Last month we all got together to participate in the maiden voyage of Wine Blogging Wednesday, the suppa fun wine blogging event created by Lenn of Lenndeavours. His theme was New World Merlot. It proved to be a great opportunity to explore Merlot, a varietal that, with very few *exceptions (*mostly Washington), had never been a favorite of mine. I had a great time participating and looked forward since then to the second installment.
When I read that Alder of Vinography announced he was hosting the second installment and that the theme would be Spanish Reds I initially thought I had my wine pegged. I had a few bottles of it at hand, it was a house favorite with a great price tag, which we've enjoyed many times with friends and family, with a wide array of dishes, from a favorite region of one of my favorite countries in the world (one very close to my heart and my DNA). All I had to do was sit down, write a few notes and presto. Simple enough, right? Well, not really.
Earlier today I found myself with an hour to kill between clients. I was in town so I drove down to The Spanish Table, one of my favorite shops here in downtown Seattle (or anywhere, for that matter) for all things España. I was browsing around the wine area, just for kicks, when Catherine, the store's wine mayven, asked if I needed any help. "Hmm, not really", I said, "but thanks"! A few minutes later, overwhelmed with the amazing selection (Vega Sicilia, Vega Sicilia, Vega Sicilia) and a last minute idea, I changed my mind. "On second thought, I do!"
I told her I had a little wine thing going, that I had a Ribera Del Duero bottle of a favorite of mine (Encuentro) I was planning to use. Then I told her about this fabulous article I had read in last month's hard copy issue of Departures Magazine (The Style Issue, Sept 04) about the hot hot hot Prioratos of Catalonia. It mentioned how Jancis Robinson had predicted nine years ago that the Prioratos would be the it wines of the new millennium, giving a run for their money to both Riojas and Ribera Del Duero wines.
Martin Filler, the writer, went even further, as to attribute the Priorat phoenix like re-birth to one man, Alvaro Palacios.
Palacios, born into a major Rioja winemaking family, had decided to strike out on his own rather than continue in the dynastic firm, and studied winemaking in Bordeaux under the legendary Jean-Pierre Moueix, of Château Pétrus fame. In 1989 Palacios became a leader in what has been called the Gratallops Project, named after the village that became the epicenter of the new movement.
The article went on to describe how Alvaro Palacios along with René Barbier and Lluis Llacha became sort of Priorato's Triumvirato, putting Priorat on the map, getting them high scores from Robert Parker and placing them out there for other critics to go crazy on. On the other hand, Prioratos would not be for everyone. These were expensive, "in your face", higher in alcohol than the average Bordeaux and very tannic wines.
Reading this article had started me re-thinking my choice for the WBW. I had began to consider going for a Catalonian red instead of the apparently "5 minutes ago" Ribera Del Duero I had thought of writing about. So, I thought, perhaps I could ask Catherine if there was a Priorato she could recommend in a price range that would make sense for this exercise for one. With Mr. C away in Alaska, on a Wednesday, drinking for one, a great Priorat with an expensive price to be opened for a glass or two would just not make sense.
She was happy to assist me! She spent the next 30 minutes with me, walking around the shop, browsing the shelves, picking a Toro here or a Jumilla there, all the while talking shop, giving me a little history of some of the wines she could recommend that fit my description and requirements and even offered to look up the article on the web. She then proceeded to recommend a wine that was not a true Priorato but that it was indeed a favorite of hers and one who was only a few degrees of filial separation from the great wines of Priorat, even when it was a Rioja!
"Rioja? Oh no, not Rioja!", I said (I was less interested in purchasing wine from a Denominación De Orígen that I already knew well--been drinking them with my family since my teens-- and was hoping for a newer, fresher wine to talk about). Catherine told me to set all my prejudices about Rioja aside and allow her to make the case for this wine. It was then that our wine conversation got really interesting and took a surprising turn. She related how the family that owns the winery for the particular Rioja she was recommending was a very well respected wine making family that had been selling great Riojas for centuries. She spoke about the vineyards, their wine making process and why it was such a great value.
