Friday, July 31, 2009

Intro to Spanish Wine Part 1

Our geographical subject for this month is Spain and the fantastic wine regions spread throughout the country. Spain is setting the world standard for foodies and wine lovers worldwide these days. It is the epicenter of the culinary world, with more Michelin 3 Star rated restaurants than any other country in Europe. It is where top chefs worldwide are going to learn, and it is absolutely the one place on earth where chefs are pushing the envelope to the extreme with results that are pure mad genius. One restaurant even gives you the opportunity to bring in your favorite perfume or flower so that they can make you a dessert that tastes just like it! At the same time, the best chefs are paying careful attention and respect to a culinary heritage and traditional ingredients that have been developed over many centuries.

Along with this great, unique, and boundary pushing cooking, Spain has also undergone a renaissance in winemaking over the last quarter century plus. Whereas most of the many regions in the country were once known for high volume, low quality wine where the national or regional system paid growers purely on volume, it is now a region of multiple, unique regions producing fine, high quality bottlings.

The wines and regions of Spain are many and varied. There are excellent reds, whites, sparklers, and roses or rosados as the natives call them. Although this doesn’t cover everything, the main grapes used in fine winemaking in Spain are Carinena, Garnacha (Grenache), Mencia, Monastrell (Mourvedre), Tempranillo, Albarino, Verdejo, Xarel-lo, Parellada, and Macabeo. To complicate matters, many of these grapes are called different things by different regions. For example, let’s take a look at Tempranillo. Depending on which region you’re in, this could be called Tempranillo, Cencibel, Ull de Llebre, Tinto Fino, Tinto de Toro, or Tinto del Pais. How’s that for confusing?

The good news is that most Spanish wines are bottled under the guidelines of classification laws, which will give you pretty clear guidelines about what you’re drinking and its quality. In the interest of not boring you to tears as you read this, I will not go through the all the details of the classification system, and instead just give you the basics. Vino de Mesa (VdM) is your basic table wine without a place associated with it. Vino del la Tierra (VdlT) is essentially a table wine that comes from a particular region but doesn’t follow that region’s rules as outlined in stricter classifications. Denominacion de Origen (DO) wines are by far the most common ones we will see here in the U.S. This is the most common quality wine indicator among Spanish wines. Each DO is associated with a region (there are approximately 60 regions) and each region has its own “consejo regulador” or control board that sets the rules for wines from that region and can govern everything from type of grape, cultivation, harvesting, ageing, and many other aspects of the winemaking. For the most part it is the DO wines that have transformed the quality of Spanish wine. Finally there are Denominacion de Origen Calificada (DOCa) wines which is an even higher requirement for quality that is only found in two regions – Rioja and Priorat.

For those of you who find all this very foreign and confusing compared to the American or New World system of naming wines after the grape, rest assured that this system works very well. Oenophiles and serious wine drinkers have long known about the concept of terroir. Countries with longstanding traditions of winemaking like France, Italy, and Spain figured out long ago that certain grapes perform best in particular climates and soils. This combination of place and soil are the heart of the concept of terroir. True believers in terroir will tell you that the unique combination of place and soil with a particular grape will make the wine from that terroir unique from any other place it is grown. I was one of many who used to only half believe in this concept. My epiphany moment came during a 2007 visit to the Villany region of southern Hungary where I tasted Cabernet Franc that was absolutely unlike any other Cabernet Franc I had ever tasted. At first I thought it was just that particular winery’s winemaking style, but as I tasted other Cabernet Francs in the region and noticed the same unique qualities, I began to truly understand the concept of terroir. Throughout Spain you will also see the influence of terroir on Spanish wine. Take the wines of Rioja, Ribera del Duero, and Toro, as an example. Although I enjoy Tempranillo based wines from all of these regions, I find that these wines have differences that cannot be explained by winemaking alone. The beauty of classification systems like the Spanish D.O. are that they tell us more than just what grape is used, which is sometimes all we are told with New World wines. The downside is that they require some effort to learn and understand what you get with each region and classification.

