins. My favorite was the 2004 Arco de Curiel Crianza (6.50) an excellent value with Tempranillo grapes in 12 months of oak, bigger and rounder than the others here, with minty red cherry fruit, espresso coffee, and a lingering finish of graphite and leather that fits the Tempranillo expression perfectly. This one gets a star for good value!

Bodegas Castillo de Maetierra
This vintner showed only white wines, and some of the best of the show. It appears that the vineyard grows mostly Muscat, with some Viura and Malvasia blended in. 2006 Alisé (3.65) is the lightest of the Muscat blends, with perfume of honeydew melon, orange blossom and lime. Clean and yummy, I can imagine this pairing very well with delicate Asian seafood dishes. 2006 Libalis (3.95) has a bit of detectable residual sugar (.8%) with smooth elegant roundness, lime and honeysuckle in lingering viscosity. That hint of sweetness gets concentrated into the 2006 Melante (6.30, 375 ml) with spiced brown sugar, applesauce and nutmeg. Yummy elixir.

Bodegas Corral
Here's a contrast to an older style of Spanish winemaking, like the Riojas I remember tasting 20 years ago. Despite long repose in oak casks, these wines taste tight and tannic compared to some of the lush offerings nearby. I respect these wines, but they take more work to enjoy, more analysis, prediction of future potential. Give these older wines a pepper steak, and everything makes sense. 2003 Don Jacobo Crianza (3.00) A tight red wine with citrus tonality, grapefruit and leather, feisty tannins and hints of Sauerkraut on the palate (yes, it aged for 12 months in oak, but it's still very tight.) 2001 Don Jacobo Crianza (5.35) oily but still bright, nutty and rich from oak integration, pipe tobacco in the finish, elegant. 1995 Don Jacobo Crianza (8.85) After 22 months in oak and over ten years in bottle, this intense wine has finally come under some discipline. Although it shows a hint of VA (not bad considering the age) it shows a deep tight dusty character, with orange peel and bergamot, rose petals and herbal dusty tones. 85% Tempranillo and 15% Garnacha, here's an example of how wines can age into sophisticated statements of complexity.

Bodegas Cristal de la Vega
2007 Marqués de Castilla Airén (3.10) white wine from 100% Airen grapes, no oak. Very floral, with honeysuckle and lime tropical notes in the nose, clean citrus acidity on the palate and a nutty finish. Well made. 2007 Marqués de Castilla (3.10) blended from 80% Tempranillo, 10% Syrah, 10% Merlot. No oak, slightly resembling a Beaujolais Neauveau, very fruity, hints of bubblegum. 2004 Marqués de Castilla Crianza (3.30) 100% Tempranillo, rich and oily in the mouth, with tones of licorice and balanced tannins. Not expressing the typical leather nor earthy richness of this grape, more smooth and silky, yet with bright acid.

Bodegas de Familia Burgo Viejo
2001 Burgo Viejo Reserva (5.41) an appropriately aged wine that saw 18 months oak aging, showing the tighter style of classic Spanish Tempranillo based wines. Excellent at this age, with leathery tannins just becoming approachable, earthy rich black cherry fruit. 1999 Burgo Viejo Gran Reserva (8.70) Resembling some of my favorite Bandols, with wild animal and forest smells, earthy and musky, brooding dark oily fruit and lingering tannins even at 9 years. These are good things. I liken the smells to those of removing a saddle from the back of a horse after a long ride, combined with black cherry and cassis. Full of wildness and beauty.

Bodegas Parra Jimenez, Irjimpa
These organic wines showed flavors that I associate with very hot weather, a bit raisined. 2007 Parra Jimenez Shiraz (3.00) has no oak, showing deep earthy dusty smells but bright flavors, a bit like blueberry/lemon. 2004 Manuel de la Osa Barrica (12.00) has a more fruit forward profile, with rich black currant and bramble berry. 2005 Caballero Crianza Barrica is all tempranillo, and very ripe, with some raisiny hot weather character, not intensely tannic.

