carlos vii pedro ximenez alvear

Mermaids
This blog rarely discusses mermaids, but that is changing right now. Somehow, as a native English speaker, I think of mermaids and sirens as two different sea creatures. Mermaids being the really hot, friendly companions of sailors too-long at sea that likely originated from manatees. Sirens are the mythological Greek creatures with beautiful, intoxicating voices but hideous phases that caused Odysseus to lash himself to the mast rather than being sucked into crashing his boat on the two rocks that acropophiles will probably know the names of.

Las Sirenas
In Spanish, there’s one word for mermaids and sirens – las sirenas – and apparently the connotation is more of the ancient Greek connotation, but with some kind of latter-day comely sea maiden overlay. Basically, it’s a lot of overlapping meanings, histories, sounds and sights layered onto a single word. Pretty fascinating how some words have that depth of meaning where they encompass 1+ words of another language.

Eureka!
Anyway, listening to an ambulance shriek by recently, it struck me that this ambulance “siren” probably comes from the original Greek “siren” of the mermaid/sirena type. Never really thought about how those words overlap but it’s one of those connections that seems so obvious in retrospect that it’s incredible it’s taken 30+ years to make that connection.

The same thing happened with this wine. Pedro Ximenez is a hugely undervalued wine that I think makes consistently great (and crazy sweet!) dessert wines from all over the world. I’ve seen them in Spain, Peru, the Canary Islands, Australia and California and looks like Argentina and Chile grow it too.

Selenhos with their Sherry Fetish
It’s no secret among the cohort of friends that sherry is a style the Selenhos adore and the rest of us are unsold on (most of the group) or generally regard with suspicion (me). Fascinating story on the solera and pretty awesome how palo cortado is made, and there is tons of history layered up on sherry, but it’s still a big gamble when ordering it. And, unless I’m with a connoisseur like Selenho, it’s unlikely a bottle will be ordered for my table. Fortunately, for this story, the Selenhos insisted and we ordered the bottle you see above. Sidebar – pretty amazing typewriter ring in the photo courtesy of Selenhos.


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Sherry from Montila-Moriles?
Circling back to the sirena-ambulance connection, this bottle of what I thought was sherry is made from Pedro Ximenez grapes. Thinking sherry, I checked out what Montila-Moriles DO, which turns out to be close to Jerez (land of sherry) but actually separate. Montila-Moriles makes its wines in the same stunning solera system of Jerez (google it – seriously), but the wines from Montila-Moriles are not fortified, unlike their names from the south.

Amontillado Wine
The wine itself is Alvear “Carlos VII” Amontillado Montilla Moriles DO NV, a name hard to remember even for those used to weird-sounding names from Spain. The key bit of that long name though is Amontillado. Amontillado is a style of sherry in the middle – darker than the lighest style (Fino) and not as dark as Oloroso (the dark, sweet style I prefer). It starts life as a Fino but somehow the yeast protector that usually allows Finos to deliver dies (or is killed off) and the winemaker generally fortifies the wine up in alcohol to keep it from turning too bitter (oxidizing too quickly in wine-speak). That’s the sherry style of Amontillado in a nutshell.

Amontillado, that aha! moment
Cue the ambulance and have a good look at the word “Amontillado.” Looks pretty similar to Montilla-Moriles DO, right? Bingo – apparently, that’s where this style of sherry originated. So even though I was dead wrong about this Amontillado bottle being a sherry now that we know it’s from Cordoba a bit north of Jerez, there’s a pretty strong linkage between these two regions and styles. And the next time I pull out Edgar Allen Poe’s creepy short story on Amontillado and basement terror, it will be thinking of mermaids, ambulances and Montilla-Moriles.

Taste
I don’t recall exactly as it was quite a long time ago but The Wine Advocate description struck me as the most accurate of the 3 descriptions on this website dedicated to this particular wine (copying the description below). I remember sharp smells and earthy taste, really good with the more biting or pungent food and only ok with the blander foods. Lots of nuts too, especially almonds, which again threw me onto the sherry trail.

“From a 25-year old Solera system, its medium to dark amber color is accompanied by a medium to full-bodied sherry revealing loads of pungent, earthy, nutty notes, a slightly oxidized character, and a long, persistent finish.”

Detail Up!
Alvear “Carlos VII” Amontillado in a 25 year solera from Montilla Moriles DO NV in Cordoba, Spain

Random Googles:
* Five main grape varieties are grown in the Montilla Moriles DO: Pedro Ximenez (the most common by far), Moscatel, Airen, Baladi-Verdejo (aka Cayetana and mostly grown in Southern Spain) and Montepila (almost nothing online about this grape)
* Pedro Ximenez (the grape) meet Pedro Ximenez (the wine). Apparently the wine is a dessert wine made from raisins, a fairly labor-intensive process from the sound of it. Sounds kind of similar to how dessert wines are made in Italy (Vin Santo) and Cyprus (Commandaria) with laying out the grapes in the sun so they shrivel up before being pressed.
* Citrus flavors are common in dry Pedro Ximenez styles (kinda surprised by that) and fortified wines are more figs, dates and molasses (which sounds consistent with the ones I’ve tried)

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airenNoche con Zapatos
The Zapatos family texted with a last-minute invitation to dinner yesterday, and when you get an invitation from the Zapatos, you go! Always good food, provoking conversations and the memorable evenings that stick with you. But yes, first wine out of the fridge was this bottle above. Nobody paid much attention to the bottle as we were mostly talking about the week and eyeing the meatballs simmering on the stove, at least at first.