There are 60 different DOs (or DOCa in the case of Rioja and Priorat) in Spain. Here I will try to give you some of the basics of what you will get with Spanish red wine only for now in some of the better known as well as up and coming regions. White wine regions will be covered in a future post.


Rioja is by far the best known of the Spanish wine regions and was the first to be recognized as a region that makes high quality wines to compete on the worldwide stage. Rioja is certainly best known for Tempranillo, although that is not the only red grape used in some Riojas. Some Riojas have Garnacha as a significant component as well as other grapes in smaller quantities. Rioja also has three distinct sub regions. Rioja Alta in higher elevations in the west is known for very traditional, lighter, old world style wines. Rioja Alavesa is known for producing fuller bodied wine than Rioja Alta that are more fruit forward. Rioja Baja is known more for Garnacha than Tempranillo. There are great wines and great values to be had throughout Rioja, but I will caution that this is the one region in Spain where you will see some not so great wines and values make their way to the U.S.

Ribera del Duero

Ribera del Duero is a wonderful success story for Spanish wine. Located in North Central Spain but further south and west of Rioja in the Region of Old Castile, Ribera del Duero is producing some of the greatest red wines in the world these days. The region surrounds the Duero River which eventually makes its way over to Portugal and the Atlantic. Its unique terroir, which owes to its high altitude and chalky soil with large swings in daytime vs. nighttime temperatures, results in a beautiful expression of the Tinto Fino or Tempranillo grape. Top Ribera del Dueros are recognized worldwide. Estates such as Vega Sicilia command prices well into the hundreds of dollars for a bottle and have earned scores as high as 99 from critics like Robert Parker. The wines themselves are more consistent, powerful, and more fruit forward than what you will typically see from Rioja, but they are not just big fruit bombs. Many Ribera del Dueros have wonderful balance and structure. There are also many other producers who make excellent wine for a good value. Some favorites of mine include Condado de Haza and Atalyas de Golban.


Toro takes us even further west than Ribera del Duero. Toro is one of the top up and coming regions in Spain. It has not earned the reputation of Rioja or Ribera del Duero yet, but the beauty of its relative anonymity is that there are fantastic values to be had in this region. See my review of the 2006 Bodegas Real Sabor Toro for a fine example. Toro also makes most of their wine using the Tempranillo grape, but in this region it is typically called Tinto de Toro. More similar to Ribera del Duero in style than Rioja, Toro reds are powerful but balanced. This is one of the fastest growing regions in Spain with multiple new wineries being added every year.


Priorat, in Catalonia in the northeast, is a region producing some of the greatest wines in Spain and many might argue in the world. Priorat’s unique climate and soils set it apart in the wine world as someplace that can make exclusive, top quality wines. The soils are very rocky schist, and the climate is extremely dry. Grapes are generally grown on hillsides, where numerous old vine plantings exist. This combination makes the grapevines work very hard to produce low yields. This results in intense, concentrated wine from primarily the Garnacha grape but also from Carinena. Wines like Alvara Palacios L’Ermita command over $300 and scores of over 95 points from Stephen Tanzer. There are also some better values comparatively, but due to the reputation it has earned and the harsh growing conditions, this is generally not a great region for lower cost value wines.


Montsant just became its own DO in 20001. This is a region that just about wraps around all of Priorat. Like Priorat it has a number of old vine plantings of Garnacha and some Carinena. Some winemakers here are also experimenting with international grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah. Montsant is what I would classify as one of the up and coming regions of Spain. It has not yet developed the reputation or top level collectible wines that its neighbor to the north has, but it has some outstanding wines that can be had for very little money. See my review of of Mas Donis Barrica Montsant for an example of an excellent wine in the under $15 price range.

Jumilla and Yecla

Jumilla and Yecla in the southeast of Spain are two neighboring regions that are very similar in their wines and their recent history. Both had a long history of making cheap bulk wine for very local consumption. Winemaking was dominated by large co-ops that had little care for quality. In the late 1980’s, approximately one hundred years after it hit the rest of Europe, the area was hit by the dreaded phylloxera. Vines and production were both dealt a devastating blow. The silver lining in the story, though, is that this tragedy forced the DO to rethink their approach. For awhile at least they could not count on high yield vines to produce cheap bulk wine. They were almost forced to improve the quality of their product and to make better wine. In the end, this was great for the region and the consumer. These two regions are now producing very good wines for still very inexpensive prices. Bodegas such as Finca Luzon in Jumilla and Castano in Yecla are producing very good wines from the Monastrell (Mourvedre in France) grape with international varieties sometimes added to the blend. See my review of the Bellum Providencia Yecla 2005 for a nice example.


