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Tinto: Basque In A Sultry Evening

Tinto: Basque In A Sultry Evening

Where can you find beautiful people and fine wine without having to go to the bull-fighting country of Spain itself? Dine at Tinto and become intoxicated in their smooth fine Spanish wines, cocktails, and full-flavored small plates.

The older sister of Village Whiskey, Tinto is another fine establishment of Jose Garces, which recently celebrated its 7-year anniversary since their opening. Drawing inspiration from the rich culinary and culture traditions of the Basque country, Tinto will titillate your taste buds of Northern Spanish cuisine in the classiest manner possible.

As you enter the Spanish tapas restaurant, you are hit with an intimate feel of closely packed booths and tables with miniature lit candles, spotless wine glasses, and parallel placed cutlery on top of the tables. Tinto not only offers bar space and a main dining room, but there are also two secret lounges tucked away. If you crave an intimate date night, you can choose to dine in Tinto’s secluded sultry lounge; if you’re celebrating a special occasion with a group, you can choose their private dining room located on the second floor.

With an elegant feel, the wait time at Tinto is not as long as you would imagine. If perhaps you find yourself in a 30-minute to hour wait (no reservation), feel free to sit at the bar and gaze at their dashing bartenders (in looks and speed) while they pour you a glass of red or white.

A friend and I recently decided to spend our rents money on food and ordered seven plates, along with a few drinks. Their dishes are small plated and have an aesthetic look that will persuade you to Instagram before you eat. From our combined efforts, here is our definitive ranking from drool worthy to content dishes.

Tied for first: Arugula and Short Rib.

The Arugula salad was the perfect opener to our extensive order. The arugula was tossed with Serrano ham, mission figs, spiced almonds and dressed with Sevilla orange vinaigrette; the combination of ham, figs, and almonds created a crunchy yet smooth texture while embellishing the freshness that a salad has. The fried goat cheese was beyond perfection and I, who does not have the aching for such cheese, liked the fried cheese ball. The crunchy outer layer gave way for the burst of goat cheese cream and in that moment, I swear we were infinite.

The Short Rib sandwich was so satisfying I was singing “Baby Got Back.” The sweetness of the celery root aïoli intensified the braised short rib flavor. Topped off with bacon and asparagus, the asparagus refreshed my palate after each bite and the bacon accentuated the flavor of the ribs.

Second: Brussels Sprouts

These sprouts had me craving for more after the plate was taken away. The texture was smooth and creamy due to the Idiazábel cheese and black truffles pairing. The Guanciale (Italian cured meat product prepared from pork cheeks) gave a nice crispy texture to contrast the smoothness of the dish as well.

Third: Pulpo

I don’t think I have enjoyed something with tentacles as much as I enjoyed this Spanish octopus plate. The smoked green olive aïoli balanced the saltiness of the octopus and the spiced tomatoes. Garnished on top were two chips that tasted crispy and fresh out of the fryer.

Fourth: Duck

This duck confit would have been perfection had the salt been less. As my teeth broke through the crispy skin, the juice of the duck hit all the taste buds on my tongue and it was delightful. Despite the saltiness of the duck, the lone black cherry was as sweet as chocolate and helped level out the two bites. The La Peral (mixed milk cheese) spread on the bread was also a nice contrast to the duck.

Fifth: Prawns

I have always loved shrimp and prawns are one of them; my friend and I were a bit too eager for this dish to come out. To our disbelief, our hopes were set high and we felt as though we were taking in our daily sodium count with each suckle and bite.

Sixth: Squid

Firefly squid was the night’s special and it turned out to be less than what my friend and I hoped. It seemed as though the chef who cooked it, recently saw the movie Frozen and was singing “Let It Go” while doing the arm movements as Elsa, but instead of throwing snow, it was salt. The squid was subpar whereas the confit potato fit more to what confit means (food that has been cooked in oil or sugar water), and was more desirable than the main meat. The spring onion pureé was nicely spooned in an oval shape around the squid; droplets of chorizo aïoli were placed adjacent to each squid bunch. The pureé and aïoli added a soft sweetness to mask the sodium high firefly.

In every dish we had, paprika was a frequent appearance. Paprika was either sprinkled along the side of the dish or was hidden in the dish itself and surprised you with its subtle sweet attack, like it did in the Pulpo for me. Aside from some overly savory dishes, the food was pleasant and the La Nuez cocktail and Tempranillo wine we sipped on were strong enough that we gracefully bid agur (farewell) with a sultry sway.


Completing the Tapas Circuit in Philly

I was at Tinto (Basque-style tapas bar) last week. And while speaking to the bartender he mentioned how the "tapas" experience works really well when a city has several that one can visit in an evening. I had never thought of this and think that it would be fun to try and hit all of Philly's tapas bars in one night.
Presently Philly's tapas/small plates restaurants that I'm aware of include:
1) Ansill (South Street)
2) Amada (Old City)
3) Bar Ferdinand (Northern Liberties)
4) Isla Ibiza (Northern Liberties)
5) Tinto (Center City)

So I have a few questions. First do I have all of Philly's tapas/small plates restos covered above? And secondly from a logistical standpoint where would you start and end this adventure? Unfortunately it would almost have to be a Friday or Saturday.


The Wonderfully Weird History of Kalimotxo — and Why Bartenders Love It

Years ago, I was seated at a fancy dinner for journalists who cover wine. As the sommelier poured me a glass, a woman across the table opined about “big, beautiful” Burgundy wines, and then shared in horror a practice she’d observed abroad while traveling in China: “They’re mixing them with Coca-Cola.”

Although not a Chinese drink, the woman was referring to a concept that has a massive following in Spain called kalimotxo.

Kalimotxo (pronounced and sometimes styled calimocho), is a two-ingredient “cocktail” consisting of a one-to-one ratio of red wine and Coke over ice. Originating in Spain in the 1920s, the sweet and easy drink is experiencing somewhat of a resurgence in the United States, with bartenders and wine experts introducing versions of the drink on menus anywhere from Pennsylvania to Texas.

This Is The Last Corkscrew You’ll Ever Buy

Rand Egbert, general manager of Kalimotxo, a bar in Austin, Texas, first encountered kalimotxo in Spain’s Basque region, while living with a friend’s family in Valencia. It would eventually inspire the name for his bar.

Being immersed in the local culture meant eating and drinking like a local, Egbert says. “Most days in the early evening, my friends and I would hang out in the beautiful old plazas in town — drinking, eating chips, olives, and cured meats,” Egbert says. “It was during this time that my friends and I would often drink kalimotxo. It was a perfect drink for that time of day, with snacks.”

If not kalimotxo, his friends would drink Tinto de Verano. “[It’s] the same cocktail, but with lemon or orange Fanta instead of Coca-Cola,” says Egbert, who later earned an advanced WSET certification.

Kalimotxo’s ‘Ugly’ Beginnings

“Kalimotxo has been enjoyed in Spain since the 1920s but it didn’t become popular and find its current namesake until the 1970s, when it was poured at a festival in Getxo, Spain [in] Basque country,” Egbert says. Like many century-old concoctions, the idea of mixing wine with Coca-Cola was that the syrupy sweetness of Coke would mask flaws in the wine. Flaws in the wine could stem from poor storage and being exposed to the air (oxidized), overheated, or simply just not being made very well.

“The event organizers had thousands of liters of wine with an unpleasant taste, and they needed a way to salvage them. To save the event they decided to serve it with Coca-Cola, and the crowd loved it,” Egbert says. The drink was named after one of the festival organizers called Kalimero, or “Kali” for short. “He was known as an unattractive man, and so they added the Basque word for ugly, ‘motxo,’” Egbert says. “Thus, ‘kalimotxo’ was born.”

Modern Twists on Kalimotxo

Fans of kalimotxo appreciate its laid-back simplicity and flavor profile — Coca-Cola-sweet with a bit of acidity from red wine for balance — as well as its low-alcohol drinkability.

“Low-ABV drinks have really grown in popularity in the past couple years, for good reason: They are refreshing, full of flavor, and you can have a few of them with no problem,” Egbert says.

