Best Wines To Pair With Tapas #SundaySupper

I was pretty excited when I saw this week’s #SundaySupper tapas theme.  That’s because my wife and I recently returned from a 17-day trip to Spain! Our itinerary included visits to Barcelona, La Rioja (Spain’s most renown wine country), San Sebastian, Madrid, Toledo, Sevilla, and Granada.  One of the highlights of our trip, of course was Spain’s food – especially the tapas, which we ate almost daily!  We were very impressed by the integrity and freshness of the ingredients in most of the food we enjoyed.

The notion of perfect and delicious little bar snack has now taken wing from its humble beginnings, developing into a worldwide gastronomic delight perceptively different from the usual restaurant experience..while still maintaining the feel of convivial food

We did our most serious tapéo (tapas hopping) in Barcelona, and San Sebastian.  But the cacophony of clanking glasses, fast paced chatter and the shuffling of tiny plates filled the atmosphere in every tapas bar we visited.

photo (47)

Each experience was unique and memorable in its own way.  For example, the experience in Haro, the wine capital of Spain, had a much more intimate feel than Barcelona, which was, as one would expect, was more frenetic.  Some of the tapas were the same from place to place, but we also enjoyed some regional specialties.

One of my favorites in San Sebastian - Bar Bergara.  Image courtesy of vamonosdetapas.com

One of my favorites in San Sebastian – Bar Bergara. Image courtesy of vamonosdetapas.com

The gastronomic highlight of the trip for me was San Sebastian (which has a well deserved reputation for being the culinary capital of Spain)!  It’s the most famous city in the Basque Country, and the local word for tapas is pintxos. 

Check out some of the tasty tapas we enjoyed in Spain…

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Pairing Wines with Tapas

I’m a big proponent of the wine and food pairing guideline that says ‘what grows together, goes together“.  In other words, pair tapas with Spanish wines.  The wide gamut of Spanish wines are naturally well-suited to the broad spectrum of Spanish foods.  My recommendations include many well know Spanish wines that are great with tapas, including Cava, Albariño, and Rioja, as well as the lesser well-known, but no less fantastic with tapas, Txacholi (Chacoli).

Another classic, but unsung hero of Spanish wine worthy of your consideration is Sherry.  Despite, the belief that Sherry country is where tapas were first created, Sherry remains mostly underappreciated, and misunderstood. It’s not just the libation of old ladies.  For example, relatively few people understand that Sherry ranges in style from bone dry to rich and very sweet (Here’s a great primer on Sherry).  Fortunately Sherry is becoming more popular outside of Spain because of its food friendly nature and exceptional quality/price ratio.  I count myself among those who believe that Sherry is their quintessential accompaniment.  Not sure about giving Sherry a try?  Try a half-bottle!

Tip: Since tapas are “small plates, you may find yourself ordering a wide assortment.  Consider ordering your tapas in two waves – those that work with white wine (Cava, Spanish white wines, or Sherry), then order tapas that work with red wines (meats, or mushroom based ones).

Check out the mouth-watering assortment of amazing tapas at the #SundaySupper virtual tapas bar and my wine pairing recommendations! :

Pair these dishes with Cava, the Spanish equivalent of champagne, made mostly in Catalunya by the same exacting standards as in France.  It has a wonderful palate-refreshing qualities also make it ideal with broad range of Spanish tapas.  Look for  El Xamfra Mercat Brut Cava.  It has an intriguing floral, stone fruit, citrus, and toasted nut character

Try this dishes with a slightly sweet Cava.  Look for Segura Viudas ARIA Extra Dry. It shows off-dry tropical fruit, apple, pear, honey and a bit of citrus flavors with crisp palate cleansing acidity and effervescence.

Pair these dishes with a Fino Sherry.  Fino is a light-bodied, very dry type of Sherry that is excellent with olives, almonds, ham, and chips and dips.  One of my favorites is Valdespino “Inocente” Fino. It has a complex, elegant, chalk, aromatic herb, and salted almond character.  These dishes will also work with the El Xamfra Cava.

Pair these dishes with an Amontillado Sherry. It’s an off-dry medium-bodied style Sherry with a richer, nuttier character than Fino.  Look for the Lustau Amontillado “Los Arcos” Solera Reserva. It has an off-dry edge, and an almond paste, date, spiced orange, slightly honeyed character. These dishes will also work well with the recommended Rioja below.

Pair these dishes with a Rosé.  Spain make some fine Rosé.  Most are Tempranillo and/or Grenache based.  But check out the 2012 Raventos i Blanc “La Rosa”. It’s made of Pinot Noir, and has a lovely, dry tangy mixed red berry and watermelon character.

Pair these dishes with an Albariño, the racy, refreshing white wine originating from the small wine region of Rias Baixas (ree-ahs-buy-shuss).  Look for the 2011 Condes de Albarei Albariño.  It has expansive aromas, a silky texture, and peach, citrus, and mineral flavors.

Pair these dishes with a Txacholi, a slightly sparkling, very dry white wine with high acidity and low alcohol produced in Basque country. The wine is produced from an indigenous varietal of grape grown in vineyards that overlook the rugged Cantabrian coastline and are perfumed by the salty sea air. It’s fantastic with seafood.  Look for  the 2012 Zudugarai “Amats” Getariako Txakolina.  It has a zippy, crisp, tart green apple, citrus and mineral character. 

Pair these dishes with Rioja, named for Spain’s preeminent wine region.  The workhorse grape in Rioja is Tempranillo.  The supple, earthy, and often refined wines bring to mind Burgundy in some respect for me.  Look for the 2010 Bodegas Bilbainas “Viña Zaco”. It shows perfumed floral, red fruit, and spiced vanilla aromas with ripe black cherry, plum, vanilla flavors supported by well-integrated tannins.  