Bierzo is a young, small region that is producing some of the most unique wines in all of Spain. Here, winemakers have been able to get some very interesting results from the Mencia grape. This grape has been grown in Spain for a long time, but in the past it has produced very light and simple wines without very much structure. In Bierzo, some cutting edge winemakers have been able to get great results. The wines are still lighter in body, but they have wonderful aromatics, good fruit flavor, and elegant structure. The best examples will have a lot in common with Burgundian Pinot Noir. This is a region to watch.

Some other regions to watch for red wines are Costers del Segre, Navarra, Calatayud, and Vinos de Madrid. All of these regions have producers that make very good wines, but they are certainly harder to find than the regions I have discussed in more depth. There are also some excellent white and sparkling wines in Spain, but that’s a story for another day.

Spain does not yet have the reputation that France or Italy has, but this is a country with a wide variety of outstanding wines. Whether your looking for that one incredible bottle for a truly special occasion or a great value to buy by the case, Spain has some great choices for you. Go visit your favorite wine store and give some Spanish wine a try.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Box Car Syrah Sonoma Coast 2007

This Box Car Syrah is a very nice expression of what Syrah can do in the right parts of California. At a price point just under $20 it's also a pretty good deal.

Deep purple in color, this Syrah has a great, rich mouthfeel with decent acidity and surprisingly smooth tannins for such a young wine. A bouquet of blackfruit and white pepper has undertones of herb scented lamb. On the palate you get the same fruit and pepper with a nice spice to the finish.

Overall this is a very enjoyable California Syrah and a great example of what Syrah done right can be in the proper regions of California. In fact I think the 2007 Box Car Syrah is quite a bit better than the 2007 Red Car Syrah from the same winery. The fact that its half the price makes this one a no-brainer.

I enjoyed this bottle with a wasabi encrusted seared tuna. Since the tuna was rare it worked very well together, but it could cerainly overpower a tuna steak grilled more well done. It would also be a great pairing with lamb or game.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Gordon Brothers Syrah Columbia Valley 2003

This 2003 Syrah from Gordon Brothers in the Columbia Valley of Washington is a pretty unique Syrah. It has some of the rich mouthfeel, deep color, fruit & pepper that you expect from American Syrah, but it also has some characteristics that could be called Old World.

In your glass, you see the deep, purple-red color that you expect from the more extracted and concentrated style of New World Syrah. It has just a hint of rust or brick that is common with wines that have seen some bottle aging. It is the nose though that makes it quite unique. In addition to the typical blackfruit, pepper, and spice, you get that a little hint of "barnyard" or earthy smell that is so common with Old World French wines. In your mouth you get decent acidity with some nice tannins to balance everything out. The body is full, and in addition to plum, cherry and pepper, you also get a hint of chocolate on the palate.

Overall I think this wine is a decent value for $18, but I would caution that those who feel strongly about either New World Syrah/Shiraz or a great Northern Rhone might find elements in this wine that they won't like.

I enjoyed this unique Syrah with some spicy barbecued ribs. It would probably pair even better with a leg of lamb or some spicy Thai.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Frei Brothers Reserve Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2007

Let me start by saying that I'm pretty rare among wine lovers in that I like both New World and Old World Chardonnay. Many wine drinkers strongly prefer to have lighter bodied, less fruity, and more acidic Chardonnays with a crisp minerality to them - they are the Old World camp who love White Burgundies. Others are fans of oak, oak, oak, some more oak, some fruit and a full body. My wife is firmly in that camp with no plans on leaving. She loves rich, oaky, California Chardonnay. I happen to think both styles can be great when done right and a lot depends on what I want to eat with my Chardonnay if anything. Having said all that, if you are a fan of New World style Chardonnays, you will love the Frei Brothers Reserve Chardonnay from the Russian River Valley AVA of Sonoma County.

