Shana Speaks Wine

Wine Journalist, Copywriter, and Marketing Consultant

Drinking out loud. 

Filtering by Tag: Spain

The Proper Way to Pintxo

"Pintxo" is a noun and not a verb, but given the unique nature of eating these dishes, they deserve their own action word.  A pintxo is a small bite, commonly found in bars in the Basque region in Spain. Traditionally,  the one-to-two bite items are an elegant stack of ingredients, speared with a toothpick, and secured with a base of crusty bread. Pintxo comes from pinchar, meaning to spear, hence the ubiquitous toothpick.  Over time, the term has come to encompass other forms of snacks, such as mini sandwiches called bocadillos  (and yep, they are pierced with a toothpick as well). The selection is laid out on a bar and you grab one, or several, to nibble on while sipping a glass of wine.  Fried or other cooked items are available to order, as are platters of jamon and other charcuterie. Some people opt to stay at one place, but it is more common to travel the streets in search of multiple bites.  Seating is limited; most people stand, eat, and talk, adding to the transient nature of this ritual. It's a versatile way to eat; it can be a pre-dinner snack, or an entire meal.

Unlike other European cultures, New York doesn't have the mindset that food must be served with wine, so in a city where wine can be a meal unto itself, pintxos tours haven't quite gained traction.  Considering that the main mode of transportation in Gotham is walking, it is a city ripe for pintxo-ing; a recent event proved just how accessible this tradition can be. 

Campo Viejo sponsored "Cava and Conservas" at Bar Jamon on June 6, showcasing their Cavas and Tempranillos alongside Bar Jamon's new menu of conservas.  Guests were greeted with platters of cheese, jamon, tuna salad and various tins, all laid out on the gleaming marble bar.

We tasted through the Cava, Cava Rosé, Tempranillo, and Reserva, pairing each with various bites. The Cava was refreshing, an easy and versatile bubbly.  The Cava Rosé was the crowd favorite; comprised of 100% Trappat, the grapes saw 12-15 hours of skin maceration, yielding a lovely rosy hue. Red fruits dominated the nose and palate, but it finished completely dry. Everyone was pleasantly surprised by the $10 price point of the Tempranillo.  Although it was softer and lacked some of the earthy depth one looks for in the grape, it was thoroughly enjoyable. The Reserva, a traditional Tempranillo, Mazuelo, and Graciano blend, showed more structure and deeper fruits than its predecessor. 

Then, in true pintxos crawl fashion, the party moved to Donostia, a twinkling Basque bar in Alphabet City. The long bar dominated the narrow space and platters of pintxos were jigsawed together on the narrow surface. To drink, the Campo Viejo Cava and Cava Rosé were freely poured, showcasing how these two bubblies paired perfectly with a wide range of flavors.  Some guests nibbled on a couple of items before heading on to their evening plans, while others stayed and made a dinner of the pintxos.  

The evening proved that New York is primed for pintxo-ing - are you ready? 

Spain, Belated

Remember when people shared vacation photos from a projector? They would invite their friends over, find a blank space on the wall to show the pictures, and provided live (long-winded) commentary.  I'm going to skip the commentary, but here are photos from November's trip to Bilbao, San Sebastian, Rioja, Priorate, and Barcelona.  Pass the popcorn.



San Francisco Wocation

Why is it that certain words catch on and become prominent in our lexicon (i.e. "vape" as 2014's Word of the Year) while others seem to get lost in the hashtag cesspool? I'm trying to make "wocation" (working vacation) a thing, because what's better than traveling to do what you love?  Granted, my wocations revolve around wine; I'm sure there's a huge disparity between the enjoyment of my trips and say, a technology conference. But, I'm still going to try to start a "wocation" movement.

April's wocation was to Nothern California and the itinerary covered both city and country: specifically, San Francisco, Napa Valley and Sonoma. Seminars, trainings and of course, winery visits, were all on the docket. San Fran's dining scene rivals New York's in many respects, both in cuisine and in wine, and there's been a bit of a bicoastal culinary showdown going on. Eager to ensure we optimized our non-work dinners, we made several reservations through OpenTable.  

STONE'S THROW

Saturday night started off not with wine, but with beer, at Stone's Throw, where locavore cuisine meets craft beer.  The rustic decor married sleek modern touches in this inviting neighborhood place.