Pair these desserts with an Oloroso Sherry, a denser richer style of Sherry.  Look for the Lustau East Indian Solera. It’s a provocative sweet creamy Sherry with a toffee, fig, caramel, raisin, and baking spice  (cinnamon and clove) character. 

What’s your favorite wine to enjoy with tapas? Salud!

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T.G.I.F. Bubbly – Segura Viudas Aria Estate Brut

My wife and I make it a point to drink sparkling wine on a weekly basis.  It’s typically Friday night…thus “T.G.I.F. Bubbly”  It’s a celebration of sort to the end of the workweek.  She get’s to drink, and enjoy the bubbly, while I get to drink, enjoy and blog about it!  This week’s bubbly is Segura Viudas Aria Estate Brut , a Cava from Spain produced by Segura Viudas.

Cava isn’t from a particular region in Spain, rather it’s a term used for Spanish sparklers made in the traditional method (known as Méthode Champenoise) used in France.  While there are some other regions in Spain that also make Cava, about 95% of the production comes from the traditional home of Cava, the Penedes region in Catalunya (a.k.a. Catalonia) The basic rules for making wines that may be called Cava are as follows:

  • Must be made in the traditional method (secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle)
  • Must age on lees in the bottle in which it will be sold for a minimum of 9 months, 18 months for Reservas and 24 months for Gran Reservas.
  • All the grapes used for must be white grapes – the 3 most common being Macabeo (a.k.a. Viura), Parellada (pronounced pa-re-yada), and Xarel.lo (pronounced cha-rel-low) – unless you are making a Rose, in which case certain red grapes are permitted.
  •  Macabeo (a.k.a Viura in Rioja) contributes acidity, freshness, and fruitiness; Xarel-lo brings body, alcohol and depth of flavor, while Parellada adds delicacy, and elegance to the blend.

The producer, Segura Viudas, is part of the Freixenet family of wines that includes Gloria Ferrer in Sonoma.   They use proprietary yeast strains cultivated at their in-house yeast farm, in the secondary fermentation.  This cuvée is composed of 7 different base wines: 3 of Macabeo, 3 of Parellada and1 of Xarel·lo.

I’ve been keen to try this one, but I keep buying the Segura Viudas Brut Reserva which is our ”house” Cava. It’s also a wine that also made my “Top 20 Sparkling Wines Under $20” list last year.  In addition to the two wines noted here, Segura Viudas makes 5 other Cava’s imported here to the U.S. –  Extra Dry, Brut Rose, ARIA Extra Dry, ARIA Sparkling Pinot Noir, and Reserva Heredad, their top of the line Cava (which along with the Brut Rosé is on my wins to try list!).

Segura Viudas Aria

My tasting notes follow:

Very pale green yellow color with fresh bread, stone-fruit, and nutty aromas. On the palate, it’s light-bodied with a surprisingly explosive moderately soft mousse with apple, pear, and mineral flavors. Medium finish – 86pts

Rating: Recommended!  I prefer the Brut Reserva which has some citrus notes (which I prefer) that I didn’t pick up in this one, and this one is a couple of more bucks, but I’d buy again!

Pair with: The beauty of sparkling wines is their versatility with food, because of their palate cleansing quality (think scrubbing bubbles;-). I think this one works well as work both as an aperitif (Kettle-style potato chips, and seasoned popcorn are coming to mind), or main courses like pizza, grilled poultry or prawns, sushi, sashimi or lobster mac and cheese. Even pair with a light dessert like shortbread cookies, or fresh fruit!

Looking for more ideas? Segura Viudas USA has one of the cooler websites I’ve seen in terms of pairing their wines with food.  They give you the choice of using their food pairing app (it’ll cost you your email address), or connecting to Facebook, and according to their website…

Using your food-related LIKEs and restaurant check ins on Facebook we can instantly find a wine that is perfectly matched to your tastes!

The Wine Geek Stuff:

  • Alcohol: 12.1% alcohol.
  • Closure: Cork
  • Where it’s from: > SpainCatalunya> Cava
  • Varietal(s): 50% Macabeo, 35% Parellada, 15% Xarel-lo
  • Production method: Traditional Method; Aged on lees at least 15 months
  • Dosage: Brut
  • Retail: $11.99 (BevMo), but available for as low as $8.
  • Cases produced: Unknown
  • Drink: Now
  • >>Find this wine<<

Wine purchased for review

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Top 20 Sparkling Wines Under $20!

Over the past couple of years I’ve made it a point to blog about sparkling wines. For a time I blogged about a different sparkling wine on a weekly basis (At one point I tried 30 different sparkling wines over a 30 week period!).  Though I’ve gotten away from it in recent months, it’s not because I stopped drinking sparkling wines (I still drink bubbly pretty much on a weekly basis; I don’t wait for a special occasion and neither should you!), rather it’s because after a year and a half of trying more than my fair share of sparkling wines from around the world, I’ve found many I enjoy that have become repeat purchases.

While I love Champagne, it’s more expensive (entry-level examples start at around $30) than its sparkling wine brethren (I did find one for under $19.99, but didn’t care for it enough to purchase it again).  There are just too many other sparkling wines i enjoy more (especially since I’m footing the bill;-)…

Please allow me a moment on the Sparkling Wine soapbox..

  • Champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is Champagne, the real stuff only comes from the Champagne region of France
  • Sparking wines are great wines – drink as you would other wines (i.e. don’t limit your consumption to special occasions), including trying different styles (White, Rosé, Red, Blanc-de-blancs, Blanc-de-noirs, Brut, Extra-Dry, etc.)
  • Sparkling wines are under-appreciated food friendly wines – If I’m not sure about a food a wine pairing, you can bet I’ll reach for a bottle of bubbly!  Besides being the only wine that’s socially acceptable to have with any meal, sparkling wine is one of the few wines that can take you from appetizers to dessert!

Ok…now that that’s off my chest…

Champagne Glasses

Image couresy of Grape Sense – Glass Half Full

Your best bets for finding quality for the price sparkling wines under $20 are to:

  • Here in the U.S. – look for sales on most major California labels, Chandon, Gloria Ferrer, Mumm, and Roederer are in wide distribution and frequently significantly discounted. At least one of those brands is on sale at my local grocery store every week for less than $20 ( and often less than $15…)
  • If you prefer sparkling wine with as Champagne-like character, look for Cava from Spain, or  Crémant from France (Crémant de Bourgogne, Limoux, Alsace, and Loire). They’re produced using the same method as Champagne, so you’ll get a more yeasty character,and save some coin.
  • If you prefer sparkling wine with fruitier aromas and flavors, and you’re not hung up on the method of production, look for Prosecco from Italy.
  • Sparkling wine is made the world over, so you can find good value in sparkling wines from South Africa, Australia and even South America.

Here are my Top 20 sparkling wines under $20 (click on the bold italicized links for my more detailed blog posts from my T.G.I.F. series of weekly sparkling wine tastings) It’s a diverse list geographically, and stylistically. There is with bubbly from Argentina, Australia, California, Spain, Italy, and South Africa. And there is Brut, Rose, Blanc de Noir, and even a dessert sparkling wine. Many can be found at grocery stores, or large beverage retailers like BevMo, and Costco. Others may be more challenging to find, but are definitely worth seeking out.

  1. Taltarni Brut Tache - (Australia)  Lovely pale salmon color with floral, stone fruit (peaches/apricots), and fresh-baked scone aromas. On the palate, approaching medium-bodied, with a creamy mousse with watermelon, red berry, and a bit of hazelnut flavors. Dry with a light fruitiness, good acidity, and a clean medium long finish. >>Find this wine<<
  2. Schramsberg Mirabelle North Coast Brut Rosé - (California) Delicate pink color with strawberry and bread dough aromas.  On the palate, moderately creamy mousse, good acidity, focused, fruity, yet dry, and lively, with strawberries, raspberries and a touch of citrus, and spice flavors. Medium finish. >>Find this wine<<
  3. 2011 Raventos i Blanc L’Heure Blanc Brut Reserva - (Spain)  Very light straw yellow color with plenty of tiny bubbles, white flower, yeast, apple aromas. On the palate, a wonderful creamy mousse uncommon at this price point, dry, and approaching medium-bodied with apple, and a hint on citrus flavors. Medium finish >>Find this wine<<
  4. Törley Doux Tokaji (Hungary) The only dessert bubbly in the bunch – Pale straw yellow color with lots of pin prick sized bubbles and brioche, apricot, mineral and vanilla aromas. On the palate, it shows a creamy mousse, and is sweet but nicely balanced very good acidity with apricot, peach, and vanilla flavors. Made from Furmint grapes. 11% alcohol >>Find this wine<<
  5. Roederer Estate Brut Anderson Valley - (California) - Light golden straw color with plentiful, persistent stream of tiny bubbles, and sweet yeast, fresh-cut green apples aromas. On the palate, medium-bodied with soft texture, zippy acidity, between dry and off-dry with sweet green apples, a bit of pear, hazelnut and vanilla flavors.
  6. El Xamfra Cava Mercat Brut Nature - (Spain)Pale straw yellow color with lot of bubbles, and floral, stone fruit, citrus and slight sweet yeast aromas. On the palate, it has a surprisingly explosive mousse, and approached medium-bodied with stone fruit, citrus, and toasted nut flavors. Medium finish. 11.5% alcohol. Zero dosage. A great value! >>Find this wine<<
  7. Mumm Napa Brut Prestige - (California) - Light golden tinged straw color with biscuit, sweet citrus, red fruit and subtle floral aromas. In the glass it displays lots of tiny bubbles. On the palate it is medium-bodied with fairly creamy mousse and cherry, vanilla, and citrus flavors. >>Find this wine<<
  8. Vinos de Terrunos German Gilabert Penedès Brut Nature Rosat - (Spain) Cherry red color with a frothy mousse showing tiny dispersed bubbles with yeast and red fruit aromas. On the palate, it’s dry owing to zero dosage (no added sugar) with fresh cherry, raspberry, and a hint of mineral flavors. This Rosé is a blend of Trepat and Garnacha. >>Find this wine<<
  9. 2010 Antech “Cuvée Eugénie” Crémant de Limoux - (France) Light straw color with brioche, Fuji apple, and floral aromas.  On the palate, crisp with zippy acidity, a moderately creamy mousse, and sweet green apple, pear, and a bit of citrus flavors.  Medium finish. >>Find this wine<<
  10. François Chidaine Montlouis-sur-Loire Brut (France) Light straw yellow color with lots of tiny bubbles, and brioche, and apple aromas. On the palate, it has a delicate mousse, is off-dry with apple and mineral flavors. 100% Chenin Blanc >>Find this wine<<
  11. Graham Beck Brut Rosé - (South Africa) Watermelon pink color with a hint of silver with aromas of yeast, and raspberries.  On the palate, a creamy mousse, fruity, yet dry, with crisp acidity and raspberries, cherries flavors, with a slight mineral overtone, and a hint of citrus on the back palate.  Short-medium finish. Great QPR! >>Find this wine<<
  12. La Marca Prosecco - (Italy) Very pale straw yellow color with white flowers, stone fruit, and a whiff of tangerine aromas. It shows an active stream of tiny bubbles. On the palate, it’s light-bodied, and fresh with a creamy mousse and peach, and tangerine flavors. Medium finish. >>Find this wine<<
  13. Deligeroy Crémant de Loire Brut - (France) Pale yellow color with a bit of bronze tinge and brioche pear, raspberry, and mineral aromas. On the palate it was light-bodied,and between dry, and off-dry with good acidity, and a prickly mousse with pear, raspberry, and mineral flavors. A Blend of Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Franc. >>Find this wine<<
  14. Scharffenberger Brut Excellence - (California) Pale yellow-bold color with tiny bead of bubbles that dissipated somewhat quickly, and bread dough, faint apple aromas. On the palate it’s light-medium bodied, with a moderately creamy mousse, and sweet fruity sweet apple, and lemon-lime flavors. >>Find this wine<<
  15. Gruet Blanc de Noirs - (New Mexico)  Salmon color with an abundance of dispersed tiny bubbles with brioche and apple aromas. On the palate approaching medium bodied with a moderately aggressive mousse, balanced with pear, sweet baking spice, vanilla, and nuanced citrus flavors. >>Find this wine<<
  16. Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut(California) – Very light straw color with persistent bead of smallish bubbles, and fresh bread, apple, citrus,and a bit of ginger aromas.  On the palate, it shows a moderately creamy mousse, with apple, pear, and citrus flavors. >>Find this wine<<
  17. Reginato “Celestina” Rosé of Malbec - (Argentina) - Intense strawberry red color with intermittent stream of tiny bubbles with baked bread and ripe cherry aromas. On the palate, fruity, yet pleasingly more dry, than off-dry with an explosive, creamy mousse, and with delicate almost imperceptible tannins, with flavors of cherries, raspberries, and a hint of spice. >>Find this wine<<
  18. Segura Viudas Brut Reserva - (Spain) Light straw color with fine bead of bubbles with bread dough and lemon-lime citrus aromas.  On the palate, light bodied, with moderately creamy mousse with green apple, and tart citrus flavors. Short finish. This one is “everyday” sparkler for me.  It’s a great value at $9/bottle! >>Find this wine<<
  19.  Blason de Bourgogne Crémant de Bourgogne Cuvée Brut(France) Very pale straw yellow color with toasty pear, citrus and hint of spice aromas and tiny bubbles. On the palate it’s fresh and fruity with pear, fuji apple, a vanilla, and sweet baking spice flavors.  Wonderful QPR @$10! Available at Trader Joe’s
  20. Korbel Natural - (California) Pale golden-yellow color with yeast ,red fruit, and apple aromas.  On the palate light bodied, crisp, between dry and off-dry.  Straight-forward with cherry, apple, minerals, and a touch of honey flavors.  Short-medium finish. >>Find this wine<< 