The wine is filled with aromas of oak & vanilla with some butterscotch and pear. In your mouth you can instantly feel that this is classic California Chardonnay. Flavors of pear and nectarine are front and center with the vanilla and spice from the toasted oak. The mouthfeel is rich and buttery. There is also a pleasantly surprising acidity to this wine that provides a little more structure than some California Chardonnays that are pure fruit and oak. If you like the rich, oaky California style, then you will love this wine. It is a well done Russian River Valley Chardonnay.

Although there are plenty of people out there who disagree with me, I happen to love New World Chardonnay with marinated grilled chicken or buttery seafood. I also enjoy it on its own. I enjoyed this bottle with some sauteed scallops with lime-butter sauce. Delicious! At under $15/bottle its also a decent value.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Catena Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

Made by Bodega Catena Zapata, famous worldwide for making great Malbec in the Mendoza region in the foothills of the Andes, this Cabernet Sauvignon shows that Mendoza can produce great fruit for wines other than just Malbec. The fruit from this Cabernet is estate grown in high altitude vineyards - ranging from 3100' to 3500' in altitude.

Aromatically, the Catena Cab gives you black fruit, mocha, and spice. Full bodied, with some backbone to it, flavors of black cherry, plum, and blackberries dominate with a much more subtle taste of the mocha, which is much more prominent on the nose. Overall, a very good Cabernet from a producer who made their name with Malbec.

At a price point in the low $20's it is a solid value. Like any good Cabernet, it wants to be served with beef, lamb, or game. Would also go very nicely with aged cheeses.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Peter Paul Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

Peter Paul Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 is an excellent Napa Valley Cabernet that can be had for under $20. This intense, delicious wine is made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes that come primarily from famous grower Andy Beckstoffer's Georges III and Melrose vineyards. All the fruit is from either Rutherford or St. Helena.

In your glass, you will see deep purple color. A beautiful bouquet of blackfruit is dominated by blackberry and cassis with much of the same on the palate. This full bodied, classic California Cab is balanced out by smooth, silky tannins.

I should also not that there is actually a Peter Paul who owns this winery, and it is not 2/3 of a sixties folk group. Mr. Paul made his fortune in financial services before getting into the wine business, and today he donates a good portion of the proceeds from his winery to his charitable foundation which focuses on underprivileged children.

So go get a bottle or six of Peter Paul Cabernet. It's a very good Napa Cab for under $20, and some of your money will also make its way to charity. You can't lose with this one!
Serve with grilled steak or venison for a great pairing.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Uccelliera Rosso di Montalcino 2007

This excellent wine comes from the region of Montalcino, which is famous for its high powered and high priced Brunello di Montalcinos. This Rosso from Uccilliera is a fantastic wine that will give many Brunellos a run for their money.

In your glass the wine has a beatiful medium red color. The bouquet is full of rasberry and plum with just a hint of cinnamon. The wine has a medium-full body with a very pleasant acidity and soft tannins. Flavors of red cherry, sour cherry and plum are abundant. This had incredible fruit flavor for a Sangiovese and a smooth, lasting finish.

Overall, the Uccelliera Rosso di Montalcino 2007 is an outstanding wine. It outperforms many Brunellos which are 2 to 3 times the price. It definitely delivers a great value for its $25 price tag. Highly recommended!
Pair with pasta and marinara sauce, Parmigiano Reggiano, cured Italian meats, or veal.

Friday, July 17, 2009

2005 Bellum Providencia Yecla

The 2005 Bellum Providencia Yecla is yet another great value from a relatively unknown region of Spain. The casual wine drinker probably only knows Spain for Rioja which is Spain's most famous wine region or Denominacion de Origen (D.O.). More serious wine drinkers are probably also familiar with Priorat and Ribera del Duero. The best kept secret in the wine world these days is that Spain is loaded with numerous wine regions that produce a very wide variety of different grapes and styles of wine. The tradition of winemaking is long and storied in Spain, and over the past 20 years there has been a real quality revolution throughout most of the country, which has seen many regions move away from cheap, mass produced wines into much higher quality fine wines.

