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Utiel Requena wines conjure tastes of northeast Spain

La Vinya del Senyor in Barcelona
We’re convinced that there is nothing like taste to evoke memories of place. A sip of wine will call back the flavor of the food, the sun on our faces, the wobbly leg of the cafe table, and the street life around us. We’re just starting to taste several wines from the Utiel Requena region in the northwest corner of the autonomous region of Valencia. As we taste, we’re reliving trips to Catalunya, Aragón, Valencia, and the Balearic Islands. In addition to speaking variants of Catalan, these regions feature cuisines that pair very well with the Bobal wines of Utiel Requena. We’ll be enjoying them with some of our favorite dishes.

As shown in this photo just below, D.O. Utiel Requena sits in the rain shadow of mountains, so the region is dry and perfectly suited to organic growing. Most of the producers do grow organically, and they concentrate on the Bobal grape. That’s an indigenous red varietal found almost nowhere else—a great local grape for the cuisine. Historically, Bobal was overcropped and used for blending with wine from other Spanish regions. In the last generation, though, producers have taken advantage of the old vines—most on their own rootstock—to make wines with fabulous concentration and well-defined character.

Vineyards in Utiel Requena

A Bobal rosé—in this case Tarantas—makes a great complement to one of our favorite bar foods, coca, which is pizza-like flatbread topped primarily with red peppers. The lightly sparkling wine made entirely from Bobal has a strawberry nose and tangy red-currant and melon flavors in the mouth. The producer of Tarantas wines is Bodegas Iranzo (www.bodegasiranzo.com), a family concern that has been making wine in the region since 1335! The pronounced fruit of the rosé brings out the herbaceous quality of the pepper while emphasizing the caramel notes from cooking.

Barcelona’s best patio


We first tasted coca at an outdoor cafe table at La Vinya del Senyor, the wine bar that shares a plaza with the Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar. Pat wrote about it in her new book 100 Places in Spain Every Woman Should Go. The photo at the top of this post shows some folks having a good time—and a bottle of wine (of course).

Funded and even partially built by the people of the neighborhood, Santa Maria del Mar (at right) was consecrated in 1384 and remains a perfect example of Catalan Gothic style. Its serene interior and popular appeal make it a favorite for society weddings. We spent a magical evening watching a bride and groom enter the church single and leave as a couple. They lingered in the plaza, surrounded by their boisterous friends, a group of street musicians, and a churlish taxi driver blasting his horn as he tried to no avail to break up the revelry.

We’re not the only ones who are in love with this wine bar. In her cookbook The New Spanish Table, Anya von Bremzen sings the praises of the bar’s coca. We have adapted her recipe below.

coca mallorquina with Tarantas rosé from Utiel Requena

COCA MALLORQUINA


Von Bremzen’s version is more purist, eschewing the cheese that makes a coca seem more like a pizza. But we like the small specks of jamón serrano and creaminess of melted Mahon, a Mallorcan semisoft cheese. The defining characteristic is the topping of slightly caramelized sweet red peppers. Use your favorite pizza dough recipe, but be sure to oil the pan and oil the surface of the dough. If you don’t have a favorite home recipe, see ours here: hungrytravelers.com/black-truffle-pizza-tricks.

Ingredients


olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, shaved thin
2 cups of strips from roasted and peeled sweet red peppers
peel of lemon, finely chopped
2 teaspoons sugar
juice of 1 lemon
1 lb. pizza dough
2 ounces jamón serrano, chopped
1 tablespoon capers
4 ounces Mahon cheese, grated

Directions


Set oven at 450°F.

Drizzle olive oil to cover base of heavy frying pan. Add garlic and fry until crisp. (This gives garlic flavor to the oil.) Remove garlic. Add peppers, lemon peel, and sugar. Sauté until peppers start to caramelize on surface. Add lemon juice and continue cooking until evaporated.

Spread dough on oiled pan (14-inch round or 11×17 sheet). Spread pepper mix evenly. Distribute pieces of crisp garlic evenly. Sprinkle with jamón, capers, and cheese.

Cook 8-10 minutes until crust begins to crisp.