Unknown label
Once the table was set and the wine was in hand (and mouth) though, curiosity overcame social protocol, and we all had a quick look at the bottle. Airen? What IS that? Nope, had never heard of it but seemed to be a Spanish white and flipping to the back the bottle noted its location in La Mancha.

Classic Quixote
Now, La Mancha has a soft spot in my heart going back to college when Mr. Higuita and I collectively owned one CD, the original Broadway production of Man of La Mancha. Don Quixote is, no surprise to anyone familiar with college students, a favorite of idealists and latinophiles. That was me and still is in a lot of ways. Anyway, there may have been a short rendition of Man of La Mancha in the kitchen with the Zapatos when we learned about the heritage of this bottle.


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Popular, in an unknown kind of way
And it turns out that this particular grape, Airen, is unbelievably popular. As in, more acreage is dedicated to Airen than to any other white grape… more popular than Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Gris, or any other white grape anywhere in the world (and almost every red grape too).

Sancho’s Flask Unveiled
This, despite being planted really only in Spain and predominantly in La Mancha. So you better believe that when Sancho Panza was haplessly following around Don Quixote in the bleak La Mancha landscapes, what he was secretly swigging from that flask behind Rocinante’s skinny tail was copious quantities of Airen.

Taste
Quite a bit of fruit on the nose (even with an already-opened bottle!) but the really attractive part was the mild acidic bite and the crisp, really clean taste. Refreshing and a pleasant discovery.

Detail Up!
Fuente del Ritmo Airén 2012 with 11.5% alc. from La Mancha, Spain

Random Googles
* 14 entrepreneurs came together in La Mancha to create the Allozo winery that makes this wine and quite a few others (and a cognac) – yes, they are interested in elevating La Mancha’s status and yes, they seem certain to do that… even if because the baseline is so low
* 30% of all grapes grown in Spain are Airen – crazy to think about how much wine never leaves Spain
* Read about Airen’s dark past to becoming so profligate and what Franco and Francia had to do with it becoming the most planted grape of any grape anywhere in the world for quite a long time

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salice salentino 2011Pizza is the Best Food on Earth
When people drink enough, they start to do stupid things. Like asking what one single food their friends would eat if they only had to eat one food for the rest of their lives (correct answer: pizza). Or, even worse, asking what one single wine their friends would drink if they only had to drink one wine for the rest of their lives (correct answer… pending).

No Place for Philosophy
Which raises the question, what is a wine? No, blog posts are not the place to discuss philosophical matters – that’s what bars, cemeteries and the DMV are for. But what is a grape? That seems less ponderous and maybe worth exploring in 1-2 paragraphs.

Malvasia Mutant
Take Malvasia – grape of the baltics (and the cherished island of Madeira). Malvasia tends to cover a whole lot of terrain – like a golf umbrella on Park Avenue annoying everyone in its path or the model in stretchy tights sporting it all at Walmarts in size XXL of course. Malvasia has one of those names that can mean any of a host of things – usually white, light and Italian as Michelangelo’s David, it can also be dark, toffee and island-loving as Jamaica’s better rums when grown on Madeira, possibly the world’s best place I have never visited (Sri Lanka may be close too). Sometimes it shows up in red, like a Jessica Rabbit in the 1980s or Dorothy’s shoes in an all-gray Kansas. And that’s where we arrive at Malvasia Nera.

Red Malvasia
Malvasia Nera is the rare red-headed child of the Malvasia family that emcompasses every child on earth. When Angelina gets around to adopting a red-haired child, it’s entirely certain that she will name it Malvasia (seeing as Nera has certain lazy/arsonistic connotations). While most of Malvasis shows up in Japanese funeral gear, Malvasia Nera is a red wine that tends to temper the harsher aspects of the big reds who truly strut their stuff in Maoist unity – Cabernet, Sangiovese, you know who you are. Malvasia is probably slightly out of step, even if in the area of the reds – maybe trying to tone down Stalin a little bit from the harsher edges in a Khrushevian way that (in this narrative) actually succeeds and leads to some positive result. One can dream – it’s what philosophy on a grape in a blog is about… if about anything at all.

Taste
Heavy body wine with somewhat fruity smell and dry, full-bodied taste that didn’t overextend. Rustic with a smoother finish.

Detail Up!
Salice Salentino 2011 by Masseria Parione in a DOC from Puglia (the boot), Italy

Random Googles:
* Salice Salentino is generally a Negroamaro wine – it is from Puglia (the boot!) after all. Malvasia Nera is the harmonizer on the wine to the Negroamaro melody.
* Salice Salentino – actually means “dark and bitter” in local Puglesquian parlance. Strange, as it was a pretty smooth grape that made it onto the menu I tried and the smoothing agent to the “dark and bitter” grape of Negroamaro (apparently, exactly the same translation – makes you question what life is like in Puglia).
* Apparently, a fairly cheap version of solid good wine. Most of the prices online I saw were in the $10 range. Not enough to stay in the Castello Monaci in Salie Salentino (highly recommended say the reviews) but enough to buy your bottle of wine from near the castle.