Yecla is one of many regions that is participating in this fantastic change where the focus in no longer on quantity but on quality. The winemakers in this D.O. as well as the neighboring D.O. of Jumilla, have discovered that they can make truly great wines with careful tending of the vines and attention to detail. They have been able to get fantastic results from the Monastrell (called Mourvedre in most other parts of the world) grape either on its own or as the primary grape blended with Garnacha, Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Merlot. This is a big change from the old days in Spain when Monsatrell was for mass produced, lower quality wine or merely a blending grape. The great benefit for you and me is that they are making these very good wines and selling them at a very competitive price. To learn more about Yecla and other Spanish wine regions go to,3346,1549487_4946338_4944445_1147_2,00.html

The 2005 Bellum Providencia is made from 100% old vine Monastrell. As an interesting aside, the Bellum name and label comes from a prehistoric cave painting in the region depicting a war between two bear clans - the locals call the painting Bellum Ursi (The Battle of the Bear). In the glass you have an intense, dark purple wine with a very nice, full body to it. On the nose you get blackfruit - especially blackberry as well as some blueberry pie. This wine is jam packed with fruit flavor with lots of blackberry, black cherry, and blueberry. Tannins and a touch of spice provide some balance and a pleasing finish. At a price of $15, this wine is a solid value.

Enjoy Bellum Providencia with red meat, chorizo sausage, or BBQ ribs.

Yellow Cherry Tomato Soup w/Avocado

Here's a recipe for a really simple and refreshing soup that is not only good but good for you. I used yellow pear tomatoes for this which are similar to cherry tomatoes but slightly larger and yellow in color. If these are not available you can certainly make this with other cherry tomatoes. I would only recommend against using the much sweeter grape tomatoes. The soup can be served warm or chilled depending on the time of year and your preference.

To make the soup you will need:

3 pints yellow pear tomatoes - cut in half
1 pint red cherry tomatoes - cut in half
1 vidalia onion - chopped
2 avocado - cut into slices
1/2 cup fresh basil
2 tbs olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Start by heating 1 tbs olive oil over medium-high heat and cook the onions for 5 to 10 minutes until soft and just slightly browned. Add the yellow pear tomatoes to the pot and stir. Turn heat down to medium and simmer for 20 minutes. Transfer to a blender or food processor and puree and then chill if desired.

Chop basil and mix with remaining tbs. of olive oil. Pour oil/basil mixture over the pint of halved cherry tomatoes and mix together and salt to taste.

Serve soup in a shallow soup bowl and garnish with 3 or 4 avocado slices on the perimeter of the bowl. Spoon cherry tomatoes with basil oil in a nice line across the bowl and serve.

Makes 4 servings.
I served this with a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, but it would also pair very nicely with Riesling.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Domaine Michel & Joanna Ecard Savingny-Les-Beaune Premier Cru "Les Gravains" 2006

Lets start this one by saying that I was able to buy this wine at a pretty hefty discount. This wine typically retails in the $40-50 range, but my good friends at Georgetown Square Wine & Spirits have some great pricing on this bottle, so I was able to get a bottle (well actually quite a few bottles) for significantly less than that. If you can find a deal and you like Old World Pinot Noir, than this is a very nice wine.

Michel Ecard is the son of Maurice Ecard who has a long tradition of making some of the finest wines in Burgundy. Michel ventured off on his own along with his wife starting with the 2005 vintage, and all indications are that all the years he spent learning under his father have paid off.

The 2006 Domaine Michel & Joanna Ecard Savigny-Les Beaunes Premier Cru is a good Pinot Noir that is firmly rooted in Burgundian terroir and style. It is darker in color and fuller bodied than most Pinot Noirs. The fruit is certainly present and pleasant, but the sour cherry and cranberry flavors are very subtle on the nose and the palate. The fruit is nicely balanced by flavors of spice and a pleasant minerality and earthiness that just says Burgundy.

I happen to think this is a wonderful example of what the Pinot Noir grape can do, but I will caution that lovers of New World Pinot Noir might not like this wine. If you like reds from Burgundy it is definitely worth looking for this somewhat hard to find wine. If you like your Pinots from California and the Willamette Valley, then you can probably live without this one.

