Wanna try something new tonight?

Play that funky music

Play that funky music

You’ve probably heard of the famed Spanish wine – Tempranillo. But how about an off-shoot clonal, called Tinta de Toro?

For lovers of the higher alcohol content and extracted fruit richness, the 2009 Monte Hiniesta Tinta de Toro may be for you. A hefty plum presence in the Monte Hiniesta finishes with a punchy, alcohol supported swirl. Not as thick as some of those crazed Aussie Shirazes from six years ago, it still has that same inky color but without being bossy. Ode to the grill as the Monte Hiniesta has plenty of smokiness.

A solid value for $13, it was still rocking on day three.

Tempting Tempranillo

Old vine, good wine

Old vine, good wine

Spanish Week wouldn’t be complete without recommending more than one Tempranillo based red wine. And although most people automatically think of the Rioja region for their Tempranillo fix, the nearby region of Ribera del Duero produces some stiffly competitive ones. You can’t go wrong with the classic selection of Tinto Pesquera, but for Spanish week I wanted to introduce one that I was previously unfamiliar with, Finca La Mata.

Imported through the Grapes of Spain, Finca La Mata is 100% Tinta del Pais.

Wuh? …..I thought you just said it was a Tempranillo based wine?

And herein lies the tricky part if you don’t have your smart phone with you at the wine shop. Let’s just say that the Spanish do things…. a little differently.

I’ve discovered this week, for instance, that they cook backwards. You’ll know what I mean if you tackle any of the main dishes I feature this week. And as I was familiar with going in, they use lots of local names for various grapes varieties. So, simple old Tempranillo is called Tinta del Pais in Ribera del Duero and confusingly enough it’s called Tinta Fina in several other regions. Simpatico.

So what about the Finca La Mata?

Located directly north of Madrid (in the wine region of Ribera del Duero) Finca la Mata is made from 100% Tinta del Pais (Tempranillo) and comes across as a less-fruity, meatier version of what I usually taste in like-priced Riojas. Aromas of bacon fat and flavors of prunes and dried black fruits persist from start to finish. All this wine really needs is some chorizo and peppers, tagging along for an upbeat lunch date.

Valsacro & Pollo al Jerez (sort of)

Spanish Chicken with Olives and Sausage

Spanish Chicken with Olives and Sausage

Growing up as a kid there was a much older, retired couple that lived down the street from us. The Knebels were great hosts to all the adventurous kids in the neighborhood and over time they taught several of us how to do woodwork, how to walk on stilts, how to play chess (and sometimes win) and to be open-mnded when exploring different foods. The dish I enjoyed the most from those dinner parties was Spanish chicken with olives. Suffice to say, like most kids I hated olives… until then.

So as part of Spanish Week, I researched the above recipe of Spanish Chicken with olives in a sherry sauce. The variation on this recipe was my addition of a little spicy sausage to the saucepan. The sherry in the Pollo al Jerez really makes the dish come together and can seemingly make mishaps (along the way) a little more forgiving in the final product. Perhaps it was the sherry that helped me to learn to embrace the olives back then.

The city of Jerez is situated in the southern most part of Spain and halfway between Seville and the Strait of Gibraltar. It is the epicenter of Spanish Sherry production, so the recipe was indicative of locals using the ingredients and indeed the wine of their region. The catch to pairing up this meal was that most of this part of Spain is known specifically for Sherry and I certainly couldn’t imagine a bottle of Osborne or La Gitana Sherry sitting in the background of my Spanish chicken photo.

So I put the sherry in the Spanish chicken and pulled out a dusty bottle of the 2005 Valsacro from Rioja. A blend of Tempranillo, Garnacha and Mazuelo, the Valsacro is a great all-rounder with aromas of cedar and oak and lots and lots of blackberry and dark fruit flavors. Almost inky in color, the lusciousness of this blend made well for taking on the diverse and savory flavors of chicken, olives, tomatoes and sausage.

Jack up your Mac ‘n Cheese

Mac & Cheese 2

This ain’t yo momma’s mac and cheese! Or Kraft’s for that matter. No, this is grown-up macaroni meets some Italian-style influence meets anything other than the prepackaged, processed DayGlo orange “cheese.”

Penne pasta has become a mainstay for restaurant’s making gourmet mac’n cheese. It’s thicker and acts as an instant hideout for more gobs of gooey melted cheese. However, tonight’s deviation involved bowtie pasta with a rich and thick sauce that included garlic, red pepper flakes, cream, chopped sun-dried tomatoes, parmesano cheese, fontina cheese and tomato paste. The tomato paste and cream combination is what gives the modern day Mac its old-school orange coat. Just boil the pasta separately before stirring it into the sauce. Garnish with some freshly chopped mint before serving.

Mint? What? Trust me it works.

The heat from the red peppers and the sweetness of the sun-dried tomatoes also make for an interesting back-and-forth on the palate. And since it’s mac and cheese with a tomato influence there are several wines that could pair well with it including a Spanish Tempranillo, a California Zinfandel or even an Italian Nero D’Avola. Look for the Campo Reales, the Four Vines Zinfandel or the Morgante Nero D’Avola as pictured below. These three recommendations can go in and out of the market but should be available by request.