Bodegas Taron
2004 Taron Crianza (3.20) Nose shows some oxidation, bright dusty minerals and deep ripe fruit. Considering it's 95% Tempranillo, it's quite smooth on the palate, not leathery. 2002 Taron Reserva (5.10) Also a bit oxidized, with a nose of bright cherry cola, red cherry fruit and well resolved tannins, but with an odd bitter twist on the palate at the finish.

(Above: Livius Tempranillo and Garnacha, among my favorite wines this day.)

Bodegas Y Viñedos Alvar
Among my favorite wineries at this tasting. If it's any indication, this is the one wine we felt like tasting again at the end of the day, when we sat down to rest with a few bites of the excellent food catered for the event. 2007 Livius White, fermented in cask (15.00) was probably the most expensive white wine of the day. With buttery sur lees character, this blend of Viura (90%) and Malvasia (10%) tasted more like a Chardonnay: rich, nutty and quite full bodied. 2006 Livius Garnacha (20.00) was my favorite Garnacha tasted from the event. Like it's sibling Granache in the Rhone valley, this offered floral overtones of roses and violets, but with a caramel sweet smooth finish due to the 8 month oak aging. Balanced acidity, smooth mouth feel and subtle fine grained tannins complete this elegant wine. 2006 Livius Tempranillo (20.00) is the sort of wine that makes you do a double take, widen your eyes, take a deep breath and pay attention. This is a powerful, deep and complex beast, with creme de cassis and deep loamy earth in the fragrances, among leather and cigar box, cinnamon, clove, chocolate syrup, black licorice. Though the oak is apparent, it doesn't overtake the intensity of this ripe and earthy wine, its sweetness only serving to soften and balance what may have been very intense tannins early on. Now, the leathery finish lingers in a dusting of sweet winter spice, taffy and hints of forest leaves. Beautiful.

Bodegas Y Viñedos de Utiel
International style wines, starting with 2007 Nodus Chardonnay (4.35) reminding me of a well made bright Chablis, with lemony citrus notes, some dust and musk lingering in the finish. 2006 Nodus Author Red WIne (4.60) blends Bordeaux varitals with 20% Syrah and a bit of Spanish Bobal grapes, resulting in very dark blackberry-toned juicy liquer, with tar and licorice undercurrents and a silky viscous mouth feel. 2003 Nodus Reserva Familia (5.95) saw 18 months in barrels, and although it has good tannin/acid balance it also shows some Port-like oxidation in the nose, perhaps a hot weather artifact.

Bodegas Y Viñedos Tábula
I loved all three of the wines poured by Tábula, made very much in a modern international style. Although priced at the high end for this tasting, these wines would fit right in next to some $60 Napa Cabernets. 2004 Damana Crianza (6.90) had a very smooth profile of black cherry fruit and tobacco hued tannins, bright and deep flavors combine with hints of mint of winter spices, aged 14 months in French oak. 2004 Tábula (12.90) adds 4% of Cabernet to 96% Tempranillo and ages for 14 month in new French oak, with an additional 2 months in vat. The oak definitely shows here, with a sweet caramel nose, coffee/Kahlua and ripe blackberry. At the top of the range, 2003 Gran Tábula (20.80) adds 8% Cabernet to the Tempranillo and ages 18 months in new French oak. A lovely giant wine, offering fragrances much like a Napa Cabernet, with licorice and tar, chocolate and dusty herbs, strawberry and black pepper. In the palate, an earthiness loam betrays the Tempranillo body, bridging thoughts of Napa across to those of a Super Tuscan. Not at all typical of Spanish wines, but who cares, it's delicious.