Nicole Battle, front of house manager at Pittsburgh’s DiAnoia’s Eatery, also tasted her first kalimotxo abroad. Eventually, a Kalimotxo-inspired cocktail would make its way to the menu at DiAnoia’s Eatery, a traditional Italian restaurant. “I wasn’t super into the idea of the drink but I thought to myself, when in Spain,” Battle says. At DiAnoia’s, Battle’s version adds an Italian twist: Fernet Branca.

“The combination of Fernet, vanilla, coffee, and creme de cacao is similar to cola,” she explains. To add carbonation, she chose Gragano Vino, a sparkling red wine similar to a traditional Lambrusco.

Meanwhile, Egbert embraces the Texan heat for his “twist” — frozen kalimotxo. He chose this format “because it is fun and hot here in Texas,” he says. Of course, it’s not as easy as it looks. “To serve it frozen, you have to use Coke syrup to get the right texture and flavor,” he says, adding, “When making frozen drinks, you have to have the right sugar content, or the drink can turn to ice. Our frozen version is great, because it is not too sweet, and you can taste both of the main ingredients.”

As for Battle, the appeal is straightforward: “Who knew something so simple and weird could be so wonderfully refreshing?”

The Bitter Temptation Recipe

Credit: DiAnoia’s Eatery

Developed by: Nicole Battle
Photos: Courtesy of DiAnoia’s Eatery

1 ounce cold brew coffee
¾ ounce Fernet Branca
¾ ounce vanilla syrup
½ ounce Tempus Fugit Creme de Cacao
1 ounce Gragnano Vino

1. Mix all ingredients except Gragnano (or sparkling red wine) in a mixing vessel.
2. Strain over a 2-inch ice cube.
3. Float the wine on top.


SQUID: A DELICACY IN ANY LANGUAGE

BROWSING through the international sections of a number of cookbooks recently, I noted that almost every one of them lists recipes for squid. That interested me because Americans seem to have a very small appetite for squid, a delicacy that I would place in the highest category of good things to eat from the sea.

Squid are often referred to as voracious predators because they enthusiastically consume large and small fish as well as other squid. I feel equally Recipes are on page C7. voracious when faced with a platter of cold squid salad, neatly dressed with oil and lemon or stuffed squid in almost any fashion - filled with a delicate mousse of shrimp, for instance, or a well-made fish soup to which the pieces of squid add both flavor and an admirable texture.

Perhaps it is the squid's appearance that makes many Americans hesitate to eat it. Squid are, indeed, among the ugly ducklings of the deep (they navigate from near the surface to nearly a mile below) and range in size from about an inch to 60 feet long.

To name a few national or regional squid dishes, one could not ignore the classic version of Spain which is known as calamares en su tinto. This is one of the most curious of Spanish dishes, curious because the name means ''squid in its own ink.'' Squid have a small, fragile sac that contains a liquid of almost Stygian blackness.

The Greeks have a word for squid, of course, and it is kalamaria. In Japanese, where squid is prized for, among other things, sushi and sashimi, it is known as yika. In Italy, it is calamari and in France, it goes by many names, but principally calmar. In Provence, it is called tantonnet and claougeous. My absolute favorite name for squid, however, is the Basque word txipirones.

There is a false notion that squid requires long cooking to tenderize it. The actual cooking time is quite brief, depending on the uses to which it is put. I know of one Chinese dish in which it is cooked only 30 seconds in boiling water for salads the squid pieces should simmer in a court-bouillon or cooking liquid for about one minute.

The uses to which squid can be put are almost beyond count. I would be hard put to state one preferred manner of cooking. I am reminded of that anecdote found in Frederick S. Wildman's 'ɺ Wine Tour of France'' (William Morrow, 1973), concerning which is the finer wine, Burgundy or Bordeaux.

''One can only agree with the jurist of the ancient regime who, when asked by a marquise at supper one evening which he preferred, answered, ''Madame, in this sort of trial I get so much pleasure examining the evidence that I postpone giving my verdict from week to week.''

When I sample deep-fried squid rings, I consider them the best. A taste of squid salad reinforces my notion that it is the choice. Faced with squid stuffed with a delicate shrimp mousse, my verdict goes to that.

It may be that the cleaning of squid creates a negative feeling in the minds of many home cooks. The fact is that squid, despite its forbidding aspect in the natural state, is not all that difficult to clean. Simply remove the head and all the interior material, then remove and discard the beak and pull or rub off the outer skin, a quick operation all in all. The tentacles are eminently edible.

Squid is very much a seasonal food. It is obtainable in markets from about the last two weeks in March throughout the summer, when it becomes abundant.

Here is a sampling of some of my favorite squid recipes. It is difficult to suggest a precise number of squid for each recipe because they vary so much in size. It is best to purchase squid by weight. Salade de Calmar (Squid salad) 2 pounds squid, cleaned 1/4 cup dry white wine Salt to taste, if desired Freshly ground pepper to taste 2 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole 1 hot red pepper or 1/4 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes 1 bay leaf 4 sprigs fresh parsley 2 teaspoons finely minced garlic 3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley 2 tablespoons lemon juice 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar 1/4 cup olive oil 1/2 cup finely chopped red onion.

1. Cut bodies of the squid into rings about half an inch wide. Cut tentacles into bite-size pieces. There should be about three and onehalf cups.

2. Put the squid in a saucepan or small kettle and add the wine, water to cover, salt, pepper, garlic cloves, red pepper, bay leaf and parsley sprigs. Bring to a boil. Cover and let cook about one minute or just until squid pieces firm up. Drain and chill.

3. Put the squid in a mixing bowl and add the remaining ingredients. Toss and serve chilled. Yield: 4 or more servings. NOTE: Freshly cooked shelled shrimp are also excellent in a salad with squid. Simply substitute a portion of shrimp for any given quantity of the squid. Friture de Calmar (French-fried squid) 2 pounds squid, cleaned 1/2 cup milk 2 cups flour Salt to taste, if desired Freshly ground pepper to taste 6 cups oil Juice of half a lemon.

1. Cut squid bodies into half-inch rounds and the tentacles into bite-size pieces. There should be about three cups. 2. Put the squid in a bowl. Pour the milk over the squid. 3. Put the flour in a flat dish and add salt and pepper. Blend well. Drain squid lightly and add to flour. Dredge thoroughly, shaking off excess flour.

4. Pour oil - about an inch deep -into a heavy skillet. Heat the oil until it is quite hot but not smoking (375 degrees). Add the squid pieces, a few at a time, to the skillet without crowding. Cook until crisp and lightly golden, about two minutes for each batch. Remove squid pieces and drain on paper toweling. Continue cooking in batches until all the pieces are cooked. Serve sprinkled with lemon juice.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings. Squid Stuffed With Shrimp Mousse 8 to 12 squid, about 3 pounds before cleaning 3/4 pound raw shrimp in the shell 1 egg Pinch of cayenne pepper 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg Salt to taste, if desired Freshly ground pepper to taste 1 1/2 cups heavy cream 2 tablespoons butter 2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots 3/4 cup crushed red fresh or canned tomatoes 1 1/2 cups dry white wine 3/4 cup heavy cream.

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. 2. Clean the squid and set aside. 3. Shell and devein the shrimp. Put them into the container of a food processor and add the egg, cayenne pepper, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Blend. Gradually pour the cream through the funnel while blending.

4. Outfit a pastry bag with a round No. 8 pastry tube. Fill the bag with the shrimp mixture and pipe equal portions of the mousse mixture into the squid bodies. Partly fill each body the stuffing will expand as it cooks. Sew up the opening of each body with a needle and thread or secure the openings with toothpicks.

5. Rub with butter a baking dish large enough to hold the stuffed squid in one layer. Sprinkle the bottom with shallots, crushed tomatoes, salt and pepper to taste. Arrange the stuffed squid neatly inside the pan. Scatter the tentacles around the stuffed squid. Sprinkle wine over all.

6. Cover closely with foil. Bring to a boil on top of the stove. Place in the oven and bake 10 minutes. If any of the stuffing runs out, it can be served with the squid. Transfer the squid to a warm platter. Remove and discard the thread or toothpick from each squid.

7. Pour and scrape the cooking liquid into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook the liquid down to three-quarters cup. Add the cream and return to a boil. Cook over high heat until liquid is reduced to one cup. Pour the sauce over the squid and serve.

