One of the most alluring features of The Block –one of Charleston’s newest eateries – is the availability of a small plate menu where guests can choose the informality of casual dining and still be assured of a quality culinary experience.
These small plate, or tapas-style menus, originated in Spain and have become a pretty common option in American restaurants for the past several years. Spanish native and renowned chef, Jose Andres, introduced the cuisine to America in his restaurants.
Chosen as one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2012, Andres owns Jaleo in Washington DC where his tapas menu is spectacular. I visited the restaurant on a recent trip and tasted my way through several lovely courses. And while the food was exceptional, I was equally awed by the amazing selection of Spanish wines, many of which are available by the glass.
Until the last decade, the only Spanish wines any of us knew about were the tempranilo-based reds of Rioja, the Cava’s (Sparkling wines) from the Penedes region and, of course, the fortified wine known as Sherry. Hey, these are wines worth drinking, but fortunately there is now an even greater selection from which to choose.
And they are wines, many from lesser-known appellations in a country known more for bull fighting, that are worth searching out. For those of you who have limited experience with the wines of Spain, you might want to read on about the great selection of vinous products which are now making their way to our shores.
But first it might help to give you a little geographic perspective on where the vines are grown and how that geography is so important to the finished product. To make it as simple as possible (and nothing is simple in the world of wine), northern and central Spain are considered the nation’s best producing regions because of more hospitable weather and the influence of the sea and mountains
In the northwest region of Galicia, the cool Atlantic greatly influences what is produced with the most famous white – albarino- and the red –mencia – being the regions’ most sought after wines. Continuing east, the famous northern wine regions of La Rioja and Navarra produce some of the most sought after reds made predominately with grapes such as tempranillo and grenache.
One of the most exceptional appellations in the north central part of the country is Ribera del Duero where reds produced from tempranillo are among the best wines in all of Spain. Further east toward Barcelona and the Mediterranean, vintners in the Penedes appellation produce arguably the world’s second greatest sparkling wine (called Cava) made in the Champagne style. And in this region, the country’s best cabernet sauvignon is produced (my favorite for years has been the Torres Gran Coronas Reserva).
Among the most important regions of central Spain are the appellations of Priorat which produces consistently good old vine grenache and Rueda where the fruit-forward white made from verdejo is the pick. In southern Spain, the most famous wine is, of course, Sherry but increasingly the roses and whites of the Canary Islands are worth seeking out.
Here are some of my favorite Spanish wines you might try which are available in local fine wine shops:
Castillo Perelada Cava Brut Rosado ($12) -A blend of garnacha, pinot noir and trepat aged for 12 months prior to disgorging, this is a crisp and dry rose’ sparkler you might use as an aperitif or with a manchego cheese and chive omelet.
2013 Lagar de la Santina Albarino ($18) This white from Rias Baixas (pronounced ree-es buy-shez) in the Galicia region of northwestern Spain is crisp, round and full of citrus and mineral flavors. Match it up with cod quickly broiled in beurre blanc.
2010 Rotllan Torra Crianza Priorat ($19)- This silky blend of garnacha, mazuelo, and cabernet is a great introduction to the complexity of wines from the Priorat appellation. Blackberry and cola flavors combine to make this a wine to pair with roasted pork tenderloin that has been basted with a honey-chipotle glaze.
2011Chapillon Cuvee Harmonie ($20) An inky, full-bodied red made from 90% petit verdot in the Calatayud region of north central Spain, this wine is kind of like malbec on steroids. It is, however, a delicious mouthful of wine, particularly if matched up with smoked beef brisket slathered in a Kansas City-style barbecue sauce.