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Moscatel de Setubal 2004 Jose Maria da FonsecaJokes in Canada
Someone once told me that receiving ice wine is a joke in Canada. Doesn’t seem like much of a punch line but in that quaintly Canadian way, even being the butt of a joke has an uplifting quality. Apparently though, ice wine is the most re-gifted present that exists in the frozen north. People just don’t open these rare treasures known as dessert wines.

Awkward Morning on Wednesday
I get it though – it’s high alcohol, they spoil easily and they’re really expensive. Even half a bottle of these dessert wines run pretty consistently in the $40-50 range. A nice present to be sure, although probably not what you’re opening on your own on a Tuesday with pizza, especially since finishing a bottle on your own could be pretty terrible for Wednesday morning.

Affordable Liquid Dessert
Being a great fantasizer about dessert wines of all kinds though, I am happy to identify that there are at least a couple of affordable, small bottles available. Moscatel de Setubal certainly qualifies – the bottle that I bought was $12 I believe. The empty bottle you see above is one that my brother and I polished off on our front porch in Chicago on a sunny day, the occasion for which I have long since forgotten.

Memories… of Men and Moscatel
This weekend reminded me of that time though as that brother, along with all of my siblings, parents and significant others, came to visit. And yes, we had lots of beer, treats and wines. Moscatel de Setubal of another bottle was drunk and we left the bottle similarly empty at the end of the weekend. Apparently, Canadians don’t invite their relatives over very often… or (more likely) their relatives refuse to visit because it’s Canada. Just kidding – we all love Tim Horton’s.

Taste
Apricot, candied, rich, long finish. Some bosch pear and wildflower honey. The other one we tried this weekend (not this brand identified) also had a cool tea finish to it.

Detail Up!
2004 Moscatel de Setubal DOC, a fortified dessert Wine by Jose Maria da Fonseca in Setubal, Portugal

Random Googles:
* There are 9 types of Moscatel currently recognized by Wikipedia: Moscato Bianco, Moscato Rosa, this Moscatel de Setubal, Muscat of Alexandria, Muscat Ottonel, Black Muscat, Orange Muscat, Muscat Crocant and Moravian Muscat. Four down, five to go.
* Setubal is only 30 minutes outside of Lisbon – about the same as going to Sintra, the famous tourist destination thanks to Lord Byron’s poetry, just in the opposite direction
* Juan Maria da Fonseca also makes a really good dry red, Periquita… for those who learned the word through slang in Brazil.

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grecanico 2010 sicily di giovannaOde to Motorino
Una pizza napoloteana was an epic pizza place on east 12th street in the east village, until its owner moved cross-country to san francisco and left a whole in the hearts of quite a few pizza-lovers. Rumors abounded about a new pizza place taking over their storefront, and that the new owners might have even bought the oven from the emigrating owners. Years have now passed since that transaction took place and the new store in town is a well-seasoned restaurant with a deserved following. Excellent pies, good wine list and a few subtle surprises make it a go-to restaurant on bustling east 12th.

Anchovy Pizza
The build-it-yourself delivery pizza isn’t exactly a favorite of mine since it involves making your food – exactly the activity you are trying to avoid when ordering delivery… In the case of the white anchovy pizza however, there is an exception to be made.

Cristom vs. Cristom
Earlier that evening was a tasting of some red wine from two different years (2009 and 2002, I believe) that we had bought in Oregon and saved to share with friends who would also geek out about trying the same wine, from the same plot, from two quite distant years. Surprisingly enough, it was pretty easy to tell the difference (even if nobody was really going for a scientific, blind tasting). Fruity and colorful, versus dusty and subdued. Might have been reading too many wine books but it certainly seemed to match what people have said about how wines age.

Clutch Pour by Selenho
Anyway, once the white anchovy pizza arrived, it seemed like some white acidic wines were in the offering, and Selenho happened to have a bottle open and chilling. This is what constitutes a great friend – not the years of knowing each other and shared memories, experiences and folly, or the ability to dig into novels, sports and shared interests – it’s the ability to pull a fantastic, open, chilled bottle of wine from the fridge that matches the impromptu pizza you just purchased. And so it was…

Taste:
Lots of acidity to punch back at the white anchovies draped across the top of the pie and long long finish to keep you remembering how to spell the word “salinity.” Light, crispy, acidic white wine. Not much nose. Lemon and green apple. Surprisingly long finish. Excellent with white anchovies.

Detail Up!
Di Giovanna Grecanico 2010 with 13% alc. from Sicily, Italy

Random Googles:
* Sicilians call it “Grecanico” while the rest of Italy calls it “Garganega”
* Grecanico forms the base of Soave, from the northeast of Italy, in Veneto
* Element 34 is Selenium. Yes, it’s entirely unrelated to the rest of this post.

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