What are your favorite sparkling wines under $20? I’d love to give them a try!

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T.G.I.F. Bubbly – German Gilabert Penedès Brut Nature Rosat

This week’s sparkler, German Gilabert Penedes Brut Nature Rosat, is a Rosé Cava from Spain.  It’s an interesting blend of Trepat and Garnacha (Grenache), which are both dark-skinned grapes used to produce red wine.  Most Rosé sparkling wines are made using either light-skinned grapes such as Chardonnay, or a combination of light and dark-skinned grapes.

This wine is a special project custom-made for Jose Pastor, an importer of Spanish wines who lives in the Bay Area.   Pastor is passionate about “Lively wines from the coolest corners of Spain“.  He is passionate about terroir-driven, small-lot wines produced from organically grown fruit that is well priced.

For the uninitiated, here’s a quick 411 on Cava..

Unlike Champagne, Cava isn’t from a particular region in Spain, rather it’s a term used for Spanish sparklers made in the traditional method (known as Méthode Champenoise) used in France.  While there various regions in Spain that make Cava,  about 95% of the production  comes from the traditional home of Cava, the Penedes region in Catalunya (a.k.a. Catalonia)  The basic rules for making wines that may be called Cava are:

  • Must be made in the traditional method.
  • Must age on lees in the bottle in which it will be sold for a minimum of 9 months, 18 months for Reservas and 24 months for Gran Reservas.
  • All the grapes used must be white grapes – the 3 most common being Macabeo (a.k.a. Viura), Parellada (pronounced pa-re-yada), and Xarel.lo (pronounced cha-rel-low) – unless you are making a Rose, in which case certain red grapes (Trepat, and Garnacha as with this wine) are permitted

NV Vinos de Terrunos German Gilabert Penedès Brut Nature Rosat


German Gilabert Penedès Brut Nature Rosat

My tasting notes follow:

Crimson red color with a frothy mousse showing tiny dispersed bubbles with yeast and red fruit aromas. On the palate, it’s dry owing to zero dosage (no added sugar) with fresh cherry, raspberry, and a hint of mineral flavors. Aged ten months on the lees. Super Value at $12!  Highly Recommended – I’ll be buying this one again!

Pair with: The beauty of sparkling wines is their versatility with food, because of their palate cleansing quality (think scrubbing bubbles;-). I think this one was pleasant as a sipper, but it’s very food friendly.  It has enough  body to pair with Paella, spicy Chinese, Thai, and pizza.

Where it’s from: SpainCatalunyaPenedès

The grape(s) Trepat, and Garnacha (Grenache).

