A Rush of Tempranillo to the Head

One of the travails of a professional in the wine business is to go to tastings and gather intel about wine to be used for future purchase and knowledge. There is a lot of spitting and yearning for a beer. Some importers know how to promote an event better than others. Venue, food, crowd management, and many others variables factor into what separates a good tasting from a great one.

At the forefront for some time in the Spanish wine market is Tempranillo Inc., a New York based Jorge Ordonez company, whose mission is to bring unique and distinct Spanish winemaking to the world’s cellars, retail shops, restaurants and wine bars. Part of what made the May 14th tasting so memorable was the roster of star winery representatives present. Meeting and conversing with the actual producers gives the consumer/buyer a real inside track to the wine’s intent. They are genuinely interesting people who love to talk about their wines with passion and great enthusiasm.

There was a “warm-up” tasting at Amalia restaurant in midtown which was well attended. Tasty hors d’ouevres were passed out so as to try the wines in context with food. I am a big proponent of this method of tasting because this is how the everyday person consumes wine on a daily basis. More often than not the wine needs the food to express its flavor profile, if not to enjoy it more fully.

The evening venue was top notch, the upstairs private room at Eleven Madison Park. Just the presence of Art Deco architecture and design evokes a feeling of Gotham, and is one of the reasons New York is such a charmed city.

The menu, created by executive chef Daniel Humm, featured four courses plus dessert, accompanied by the thirty or so wines slated for tasting. Herein lay the only true flaw of the evening, as the invited guests tasted through the majority of the wines accompanied by brief introductions by the winery representatives. While the added info about the wines was useful, tasting 30 wines in rapid succession does little for me to understand the wines carefully. My palate was seriously hampered by wine number twelve.

Finally, relief arrived in the form of bread and water, and after a brief seating rearrangement, the food commenced and we were allowed to bring whatever wines to the table for pairings. At my table was Mani Dawes, owner of Tinto Fino, Tia Pol, and Quinto Pino, her partner Karen, formerly Tempranillo Inc.’s golden girl, Shelley McClure of interior design, her husband Steve Flynn of September Wines & Spirits, and Amy Hopkinson, winemaker of special projects for Bodegas Juan Gil, and Jose Manuel Azofra, representative of Sierra Cantabria in Rioja. Present at other tables: Juan Muga of Muga, Rioja, Raphael Canizares winemaker of Volver in Toledo, Nathalie Leboeuf of Allende,  Maite Esteve from Marques de Gelida, Loren Gil, and Victoria Ordonez (Jorge’s sister).

With the serving of dinner finally set, we had the liberty to taste any of the wines with the ensuing courses. This was great freedom and exceptionally fun. This type of bottle sharing occurs naturally at normal meals at home.

The first course, a composed plate of Hawaiian prawns with a puree of avocado, lime and yogurt – a bright seafood dish – begs for acidity, and the Avanthia godello, Botani moscatel, and Shaya verdejo married nicely. The next offering, poached Nova Scotia Lobster with spring carrots, ginger and vadouvan granola, required a white wine with an oily mouthfeel – although the Cana albarino fared well enough.

The next course, the milk fed veal with fava beans and chanterelles is an old wine’s best friend. Many of the older vintages served improved with this pairing. My favorite red with this dish was the 2004 Allende, a Rioja with minerality. Some of the more tannic wines were too overpowering. Not so for the next plate, black angus beef tenderloin with asparagus, potato puree, and Oregon morels, the morels creating a minor shock wave of earthy excitement on the tongue. I am not a huge fan of black angus, what is sold in the supermarket with this brand often disappoints in flavor, but this preparation made me a believer. The bigger wines (Torre Muga 2005, Remrez de Ganuza 2004, Clio 2006) were in heaven here, all of their masculinity supported by the bold flavors of the black angus beef. The 2007 Almirez of Toro really shined here, as well as the Vega Sindoa blend cab/temp blend.

A Fuji Apple tarte fine with granola crumble and vanilla ice cream rounded things out, and the 2006 Jorge Ordonez Victoria moscatel from Malaga is like an ice wine with less residual sugar – breezy and delish.

The winery representatives, weary from an exhausting tour of U.S. cities, were just about finished, having missed their siestas indicative of Spanish culture. Ramon del Monte, my friend and rep. from Tempranillo Inc. brought a few of them to Pata Negra for a tapas run before the evening’s event. They had Basque cider, Estrella beer, tortilla, gambas and jamon iberico. I am only sad I could not offer them hammocks. I asked Juan Muga what he planned to do when he got back to Spain. He replied, “I will sleep for three weeks.”

After that many wines and such a fine meal, I think I will join them.

Highlights of some of the wines tasted from both events:

Torre Muga 2005
Aro 2005
Muga Prado Enea Gran Reserva 2001
Sierra Cantabria Amancio 2005
El Bosque 2006
El Punitdo 2005
Sierrra Cantabria Coleccion Privada 2006
Sierra Cantabria 2001
San Vicente 2005
Protocolo Rosado 2008
Allende 2004
Remirez de Ganuza 2004
Emilio Moro 2005
Emilio Moro Resalso 2007
Malleolus 2006
Almirez 2007
Volver 2007
Mas de Can Blau 2006
Alto Moncayo 2006
Borsao Crianza Seleccion 2006
Atteca Armas 2006
Wrongo Dongo 2007
Clio 2006
Avanthia Godello 2008
La Cana 2008
Shaya 2008
Botani 2008
Marques de Gelida Brut Res. Ecologico 2005
Urban Uco 2007

Papabubble

On a recent Sunday I decided to wake up early for a change with dim sum on my mind.  Ping’s is an obvious choice, but I headed over to Oriental Garden instead, which was different but still delicious (the service here is better than most as well).  Companioned with the Matzoh Ball Queen, we wended our way through Nolita.  The shops in Nolita evoke a similar feeling one used to sense in Soho, before the vast commercialization.  People don’t seem to be in a hurry, and shops genuinely promote artisanal designers and products.  Tucked between two tourist zones (Chinatown and Little Italy), Nolita benefits from relative anonymity in the middle.  The nabe is not high on tourist guides and the community seems to be sticking its slow developing guns.  Once the Bowery finally rids itself of the kitchen supply stores, the transformation will take shape.

Due to a tilt in the heat index, we stopped in for beers at Loreley which has a backdoor garden and a jazz brunch in progress.    The timing was right for a sweet craving, and as providence would have it, curiousity led us to Papabubble.  At first, you don’t know what the store actually specializes in.  You just get the impression something artistic and sweet is being created within.  Papabubble is Quechee meets Willy Wonka.  This eurocandy company (Barcelona) crafts whimsical candy with unusual flavor combinations, and often perform the process right before your eyes.  This joyful experience for adults and children brings true delight to the savoring of the candies.  They can cleverly custom inscribe for special occasions (at a cost).  Think gifts for anyone artfully minded and treat yourself for the rest of the week too.