Then the best bit: the winemaker for my Rioja was Antonio Palacios, whose brother, Alvaro (THE Alvaro I had been reading about on Departures! What were the odds?) was world known for his L'Ermita Velles Vinyes coming out of Priorat. AHA! So I could actually purchase a very inexpensive Rioja that was made in the style of the great Prioratos, by a man with the same DNA, the same dedication to excellence, wine know-how and quality of grapes. A Rioja made by no other than the brother of the guy whose wines started the whole Priorat revolution? Yes! Kismet! What luck! How totally serendipitously had I arrived at this find!
Catherine had managed the impossible: to convince me that for tonight's event I should give this lovely Rioja a go, instead of a Priorato, Toro or even a Ribera Del Duero (even if I already had a bottle or two at home).
Shopping for my wine with Catherine, at The Spanish Table was not only a fun shopping experience but also a very eye opening one. It was evident how much she knew about Spanish wines and how much, like me, she enjoyed them. This was more than a wine sale, it was wine education. As exciting and rare an event as finding a doctor that volunteers to spend more than 15 minutes with you during a regular visit. Sold for only $13.99! A bottle of Bodegas Palacios Remondo Herencia Remondo La Montesa, 2001
And because great Spanish wines deserve great Spanish nosh I also took home with me a small piece of a delicious Ibores Catherine had so kindly offered me to sample and a bit of Jamón Serrano to pair with my wine (again, Catherine put together a small portion, just for me, as Mr. C is in Alaska).
From there, it was a matter of stopping for some fresh figs and grapes and pick up a Ficelle (and a mini Brioche) from Dahlia that the gals at the bakery were kind enough to save for me (I was not running the risk of arriving to pick up my Ficelle and find out that it was sold out so I called them from my car, lol) until right before closing time (6pm). I also had to fish out of the pantry some of my lovely Corazón Del Sol Membrillo (Quince Paste), yet another Spanish product that we are never without around these parts.
After arriving home and plating my nibbles, I got on with the tasting. The wine benefits from decanting. It is unfiltered so I poured a small portion for tonight using a screened aerating funnel and left it out for about thirty minutes to open. Easy peasy!
My thoughts: Beautiful aroma and lovely garnet color. Forward fruit with slightly minty and suede undertones, a bit of bramble jam. Light bodied and very drinkable. Would go wonderful with roasted rack of lamb, goat tagines and pinchos. It even fared very well with my cheese and ham, fruit and quince paste. I would definitely buy it again. By the by, Catherine told me the Montesa was a hit at a recent foodie event--that she selected the wines for--of Seattle restauranteurs that included Seattle's own Tom Douglas. Drink now or hold for a year or two (this is a Crianza afterall). A great value indeed!
Read on for Catherine's wine notes (which she kindly shared with me, made me a copy of and was happy for me to use on my story):
"Herencia Remondo La Montesa 01 Rioja
My favorite Crianza! This extremely talented family of winemakers have taken old vineyards, slashed their yields, implemented organic viticulture and taken daring chances that produce some of the most exciting wines in spain. La montesa represents the bridge between the estate's past and future using 40% Granache, 45% Tempranillo, 15% Graciano and Mazuelo. Smokey black fruits and currants, great springy acidity and a slightly dusty vanilla sensation. Light bodied but full of velvety berries, pinprick tannins and a sleek finish, Outstanding value!"
The Palacios Remondo family has a wine past which goes back to 1651 but only José Palacios Remondo prepared his children (current persons in charge) to lead the property, one is an oenologist of Bordeaux, who planted the best selections of traditional vines of Rioja. However one should keep in mind the family link which exists between Bodegas Palacios Remondo and the famous Alvaro Palacios of Priorato. The domain, of 100 hectares, is at the East of Rioja at an altitude of approximately 550 meters, and profits from particularly favorable climatic conditions for qualitative development and more particularly for Grenache (40% of encépagement). Tempranillo occupies 45% of the vines. From the web
Every Saturday, from 2 pm to 5 pm The Spanish Table in Seattle (California law does not allow their Berkeley wine shops to have these free tastings) hosts Spanish & Portuguese wine tastings, free of charge. Catherine is available at the shop from Tuesdays to Saturdays to assist you with all your wine needs. She is young, friendly and a wealth of honest and inspired wine information. Do seek her out before shopping for your next Spanish or Portuguese wine!