Production method: Traditional Method 

Alcohol: 11.5.%

Dosage: Brut Zéro/Brut Nature (0-3 grams of sugar per liter)

Retail: $12

Serve At: 43°-50° F

 

T.G.I.F. Champagne And The LIke…NV Poema Brut Cava

This week’s sparkler is a Cava from Spain.  I picked this up a BevMo for $9.99 (It was priced at $10.99 pre-BevMo club discount )

Poema is a small producer (when you consider the likes of Codorníu, Freixenet, and Segura Viudas), that is in Korbrand’s portfolio.  They own 20% of the vineyard sources.  The rest are under long-term contract with various growers.  In addition to this Cava, Poema also produces Extra-Dry and Rosado (Rosé) Cava.

For the uninitiated, here’s a quick 411 on Cava..

Unlike Champagne, Cava isn’t from a particular region in Spain, rather it’s a term used for Spanish sparklers made in the traditional method (known as Méthode Champenoise) used in France.  While there are some other regions in Spain that also make Cava,  about 95% of the production  comes from the traditional home of Cava, the Penedes region in Catalunya (a.k.a. Catalonia)  The basic rules for making wines that may be called Cava are:

  • Must be made in the traditional method.
  • Must age on lees in the bottle in which it will be sold for a minimum of 9 months, 18 months for Reservas and 24 months for Gran Reservas.
  • All the grapes used must be white grapes – the 3 most common being Macabeo (a.k.a. Viura), Parellada (pronounced pa-re-yada), and Xarel.lo (pronounced cha-rel-low) – unless you are making a Rose, in which case certain red grapes are permitted

NV Poema Brut

Where it’s from: SpainCatalunyaCava

The grape(s) Xarello, Macabeo and Parellada.

Production method: Traditional Method 

Alcohol: 11.5.%

Dosage: Brut (0-15 grams of sugar per liter)

Retail: $10

My tasting notes follow:

Light golden-yellow straw color with surprisingly persistent bead of tiny bubbles, and toasty apple aromas. On the palate it’s light-bodied with fairly creamy mousse, approaches off-dry and displays easy apple/pear flavors. Short finish – 85pts

Pair with: The beauty of sparkling wines is their versatility with food, because of their palate cleansing quality (think scrubbing bubbles;-). I think this one would be pleasant as a sipper, but it’s also good with food.  This would also make be a great bubbly for a picnic, or with other light summertime fare.

Recommendation:  This is a good Cava that represents a solid value in Cava, but the field is crowded.  It’s worth a try…but not a re-purchase for me.

T.G.I.F. Champagne And The Like…N.V. El Xamfra Cava Mercat Brut Nature

This week’s bubbly is another Cava.  I purchased this from my go-to wine store, K&L Wine Merchants ( based on my quick check of  Wine Searcher.com, K&L is the only place you can purchase this wine).  It was designated as a “Top Pick”, and  rated 91pts by the Wine Advocate, so I was curious.

The producer is El Xamfrá, which was founded in 1987 by Francisco Domínguez and his wife Antonia Ruiz in the center of the town Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, which is referred to as “the heart of the Cava”.

For the uninitiated, here’s a quick 411 on Cava..

Unlike Champagne, Cava isn’t from a particular region in Spain, rather it’s a term used for Spanish sparklers made in the traditional method (known as Méthode Champenoise) used in France.  While there are some other regions in Spain that also make Cava,  about 95% of the production  comes from the traditional home of Cava, the Penedes region in Catalunya (a.k.a. Catalonia)  The basic rules for making wines that may be called Cava are:

  • Must be made in the traditional method.
  • Must age on lees in the bottle in which it will be sold for a minimum of 9 months, 18 months for Reservas and 24 months for Gran Reservas.
  • All the grapes used must be white grapes – the 3 most common being Macabeo (a.k.a. Viura), Parellada (pronounced pa-re-yada), and Xarel.lo (pronounced cha-rel-low) – unless you are making a Rose, in which case certain red grapes are permitted

It’s interesting that this wine is not labeled as a Reserva because according to the El Xamfrá website, it was aged for 18 months.  I also found it interesting that this wine has no dosage, which means there is no added sugar. So it’s very dry.  I must also add this bottle has one of the prettiest labels I’ve seen!

El Xamfrá Mercat Brut Nature

N.V. El Xamfra Cava Mercat Brut Nature

Where it’s from: Spain>Catalunya>Cava

The grape(s) Macabeo, Xarel-lo, and Parellada

Production method: Traditional Method 

Alcohol: 11.5%

Dosage: 0.3 grams/l residual sugar

 Retail: $15

My tasting notes follow:

Pale straw yellow color with lot of bubbles, and floral, stone fruit, citrus and slight sweet yeast aromas. On the palate, it has a surprisingly explosive, yet soft mousse, and approaches medium-bodied with stone fruit, citrus, and toasted nut flavors.  Medium finish. 11.5% alcohol.

Pair with: The beauty of sparkling wines is their versatility with food, because of their palate cleansing quality (think scrubbing bubbles;-). I think this one would be pleasant as a sipper, but it’s also good with food.   I enjoyed this with a Chicken Burrito rather than a beer, and it was quite good!  It would be nice with a salad, especially one with a citrus based dressing because of its citrus flavors.  This would also make be a great bubbly for a picnic, or with other light summertime fare.

Recommendation:  I’ll be buying more this.  I highly recommend!

T.G.I.F. Champagne and the like…2008 Raventos i Blanc Cava L’Hereu Reserva Brut

This post is an “update” in that I blogged about the 2007 Raventos i Blanc Cava L’Hereu Reserva Brut last year (see below for link).  That vintage also made my “Top 10 Sparkling Wines Under $20” list.  So how’s the 2008 vintage?  Before I get to that, now that I’m a Cava convert here’s the 411 on Cava.