We started with a charred octopus; perfectly tender yet meaty, it was a solid start to the meal. For entrees we opted for sea bass with shrimp ravioli in a tomato-moroccan broth and a seared duck breast with black rice and lettuce-wrapped confit. The just-picked-from-the-garden peas that accompanied the fish were the first mouthful where the concept of seasonality shone through and why there is a premium value placed on eating what nature dictates.  The fish itself was slightly salty but mellowed out when consumed with the savory tomato broth. 

Sea bass at Stone's Throw.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Sea bass at Stone's Throw.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Tender duck breast with crispy skin was only one preparation of this "duck two ways."  Confit stood in for rice in a play on a dolmas grape leaf; lush and rich, it mirrored rice's toothsome texture but gave an unctuousness to the bite.  

Duck at Stone's Throw.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Duck at Stone's Throw.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

To drink, we paired the plates with Rockmill Brewery's Saison Noir, 3 Fonteinen's Zwet.be and Brouwerij de Molen's Heaven and Hell.  The trip was off to an auspicious start.  

Beers at Stone's Throw.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Beers at Stone's Throw.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

COQUETA

A few days later we found ourselves at Coqueta, Michael Chiarello's tapas joint, located on the Embarcadero. Although the happy hour crowd was effusively, um, happy (most likely due to the strong drinks), we muted them out as one delicious tapas dish after another was delivered to our table.  The simple yet innovative salmon ahumado montadito, comprised of smoked salmon, queso fresco and a drizzle of truffle honey, elevated NYC's standard breakfast sandwich into a salty-sweet concoction.

A new spin on bagels and lox at Coqueta. Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

A new spin on bagels and lox at Coqueta. Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Traditional patatas bravas were updated from cubed spuds to white and purple new potatoes fried whole to become orbs of deliciousness.   Dotted with a garlic aioli and a side of smoky, spicy salsa, these potatoes brought a fiery kick to a normally bland starch. 

Patatas bravas at Coqueta.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Patatas bravas at Coqueta.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

We also feasted on grilled octopus, duck and pork meatballs, the fideua with mixed seafood, and head-on prawns. The meal fell apart at the end with a misorder and lengthy waiting times for the last couple of dishes, but overall the bites were innovative.  

Desserts, however, came up short.  Churros were perfectly fried but the dipping chocolate had an offputting herbaceous note that clashed with the cinnamon-y sweetness of the churros.  And a dessert "bite" of an ice cream sandwich was erroneously served with a blue cheese ice cream instead of the promised olive oil.  

The wine menu highlighted most of Spain's wine regions but, as this was California, had a sizeable listing of local producers. From this well-curated list we opted for Terras Guada, O Rosal, Rias Baixas, 2012, an intriguing blend of Albarino and Treixadura. Ripe orchard fruits, bright citrus notes, flinty minerality and a decent amount of acid, this wine worked well with nearly every dish in our lineup. 

Terras Gauda, O Rosal, Rias Baixas, 2012, at Coqueta. Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Terras Gauda, O Rosal, Rias Baixas, 2012, at Coqueta. Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

SPQR

Our final meal of the trip took place mere hours before we drove to the airport; at 5:28pm, we were lingering outside of SPQR, waiting for them to unlock the doors and let us in for our 5:30 reservation. It was an ungoldly hour for these New Yorkers to be eating dinner, but we couldn't miss the opportunity to try this highly acclaimed restaurant.  

One would imagine we'd be sick of octopus by this point but we had to have one more go at the cephalopod. Plated with with kale, panisse, chickpeas, basil, pistachio and lemon, the flavors popped with brightness.  This was the definitive winner in the week's octopus lineup.

Octopus at SPQR.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Octopus at SPQR.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

We then dove into the pastas, starting with the radiatore with arugula pesto, teeny bay shrimp, herb breadcrumbs and a shellfish broth.  The wavy ridged pastas were a fun texture and cradled the pesto in its crevices, while the shrimp lent a sweetness to the dish.   

If a menu notes chocolate, it's pretty much an automatic order, whether it appears as dessert, or, in this case, as a pasta dough: chocolate and pea agnolotti with pea shoots, fonduta and ricotta salata. The cheese-filled packages were a symmetrical split of green and brown; however, the chocolate came through as an earthy note rather than sweet.  It was very subtle but complimented the vegetables. 