17

05 2017

Bobal brings friends to the barbecue

Lomalta from Finca San Blas in Utiel RequenaOur previous posts on D.O. Utiel Requena (see here) have concentrated on wines of the indigenous Bobal grape. Finca San Blas (fincasanblas.com) in Requena makes a well-regarded 100 percent Bobal. But the bodega also has extensive vineyards planted in Merlot, Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay. Its 2014 Lomalta blends 40 percent Bobal with 30 percent each of Merlot and Tempranillo. The resulting wine is a world apart from the black cherry and resinous spice profile of traditional Bobal.

The Bobal characteristics are largely overshadowed by the other two grapes. We had to double-check the label to make sure it wasn’t an experimental bottling from Rioja, which has had a love affair with French grapes for 150 years. The nose has the pronounced hot-climate menthol of Merlot, and the fruitiness in the mouth confirms the Merlot parentage. But the back of the mouth flavors and finish are pure Tempranillo. The three grapes are all vinified separately, aged separately in new French oak for nine months, and blended just three months before bottling. That approach keeps the grape characteristics quite individual, but it poses a challenge for pairing with food.

watermelon salad and pincho skewers

Finding the right food


We wondered if Lomalta might be a tapas bar wine—served by the well-aerated glass with small bites of spicy food. Having recently acquired Barbecue Sauces, Rubs, and Marinades—Bastes, Butters, and Glazes, Too! by grilling guru Steven Raichlen (Workman Publishing, $17.95), we decided to try his “pincho powder” seasoning as a rub for skewers of pork. And since the rub is fairly hot (use it sparingly if you have a sensitive mouth), we figured the best cooling companion would be a salad of watermelon cubes tossed with crumbled feta, chopped mint, and a lime-olive oil dressing.

Our intuition about the wine proved correct. The smoky paprika-saffron-coriander-cumin combo knit the grapes of the wine together into a single, more subtle quaff. The roundness of the Bobal and Merlot softened the heat of the rub, and the spices married well with the Tempranillo’s aromatics and the bite of oak. It was as if the food switched on a light, and the wine woke up to its potential. With the publisher’s permission, here’s the recipe for Raichlen’s Spanish-style rub.

PINCHO POWDER

Ingredients

Raichlen book cover
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
1/4 cup smoked paprika
1/4 cup dried parsley
1/4 cup freeze-dried chives
2 tablespoons coarse salt (sea or kosher)
2 teaspoons dried onion flakes
2 teaspoons dried garlic flakes
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Crumble the saffron between your fingers into a bowl. Stir or whisk in the remaining ingredients. Transfer to a jar, cover, and store away from heat and light. The powder will keep for several weeks.

From Barbecue Sauces, Rubs, and Marinades—Bastes, Butters, and Glazes, Too! by Steven Raichlen (Workman Publishing, $17.95). You can buy it on Amazon here.

30

07 2017

Finca La Beata shows Bobal at its meatiest

Finca la Beata Bobal with oxtail burger

Regular readers know we’ve been doing a survey of Bobal wines from the Utiel Requena region of Valencia. As we contemplated a dish to eat with the 2013 “Finca La Beata Bobal” from Dominio de la Vega (dominiodelavega.com), we faced a quandary. The sheer weight of the bottle signaled a Very Important Wine. (Empty, it clocks in at 1.2 kg/2.7 lb.) When it arrived at our door, the weather was cold and dank; now it’s hot and steamy. Based on the other Bobal wines, we suspected that it would cry out for very beefy beef.

Manzanilla oxtail burgerBut steamy summer is not the time for rabo de toro, the classic Spanish braise of oxtail. Then we remembered that Andalucían superchef Dani García used oxtail in the scrumptious burgers that we loved to eat at the bar of now-shuttered Manzanilla in Málaga (at right). These days the burgers at Bibo in Marbella and Madrid (www.grupodanigarcia.com/en) are made with aged beef loin. We look forward to trying them.

We always suspected that García’s rabo de toro burger was a mixed grind of oxtail and some part of the shoulder clod, since Spanish beef is often too lean to make good burger. So we followed suit with a rough mix of about 60 percent blade steak (part of the chuck muscles) and 40 percent oxtail meat. It was a perfect match for the big red wine. For a side, we figured a Catalan-style potato salad made with garlicky alioli would do the trick. Directions for making both are below. But first, more about the wine.