Unlike Champagne, Cava isn’t from a particular region in Spain, rather it’s a term used for Spanish sparklers made in the traditional method (known as Méthode Champenoise) used in France.  While there are some other regions in Spain that also make Cava,  about 95% of the production  comes from the traditional home of Cava, the Penedes region in Catalunya (a.k.a. Catalonia)  The basic rules for making wines that may be called Cava are:

  • Must be made in the traditional method.
  • Must age on lees in the bottle in which it will be sold for a minimum of 9 months, 18 months for Reservas and 24 months for Gran Reservas.
  • All the grapes used must be white grapes – the 3 most common being Macabeo (a.k.a. Viura), Parellada (pronounced pa-re-yada), and Xarel.lo (pronounced cha-rel-low) – unless you are making a Rose, in which case certain red grapes are permitted.

The producer of this sparkler, Raventós i Blanc, is the only Cava producer to estate grow (on about 200 acres of land that has been in the family since 1497!) and bottle all their wines.  Their Cavas are all vintage dated, which also sets them apart.

2008 Raventos i blanc Cava L’Hereu Reserva Brut

2008 Raventos i Blanc Cava “L’Hereu Reserva Brut

Region: Spain>Catalunya>Cava

Variety - 60% Macabeo, 20% Xarel.lo, 120% Parrellada

Residual Sugar – 8g/Liter

$20, 12% a.b.v.

Production method: Traditional Method;

My tasting notes follow:

Very light straw yellow color with plenty of tiny bubbles, and yeast, green apple, and mineral aromas. On the palate, it shows a wonderfully creamy mousse uncommon at this price point.  It is dry, refined, and approaches medium-bodied with apple, mineral and a hint on citrus flavors. Medium finish – 90pts

Pair with: The beauty of sparkling wines is their versatility with food because of their crisp acidity, and effervescence (think scrubbing bubbles)  This paired surprisingly well with one of my favorite ethnic foods , Jerk Chicken with Red Beans and Rice, and Fried Plantains.  When I took a bite of the spicy Jerk Chicken, et al , and took a sip of the Cava, it became ever so slightly sweeter in my mouth.  Then the acidity and effervescence cleansed my palate and invited me to take another bite!

Recommendation: So far, this is my favorite Cava.  It cost $20, and easily drinks like many $40 sparklers I’ve enjoyed in terms of complexity and refinement (including some entry-level Champagne)  I highly recommend! Click here to find this wine, or the 2009 vintage, which is currently available.

What Are The Best Types of Wines For Picnics?

Now that Memorial Day weekend upon us.  And it’s widely considered to be the unofficial beginning of summer.  And summer is primetime for picnics….well you get the picture.  Here’s a list of the types of wines that will be a good match for picnic fare, along with some recommendations to get you started!

12 Most Picnic Friendly Wines

After a couple of weeks of much-needed rain, Spring is finally getting “Spring—ish” here in Northern California. For the first time this year, temperatures in the 80s are being forecast and my thoughts have turned to warm temperatures and al fresco dining, especially picnics.

Picnic wines are different than BBQ wines. BBQ is all about bold and spicy flavors, whereas picnic foods compose a broader range of lighter foods like salads of all kinds, cold fried chicken, charcuterie, cheeses, ripe fruits etc., mostly served cold.

Great picnic wines are 1) Light and refreshing, 2) A good match for a variety of foods, and 3) Inexpensive ($20 or less).

Image courtesy of thriftysolutionsforanurbangal.blogspot.com

1. Rosé

A dry Rosé would be my first choice. Rosé combines the best of white and red wines, while maintaining their own unique charm. They possess the crisp acidity, delicacy and freshness of white wines, and the body, and flavors of red wines. Look for Bodegas Muga Rosado.

2. Cava

Cava is perfect for picnics. It’s produced using the traditional style Champagne method, which can lend a bit of complexity to it. And bubbly will add that extra celebratory feel to your picnic. Here’s another advantage of sparkling wines — Forget the corkscrew? — No problem with sparklers!! I recommend Segura Viudas Gran Reserva Cava.

3. Rose Sparkling Wine

For some vinous synergy, go with a Sparkling Rose wine. They go with virtually anything you serve for your picnic. I recommend Mumm Napa Brut Rose.

4. Vinho Verde

Vinho Verde is a wine from Portugal. Vinho Verde isn’t a grape variety. While it literally means ‘green wine”, it translates into “young wine” – as in it’s meant to be consumed within a year of bottling. It’s made in white, red, and rose styles. Vinho Verde has a hint of effervescence which is further enhances its refreshing qualities. Go with either a white or rose Vinho Verde. Look for Quinta de Aveleda.

5. Torrontés

Wine made from this grape (Argentina’s only truly indigenous grape) produces a juicy fragrant wine with citrus pineapple and spice flavors. This would be a great match for a seafood, or spicy Asian salad. I recommend the Bodegas Colome Torrontés Estate.

6. Riesling

It’s probably the most food-friendly white wine. Choose either a dry or off-dry (slightly sweet) style. Look for Chateau Ste. Michelle Columbia Valley Riesling.

7. Chardonnay

Look for a lighter style, either an un-oaked or a lightly-oaked, chardonnay because it will be a better match for a broader range of foods than the heavily oaked style. I recommend Joseph Drouhin Macon Villages.

