Friday, May 21, 2010

Unofficial "Spanish Wine Week" Returns to Port

The Wine Armada completed a successful mission exploring the two remaining St. Louis venues hosting Spanish wine tastings, during a week that featured three celebrations of the wines of Spain (here's a link to the first tasting "The New Spain," at the Wine Merchant, Ltd.). "Viva Espana" at Robust Wine Bar was the second target and led us on a journey throughout the entire Iberian peninsula in a relaxed, casual atmosphere with brimming trays of Spanish cheese and cured meats for the crew.

Our congenial master of ceremonies, Stanley Browne, was both knowledgeable and approachable, in launching the first leg of our adventure with the following wines:

2005 Marques de Geilda, Brut Reserva Cava

2009 Vina Mayor, Verdejo - Rueda

2007 Muga White Blend - Rioja

2006 Heredad Ugarte, Crianza - Rioja

2007 Onix Classic - Priorat

2007 Vale do Bomfim - Portugal

The entire line-up was more than up to the task, from the racy Cava, to the other worthy whites from the north. Guns were soon blazing as the reds from Rioja and Priorat peppered our palates with pleasing notes of cherries, vanilla and darker fruit. All was not "quiet on the western front," as a lone Portuguese wine reminded us of just how far our neighbor on the Atlantic has come in producing solid wine with great depth. We loaded up a bottle of La Cana Albarino, from the ample supply Robust offers for purchase, and made our way into the night, plotting our next attack in Maplewood within the next 24 hours.

Saint Louis Cellars was in our sites and we were anxiously anticipating the first in their "STAYcation" series. STL Wine Girl, Angela Ortmann, was the ship's captain and did an outstanding job in navigating the sea of Spanish wine within the posh, high tech meeting room. An enthusiastic crowd, snacking on plates of cheese, olives and other compatible wine pairing partners, was on hand to sample these wines:

2005 Marques de Geilda, Brut Reserva Cava

2008 Botani Muscatel Seco - Malaga

2007 Paco & Lola Albarino - Rias Baixas

2008 Tres Picos Garnacha - Campo de Borja

2008 Wrongo Dongo Monastrell - Jumilla

2007 Cuatro Pasos Mencia - Bierzo

Marques de Geilda once again led the charge, followed by the lively Muscatel from the south and the always refreshing Albarino. One of the Armada's perennial favorites, Tres Picos, began the wave of reds, with Wrongo Dongo setting the bar quite high for the incredible values from Jumilla. Cuatro Pasos was a pleasantly surprising conclusion to our expedition, showing the crew the accessibility in delicious flavors this increasingly popular Spanish grape, Mencia, has developed.

The Wine Armada couldn't resist buying a tetra-pack of Yellow+Blue Spanish Rosado from the very classy Saint Louis Cellars retail area. Keep an eye on the horizon for a future review of this summer sipper, in eco-friendly packaging, at wallet-friendly pricing. Viva Espana, indeed!

Friday, May 14, 2010

The New Spain

The Wine Armada issues a big salute to Phil at The Wine Merchant Limited for his outstanding class on "The New Spain." Everything was right on target, as he took a small squad of us through a couple of notable whites and four terrific reds. "The Merch" also served some excellent pairings of Spanish cheeses, with Drunken Goat (washed with a red Rioja), raw sheep's milk Manchego and a mild, but tasty Urgelia.

The sensory assault on our palettes began with a 2008 Shaya "Old Vines" Verdejo. This crisp, citrusy white from Rueda proved to be just right, with it's light frame of bright fruit and clean finish. This great summer wine option is popping up all over town and would be a delicious match with almost anything from the sea.

Valdeorras was our next target, with a 2008 Vina Godeval Godello Valdeorras. This took our infiltration to Spanish white territory to the next level, showing more complexity, mineral notes and a deeper, longer finish. The Urgelia was the ultimate pairing partner with this wine.

2007 Bodegas Alto Almonzoras "Este" led the charge of Spanish reds. An easy drinking, food-friendly blend, that varies between vintages, seemed to call out for plates of tapas to start making their way around the table.

Our crew then invaded the up and coming region of Calatayud with 2008 Evodia Old Vine Garnacha. We're starting to see this classic example of Spain's new style Garnacha frequently making its way into more shops. The juicy, dark fruit up front (think black cherry cobbler) with great acidity on the back end, makes this a prime "buy by the case" candidate.