The final pasta, whole wheat lumache with beef cheek sugo and brussel sprouts, was a homey, comforting bite, reminiscent of a Sunday gravy. It veered towards the emotional, rather than the intellectual, side of the brain.

To drink, we selected Bruno Verdi, Buttafuoco, Lombardy, 2012 from the Italian-leaning list. Dark berries, spice and some earthiness came through on this medium-bodied red, which fared well with the range of pastas.

Bruno Verdi, Buttafuoco,Lombardy, 2012.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Bruno Verdi, Buttafuoco,Lombardy, 2012.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

 

Obviously, we had to partake in dessert, so we opted for the cinnamon bombolini, red wine apple, chocolate, crushed cookie and a fior di latte gelato.  Two small spheres, akin to Dunkin Donuts' Munchkins, were served with a regular sized ringed donut, along with poached fruit, chocolate sauce and the gelato.  Airy, cakey, warm, and sugary, these donuts made us giggle with delight as we consumed them.  

Then, a debate ensued: Should we get another dessert? Since there was no strong objector on this debate team, a tiramisu soon followed.  However, this was more like a trifle; served in a tall glass, the luscious layers of cream and cake enticed the eyes. Moist cake, cloudlike cream and crunchy cookie texture made us grateful for the additional sweet rush.  

The San Fransisco restaurant scene definitely kept us on our toes and we're eager to come back to experience even more from this Bay Area beauty. 

Interested in checking out any of these restaurants?   Head to OpenTable to make your own reservations. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Huertas

The New York City dining scene is a restless one. Trends come and go, cuisines that used to be out of vogue are now back in fashion and everyone is constantly seeking the Next Big Thing. It can't be easy for a restaurant to find its unique identity. 

Huertas is a new restaurant in the East Village that opened to much fanfare a few months ago.  Upon reading first impressions, the whole endeavor sounded intruiging, if not chaotic, as it seems to try to encapsulate classic dining formats (tapas and passed dim sum) and current trends (a tasting menu, which is the nouveau fine dining experience, and conservas, seafood tins, which is new to the NYC dining scene but an integral part of coastal Spanish cuisine) within one restaurant. Let me break it down. Essentially, the space is split into two concepts: in the front is a tapas bar with a focus on traditional tapas and canned seafood. Up here, servers also pass the daily pintxos (small snacks) around on a tray, dim sum style, so you can eat at your leisure. The back, however, is a frequently-changing tasting menu that focuses on modern Spanish cuisine. With so much going on, how would this restaurant fare?

The chef, Jonah Miller, certainly has the pedigree to pull this place off.  Under the tutelage of David Waltuck (Chantarelle) and Peter Hoffman (Savoy) not to mention a 3-year stint at Maialino, he honed his skills as a chef.  Trips to Spain crystallized his vision for a restaurant and fueled his passion for his own place. Oh yeah, and the guy's only 28. 

We checked out Huertas on a rainy Tuesday night in early September with the plans of drinking wine and having a couple bites (is there any better post-Pilates workout meal?). Walking in, the place was warm and inviting yet energetic at the same time.  We perched on a couple bar stools as we contemplated drinks. The beverage menu was varied and interesting, with well-curated and reasonably priced selections of wine, beer and cidres.  The first glass was  Via Arxentea, Treixadura and Godello, Monterrei, Spain, 2012.  The blend of Treixadura and Godello grapes lent itself to a crisp, moderately acidic wine, redolent of pear, ripe peach and bracing minerality.  It was refreshing after the humidity was trekked through on our way to the restaurant.

Via Arxentea, Treixadura and Godello, Monterrei, Spain, 2012.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Via Arxentea, Treixadura and Godello, Monterrei, Spain, 2012.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

We starting discussing tapas from the menu but a tray of pintxos came around and we were treated to a great surprise: all pintxos are only $1 on Tuesday nights.  Dinner? Done.  