8. Sauvignon Blanc

This is a classic picnic wine because it’s fresh and crisp, with a citrusy flavor profile and lively acidity. It’s a great match for goat cheese! Look for Casa Lapostolle Sauvignon Blanc from Chile.

9. Moscato

If your taste in wine leans toward the sweeter side, try Moscato. It’s like summertime in a glass with its fruity orange blossom, tropical, citrus, or melon aromas and a touch of effervescence. If you’ve got something spicy in your picnic basket, the sweetness will tame the heat. The best are from Italy. I recommend Martini and Rossi Moscato d’Asti.

10. Albariño

Albariño is a refreshing light, juicy and aromatic Spanish wine. I like it because, along with some citrus, it brings melon or peach to the party. Look for Burgans Albariño Rias Baixas.

11. Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir, a.k.a. the “Chef’s wine” is so named because it goes with such a wide range of foods. It’s also a red wine that takes a bit of a chill well (put it in an ice/water bath in your cooler for 10-15 minutes) if the alcohol level is not too high (preferably below 14%). It’d be great with anything with mushrooms. Look for 2008 Gloria Ferrer Pinot Noir.

12. Sangria

For a bit of home-made flavor, make your own sangria. It’s easy to make and can be made with either red, or white wine. Sangria is a great way to capitalize on the bounty of fresh fruits coming into season — and make sangria that’s all your own! Click here for some recipes.

Happy picnicking! What are your favorite picnic wines?

This article was previously featured on 12 Most and is republished, by the author Martin Redmond

What Are The Most Food Friendly Wines?

It’s my pleasure to share this post of mine recently published by 12most.

12 Most Food-Friendly Wines

In my recent post entitled “12 Most Practical Wine and Food Pairing Guidelines”, one my recommendations for sensibly pairing food and wine is to get to know “food-friendly” wines. Food-friendly wines have three primary characteristics 1) Palate-cleansing acidity, 2) Lots of fruitiness with low tannins, and 3) Balanced components (i.e. fruit, acidity, and tannins).

Try these wines for those times you don’t want to put a lot of thought into what wine you’re having with weeknight meals, or more casual gatherings. There’s something here for everyone — Whites, Reds, Sparkling and Rosé. Keep in mind that each of the wines come in broad range of styles. Let your palate be your guide for the style you prefer.

Reds

1. Beaujolais

This wine, made from the Gamay grape is named for the region from which it hails. Think Beaujolais when you want a red that you’d normally have with a white wine. Many top crus go for around $20
Recommended Region(s): France – Cru Beaujolais (non-Nouveau)
Profile: Light-bodied with moderate to high acidity, and low tannins with aromatic red plum, cherry, raspberry, hints of black pepper aromas/flavors.

2. Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir is the most well-known food friendly red wine.
Recommended Region(s): France – Burgundy, California, Oregon, and New Zealand
Profile: Light/medium-bodied with high to very high acidity with aromatic with floral, cherry, red currant, raspberry, and sometimes gamey aromas/flavors when young, aging to vegetal and mushroom when mature

3. Sangiovese (san-jo-veh-zeh)

Generally speaking, Italy makes a plethora of food friendly wines, especially reds. Sangiovese is the most planted red grape in Italy, and the most important grape used in the great wines of Tuscany. It is one of the wine world’s great gifts to the culinary world! It’s a natural for dishes containing tomatoes, or acidic tomato sauces
Recommended Region(s): Italy (Tuscany), California
Profile: Light/medium-bodied with high to very high acidity with black cherry, spice, smoky, herbal savory aromas/flavors.

4. Zinfandel

Zinfandel can go far beyond burgers and BBQ. I’ve enjoyed with Mexican, and Pakistani dishes. The style of Zinfandel is crucial for matching it with food. Look for lighter “Beaujolais” style Zinfandel at around 14% a.b.v, and “Claret” style between 14% and 15% a.b.v. for maximum food pairing versatility. If prefer “bigger” Zinfandels, then opt for pairing with richer foods.
Recommended Region(s): California
Profile: Medium/Full bodied moderate to high acidity, and strawberry, raspberry, plum, blackberry, pepper, bramble, and spice aromas/flavors

5. Syrah

Syrah and Syrah based blends do a great job of striking a balance between finesse and power. It can be full-bodied and complex like Cabernet Sauvignon, but tend to be less tannic. Cool climate Syrah is especially food friendly. And many very good examples can be found for less than $20.
Recommended Region(s): France (Rhône), California, Washington, and Australia
Profile: Medium/full-bodied with moderate to high acidity, with blackcurrant, plum, blackberry, earthy, herbal, chocolate, and violet aromas/flavors

Whites

6. Riesling

Riesling is the most well-known white food friendly wine. Thanks to its food loving nature, it’s on the upswing. If you’re looking for one wine to serve with many dishes, Riesling is an excellent choice, especially if you’re not into red wine. Look for dry and off-dry styles
Recommended Region(s): Germany, France (Alsace) Washington, New York, California
Profile: Light-bodied with high to very high acidity, and Intensely aromatic with floral, green apples, light spice aromas/flavors when you ageing to petrol and honey when mature

7. Sauvignon Blanc

Stylistically, Sauvignon Blanc tends to be the opposite of Chardonnay. That’s because it tends not to see as much oak as Chardonnay and its acidity is more apparent. It’s very versatile food wine, especially with dishes emphasizing, or enhanced with fresh herbs. Try it with guacamole!
Recommended Region(s): France (Loire, and Bordeaux), U.S., New Zealand,
Profile: Light-bodied with high to very high acidity, and aromatic, grassy, herbaceous, tropical, citrus, and gooseberries aromas/flavors

8. Grüner Vetliner

Grüner Vetliner (GROO-ner FELT-leen-ner) is indigenous to Austria, where it accounts for about a third Austria grape production. It’s a favorite of many sommeliers because of its versatility with foods. Here in the US we often reach for red wine to accompany meat dishes, but in Austria, Grüner is served with game, beef, pork, poultry and veal. Looking for a wine for tough food matches like asparagus, and artichokes? Try Grüner. And it’s great with fried chicken!
Recommended Region(s): Austria
Profile: Light/medium-bodied with high to very high acidity, with vanilla-dipped peach, grapefruit, and aromas/flavors with a distinctive spicy finish.