Coop. Nestra Señora de la Cabeza
This cooperative pulls together numerous growers in the region, and showed almost a dozen different wines at their table, mostly under the Casa Gualda label. Many of these did not come with written details, so years and names are partially missing. The Sauvignon Blanc showed a fresh tropical nose of pineapple and lemon grass, fresh and clean on the palate. The Crianza smelled a bit oxidized, with bright blackberry fragrances and lingering tannins on the finish. 2005 Casa Gualda Plus Ultra (3.50) smelled somewhat raisiny along with loamy earth, a bit like an Amarone, with a hugely tannic astringent leathery finish, probably coming from 70% Petit Verdot. 2004 Casa Gualda Selección C&J (4.75) has a more plush fruity body, showing low influence from oak (5 months in 2-year old barrels). Very approachable for a tempranillo.

Luralde's Basque regional wines and crisp dry apple cider gave me a flashback to my visit 15 years ago to San Sebastian, where our hosts took us to a cider house during the season when the kegs are opened. In this ancient stone building, lined with huge old oak casks, tastes of lemony tart slightly carbonated cider refreshed us as we nibbled from platters of salt cod, omelettes, beef sausage and cheese. Lurralde's spritzy bone dry Isastegi apple cider (3.15) transported me back to that visit. It makes a classic pairing to Bacalao pilpil. Their other wines are also excellent, with crisp whites and smooth rich reds, but I admit I got a bit distracted by the cider.

Marqués de Valdelacasa
Two excellent red wines tasted here. 2005 Dominio de Valdelacasa (7.00) is a tempranillo aged for 6 months in oak. A beautifully complex deeply flavored wine, nose showing leather, mint, and subdued dark berries, with a rich and oily mouthfeel, deep fruit tones with licorice and bitter chocolate, a spicy finish with mint and ripe tannins. 2004 Frontaura Crianza (12.00) smelled intense and herbal, with musk brooding in the dark shadows, flavors of chocolate-mint and strong lingering leathery tannins. A powerful wine.

Mas Comtal
My notes indicate that these wines are made organically, a trend that I favor strongly. I also put a big star next to the 2007 Rosat de Lagrima Rosé (3.70) which is my way of reminding myself that I loved it. Made from 100% Merlot, this rosé offers a beautiful nose of dry potpourri and strawberry seeds. This wine is calling for salmon or mussels, perhaps with a bit of saffron. 2007 Pomell de Blanc (3.55) has two months barrel age sur lees, with a 50/50 blend of Xarel-lo and Chardonnay. With smooth rich apple notes, it lingers ripe in the mouth, surprisingly soft for a Spanish white wine.

Sucesores de Rafael de Camps
2007 Herederos del Conte de Olzinella (3.40) was an unoaked white blend of 80% Xarel-lo and 20% Chardonnay, with an earthy nose showing meyer lemon and bright lime citrus notes, with a somewhat quick finish. 2007 Casa Ravella (8.50) was a similar blend but with a bit more Chardonnay, and 6 months on oak, aged sur lees. This treatment magnifies the nutty and vanilla taffy character of the Chardonnay, resulting in a thicker mouth feel, but still with crisp acidity.

Vinolé WInes
Alongside their excellent midrange offering (such as the 2006 Servilio Roble @7.20 - a well made International Style tempranillo with bright clear acidity and lingering tannins, 5 months in oak to soften the corners a bit) Vinolé poured one of the most affordable good white wines of the day, 2007 Jesus Diaz Blanco (1.90) which smelled like fresh squeezed lemons, green apple, crisp and a bit dusty. Subtle hints of pineapple and grapefruit enrich the cleansing palate. At 12.5% alc., I can envision this wine going perfectly with ceviche on a hot summer day. Guessing the retail price at about $6-7, it should be a crowd pleaser.

Viñas do Torroxal
2006 Torroxal Rosal (5.00): an unaged white wine with delicate fragrances of periwinkle and rose and a light lemony palate.
2006 Torroxal Albariño (5.00): also unaged, no oak, spicy, nutty, bright, some green herbal notes, and a hint of smoke.


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