Yield: 6 servings. Soupe de Poisson Avec Calmar (Fish soup with squid)

1 1/2 pound squid, cleaned 3/4 pound skinless, boneless monkfish (see note) 1 pound skinless, boneless codfish (see note) 1/4 cup olive oil 2 tablespoons finely minced garlic 1 3/4 cups finely chopped onions 1 1/2 cups finely diced, cleaned leeks, both white and green part 2 cups cubed fresh, red ripe tomatoes or use imported canned tomatoes, drained Salt to taste, if desired Freshly ground pepper to taste 1/2 teaspoon dried saffron stamens 3 tablespoons tomato paste 1/2 cup dry white wine 1 bay leaf 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme 1 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed 4 cups water or unsalted fish broth 1/2 cup finely chopped parsley 2 hot dried red peppers.

1. Cut the body of the squid into half-inch circles. Cut the flat portions of the squid into 1 1/2-inch squares. Cut tentacles into bite-size portions. There should be about three cups.

2. Cut the fish into 1 1/2-inch squares. There should be about 1 1/2 cups monkfish, 2 to 2 1/2 cups cod. 3. Heat the oil in a casserole or Dutch oven and add the garlic and onions. Cook, stirring, until onion is wilted. Add the leeks and tomatoes. Bring to a boil, stirring. Add salt and pepper to taste.

4. Add the saffron, tomato paste, wine, bay leaf, thyme and fennel seeds. Stir and bring to a boil. 5. Add squid and monkfish and water. Add half of the parsley and the red peppers. Bring to a boil and let boil 10 minutes. The fish should boil rather than simmer. Add cod and reduce heat. Let soup simmer about two minutes, no longer. Serve with remaining parsley sprinkled over each serving.

Yield: 4 or more servings. NOTE: In this recipe monkfish is listed as an ingredient. It is an excellent fish for soups. If not available, substitute any whitefleshed, nonoily fish, using same weight and volume. Squid and monkfish require longer cooking times than most ordinary fish such as flounder and sole. If you use a substitute, add it along with the cod for the last two minutes of cooking.


The Diaspora of Spanish Gastronomy: A Delectible Evening at Mercat a La Planxa

Spanish gastronomy goes beyond small bites of food. It is more than foamy shots of alchemy, savory rice dishes – generically called Paella, or egg based custards. Yet despite the perpetual misconception of what actually constitutes a typical meal in a local Spanish bar, innovative Spanish gastronomy is making gigantic waves across the North American landscape.

Last Thursday, I was generously invited to a Spanish wine and food pairing by Michael Grisley, co-owner of PR Grisley imports. Michael is a longtime friend of ours, in large part due to his undying passion for Iberian wine, but little did I know that he would be throwing down a gastronomic event of epic proportions at Iron Chef Jose Garces’ Mercat a la Planxa, located in vibrant center of downtown Chicago.

If you aren’t familiar with Chef Jose Garces, I would highly suggest doing a little gastronomic research. Born in Chicago in 1974 from Ecuadorian parents, Jose opened his first restaurant at the ripe young age of 29 in Philadelphia. Called Amada, meaning “the beloved or loved”, the restaurant is an homage to Spanish tapas, set in a sultry Andalusian styled and renown for its Lobster Paella, Tortilla Espanola and its signature cochinillo, or baby suckling pig.

Tinto, a wine bar and restaurant inspired by the Basque region of Northern Spain and Southern France was opened in 2006 and heralded for its vast array of mouth-watering pintxos, the Basque version of tapas. Located in the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood of Philly, this rustic wine bar, reminiscent of an ancient cellar, has gained its reputation from its expansive wine list of more than 100 Spanish and French varieties that complement the restaurant’s unique menu highlighting dishes such as: chorizo chips with lobster cream lamb loin skewered and served in shot-glasses of onion cream and sherry jus a morsel of duck comfit topped with a black cherry and served on blue cheese-smeared toasted bread.

Chef Garces’ fame was further acclaimed across the eastern seaboard with the opening of Distrito, an ode to the vibrant culture and cuisine of Mexico City Chifa, a Latin-Asian restaurant and Village Whiskey, a classic spirit bar with over 80 whiskeys to pair with its gastropub style cuisine.

As for Mercat a la Planxa, this was this first Catalan styled restaurant I’ve visited in the USA, and though far from what I’d coin “authentic”, it provided an incredible presentation of food and wine pairings that did not fail to disappoint. Set in the elegant ballroom of the Blackstone Hotel, the meal gently unfolded over 3 hours as each Spanish wine pairing was explained by Michael Grisley, followed with an equally thorough course description by Chef J. Michael Fiorello, Chef de Cuisine at Mercat a la Planxa and Executive Chef of The Blackstone Hotel.

Admittedly, I was intimately familiar with all of the Spanish wines presented, most of which I am an avid fan of, but I’m always intrigued with how a Chef, for whom I believe was in Spain only once years ago, would craft a meal around each wine. When asked of Chef Fiorello how he went about crafting each dish, his answer was honest and direct, “When I tried each wine, I was inspired by its core characteristics. If the wine showed fresher, more vibrant, flavors, I paired it with an equally refreshing dish. Pretty straightforward.” I suppose you can’t fault our friend for being flamboyant.

The first course was a potted chicken liver mousse with a caraway-onion jam and foie gras served in a clear shot glass and paired with the 2008 Coto de Gomariz Blanco made with Treixadura and Godello from D.O. Riberio, Spain. For someone that isn’t particularly keen on organ meat, especially when it has a particularly gamey flavor and an equally unpleasant texture, I was blown away by this dish. In part, I give loads of credit to the caraway-onion jam that offered just enough spice to compliment the rich liver mousse. Add the slightly effervescent texture of the Coto de Gomariz with its light citrus notes, and you have the perfect pairing to rinse the palate clean before your second helping.

The second course, a glowing red Sous Vide Bluefin Tuna piled upon toasted bread and garnished with a Caper-Olive Oil Jam & Spicy Red Cabbage literally made my heart skip a beat. Granted, I did feel horribly guilty for savoring an overfished species, but one can legitimately understand why the bluefin has garnered a reputation for its meaty, yet sumptuous, texture. And when combined with the slightly crunchy texture of the spicy red cabbage and the gentle sweetness from the caper-olive oil jam, it was as close as heaven as I could have asked for. The wine pairing for this dish was spot on. The DOC Rioja, 2006 Bodegas Ondalan Crianza made with 80% Tempranillo and 20% Graciano bolstered the tuna without overpowering it.

The Pork Belly with Charred Baby Octopus, Marcona Almonds & Smoked Green Olive Escabeche was my least favorite of all the dishes, and this may be in part due to the fact that I made it – or more accurately, prepared it. In the center of the grand ballroom stood a series of tables shaped into a square. In the center of the square housed a dozen or so chefs who graciously requested 1 volunteer from each table to help prepare the 3rd course. Recognizing my lack of culinary skills, I promptly volunteered myself knowing full-well that my table had no idea what they would be getting themselves into. To be fair, I merely added pre-prepared portions of the marcona almonds and smoked green olive escabeche into a bowl, stirred and then lightly seared the octopus. The issue wasn’t so much recipe as it was the octopus. Having lived in Iberia for half decade, I’ve been rather spoiled by incredibly soft, sumptuous and moist octopus – something most Americans have not had the privilege to experience. For me, the octopus was slightly tough and chewy, and though my table was overjoyed by the outcome, I for one was rather ho-hum. However, I was a huge fan of the DOC Rioja, 2006 Bodegas Miguel Angel Muro Bujanda Crianza made from 100% Tempranillo. Slightly smokey with bold dark cherry and cassis notes, it was a nice little wine to sip upon until my next course arrived.

The fourth course equally made me feel waves of guilt, but not because it is an endangered species, far from it, it’s because my husband would have killed to taste it. The Grilled Muscovy Duck Breast elegantly laid over Red Wine Seckel Pears and a Comfit leg Crêpe was absolutely delectable! As a preferred vegetarian, I tend to push off meat dishes for anything that sprouts from the ground, but the combination of the perfectly cooked duck with the slightly sweet, yet savory, red wine seckel pears was unreal. The 100% Graciano 2005 Bodegas Ondalan 100 Abades was an intriguing pairing, especially as Graciano is not my favored grape however, this is one of the few wines that I’m a die-hard fan of. Showing glints of blackberry, cardamon and black spice on the nose, with vibrant acidity and soft, powdery tannins, it held up beautifully with the duck, and with any luck, I’ll still be married by the end of the article.