Pinot Noir pairs nicely with a number of foods. My personal favorite is a nice turkey dinner, but it also goes very nicely with duck breast, roast pork, and salmon.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Mas Donis Barrica Cellar de Capcanes Montsant 2005 Old Vines

Mas Donis Barrica is another fine example of the great things that are happening with Spanish wine right now. This country has undergone a quality revolution as of late, and they are producing excellent wines that won't empty your wallet. Much like with Spanish cuisine, you will find a great combination of old world tradition with a new world twist.

Montsant is a lesser known Spanish region that is very close to the famed region of Priorat. Among serious wine drinkers, Priorat has a reputation for making some of the finest wines in the world. Montsant is a much newer region which was just recognized as a unique D.O. (Denominacion de Origen) in 2001. To learn more about Monstant - go to

Mas Donis Barrica is made from 85% old-vine Garnacha (or just call it Grenache if you're not in Spain) and 15% Syrah. The wine is aged for 9 months in a combination of French and American oak.

In your glass Mas Donis has a deep purple color with aromas of raspberry and plum with a hint of spice. It has a medium-full body with a very pleasant mouth feel. Mas Donis delivers forward fruit, but unlike so many other fruit forward wines in this price range, it doesn't instantly disappear on your palate. It delivers a long lasting, spicy finish to balance out all the fruit. At a price in the $10 - $12 range, this is one to stock up on. Robert Parker gave this 91 points, and this wine absolutely lives up to that kind of praise. Highly recommended!

I love this wine with pork tenderloin grilled medium-rare. It also pairs nicely with Spanish cheeses like Manchego and Campo de Montalban.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2005 DOCG

This is a very good wine from a region of Tuscany that is not quite as well known as some of its famous neighbors. Just about everyone is familiar with Chianti and Chianti Classico, and many are familiar with the region of Montalcino and their esteemed Brunellos. For reasons I can't quite figure out, the region of Montepulciano has neither the familiarity of Chianti among casual wine drinkers nor the status of Brunello di Montalcino among those who are a little more serious about their wine.

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano wines are primarily Prugnolo Gentile, which is a clone of Sangiovese - the main grape in Chianti, Chianti Classico, and Brunello di Montalcino. The DOCG requires that all Vino Nobile must have at least 70% Prugnolo Gentile, and they also allow smaller percentages of Canaiolo Nero and other approved varieties. For those of you who want to know even more about Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, see this link:

This offering from Avignonesi is comprised of primarily Prugnolo Gentile with small amounts of Canaiolo Nero and Mammolino. The color is a medium red with a small hint of rust normally seen in older wines. With a swirl of the glass, you get beautiful black cherry aromas with a mild cinnamon accent, with much of the same on the palate. This is a beautiful expression of Tuscan wine and the Prugnolo/Sangiovese grape.

At a retail price in the mid $20s, you get quality that is similar to many Brunellos which retail for well over $50.

Enjoy this great Tuscan red with roasted meats, grilled game, or a great Parmiagiano Reggiano.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Louis Martini 2007 Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon

Are there any good California Cabernets left on the market for under $20? Many years ago there were tons of them, but sadly today they are very hard to find after the long continuous climb in real estate prices in Napa and Sonoma counties. Over the last few years Louis Martini has been one of very few Cabernets from California that give you great value for your money in the $10 to $15 price range. The 2006 in particular was a standout in the value Cab category.

The 2007 offering from Martini is another very solid effort. It has a nice dark purple color in the glass. On the nose , it has aromas of cassis and black fruit with a hint of vanilla. On the palate it is full bodied and fruit forward. This wine is loaded with fruit - especially cherry and blackberry. This is a very nice, easy drinking, everyday wine, and at roughly $12 a bottle you can't go wrong here. The only weakness I see is that it could have a little bit more tannin and structure like the 2006 Louis Martini had , but at this price you can't expect too much. Overall a great value for the price.