2006 Bodegas Mas Alta "La Basseta" from one of the Wine Armada's favorite DOs, Priorat, was an absolutely stunning example of what this remote area can do with grapes. The layer upon layer of fig, plum and spices was a meal in itself, with every sip offering new flavors and complexity. Hide this one in your wine arsenal and bring it out for a special occasion where nothing less than a 96 pt. Robert Parker rating (!) will do.

We concluded our mission with a 2006 Finca Sandoval from Manchuela. This Syrah-based blend was quintessential New Spain, offering their successful take on a classic varietal. The class was split between this dark, brooding impeccably balanced sampling, and the La Basseta, as a red wine favorite. A few also went back to the Shaya as their overall #1 pick of the evening. And with the 15% discount we earned on all these selections, the usual Spanish wine bargains were available at "crazy-low" prices.

Phil did a fine job on presentation, wine selection, service and answering the many questions about these wines, and Spain in general. The Wine Armada recommends him as your "go to guy" for these wines, or the many other Spanish offerings the Wine Merchant has made available.

2006 Finca Sandoval Manchuela

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Wine Armada Captures Chicago

On our first mission outside of St. Louis, the Wine Armada sails north to the Windy City. Our primary assignment is nothing less than sampling the best of what they have to offer at two downtown tapas bars. Once that has been accomplished, our sites are set on invading a renowned wine shop for capturing some rare offerings, not found in the Gateway City.

The first strike of the Armada took place at 1492 Tapas Bar, 42 E. Superior Street. The surroundings were definitively “old school” with classic decor and Spanish guitar music filling the shotgun layout. The menu was also steeped in tradition as were the wine selections. We began with a 2006 Legado del Conde Albariño that was a delicious example of how a good Albariño can age to become a fuller bodied, golden white, with nuances of mandarin orange, minerals and citrus rind. This paired seamlessly with tangy Croquetas de Queso (goat cheese croquettes).

We moved on to a 2008 Arévalo Casamaro Verdejo from Rueda. This proved to be a lip-smacking mouthful of red grapefruit, lemon oil with a creamy body that lingered on a long finish with white peach flavors. It was more than up to the task of harmonious synchronization with it’s partner, a steaming plate of one of the house specialties, Pulpo 1492 (grilled squid).

A 2006 Vina Mayor Tinto Roble from Ribera del Duero was the final assault. Warm flavors of black cherry and red plum, led to cedar overtones on the perfectly acidic finish. It was an excellent wine, but proved to be a bit too high in alcohol to douse the heat brought on by an overly-spicy plate of Spanish sausages.

We continued our culinary conquest the following evening at Emelio’s Tapas Restaurant, 215 E. Ohio St. A wine from the owner’s hometown of Granda was suggested and the deal was done when it was revealed “white tempranillo” was the varietal. Upon further research, we've discovered Vijiriega is the main grape in this 2006 Veleta Vijiriega, and the rare white tempranillo returns to “Moby Dick” status. It still made for an extremely interesting, and complex, glass of white peaches, minerals and spices that was a welcome departure from the predictable “citrus rut” so many white wines fall into. The outstanding creamy garlic, earthiness of the Canelon Frio de Atun (tuna cannelloni) made for a sensational start to the meal.

Albondigas de Cordero (lamb meatballs) were singing the siren’s song and our adventurous spirit led to us to pair this with a wine from Zargoza, a regional rarity. The 2006 Castillo de Fuendejalon Crianza was a pleasant blend of ripe, dark fruit and spice on an easy-drinking, medium frame. It proved just right with the melt-in-your-mouth meatballs, in herbed tomato sauce and almond slivers.

Binny’s Beverage Depot was the final target and our prayers were answered when the doors opened to a virtual shrine of wine. Zeroing on the Spanish row of bottles turned up a few gems that ended up in the cargo hold. Gessami Gramona Vendimia 2008, a Penedes still white wine, that is not the more common sparkling Cava, led the charge. 2007 Salia de Finca Sandoval from the hard-to-find Manchuela region followed. A 2007 Camins de Priorat from famed wine maker Alvaro Palacios was a “must have.” But the crowning jewel was an Apostoles Palo Cortado sherry that saw 30 years of oak aging, and quick entry into the ship’s bay that rapidly returned to the home base in St. Louis.