The 5th and last main course was the House Smoked Catalan Lamb Sausage with Ham Hock-Tomato Stew & Black Eyed Peas. For me, this was the closest I could relate to a traditional Catalan dish, and although the flavors married well together, I was seriously disappointed with the sausage. Butifarra, the typical sausage of Catalunya, is a thicker styled sausage that has a very unique texture and flavor. Unfortunately, in this case, the lamb sausage reminded of something I might find in Italy as opposed to Catalunya, and when paired with the traditional black-eyed peas, I was missing home. However, the I’m not a purist, and I loved the slightly spicy addition of the goat cheese, among the rich and savory tomato stew. The 2005 Bodegas Medrano Irazu Reserva was a nice addition, but I think I would have preferred a Garnacha from Priorat with this dish, which would have offered a bit more bold, dark fruit characteristics.

Last, but not least, was the Pumpkin-Brown Butter Cake with Hazelnut Escabeche and a Rosemary-Olive Oil Ice Cream. Let’s call a spade a spade, though the pumpkin butter cake was nice, the rosemary-olive oil was absolutely gorgeous. Offering just enough rosemary essence to complement the slightly sweet olive oil flavor, it literally floated on my palate as if I was sucking on a Mediterranean cloud. In this case, however, the wine scored both high and low with the food pairing. Quevedo’s N/V Special Reserve Tawny married perfectly with the pumpkin cake, but when paired with the ice cream, I felt it totally overpowered the subtle characteristics of the ice cream. Now, is it a deal-breaker? Not in the least, but I would have rather had it as an amuse-bouche, leaving the cake and tawny to communicate fluidly among themselves.

In short, it was an incredible evening and I am very appreciative of the very kind invitation from the PR Grisley family, not to mention the delicious meal that I gladly devoured. It also proved to be a wonderful reminder for me to always keep an open mind. Regardless if a restaurant calls itself “Catalan” there is no reason why flavors shouldn’t be expanded, contrasted and contorted to fashion an innovative dish that only hints at its regional roots. Like wine, playfulness is the key to passionate cooking.


Spain and Food: a love affair

I am pretty sure that I fell in love with Spain properly about seven years ago – looking out over the spectacular landscape from a balcony of a small rural hotel near Ronda. After a dinner in the restaurant, drinking a local tinto and watching the sun disappear.

Mind you, it could have been during an evening stroll along the cobbled streets of Sevilla, the heat of the day still rising from them. Between tapas of pig’s cheeks, slowly cooked in sherry and super crispy, deep-fried baby squids – our palates cleansed by huge goblets of sub-zero gin tonics.

A view of Granada and the Alhambra. (Dimitry B)

It also could have been when we were dining in an over-priced and under-delivering tourist restaurant in the Albaicín of Granada.

That disappointment being completely saved by the tableau of the Alhambra in front of me, something that could never fail to transfix any viewer. In reality, it must have been all of these experiences and more.

I guess most people reading this will have similar personal memories and emotions of Spain, or perhaps want to have.

It seduces you with its open heart, vibrant spirit, generous plates and even more generous measures.

I am very excited to have been asked to occasionally share my foodie thoughts, recipes and inspirations with you on Spain in English.

I am Alex and I think I have always had food in my veins.

My French father came to the UK to further his career as a chef in 1969 – and he met my mother who was working at the reception in the same hotel.

Growing up, I was fascinated by the noise and heat of the kitchen and – despite warnings about hours and pay – I left school to work in a well-regarded local restaurant.

Just to keep things in the family, my sister’s partner is also a chef! I worked in and around Manchester and Cheshire until my long-time partner Adrian and I decided to make a move to France 15 years ago.

We moved to open our Yoga Holiday retreat centre called Les Passeroses, which we run during the summer months. We look after the guests and cook all the vegetarian and vegan food, which is perfect for a week of yoga.

Burrata platter. (Sara Dubler)

It is incredibly important to bring everyone together around the dinner to be nourished – not only by the food, but by the social interaction around it.

We finally brought out a long-called for cookery e-book this year, featuring some of the most popular recipes which are take inspiration from all over the world, including – of course – Spain.

Over the years, several visits to Madrid and Barcelona to stay with friends opened my eyes and belly to how Spain lives through its food and drink culture.

Madrid at New Year was probably the coldest I have ever been, but the churros con chocolate were worth braving the icy rain for. The early – okay, mid-afternoon recovery from a night’s clubbing in Chueca was helped immeasurably by huevos rotos.

Churros con chocolate. (Oscar Nord)

Chunks of potato baked in olive oil in a deep enamel pan are topped with eggs – cracked messily all over – liberally strewn with slices of jamón and finished with a bit more olive oil.

Crispy, soft, eggy, stodgy, salty and full of Vitamin D – it’s a contender for the world’s most satisfying hangover cure.

A rare chance for a holiday in early summer seven years ago allowed us to discover Andalusia and authentic Spain for the first time.

Sevilla was our starting point – and a room in the stunning Hospes Las Casas del Rey de Baeza, a traditional 18th century building, certainly set the tone. It has a cool cobbled internal patio surrounded by wooden walkways, unsurprisingly reminiscent of Moroccan riads.

Ronda wowed us with the touristic hordes, dramatic setting and a couple of superb restaurants. The family owned and run Casa Maria looks nothing special from the outside, but we have found that often the best things in Spain are the most unassuming or well-hidden.

Mercado de la Boqueria in Barcelona. (Ja Ma)

The produce on offer is the very best quality and cooked mainly on the plancha. Ask for ‘un poco de todo’ and just eat what comes. That reminds me – I must write a review.

That first holiday finished in the old town of Málaga, which was buzzy but the food was way too tourist-oriented for us, with the notable exception of an Argentinian small plates place. I came to realise two things during this trip – I wanted more of this region and Tempranillo is definitely ‘my’ grape!

Spanish grapes (Maja Petric)

Unable to stay away, we returned in a matter of months, taking in Archidona, Granada and – unsurprisingly – the Alhambra, before heading to the seaside towns of the Costa Tropical.

Fortune led us to a lesser-known costal town called La Herradura, so named because of its horseshoe shaped bay. Staying at the top of the town, up a VERY steep slope, we had a wonderful view of the surrounds. We both agreed something felt ‘right’.

It’s a very Spanish town that remains busy throughout the winter, especially with families from Granada, who make the drive down on Sunday afternoons to share paella or wood-cooked fish at the chiringuitos.

It’s a long and extremely convoluted story as to how we finally got to own a small house in the lower part of the old town, after three years of renting it. Let’s just say deeds and family disputes all played a part, but we got there in the end.

Being ensconced for the last three winters has given us a taste of Spanish life that we have become determined to take full advantage of.

I spend my time finding new places to visit for their amazing produce, be it the best jamón serrano in the south or a bodega producing new wines using old-fashioned methods.

We love cooking for and sharing with our new friends and neighbours, as well as looking for the best restaurants in the area.

We are now married after 28 years together and while sitting on the roof terrace, looking at the sea and mountains, we feel so lucky to have found Spain and La Herradura.

‘La H’ is where I am already putting down roots, allowing the sun to infuse my body, thoughts and food.

When normality returns, this will become our home and the starting point of a new journey, travelling deeper into all that Spain can bring to a plate (and to a glass). I aim to share some of it with you on Spain in English.

Alex Gonnord-Luty is a chef and Hispanophile currently working and living in South West France with his husband Adrian, cooking and running their yoga retreat centre during the Summer. They have a second home in La Herradura near Almunecar on the Costa Tropical, where they spend a lot of time and want to relocate to in the near future. He has written a cookery book and blogs about Spanish food, wine and culture on his website Spain on a Plate.


Food Travels Northern Spain Basque Country

From Provincial to Pamplona

I arrived in Madrid after catching a few carefully plotted “Zzzz’s” on the plane. It was mid morning, customs went quickly and the majority of my time was spent at the car rental kiosk. Decisions, decisions! For 7 euros more per day, I found myself driving North through central Spain toward the La Rioja region in a bright shiny-red mini cooper with white racing stripes – my dream car. I also opted to rent the GPS unit so I would not get lost, …. introducing to you, TomTom.