Pair with seared tuna or just plain enjoy on its own.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Fig, Manchego, and Jamon Serrano Tapas

Here's a fun and simple recipe for a great Spanish style tapas or appetizer. This recipe gracefully combines the sweetness of fresh mission figs with serrano ham, a cured spanish ham (some stores will refer to this by its Spanish name - Jamon Serrano). Add in a little manchego cheese to balance out the sweet and salty flavors and you have a simple, tasty treat!

Here's what you will need:

20 mission figs
15 very thin slices of serrano ham
4 oz of manchego cheese

Take the figs and cut off the thin tip, and then slice them in half, lengthwise. Take small pieces of manchego cheese (slightly larger than pea size) and place it on top of each fig. Take the slices of serrano ham and cut it into 3 strips lengthwise and wrap one strip all the way around each fig crosswise. Lay out the ham wrapped figs on a baking sheet or dish and cook for 8 to 10 minutes at 400.

Serve with a nice Spanish red from Rioja, Ribera del Duero, or Toro. See review of the 2006 Bodegas Sabor Real Toro below for a great selection!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Bodegas Sabor Real 2006 Toro

Lets start this one by talking a little bit about Spain and Toro. Right now, Spain has some of the best wine values you will find in the world - wonderful wines from many regions and different grapes with the opportunity to get great quality for your money. Toro is a region that is a bit of a well kept secret. Toro reds are generally made with the same Tempranillo grape used in the better known region of Rioja (in Spain wines are named after the region not the grape), although in Toro the grape is often called Tinto de Toro. The beauty of the Spanish system which names the wine after the region is that the same grape in different regions will actually make wine that is similar but unique from the other regions. I could start a whole dissertation on terroir here, but that's for another day. The beauty of Toro is that it is an up and coming region, which means you will generally get great value for your money with these wines.

Bodegas Sabor Real 2006 Toro is one of the standout values in Toro. On the nose it has an aroma of smoky spice and blackberry. It has a great, full bodied mouthfeel with loads of spice and fruit and it is very nicely balanced. This can be had for as low as $9.99 a bottle, and at that price this is one to buy by the case. This is one of the best bottles I've ever had in the under $10 price range. Parker gave this one 90 points. Highly recommended!

This wine will pair wonderfully with a wide range of foods. It goes great with pork tenderloin or grilled lamb chops, and it is great with an authentic Spanish paella with chorizo sausage. I had it last night with some tapas - figs with manchego cheese wrapped in jamon serrano (cured spanish ham). Both the figs and the wine were delicious.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Decanting Demystified

Well here goes my first educational post, and its on a subject that I am quite passionate about, which is decanting. When it comes to decanting, there is a lot of misinformation out there. Some people feel that decanters are only for display on the table, many believe that only older wines need to be decanted, and some even think that only expensive wines need decanting. In short, they are all wrong.

So what does need decanting you ask? Lets make it simple. Just about all red wines should be decanted. Decanting with the proper equipment can accomplish two very important things for you - filtration and aeration.

Lets start with the first. Many wines, including some of the best will have some sediment or solid particles in the bottle. Although these cause the wine no harm whatsoever, they really don't feel very good in your mouth. The first function that decanting will provide for you is to filter any sediment out of the wine. This can be done the old fashioned way, which is by pouring very slowly and carefully so that the wine comes out of the bottle but the sediment stays in. If you want even better results though, it is well worth investing in a wine funnel with a screen or filter. These can be found in many stores or at one of my favorite websites - Wine Enthusiast. Here's a link to see some wine funnels and decanters

The second function of decanting is to aerate the wine or as some say "let it breathe." This is very important for red wine. Decanting the wine in a large decanter will expose it to air and allow the aromas of the wine to open up inside your glass so that you may better appreciate them. It also can soften the bite of wines with heavy tannins. There is some argument about this from certain experts, but to me the best way to settle the argument is through a taste test. Take your favorite everyday red and compare two bottles. Take the first and decant it for an hour prior to opening the second bottle. Then open the second bottle and immediately pour a taste of the decanted wine and the non-decanted wine into separate glasses and then try them both. I have tried this with many decanting non-believers and it has never failed to make believers out of them. There is no doubt that decanting will improve your wine!