9. Chardonnay

This most popular wine has very good “foodability” if it is not overly oaked. In fact, more unoaked Chardonnay is being produced these days. While unoaked Chardonnay may be a bit more versatile food partner, oaked (used judiciously) Chardonnay typically makes a more full-bodied wine.
Recommended Region(s): France (Chablis, and Burgundy), California, Australia, Chile, and Argentina
Profile: Light/Medium-bodied with high to very high acidity, and floral, ripe apple, pineapple, butterscotch, lemon, vanilla, and custard aromas/flavors.

10. Sherry

Hear me out on this one. I’m not referring to your grandmother’s Cream Sherry. I’m referring to dry Sherry. And thanks to adventurous wine geeks, and passionate sherry lovers, this fortified wine is gaining in popularity because of its food friendly nature and exceptional quality/price ratio.
True Sherry, is only produced in Spain’s “Sherry Triangle”. It’s a singularly unique beverage because of its terroir, and the method by which it is produced. With its unique tangy, sometimes oxidative and saline flavors, it can be polarizing. It was a bit of an acquired taste for me, but I think it’s fabulous with food!

The principles of pairing Sherry with food are like other wines, according to weight and texture. For Fino and Manzanillo think appetizers, seafood, and sushi, and sashimi. Pair Amontillado, with its rich nuttiness, with stronger flavored foods (including spicy foods) like oily fishes and chicken dishes. Serve chilled.

Recommended Region: Spain

Profile: The main styles of Sherry are light-bodied, straw colored, dry Fino, and fuller bodied darker Oloroso. Between Fino and Oloroso in body, and dryness are Manzanillo, and Amontillado.  Typical aromas and flavors of Finos are yeasty, toasted almond, green apples, and slightly oxidative.  Oloroso tend to be more aromatic with fresh mixed nuts, dried fruit, and citrus peel.

11. Rosé

Rosés (in particular dry Rosé) combine the best of white and red wines, while maintaining their own unique charm. They possess the crisp acidity, delicacy and freshness of white wines, and the body, and flavors of red wines. Rosés are diverse bunch, produced from a wide range of grapes, in various styles ranging from simple quaffable wines to complex gems in a wide palette of colors. Don’t relegate these babies to warm weather months. Because of their versatility they’re wonderful year-round!
Recommended Region(s): France, Spain, Italy, and U.S.
Profile: Light/medium bodied with strawberry, melon, and cherry aroma/flavors

Sparkling

12. Sparkling Wines

Sparkling wines are very versatile and food friendly because of their innately high acidity levels, and their palate cleansing “scrubbing bubbles” effect. They can be served throughout the day, and throughout a meal too. The driest ones are excellent as an aperitif and with shellfish and caviar. Off-dry bubbly is suitable for brunch, lunch, salads, and many dinner entrees. The sweeter ones pair nicely with fruit- based desserts.
Recommended Region(s): France, US, Spain (Cava), Italy (Prosecco)

Profile: Light to medium-full bodied, and bone-dry Extra Brut to sweet “doux”.  Typical aromas and flavors are yeast, apple, citrus, stone fruit, and cherry depending on the blend of grape varieties used

With these 12 wines in your vinous arsenal, you’ll overcome many a gastronomic challenge! Are there any favorites of yours that I left out?

Featured image courtesy of jinhai via Creative Commons.

T.G.I.F. Champagne and the like…Elyssia Pinot Noir Brut Cava

Elyssia is separate label produced by Freixenet (pronounced ‘fresh-eh-NET) one of the largest producers of sparkling wine in the world.  You may know Freixenet from their ubiquitous black Cordon Negro Cava, which is the #1 imported sparkling wine in the world.

This Cava is different in that none of the grapes used in the traditional Cava blend are present in this bottling.  Instead Pinot Noir, a grape not widely associated with Spain, and Trepat, a little known indigenous black grape used mostly for Rosé Cava are used.

Elyssia Pinot Noir Brut Cava

Elyssia Pinot Noir Brut Cava 

Region: Spain>Catalunya>Cava

Variety – 85% – Pinot Noir/ 15% – Trepat

Residual Sugar – Unknown

$19, 11.5% a.b.v.

Production method: Méthode traditionnelle;

My tasting notes follow:

Appearance: Lovely blush pink salmon color

Aromas: Fresh bread dough, raspberries, and cherry aromas

Body: On the palate, a moderately aggressive mousse, medium bodied, dry with a bit of fruitiness, and soft acidity

Taste: Raspberry and ripe cherry with a hint of tangerine on the back palate.

Finish: Short-Medium

Pair with: The beauty of sparkling wines is their versatility with food, because of their palate refreshing quality (think scrubbing bubbles;-). This was delightful as an aperitif and with food.   I enjoyed this with a traditional Filipino style meatloaf called embutido, and glazed carrots.  But this would be a versatile pairing partner for a host of foods such as  sweet and sour dishes, or mildly seasoned pork, or poultry dishes.

This is good value for a sparkling Rosé at $19.  I recommend!  86 pts   (Click here to find this wine)