About an hour into my drive, TomTom had me going in circles, as I missed the exit that TomTom wanted me to take. It was under construction, and I think by the looks of things, it might be sometime next year when it would be completed. TomTom was confused about that and kept trying to turn me around to head back. I pulled off the highway and forced my cell phone into action and plotted my course on Google Maps. I soon found myself heading north on a smaller two lane road through the countryside past old cities and a variety of old Spanish castles in various forms of decay. Some were regal and elegant standing tall along the flat land. Others, such as the city of ruins of Turruncun, Spain, an abandon village along LR -123. This place that has me charging my camera up ready for exploration.

Arnedo

Arriving at my destination after a three + hour drive (thank you TomTom for the +), I find a quite robust little town. Arnedo. It is the third largest town in La Rioja, Spain. The population is about 15,000 and a town whose economy is based on the shoe industry. Arnedo has a little shoe museum that I plan to explore later.

I found my hotel just on the edge of the city cute, small, redecorated, and empty shoe boxes celebrate the economy in the alcoves of each floor. My room is adorable with a LED multi-colored lit shower head and antique switchboard as a desk in the corner.

I walked the streets of Arnedo to the Calle de los bares (Street of bars) where the evening breeze attracts the locals out into the cool evening air for La Merienda, the “fourth” meal of the day. It is a social time that begins around 5:30 or 6:00 p.m. and lasts up until the Cena (Dinner) that starts after 9:00 p.m. Cena the final meal of the day, can be a small lighter meal before bedtime.

La Merienda, usually consists of an evening snack, pintxos, in the north, known as tapas in the south, croquetas, or a sweet treat. Also popular are the beverages such as, beer, wine, coffee, and bitter kas (a bitter soda).

Café manchado

I enjoyed a Café Manchado, (stained coffee). Actually it is really a “Stained Milk” as the drink is mostly steamed milk with a a touch of espresso. It is less than a shot of espresso and very milky. More of a coffee flavored milk. It is similar to the latte macchiato I found in Italy. This is the perfect coffee drink for those that do not really like coffee. It is beautifully presented in a a glass so that you can marvel at the layers. On a hot day in Spain, you order it con hielo, with a cup of ice. If you like your coffee sweet, be sure to add your sugar into the hot coffee, stirring well to dissolve it before pouring over the ice. Otherwise you will have gritty undissolved sugar grains.

Another interesting coffee to try is the Café Bombon made with sweetened condensed milk which makes a sweet drink without having to add more sugar.

After a nice first evening in Spain, I find myself up late the next morning sitting outdoors at a street side café with my morning tea and a group of Spanish women behind me enjoying their second breakfast, “the real breakfast” around 10 to 11 a.m.

When travelling, I find coffee traditions interesting. So let’s talk coffee for a moment, since it seems to be an important part of mealtimes in Spain. There are several coffee options that will be helpful to know.

Café Solo – “Only coffee” or “Coffee alone.” Simply a shot of espresso. A thicker, bitter coffee with a small foam layer.

Café Cortado – An espresso “cut” with some steamed milk. Very little milk, but a little easier to drink than the café solo.

Lecha y lecha – An espresso “cut” with half steamed milk and half sweetened condensed milk.

Café con leche – Made with equal parts espresso and steamed milk. This is by far the largest, in volume, coffee and topped with a rich layer of milk foam.

Café manchado – “Stained coffee” or “Stained Milk” as this coffee drink is mostly milk with less than a shot of espresso. Perfect for those who are not overly fond of the taste of coffee. (That is me!)

Cafe Americano – An espresso shot where hot water is added.

Café con Hielo – “Coffee with ice” – A glass with ice accompanies your shot of espresso, Café Solo. Although con Hielo can be ordered with any coffee drink for the warm summer afternoons in Spain. But caution here, when ordering con hielo, it is all about the pour. It should be a quick flick of your wrist as you pour your hot coffee over the ice.

Carajillo – This is an espresso shot with equal parts of brandy. Do not try this one for breakfast – although it is a popular afternoon and evening drink.

Café Bombon or café cortado condensada – Equal part espresso and steamed sweetened condensed milk. A very sweet coffee drink like drinking a bonbon.

Descafinado – Decaffeinated coffee. When ordering Descafinado, use the term “de maquina,” to be sure it is made with the espresso machine. If not you will probably get an instant coffee.

My Favorite Tradition the “Kiss”, “Kiss

As I sit here at the bar restaurante, finishing my morning tea (no coffee for me), the group of ladies break from their meal and rise from their table with very loud, exaggerated “Kiss,” Kisses” to the cheeks, saying good bye to one another for now.

It is hot everywhere in Spain in July, but I really feel it here. It is in the mid 90’s and the late afternoon is the hottest. I am still trying to adjust to the time difference and overslept a bit, which is acceptable after a long flight. I eventually found my way downstairs to breakfast, consisting of a lot of meat, cheese, plain yogurt, and pastries. After breakfast, I head outside sitting at a sidewalk table in the shade of the hotel enjoying the “cool” morning before the town heats up again. I spent my morning writing then wandered down to the office of turismo to ask a few questions. I also attempted to exchange my US Dollars for euros but have had no luck so far. It is harder in a small town to exchange cash. I suggest that you exchange your cash in a larger city before heading into the countryside.

I wandered around through the streets of Arnedo and found an open air market, where several produce stands were. There were also a few fish stands that were selling salted cod called Bacalao. Bacalao is common across the Iberian peninsula, but more so in the Basque country.

Bacalao or salt cod Dish of Bacalao

Bacalao is sold as dried, salted fillets, that are then soaked in cold water, which is changed often over several days until the fish is fully desalted and rehydrated. Bacalao can be purchased in the salted form or already desalted. When preparing Bacalao for a meal, it is better if you start the day before you plan to eat it. Ingredients include a generous amount of garlic, yellow onion, parsley, and choricero peppers with the seeds removed and tomato sauce.

Choricero peppers are only used in the southern most part of the Basque country in the La Rioja region and are used in many types of dishes. To prepare the classic “Bacalao La Rioja Style,” the onion is slowly simmered until transparent. Floured cod fillets are laid skin side down across the top of the onions and the pan is kept in gentle motion on a very low heat until the fish is almost cooked through. The garlic, parsley, and tomato sauce are then added to the top of the fish and the pan is covered and removed from the heat and covered to let the cooking finish in it’s own juices which creates a thick rich sauce.

The Choricero pepper is a green pepper that ripens to red. Sweet varieties have a Scoville of 0 and mild varieties run from 0 to 1,000 on the Scoville scale. A Choricero pepper is commonly used in the La Rioja region of Spain. It is often dried and then powdered, called Pimentón, and used in soups and stews or made into a paste, (Carne de Pimiento Choricero) which is used to make Chorzio sausages.

This evening I was invited to dinner with a family at their country house located a few minutes outside of Arnedo near the river. The property is shared by their family, which includes the parents, and their children and their families. The yards are connected by a vegetable garden in the center and the three homes along the perimeter. Our host walked us through the garden, sharing his plants with us. They were growing tomatoes, peppers, cucumber, lettuce, zuchinni, and Borraja (borage). The borage is a common herb and vegetable that is known for it’s diuretic properties and often seen on the meal plate. The leaves are stripped away and the stalks are cooked in a pressure cooker. The Borraja can also be served raw in salads similar to a cucumber or the leaf dried as an herb.

We spent the evening enjoying a eggs and choricero, borage and a family salad and wine and discussing our upcoming journey to Pamplona.

The family meal in Arnedo

Pamplona – San Fermin

I headed to Pamplona for a few days to enjoy the festival of San Fermin. I rented an apartment just outside of the central area, and walked to and from the central area of town. When going to Pamplona, plan ahead. I was able to locate the apartment for 50 euros per night per person and had access to a full kitchen, laundry, living room, and a bedroom. The owner of the apartment also rented a balcony in downtown to view the running of the bulls for an additional 40 eruos. If you compare this cost to what you are charged when searching from most U.S. Web sites, I paid considerably less for an apartment and balcony. The secret, search Google.es for Spanish web sites for better deals.

