Spanish SizzlersJun 18th, 2012 | By Win Rhoades | Category: In the Glass, Recipes
I recently bought a new car for the first time in many years and was amazed at all the technological developments. It took me back to the early ’60s and thoughts of my ’49 Mercury coupe. That automobile, like its owner at the time, was loud, unstable, and thirsty. (I sometimes imagine taking my present car back in time to startle my former cruising buddies.) My modern coupe is quiet, functional and highly efficient. This, to me, is the difference between today’s Spanish wines and those that were available to the global market before the mid-nineties. The Spanish wines of those days tended to be dusty, unstable, and not at all thirst quenching. Typically, they were lean and woody, hard–edged and monolithic. Marinade for musk ox, anyone?
These are very exciting times for wine, and the Spaniards are at the front of the parade. Winemaking and viticulture go back several millennia in Spain, but the last couple decades have changed everything. It’s true that all great wine begins in the vineyard, but improvements in production and transportation technology have lent the grapes a twenty–first–century hand.
In the past, the most well-known and widely distributed Spanish wines were from the Rioja region. These wines continue to be among the best. Tempranillo, the primary grape of this region, is the most widely planted variety in the whole country. Granache (garnacha in Spanish) runs a close second, with monastrell (what we call mourvedre) completing the top third. These big three comprise a large percentage of the million–plus gallons of annual Spanish wine production, twice what we produce here in the U.S. The technical term for most of these wines is “yummy.”
Complementing their lineage and history, these wines have the versatility to pair with any cuisine and they represent some of the absolute top values for your wine dollars. Try the Campos Reales Tempranillo or the Evodia Granache, delicious full–bodied reds to be enjoyed with summer grilling, and well under $15. For a little more money, the Juan Gil Monastrell is a big smooth companion that will not shrink from a spicy chorizo or carne asado. There are also plenty of opportunities to splurge, but I think you’ll find that a $10–$13 Spanish bottle is equal in quality to one costing $15–$16 from almost anywhere else.
The white wines have never been better or more available and, as with the reds, cover every style and price range. My favorite regions for white are Rueda in Castilia y Leon and Galicia on the other side of the Cantabrian Mountains. The whites of Rueda are mostly made with viura and verdejo grapes. These grapes produce wines that sing of summer: crisp, thirst quenching and food friendly. Try the Conclass (with fresh garden gazpacho) or the citrus flavors of Las Brisas (“the breezes”) with a lemon butter sautéed fillet of sole or flounder.
The bright, white star of the Galician show is albariño. This grape has a length and depth of flavor and a wonderful natural acidity that pairs well with a plate of marcona almonds and cheeses. Rosé, for no good reason, usually gets banished along with white shoes after Labor Day. In the meantime, these pinksters are dry and light enough to refresh on a summer day but just red enough to please the palate and the plate. Most are made with granache or blends with monastrell and tempranillo. The Borsao winery makes an inexpensive beauty. (These wines blush because they know just how good they are. Look for more on rosés in the next issue of Northeast FLAVOR.)
There are sixty–five wine producing regions in Spain, each offering its own specialty. As summer sun and heat inspire you to cook and entertain, branch out and try some of their wines. Don’t be off–put by new and unfamiliar grape varieties and exotic sounding place names. Pull some corks. You’ll be happy you did.
Sangria is for summer and if you’ve never had the real thing, now’s the time.
Start with good wine and the best fresh fruit. You don’t need the priciest wine but use one that you’d drink on its own. Start ahead of time, planning as you would for anything made from scratch. Keep in mind that traditional sangria is dry, not sweet, but of course easily sweetened if you wish. Instant mixes and bottled versions are to sangria as ginger ale is to Dom Perignon.
Traditional Spanish Sangria
- 1 bottle (750 ml) dry, full-bodied red or white Spanish wine
- 1/2 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
- 3 ounces orange liqueur or brandy (optional)
- 1 orange, sliced
- 1 lemon, sliced
- 1 lime, sliced
- 1 quart club soda or sparkling water
1. Slightly macerate fruit in a non-reactive container.
2. Mix ingredients in the pitcher you’ll serve it in and refrigerate overnight.
3. Add ice and club soda just before serving.
4. Strain into glasses, adding a fruit slice or two as a garnish
(Multiply ingredient list as needed).