The first one was a duck croquette, a crispy fried ball stuffed with duck. The contrast of the crisp exterior and creamy, saucy interior was delightful but be forewarned: this sucker is hot.  And it squirts. Proceed with a knife and fork.  Another croquette came around, this time with mushroom, and was another fried winner.  We also tasted a pane con tomate (olive oil and tomato rubbed bread) as well as a tortilla (Spanish omelette).  Both were very traditional and well executed.  There was also an anchovy, skewered and snaked around olives, which was a briny, bright contrast to the croquettes. We noshed on several of these as they came 'round and 'round and ordered up our second wine of the evening, Monopole, Rioja Blanca, Spain, 2013.  Like the first wine, there was a good deal of acid and minerality on both nose and palate, but the fruit was a bit more opulent on this wine as ripe peach and pineapple came through.

Monopole Rioja Blanca, Spain, 2013. Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

Monopole Rioja Blanca, Spain, 2013. Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

We were chatting with the bartenders and having a grand 'ole time when an object caught our eye.  A cross between a decanter and a watering can, we discovered the porron, a Spanish wine pitcher.

Image courtesy of decoesfera.com

Image courtesy of decoesfera.com

Often at parties in Spain, guests will pour wine directly into their mouths using the porron and as the night progresses it becomes a fun, albeit messy, drinking game. Naturally, we had to try it out.*

Still feeling peckish, we took another look at the tapas menu and settled on the bocadillo, a sandwich with fried calamari, arugula, fried lemon, and squid in aioli. The umami of the ink aioli balanced perfectly with the acidity of the fried lemon and sweet calamari.  It was a delicious sandwich, although the bread ratio seemed a bit high and obscured the calamari on a couple of bites. 

One of the best elements of Huertas was the service.  The guys behind the bar were attentive as well as passionate about what they were doing. One of them overheard us contemplating an octopus dish versus the bocadillo and brought us out a small plate of the sea creature; it was his favorite thing on the menu and wanted to make sure we tried it.  Damn, he was spot on; that was one of the best bites of octopus I've had in a while. They were also knowledgable and helped guide us in our wine selections (not to mention gave us a crash course on the porron).

I'm now eager to go back for the tasting menu.  If the $1 pintxos are any indication of what's to come, that's going to be a memorable experience. 

Reservation for Huertas can me made on the New York restaurants page on OpenTable.

 *I am proud to report that while neither of us mastered the art of the porron, we did not need to take a trip to the dry cleaner the next day. 

Rose's Last Call

Not to be a downer, but.... I'm going to be anyway. Summer is coming to a close.  You need to get your rose on.  Now.  Here are a few new ones I discovered at a recent tasting.  

Tissot, Cremant du Jura, France, NV. Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine

Tissot, Cremant du Jura, France, NV. Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine

Bubbles! This Tissot, Cremant du Jura, France, NV, had a lot of fresh strawberry on the nose but was beautifully balanced with a brioche toastiness on the palate.  

 

Charles Fournier, Gold Seal Vineyards, Rose, Finger Lakes, 2013. Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine

Charles Fournier, Gold Seal Vineyards, Rose, Finger Lakes, 2013. Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine

A bit of Finger Lakes history for you.  Charles Fournier was one of the pioneering winemakers in this northern New York region and is credited with moving the industry forward.  In the 1950s he brought Dr. Konstantin Frank over and together they revolutionized FInger Lakes wines.  The Dr. Konstantin Frank label is fairly well known but there hasn't been a Fournier Private label for a while.  The Charles Fournier, Gold Seal Vineyards, Rose, Finger Lakes, 2013, was somewhat Provencal in style with the lighter body but it showcased more New World style fruitiness. 

 

Blackbird Vineyards, Arriviste Rose, CA, 2013.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine

Blackbird Vineyards, Arriviste Rose, CA, 2013.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine

And then, there was this awesomeness. Blackbird Vineyards, Arriviste Rose, CA, 2013, was a Bordeaux blend rose.  Fuller in body, it was rich in fruit but what was most interesting was a bit of creaminess and a slight dairy tang.  Yep, this rose was treated with a bit of malo.  

Finally, with the cooler weather coming, I recommend these two Rosato-style roses. Heftier in body and juicy beyond all belief, they are the sweatercoats of Rose: Enanzo, Rosado, Garnacha, Spain, 2013  and Akakies, Kir-Yianni, Greece, 2013. 

 

Enanzo, Rosado, Garnacha, Spain, 2013.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine

Enanzo, Rosado, Garnacha, Spain, 2013.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine

Akakies, Kir-Yianni, Greece, 2013. Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Akakies, Kir-Yianni, Greece, 2013. Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

I'm gunning for Endless Summer....