I spent two days in Pamplona and rented the balcony for both mornings. I was happy that I did as the running of the bulls goes so quickly. You really need a second viewing to get all the photos you want. The balcony was on Calle de la Estafada, the long street just past la curva (the middle of the route). La curva ia a 90 degree turn that the bulls make where a lot of excitement can happen as the bulls often slip and take down runners here. This area is the ideal place to see most action. If you get too much further down the route on calle de la Estafada, the bulls slow as it is the long straight portion of the route.

The morning alarm was set for 5:30 a.m., as the journey to the balcony began early. You have to be in your building by 7:00 a.m. to assure you can get there before they close the street to pedestrians. Once safe in your building above the street, many balcony renters serve a breakfast before the run. Toast, hot chocolate, coffee, and pastries are popular in the morning. The air is thick with excitement, and leaning out your balcony to look up and down the street brings the celebration up a notch as you can watch others fill balconies and doorways. The runners are allowed to walk the route to find the spot they wish to start running from.

There is a lot of reverie – jumping and stretching going on below and along the route as the runners prepare for the 8 a.m. release of the bulls. During San Fermin, the bulls run every morning of the nine day festival.

When the run is over, it is time for chocolate and churros. A very popular morning meal in Spain, it is known as the hangover cure and especially popular during festivals and carnival. The chocolate is a thick dark chocolate and served in a drinking cup. You also get a bag of freshly fried churros to dip into the thick dark chocolate. The lines in front of the churro shops were 100’s deep, and no one wavered about waiting. People stood their place until they were served the morning treat. It is part of the tradition!

The culinary landscape of San Fermin includes toros estafado or bull stew (a deep rich brothy stew with tender chunks of beef). Ajoarriero (salt cod in tomato, garlic and pepper sauce), fresh white beans, Chistorra sausage, stuffed peppers, asparagus, and ham in tomato sauce. Wine choices are either vino tinto, vino rosa, or vino blanca.

The festival has a traditional culinary order:

The morning of a typical festival day starts with The Dianas (early morning reveille with musical bands) at 6:00 a.m. at city hall with hot broth served to the participants.

Next are Churros and hot chocolate after the bull run and a variety of pastries.

Then the parade of Gigantes (Big Heads) between 9:15 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. is the Chistorra (a fast-cured sausage made of either minced pork, garlic, salt, and paprika). The paprika gives the sausage it’s characteristic red coloring. Chistorra are can be baked, fried, or grilled and served as a side to another dish, or as tapas. Another common food is asparagus and ham in tomato sauce.

Then the Meriendas or afternoon snack in the bullring, organised by the Peñas consisting of a packed lunch of local homemade cuisine.

The evening meal, La Cena starts at 9 p.m. and can go well after midnight. This is a great time to try Estofado (bull meat, which is very tender, juicy, and flavorful or Rabo de Toro (literally meaning “tail of the bull” in Spanish) which is a rich stew that is simmered over many hours with vegetables, wine, spices, and sometimes even chocolate!

Another tradition of San Fermin are the meals with Peñas, the social societies of San Fermin. The apartment owner, Camino, explained to that each day of the festival different social groups gather for a meal. One day could be your immediate family, the next is the group of people you work with, the next day would be childhood friends, and so on. Everyday there is a feast with different Peñas. Often these groups can be seen dining in the streets during festival at long tables, enjoying the atmosphere of the festival and each other’s company. The musical parades of the Peñas are exciting and loud. Some members gather as a band and they lead the crowds singing and dancing through the streets into all hours of the night.

Calimocho is also abundant during San Fermin. It is a blend of red wine and Coca-Cola. Calimocho was first served in Spain sometime back int eh 1970’s. During a festival the discovering of bad wine let the hosts to try and cover up the taste by adding Coca-Cola. The result was an inexpensive cocktail that is popular in Spain during festivals

If you are heading to Spain in early July, do not miss the festivities and the foods of San Fermin.

San Sebastián (Basque: Donostia)

A natural transition from the festivities of San Fermin, is a relaxing day by the sea in beautiful San Sebastián (Basque: Donostia). An hour drive north of Pamplona, this ocean side town is everything you would expect from a European seaside vacation destination. Right from a postcard, San Sebastián’s bayfront promenade is complete with yachts, a crescent beach, and blue and white striped beach tents. You will find world-renowned restaurants nestled in old town (Parte Vieja), plenty of shopping opportunities and a busy nightlife with pintxo (Basque-style tapas) bars where you can enjoy small bites with local wines and ciders.


I walked the streets of the old town and stopped in at several hostels looking for the perfect one for my first hostel stay. I found a cute room with a bay window and balcony over looking the cobblestone streets below. I settled in to the room, then wandered out into the streets to hit the Calle de los bares in search for pinxtos. There I found beautiful displays of the small plates filling the bar tops of many restaurants. Choosing where to start was the most difficult part. Common pintxos include Anchoas y Guindillas, Anchovy with Pickled Green Peppers, Chistorra y Padron, Sausage and Peppers, Piquillo Pepper Jam, Croquetas de Papas, Potato Crouquettes, Angulas, Baby Eels, Pulpo, Octopus, Pincho de Tortilla, tortilla Omelet, and of course Jamon Iberico, Cured Ham and many more. There is always a vast, varied and interesting selection to choose from.

A trip to northern Spain into the Basque country would not be complete without a visit to San Sebastian.

Bilbao

The next stop was Bilbao where I found a cute hostel called the Basque Botique. Each room in this adorable hostel was individually decorated with handcrafted furniture and unique artistic finishes inspired by the Basque culture. My room was the La Marijaia (Marijaia is the symbol of Bilbao’s festivities). She was designed in 1978 and she is one of the most popular and beloved characters in Bilbao.

I used AirBnB to book and pay for the room, received a key code via text, checked in and never saw another soul there during our stay. The common area had a game room and dressing area where you can dress in traditional basque attire for a fun selfie photo shoot. It was a delightful and affordable hostel and after this second one, I was hooked on the fun and surprise of hostel travel.

Bilbao is home to Frank Gehry–designed titanium-clad museum. Guggenheim Museum Bilbao that is set along the banks of the Nervion River, which runs through the city of Bilbao to the Cantabrian Sea. Bilbao is a very walkable city with a walkway along both sides of the river. This is truly a treasure in the heart of the basque country as Bilbao has an interesting skyline with turn of the century buildings nestled in between modern skyscrapers, forests, ocean and mountains all nearby.

Arnedillo

After two days of festival that goes non-stop for nine days, a quick tour of the Northern coastline. What do you do next? Relax. I started my journey back south to Madrid, stopping in the small town of Arnedillo. Arnedillo is located about three hours south of Bilbao on your way back to Madrid.

Arnedillo’s lure for me was the fact that it has a hot springs that bubbles up from the river Cidacos. Nestled on the banks of the Cidacos is a centuries old spa hotel, as well as several natural pools “pozas.” Arnedillo also has an old railway line that has been converted into a fabulous walking trail along the river that extends to Calahorra to the south east about 33 km away. The trail passes by small villages, olive groves, and vineyards if you travel the entire length. There is an old railway tunnel that runs through the rock mountain into the city of Arnedillo where you can enjoy a brisk cool breeze before desending into the city if you choose the hike into town

This was definitely the best way to relax and rest after all the excitement, walking and festivities of San Fermin and food of San Sebastian and Bilbao. You can stay at the Balneario Spa and take advantage of the facilities, pools, and treatments. The spa’s history dates back to Roman times, as evidenced by some remains that have been found. Today, it is a modern spa that has been completely refurbished to include the latest technologies and facilities. A room at the Balneario includes your meals. You can also stay inexpensively in town, and partake of the healing waters from natures source and stay in one of the small hotels which are pretty inexpensive. I stayed at the Hotel Marrodan, just down the hill from a spa. This little town is a gem, hidden in a small valley in central Spain, not commonly known or visited by tourists and a great respite before hitting the big city of Madrid and your trip home.

Overnight in Madrid I like to stay in Barajas Madrid, near the airport, where I can visit my favorite restaurant on Avenida Logrono no. 132, Restaurante Campanillas, and see my friends Pepe and Carmen. I met them on my first trip to Spain. They are the most wonderful hosts and make a great meal.