Pure concentration of old Bobal

Finca la Beata Bobal 2013Dominio de la Vega makes a lot of cavas that help pay the bills. But winemaker Daniel Expósito is a true believer in the potential of Bobal. He makes three wines entirely from the grape. Dominio de la Vega’s signature is the single-vineyard “Finca La Beata Bobal.” In 2013 (the current release), Expósito made just 3,000 bottles. The winery owns 60ha (150 acres) of vineyards, but the Finca La Beata concentrates the oldest Bobal vines—most more than a century. The vineyard workers keep the bush-style vines pruned to produce only a kilo of grapes each.

Given the natural softness of Bobal’s tannins, Expósito does everything he can to extract maximum structure in the wine-making. The hand-harvested and hand-sorted grapes macerate in 700 liter barrels for at least three weeks. They are stirred by hand to express the skins gently and tasted daily until judged to have the optimal skin extraction. The wine is transferred to French oak barriques (225 liters) for a malolactic fermentaton. It is then finished for 18 months in mild new French oak before bottling in those massive pieces of glass.

Finca la Beata Bobal in glassThe results are spectacular. Poured into the glass, it sparkles with a deep black cherry redness with violet tinges at the surface. The nose is full of warm cinnamon and resinous Mediterranean scrub—especially lavender and rosemary. In the mouth, Finca la Beata drinks with silky smooth tannins and bright notes of cherry and red raspberry. The finish is a little short for such a delicious quaff, but there are just enough tannins to provide a grip on the tongue and back of the throat. It’s a spicy, elegant example of a “big” Bobal—just right for the beefiness of an oxtail burger.

OXTAIL BURGERS

Ingredients


1 1/2 lb. fresh oxtail
1 lb. blade steaks
1/2 pound Jarlsberg cheese, sliced
4 brioche buns
alioli (see below)
fresh leaf lettuce

Directions


oxtail and blade steakStart at least two hours ahead. Using a sharp-pointed filet knife, remove exterior fat from the oxtails and discard. Working carefully, remove meat and tendons from oxtail and reserve. Cut out the gristle that runs up through the middle of the blade steaks and cut into pieces the same size as oxtail meat.

Spread the meat pieces on a baking sheet and place in freezer for about 30 minutes. Grind with a meat grinder (we use an old fashioned hand-crank variety), passing first through the coarse holes, then regrinding through the finer plate. You should have about a pound and a half of premium ground beef. Using a scale, divide into four equal piles. Gently shape each pile into a patty. Sprinkle with kosher salt and coarse black pepper. Grill over hardwood charcoal, only turning once. Move burgers off direct flame and top with cheese. Close grill for 60 seconds to melt cheese. Remove burgers to a warm holding plate.

Lightly toast buns on grill (10-15 seconds over coals). Slather with aioli, add burger and lettuce.

Don’t forget to pour the wine.

BASIC ALIOLI

Ingredients


2 egg yolks
2-3 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and grated
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons water
1 cup olive oil
pinch of cayenne
juice of 1 lemon

Directions


Add egg yolks, garlic, salt, and water to a metal bowl. Whisk together until well-blended. Slowly drizzle in oil, a few teaspoons at a time, while continuing to whisk. Continue until oil is incorporated. Add cayenne and lemon juice and whisk smooth. This basic alioli is often further seasoned with smoky Spanish paprika and a few grinds of black pepper.

Use in place of mayonnaise to make potato salad with capers.

23

06 2017

Venusto infuses Bobal charm with modern discipline

pouring Venusto Bobal to accompany steak salad
As we work our way through some exciting wines from D.O. Utiel Requena in Valencia, Spain, we were pleased to try the flagship red from Bodegas Vibe called Venusto. Early in 2015, this new winery took over the land and facilities from a previous winery heavily invested in international grapes. Winemaker Juan Carlos Garcia changed that focus immediately. His attention is riveted on Tardana, a local white grape, and Bobal, the red signature of the D.O. Judging by the 2015 Venusto, Garcia found the sweet spot with his first release. He is making an intense, spicy, well-structured Bobal that is extremely food-friendly.

