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Spanish-Themed Sunday Euro Lunch

August 19, 2010

SPANISH-THEMED SUNDAY EURO LUNCH – Donato Enoteca, Redwood City, California (8/15/2010)

L to R: Paul, Fred, Richard, Al and Tom

Next stop for our monthly Euro lunch was a visit to Spain, in honor of that country’s victory in the World Cup last month. Due to one couple’s wedding that weekend, another couple’s imminent birth, vacations and other exigencies, we were a small but mighty crowd of five for this lunch. Donato did a great job, as usual, with our food. We planned on a sparkler, whites, lighter reds, heavier reds and sweet wine, all from Spain (or, in the case of our vintage Madeira, “Iberia adjacent”), and with only one lightly corked bottle and the rest showing fairly well, the lunch was another victory for Spain.

Cava starter

We started with a Cava from one of my favorite producers, formed in 1986 by Josep Maria Raventos i Blanc and his son Manuel Raventos i Negra, who are part of the family that owns and runs the biggest and oldest producer of Cava, Cordoniu. This is one of their most expensive bottlings, and it was good, but I didn’t find it as interesting or complex as less expensive bottlings I’ve had. Perhaps it was because this bottle had five years on it already, and I’ve had better luck with very young Cavas.

Our light appetizer that went well with the Cava was a Farinata (thin chickpea flower cake) with speck and Crescenza cheese.

White and dry Sherry flight

With our next course, an heirloom tomato salad with fava beans and burrata, we tried a variety of whites. The best pairing was our Martinsancho Verdejo. Verdejo is the principal variety of Rueda, and Rueda Superior (at least 85% Verdejo) is arguably one of Europe’s great white wines. I really liked the aromatics on this one, which is from 40-year-old vines. Our second white was from Ribeiro, one of Spain’s oldest wine regions, and the wine, by Emilio Rojo, who switched to winemaking from being a telephone engineer in the mid-80s, was very good, but not the best pairing with tomato. Emilio Rojo brought back the obscure Lado variety from near extinction, and it makes up 10% of the single wine he makes, a blend of white grapes dominated by Treixadura. I also wanted to fit a dry sherry into the lunch somewhere, so we tried this one that had been recommended to me by one of the sherry experts at K&L. It was a very good, lighter bodied dry sherry, with refinement, but it would have done better with a light savory dish than our tomato salad.

  • N.V. Valdespino Jerez-Xérès-Sherry Fino “Inocente” – Spain, Andalucía, Jerez-Xérès-Sherry
    Light medium butter yellow color; light nutty, oily, nut oil nose; tasty, oily textured, refined, nutty, mineral palate; medium finish 90+ pts. (90 pts.)
  • 2006 Emilio Rojo Ribeiro – Spain, Galicia, Ribeiro
    Light yellow color; oily, green pea, almond nose; delicate, green almond, mineral, tart citrus palate with tang; medium finish 90+ pts. (55% Treixadura, 15% Loureiro, 10% Lado, 10% Albarino, 10% Torrontes) (90 pts.)
  • 2008 Bodegas Angel Rodriguez Verdejo Rueda Martínsancho – Spain, Castilla y León, Rueda
    Light yellow color; very aromatic, white flower, nectarine, herbal nose; tasty, tart nectarine, mineral, herbal palate with grip; medium-plus finish 91+ pts. (91 pts.)


Our next course was a scallop tortellini in broth with squash blossom and zucchini. We decided to go with the lighter of our three reds, a mature Rioja. La Rioja Alta is a family owned producer that was originally established in 1890, and has maintained Rioja’s winemaking traditions while also keeping up with modern developments and improvements. They own 300 hectares of vineyards. The Gran Reserva 890 was made from 95% Tempranillo, together with small amounts of Mazuelo and Graciano. After malolactic fermentations the wine was put into American oak “barricas” in June 1995. It remained six years in cask, being racked by hand every six months before being bottled in June 2001. When opened, the nose had some suspicious mustiness, along with nice leather and roasted plum aromas. It took the full 3 hours of the lunch for the TCA to bloom to the point we were all sure there was cork taint, which probably sapped the palate of some flavor.

  • 1994 La Rioja Alta Rioja Gran Reserva 890 – Spain, La Rioja, Rioja
    Bricking dark red violet color; maturing, American oak, dill, tart plum, leather, roasted plum nose; mature, tangy plum, roasted plum, dill, red fruit palate, with slight TCA that bloomed over the course of our 3-plus hour lunch to the point we were certain; medium finish (92 pts.)

’01 Tempranillo flight

Our main course was a tasty lamb top sirloin wrapped in pancetta, with cabbage braised in Chianti vinegar and olive oil. It was time for our big reds. Both showed well, and both are near the beginning of their mature period, but the Alión, owned by Vega Sicilia and sharing its parent company’s winemaker, had the most balance and finesse. The first vintage of Alión, based in Ribera del Duero like Vega Sicilia, was 1991, and their aim is to produce great wines from 100% Tempranillo of reserva quality. The ’01 was fermented in stainless steel vats until January ’02, then raised in new Nevers oak barrels for 13 months. It was subsequently aged in bottle until its release in 2005.

The Numanthia is made by the Eguren borthers, owners of Sierra Cantabria and Senorio de San Vicente, who bought 41 hectares of 70-year-old Tempranillo vines (known in Toro as “Tinto de Toro”) and made their first vintage of Numanthia from it in 1998. The ’01 was made in the new bodega that was completed in 2000, specially designed with small oak fermentation vats. The other wine from this project, made from 100 year old pre-phylloxera vines, is the Termanthia.

  • 2001 Bodega Numanthia Termes Toro Numanthia – Spain, Castilla y León, Toro
    Opaque purple red violet color; berry, blackberry, black plum nose; berry, plum, black plum, blackberry palate with firm, sweet tannins; medium-plus finish 92+ pts. (92 pts.)
  • 2001 Bodegas y Viñedos Alión Ribera del Duero – Spain, Castilla y León, Ribera del Duero
    Opaque black red violet color; black plum, dill, American oak nose; tasty, plum, blackberry, black fruit palate with depth; medium-plus finish (93 pts.)

Sweet flight

Our final course, lemon, berry and passion fruit sorbet, and our final two wines–an Oloroso Sherry and a terrific vintage Madeira–were all excellent individually, but they didn’t play well together. Sorbet has much too much acid to compliment these already high acid wines. Lustau is an excellent producer of Sherry, one of the leading names in the business. The “Almacenista” wines they offer are rare wines made by small independent producers, “almacenistas,” in very limited quantities. The one we tried, the Pata del Gallina, was aged in a solera of 38 barrels, in the small bodega of Juan García Jarana. It was very complex, toasty, and oily textured, with notions of coffee, toffee, almond and seawater on the palate.

Our 1914 Madeira was a special treat, for which we have Tom to thank. I’ve tried many vintage Madeiras from Vinhos Barbeito over the years, and visited the company when I was on Madeira in May, but had never before tried this vintage Bual (which Barbeito no longer has in stock, having lost many of their older vintages in the terrible flood in Madeira this past February). This was a remarkably youthful wine for its 96 years, with the high acidity Barbeito wines are known for. It was a great treat to taste wine from a vintage that coincided with the forces that initiated the First World War, which upended civilization as it had been known to that point. I wouldn’t have been surprised to taste a little gunpowder in this wine, but I mainly got coffee, dates and walnut, with that wonderful acidity.

to the right, Donato Enoteca wine director Eric Lecours

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