The Original Drinker

Gerry Dawes enjoying Rosado at Rincon de España in Burgos, Spain. (Photo by Jaana Rinne)

I love to talk about wine with people who share my passion for it. We open bottles, and we trade stories about travel and winemakers and terroir and residual sugar, and we talk of taste and food pairings and cost. We recommend wines to one another, and we drink, and we learn a lot. Wine Talk introduces you to some of my friends and acquaintances — individuals who love wine as much as I do, who live to taste and learn about it. You’ll appreciate their insight, agree or disagree with their opinions, and I hope you’ll learn something from them as well.

Gerry Dawes loves Spain, and he loves Spanish wines. And the man knows whereof he speaks. The country bestowed upon him its prestigious Premio Nacional de Gastronomia (National Gastronomy Award) in 2003, and here’s what James A. Michener said about him in Iberia: SpanishTravels and Reflections: “In his nearly thirty years of wandering the back roads of Spain, Gerry Dawes has built up a much stronger bank of experiences than I had to rely on when I started writing Iberia … His adventures far exceeded mine in both width and depth … ”

I first reached out to Dawes when I was planning a culinary journey to Barcelona, Rioja, and the Basque region of Spain, in 2011. I found his website and began reading, and have been learning from him ever since. Then, when I was preparing to stage at Arzak, in 2012, Dawes offered me some sound advice: learn Basque. He is opinionated – “You must decide whether you love wine or carpentry. If you want wood in your wine, suck on a toothpick as you drink your vino.” – he lives life with passion, and he respects wine and the men and woman who make it. Here’s to Gerry!

Tell me about three wines that are drinking well at the moment. What makes them worthwhile? How about a food pairing for each?
I love my Spanish Artisan Wine & Spirits Group – Gerry Dawes Selections Triay Godello 2014 from Monterrei, Galicia, Spain. I call it my “Montrachet.” Great unoaked, not overripe Godellos with reasonable alcohol levels are some of the most satisfying white wines in the world right now (and I sold great Burgundies and the best Chardonnays from California in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s to the best restaurants in New York). I particularly enjoy this lovely, terroir-driven wine – whose flavors are reminiscent of white peach, underpinned by a long mineral-driven finish – with seared sea scallops. And to think that this grape was almost extinct in Galicia just 40 years ago, when one enterprising handful of people recuperated this magnificent grape that had dwindled to just over 10 acres in the entire region.

I am a great aficionado of the wonderful dry rosados (rosés) of Spain. I have three in my portfolio right now and I enjoy them all, especially the wonderfully dry Aliaga Lágrima de Garnacha, which is made with 100 percent free-run juice (with no pressing) from a fine stand of old-vine Garnacha in southern Navarra, around the town of Corella. I enjoy this wine with wide range of dishes, including pochas (Navarra white bean stew) and roast kid with patatas panaderas (“baker’s” potatoes that are cooked in the brick oven where the kid was roasted).

A fine RRosado (Photo courtesy gerrydawesspain.com)

I have another one from Cigales in Castilla-León, Viña Catajarros, a magical blend of Tinto Fino (Tempranillo, Garnacha and two white wine grapes, Verdejo and Alvillo). The Merino brothers make only Rosado, and they make one of the greatest in Europe. Just 15 years ago, they were making their wine down in caves, using a massive stone and a whole tree trunk, ancient Roman-style press. This wine is sometimes available at El Torreón in the historic town of Tordesillas, where my great friend Jeremias de Lozar serves some of the best steaks (click here for mouthwatering video) in the world, carpaccio with shaved foie gras and other unique specialties, with these wonderful Rosado as an aperitif.

I also love the unique genre of rosados that come from and are a specialty of southern Rioja Alta, the dramatic hill country in the lee of the nearly impenetrable Sierra de la Demana, the southern wall of La Rioja. These artisan rosados almost never make it out of the region, where they are served by the glass and bottle in local bars and restaurants in the unassuming villages of this area. Known locally as Ojo de Gallo (Cock’s Eye) claretes, these pale, ethereal rosados with the classic onion-skin cast of great Tavel and rosé Champagnes such as Billecart-Salmon are cheap, delicious as Hell and compelling, since to drink a good one is to be visited by a wine epiphany. I carry the great artisan Ojo de Gallo from Bodegas Lecea, owned by Luis Alberto Lecea, who until recently was the first and only artisan viticulturist and winemaker to be named president of the powerful D.O. Rioja.

And the great thing about these superb rosados, which I drink year ‘round (you drink cold white wines in winter, why not cold rosados?), is that the most expensive tops out at $15.99 (often a buck less) in wine shops.

I have at least a dozen Mencía-based wines from Galicia and Bierzo. It depends upon the evening and the dish, but I am exceptionally fond of José Manuel Rodríguez’s Décima Mencía from the Amandi sub-region in the Sil River Valley of La Ribeira Sacra, the most drop-dead, awesomely beautiful wine region on earth in my estimation. The flavors in this wine are reminiscent of pomegranate and those intriguing graphite flavors that come from the mind-bending, impossibly steep slate-terraced vineyards the grapes are grown on. I adore this wine with anything from oven-roasted zamburiñas – small Galician scallops – to grilled lamb chops to thick Galician steaks. And like all my red wines, I drink them cool, at wine-country cellar temperature.

[Editor’s note: Gerry Dawes Selections have only recently been launched in the United States however, many of these wines are available online from the following merchants (the first two listed ship to Texas):

Wine Library, 586 Morris Ave, Springfield Township, NJ 07081 (973) 376-0005

The Wine Connection, 32 Westchester Ave, Pound Ridge, NY 10576 (914) 764-9463 www. wineconn.com

Astor Wines & Spirits, 399 Lafayette St, New York, NY 10003 (212) 674-7500

Houston-area merchants, if you carry any of the wines mentioned here, please let me know.]

Let’s say that cost is no consideration. What’s the one bottle you would add to your personal collection?

A 1947 López de Heredia Viña Bosconia Gran Reserva Rioja, which still exists at the winery. One of the greatest red wines I have ever tasted or drunk (on some six different occasions).

What is your favorite grape?
Godello for white wines, which if off great vineyards, left unoaked and with no battonage and other cellar monkey business, makes some of the most delicious wines to be found anywhere, in Spain or elsewhere. Mencía is my choice for red wines, because it offers compelling pomegranate-like flavors and is a great transmitter of terroir, reflecting the stony vineyards in which it is grown.

How about one bottle that our readers should buy now to cellar for 10 years, to celebrate a birth, anniversary or other red-letter day?
Viña Cazoga, a little-known back-country Ribeira Sacra Mencía-based wine that comes from spectacular vineyards and has such low production that it is all sold and none is kept back as an archive or library wine. Cazoga with age may be one of the greatest, albeit unsung red wines of Spain. I was lucky enough to have tasted an odd bottle of a 20-year-old unoaked Cazoga that was hidden somewhere semi-lost in the cellar. I tasted it at Cazoga with the great wine writer guru John Gilman of View From The Cellar. We were amazed and judged it to be our equivalent of a 96-point wine. The suggested retail price for Viña Cazoga is around $28.99.

What is the one thing you wish everyone would remember when buying and drinking wine?
Avoid wines that top 14 percent alcohol, and develop an appreciation for wines in the 12- to 13.5 percent range. I have only about three wines that reach 14 percent. I love the taste of good wine, so the lower the alcohol the better, because I can drink more of it with relative impunity. If you drink wines for the alcohol, you are missing the point. Drink tequila instead, or whiskey, or whatever. Likewise, wines that taste like wood are a travesty. Great terroir-driven wines, including whites and rosados, will live for many, many years, if they have good acid levels and a mineral underpinning. I have had 20-year-old whites, rosés and reds without a bit of wood that were exceptional and alive a decade or two after the vintage. Oak used to be an ageing receptacle, and it was used oak at that. Then, with the advent of nuevos-enos-ricos, as I call them, oak became a flavoring agent. You must decide whether you love wine or carpentry. If you want wood in your wine, suck on a toothpick as you drink your vino.

Where is your go-to place when you want to have a glass or bottle?
I really do not like wine bars. I do not want a glass of an interesting, very good, stupendous, etc. wine. I want to live with and share a whole bottle with food with my lady love or with friends. I taste wines for a living in cellars when I sit down with a wine, I want it to be a joy, not a tasting experience.