Bobal growing in red clay vineyardFermented on the skins for four days to pick up saturated color, it pours as deep black cherry liquid with a nice viscosity that displays long legs in the glass. The red clay soils (right) in which these vines were planted in 1960 provide a haunting spiciness to a wine rich in fruit. The nose is a mix of strawberry and black cherry with herbal mint notes. In the mouth, dark anise flavors fill out the palate. Despite four months in American oak, Venusto is blessedly free of the strong vanillin aroma and green astringency that so many soft reds pick up as a bad habit from their American cousins. Tannins are soft and round, and the finish lingers with fresh notes of mint, anise and cherry. Garcia has achieved a lovely balance of Bobal fruit with freshness and structure.

Last we heard, Bodegas Vibe (www.bodegasvibe.com; tel +34 653 964 158) was looking for American distribution. Venusto would make a spectacular red for many restaurants. We found it especially nice with a salad of garden lettuce, roasted and sliced red peppers, and about a quarter pound of medium-rare boneless ribeye per person cut matchstick size. Dress with this very garlicky dressing that is somewhere between a Caesar and Catalan-style aioli.

STEAK SALAD DRESSING

Ingredients

3 cloves garlic, grated
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 lemon, juice and grated rind
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/2 cup olive oil

Directions

Combine ingredients through salt in small food processor. Mix well. Add mayonnaise and mix again. With motor running, drizzle in the oil until incorporated into a thick dressing. Use sparingly.

16

06 2017

Old vine Bobal complements hearty pork paella

Valsangiacomo Familly at Viticultores deSanJuan winery

The Viticultores de SanJuan bodega is owned by the Valsangiacomo family (above), which represents the fifth generation of family winemaking that began in Switzerland in 1831. Built in 1960, the winery in the village of San Juan Bautista, about 60 kilometers west of Valencia, Spain. The vines range from 60 to 80 years old.

Bobl vines are often a century oldSince there was always a market for blending wines and grape concentrate, traditional growers in the Utiel Requena region never had reason to rip out their old Bobal vines. Vineyards tend to be broad pieces of open acreage supporting bush-style vines grown without irrigation. As the region began to focus more on quality of grapes rather than quantity through the DOP Utiel-Requna, these ancient vines (right) proved a huge asset. The gnarly trunks still support a shady canopy of big leaves that protect the grape bunches.

The SanJuan winery is as old-school as the vines. The Valsangiacomos craft their Bobal red and rosé in raw concrete tanks, then age the wines in large barrels of French oak. Their straightforward Bobal de SanJuan is a prime example of letting old vines do their thing. It is is a medium-bodied, deeply red wine with a spicy nose of anise and black pepper. In the mouth, the juicy fruit suggests black cherry, red currant, and dark plums. Tannins are extremely soft, so the wine finishes very smoothly. It is perfect slightly chilled to about 60°F.

The spiciness of the nose and the tart cherry in the mouth make Bobal de SanJuan an excellent accompaniment to this traditional paella of inland Valencia province, very loosely adapted from Anna von Bremzen’s The New Spanish Table and Penelope Casas’ The Foods and Wines of Spain.

Bobal de SanJuan with pork paella

PORK PAELLA

Ingredients


8 ounces boneless pork loin or shoulder, cut into 1-inch pieces
coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1 tablespoon ancho chile powder
about 3 cups chicken stock
1 large pinch of saffron
1/3 cup (more or less) extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup snap peas, trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths
3/4 cup small cauliflower florets
1 small ripe red bell pepper, cut into large dice
1 1/2 cups frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and patted dry with paper towels
2 cups baby spinach leaves
4 medium garlic cloves, pressed or grated
1 1/2 teaspoons hot paprika
2 large tomatoes, peeled and crushed
1 1/2 cups Valencia rice (arborio or canaroli can be substituted)

Directions


Rub pork with salt, pepper, oregano, sweet paprika, and ancho chile powder. Marinate 2 hours to overnight in refrigerator.

Heat stock to simmer. Add saffron. Keep warm.

Pour enough olive oil into 12-inch paella pan to cover entire bottom. Sauté pork, tossing and turning, until browned all over. Push to edges of pan and add snap peas, cauliflower, and red pepper. Sauté a few minutes, add artichokes and cook about 5 minutes. Add spinach and stir until wilted. Remove pork and vegetables to bowl.

Add more oil to pan. Saute garlic for a few seconds, then add hot paprika. Stir well and add crushed tomatoes. Cook a few minutes until thick.