Now that we know why we decant, lets talk a little bit about how to do it effectively. Simply uncorking a bottle and letting it sit for a few minutes will not do much for you - you need to transfer the wine into a vessel that will get it into greater contact with air. A good decanter is one that will give wine the maximum exposure to air possible. This is why so many decanters have very wide bases - the wider the base, the more wine is exposed to air and the faster and more effectively your wine will breathe. Also, most wine funnels will also distribute the wine into the decanter in such a way that it will cascade down the sides of the decanter, which will give it additional air exposure as you pour it. Wine Enthusiast is also a great source for decanters. A nice selection can be found at this link

One last tip - if you don't own a decanter, there are some simple things you can do until you decide its time to buy one. The simplest decanter in the world is a wine glass! If you open your bottle 1 hour prior to drinking, simply pour the wine into a wine glass or glasses, and it will decant there much better than it would in the bottle. Another suggestion is to take a look at that collection of large, dusty vases that you probably hardly ever use. Clean one out and make it your temporary decanter!


Dashoood 2007 Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough

This crisp Sauvignon Blanc is from the Awatere Valley in the Marlborough region of New Zealand. New Zealand has built a strong reputation for Sauvignon Blanc and the Dashwood 2007 Sauvignon Blanc lives up to it.

On the nose you get aromas of citrus - especially grapefruit. Its almost refreshing and thirst quenching to just smell this on a hot summer day, and it does not disappoint once you taste it. In addition to citrus, you also get a hint of peach on the palate, and a wonderful, crisp acidity. Wine and Spirits gave this a 91 and at a price in the $10-12 range it is well worth it.

Drink on its own on a hot summer day or pair with cheese, shellfish, or sushi.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Etude 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

So here's my very first wine review posting on my website. For those of you who read my introductory post or profile you will see that I'm a big believer in getting value for your wine dollar, and here I go with a review of a wine that retails for about $80.

Etude 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley is a study in harmony. The nose and palate both give wonderful fruit flavors of blackberry, plum, and cassis with a subtle hint of smoky vanilla. This classic cab has a beautiful, rich mouthfeel with smooth, silky tannins. Etude is a fruit forward but perfectly balanced expression of Cabernet Sauvignon.

OK - so that's about as flowery and wine critic like as I'll ever sound, but this is a wine I'm really excited about. This classic California cab is a rock star! Wine Enthusiast gave it 96 points and I think that Etude earns every point. Although its expensive, its worth every penny and then some!

Like any great Cabernet, this wine wants red meat to go with it. Filet Mignon, Lamb Chops or any nice cut of steak is a perfect compliment.

Welcome to A Couple of Wines

Welcome to A Couple of Wines - my website dedicated to all things wine and some things food. Here you will find all sorts of information about wine - education, recommendations, reviews, and information on wine and food pairings. At times you will also see recommended recipes with a wine pairing to go with it.

This is not a professional wine site, but a site created by an everyday, ordinary lover of wine for other wine drinkers to read and hopefully enjoy. I am not a trained wine taster or reviewer or a "super taster." I am a simple, ordinary person who developed a love of wine while working as a field based sales manager for a Berkeley, CA based company and frequently visiting Napa and Sonoma during my trips to the main office.

My hope is to give my readers reviews and commentary that are written in simple, straightforward language that will help you to learn more about wine and to choose wines that you enjoy. I believe that wine is something that should give us great joy and never make us feel stressed, uncomfortable, or in the presence of snobbery. My focus is not on perfection or any one particular style but on value for your money. I believe that there are excellent wines out there in many different price ranges, and the important thing for me is that the wine is worth the price you pay. This doesn't mean I only like inexpensive wines, it simply means that a wine should be worth the price you pay for it. Somtimes that means a really good $10 everyday wine, and sometimes that means that amazing $100 bottle that is strictly for very special occasions.

I should note that most of the content on this website is written by me, but that my wife is my tasting partner who indirectly has a significant contribution to all that you see here on this site. She makes the "Couple" in A Couple of Wines.

If you've made it this far, thanks for reading. I hope you enjoy the content that you find on this website, and most importantly I hope you find some wines that you enjoy here.