What was your “wine eureka moment” — the incident/taste/encounter that put you and wine on an intimate plane forever?
A jug of Gallo Chablis, a loaf of French bread and some cheese, years ago consumed on the beach at Carmel, California, when I was a young sailor in Russian Language School at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California. Or perhaps a bottle of Mateus Rosé brought back to Spain from a get-your-passport-stamped-every-six months-to-stay-in-Spain-as-foreigner run to Portugal. The Mateus and a few tokes of hashish sitting around another empty bottle of Mateus with a candle in it was a transcendent wine experience.

What has been the strangest moment/incident you have experienced in your career?
The Battle of Wine in Haro, La Rioja, where on June 29 each year the locals and a few visitors go up on a mountain outside the Rioja wine capital of Haro early in the morning and literally pour on, in and around one another some 100,000 liters of young Rioja wine, staining the participants’ white outfits, themselves and the whole mountain a not particularly appealing shade of wine purple and causing rivelets of wine (really!) to run down the mountain like water after a rainstorm.

Gerry Dawes does not abide wood in his wine. (Photo courtesy Gerry Dawes)


Txokos Basque Kitchen – A Spanish Wine Experience with Pintxos

Food and wine lovers rejoiced this past Friday, January 31 st when Txokos Basque Kitchen held their Spanish Wine Experience event at the East End Market. No, it was not inside the restaurant itself (only a few more weeks to completion by the looks of things), but instead was hosted upstairs at the East End’s Apex event space.

Revelers tasted over 50 wines from Spain’s most popular regions such as: Rioja, Ribera de Duero, Txakoli, Rias Baixas and more (see below for the complete list, all available for sale through Winter Park’s Wine on the Way now).

Txokos Basque Kitchen Owners, Chef Henry & Michele Salgado also own the popular Spanish River Grill Bistro Latino in New Smyrna Beach. Chef Henry is a James Beard Award Semi-finalist & will be cooking at the upcoming James Beard Benefit Dinner at the Alfond Inn.

Chef Henry & Michele Salgado featured an impressive list of Tapas and Pintxos (peen-chos) from the Basque region of Northern Spain along with a Jamon carving station, all soon to be part of the new menu at Txokos when they open up, possibly as part of a happy hour concept as well. Pintxos, of course, are little bite sized dishes skewered on a stick, similar to a kebab.

Inside the Apex’s open kitchen, the husband and wife team joined by their assistants, deftly put together their pintxos and tapas (from fig and cheese to salmon tartare and my favorite, the pulpo octopus with cheese), under some pressure from onlookers, while guests traveled from table to table sampling the many wines available. Great wines and great food with friends gathered around their glasses and plates with good conversations throughout the evening.

I can’t wait for this to be a regular occurrence when Txokos finally opens in a few weeks.

Note: The letter X is pronounched like the “ch” in Basque. so think of pronouncing “Tchokos” when seeing “Txokos”, “pinchos” when seeing “pintxos”…

Chorizo sausage The Owners, Chef Henry and Michelle Salgado Tortilla Espanola or the Spanish Omelette, a favorite tapas of the region Pulpo octopus and manchego cheese

Tapas with piquillo Peter Lee, La Brexta Seafood and Spanish Provisions downstairs at East End with the jamon serrano, dry aged 15months, available at La Brexta along with iberico ham Jamon Serrano, at La Brexta, aged 15 months

Steak and cheese pintxos Tuna stuffed Piquillos Salmon Tartare

Fig and Cheese Pintxos Anchovies, egg, piquillo on bread

Krystle Nguyen with Kendra Lott and Emily Ellyn Chef Henry Salgado Sweet and savory Jam sandwiches

La Brexta Seafood and Spanish Provisions at East End Market Downstairs at La Brexta Seafood at La Brexta Menu at La Brexta Seafood and Spanish Provisions at East End Market

C&B – Alconde Vineyards

Ribera del Duero “TORRE PINGON”
2012 Torre Pingon Verdejo
Ribera del Duero “ARDAL”
Ardal Tradicion
Spain Navarra “BODEGA ALCONDE”
2006 Alconde Seleccion Garnacha
2012 Rosado Fresco
2012 Blanco Fresco
Vina Sardasol Crianza

Premier
2012 Marques de Caceres Verdejo
2011 Telmo Rodriguez Gabo do Xil
2011 Telmo Rodriguez Dehesa Gago
2009 Artadi Vins de Gain

Augustan
2011 Raventos L’Hereu
2012 Raventos Silencis
2010 La Cartuja Priorat
2012 Berroja Berroia Txakoli

Noble
2012 Lolo Albarino
2012 Palos verdejo
Paco Grenache tempranillo
2009 Las Hermanas
2011 Pieza el Coll

Stacole
2012 Rafaele Palacios “Louro do Bolo”, Godello, Valdeorras
2012 Nisia, Verdejo, Rueda (Stacole)
2010 Vetus “Flor de Vetus”, Tinta de Toro, Toro (Stacole)
2011 Volver, Tempranillo, Castilla- La Mancha (Stacole)
2012 Botani Muscat
NV Alvear Fino Montilla
2008 Sierra Cantabria “Unica” Reserva, Rioja
1994 Lopez de Heredia Gran Reserva 94
NV Dibon Cava, Penedes
2009 Mustiguillo Mestis Valencia

Opici
2006 Valensico Reserva, Tempranillo, Rioja
2011 Vespers, garnacha-samso, Monsant
2009 Dinastia Vivanco Coleccion, Maturana, Rioja
2011 K5 Txakoli Txakoli
2009 Peza do Rei, Mencia, Riberia Sacra
2011 Vina Gormaz, Tempranillo, Ribera del Duero
2010 Tinto Pesquera, Tempranillo, Ribera del Duero
2001 Condado de Haza Alenza, Gran Reserva, Ribera del Duero
2012 Flor del Paramo Rosado, Prieto Picudo, Tierra de Leon
2006 Dehesa La Granga, Tempranillo, Castilla y Leon
NV Mont Marcal Rosado Brut Reserva, Penedes

Askari OH
Hacienda Lopez de Haro Rosado Rioja 2011
Proyecto Garnacha de España “Salvaje del Moncayo” Ribera de Queiles 2011
Bodegas Matsu “El Picaro” Toro 2012
Hacienda Lopez de Haro Reserva Rioja 2005 92pts Parker
De Bardos “Suprema” Ribera del Duero 2005
Bodegas Matsu “El Viejo” Toro 2009 92pts Guia Piñan

Vinecraft
2009 Caraballo, Listan Blanco, La Palma
2011 Los Bermejos Rosado, Listan Negro, Lanzarote
2010 Tierres de Aponte Tinto, Vijariego Tinto-Ruby Cabernet, Tenerife

RNDC
2012 Marques de Vizhoja, Chardonnay-Albarino, Rias Baixas
2009 Torres “Celeste”, Crianza, Ribera del Duero
Clos de Mas Priorat
2006 Bodegas Roda II, Rioja

TransAtlantic
2004 La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza
2006 Vina Herminia Reserva, ,Rioja
El Coto Crianza Rioja
2012 Santo Cristo, Garnacha, Campo de Borja
2008 Reserva de Familia Juve y Camps

Global
Lacrimus 5 2011, Rioja
Capitulo 8 2011 Garnacha, Castilla La Mancha
Iriensis 2011 Albarino, Rias Baixas
Alvarez de Toledo 2010 Godello, Bierzo
Clos de Tafall 2012 Red, Priorat
2001 Rioja Urbina Reserva, Rioja

Wines are all available for sale through Winter Park’s Wine on the Way


Completing the Tapas Circuit in Philly

I was at Tinto (Basque-style tapas bar) last week. And while speaking to the bartender he mentioned how the "tapas" experience works really well when a city has several that one can visit in an evening. I had never thought of this and think that it would be fun to try and hit all of Philly's tapas bars in one night.
Presently Philly's tapas/small plates restaurants that I'm aware of include:
1) Ansill (South Street)
2) Amada (Old City)
3) Bar Ferdinand (Northern Liberties)
4) Isla Ibiza (Northern Liberties)
5) Tinto (Center City)

So I have a few questions. First do I have all of Philly's tapas/small plates restos covered above? And secondly from a logistical standpoint where would you start and end this adventure? Unfortunately it would almost have to be a Friday or Saturday.


Watch the video: Ellens Hot Guys: Chris Hemsworth Speaks Some Strange Languages (November 2021).