Set oven at 425°F.

Return pork and vegetables to pan. Add rice and stir to mix. Add 2 cups hot stock and shake pan to distribute evenly. Cook over medium heat about 7 minutes. If it starts to dry out, add more stock.

Place in oven and bake about 15 minutes. (Check after 10 minutes and add additional stock if needed.) Remove from oven and cover. Let sit 10-15 minutes before serving.

05

06 2017

Las Fallas and more paella tips

When we think of Valencia, the first thing we think of is paella. But the city is probably most famous for its jaw-dropping Las Fallas festival always held March 15-19. This year we finally got to attend. It is a whirlwind of parades, music, fireworks, controlled explosions outside city hall, and general madcap revelry that continues around the clock. Valencians construct immensely complex satirical scenes in 300 or more squares of the city. Some of them go 75 feet tall and can cost up to $1 million each. They represent a wide array of political and pop cultural subjects, and the satire can be both biting and bawdy. (Witness Nicolas Sarkozy of France in a hot tub with three buxom women, one of whom is perhaps performing an intimate underwater kiss.)

Between midnight and 1 a.m. on March 20, all but two “pardoned” figurines are burned to the ground. It feels like a cross between Mardi Gras and the bombing of Baghdad as shown on CNN. For the Valencians, it’s a way to get rid of the old and welcome in the new. To the uninitiated, it is simultaneously unnerving and exhilarating. (See the bottom of this post for some sample photos.) But back to paella….

We took a break from the sensory overload of Las Fallas one afternoon to head down to L’Albufera, the lagoon south of the city, for a lesson in making paella outdoors. La Matandeta restaurant sits right at the edge of the lagoon’s rice fields, and chef Rafael Galvez uses rice from the adjacent plot as well as meat and vegetables raised or foraged in the immediate area. Cuisine doesn’t get more local than that.


Working with two 20-inch pans on tripods over wood fires, he made both a traditional paella valenciana (similar to ours—see here) and another version featuring squid and its ink with an abundance of vegetables.


We were reminded that the traditional outdoor cooking infuses the paella with a haunting smokiness and helps to guarantee a nice crust along the bottom. We also learned some tips that we expect to use in our own paella endeavors from now on.


For the paella valenciana, Galvez begins by setting the pan over the fire and adding enough olive oil to thinly coat the bottom—and a few tablespoons of coarse sea salt, which we have never done. At this point he fully browns the meat (bone-in pieces of chicken, duck, and rabbit) along with the onion. As the meat browns, he adds paprika and colorante (a coloring agent with some saffron), and stirs well to coat everything. He then adds three kinds of beans—flat green beans cut in 1-inch lengths, meaty white beans found only in the Valencia area, and a flat bean similar to a lima bean.


The handles on most paella pans are attached with rivets. We had never realized that these marks serve as measuring devices. Galvez adds enough broth to bring the mixture up to the bottom of the rivets. Then he adds the rice to bring the mixture to the top of the rivets. He likes to lay out the rice in a cross pattern on top of the soup, then swirl it into the liquid. He says this distributes the rice evenly. Then he adds a large sprig of rosemary—something we had never seen before but is apparently quite traditional. (He fishes it out before the paella is done to keep the herb from making the dish too bitter.)


After all that intensive prep, Galvez simply brings the mixture to a simmer, adjusting the wood beneath the pan to heat it evenly. We were surprised to see that he keeps the burning wood and its coals around the rim of the pan, but not in the middle. This prevents the dish from burning, as the shape of the pan allows the liquid to bubble up on the sides and spread back toward the middle. He never stirs the rice for the 20 minutes it takes to cook.


The finished paella is a lovely golden dish, which the restaurant serves with a fruity red wine from the nearby Utiel-Requena district, where the Iberians were making wine from the Bobal grape variety 500 years before the Romans invaded. The rice and the wine are a perfect match.

As soon as the weather permits, we’ll fire up the Weber kettle grill to make paella outdoors. Now if we can just find a red from Utiel-Requena….

La Matandeta is located on the Alfafar-El Saler road, km. 4, in Alfafar. Tel: (011-34) 962-112-184, www.lamatandeta.com. A cooking lesson with meal is 50 euros per person for groups of 10 or more.

And now for some images from Las Fallas:

22

03 2010