Jan 20, 2010


i got a text message from ike this afternoon, midway through a day spent in tantalizing proximity to, but not actually in the presence of, natural light: am i interested in a spanish wine educational seminar? what i know about spanish wines fits comfortably in a small glass, but amor sciendi, etc. so evening falls and a table of eight assembles at taberna de haro. deborah hansen, who knows her spanish wines, is doing another one in her occasional series of seminars about the wines of spain. so much of the pleasure of learning about things is acquiring the stories that form the fine texture of knowledge around facts (which are useful, admittedly, when playing trivial pursuit). we got some of that tonight. the five riojas, in order:

2007 arbanta from bodegas biurko gorri ($11-ish). this is a style of wine intended to be drunk young. herbaceous (like patience gray's bitter greens), brisk with a bit of a salt, still fruity but dry in the mouth, and clean while still full-bodied. apart from the taste and aroma, the seasonality of the wine is appealing--it was meant to be drunk within the year, then replaced by a new year's wine.

2006 crianza from vina real ($14-ish). a middle of the road glass about which i have neither notes nor a taste memory. i found it unobjectionable in every way though everyone else hated on it. at $14, i probably wouldn't buy it.

2004 reserva from marques de murrieta ($22-ish). this one was neat. it had a light body without being lightweight, dry in the mouth, yet with enough acid to be refreshing and crisp. a sense of lightness. if it was a wood, it would be pennsylvania black cherry.

1998 gran reserva from ramirez de la piscina ($35-ish). "velvet" is what i scribbled down. for a wine that i enjoyed a lot in the glass, i have almost no memory of it.

2005 lanzaga from compania de telmo rodriguez (google failed me on price and availability). this was the weirdest one, but i liked it a lot--maybe i even liked it the most of the lot. it had the scent of a well-made cup of matcha, or some other tea that has been panfried rather than allowed to fully ferment. at the back of the mouth, it turned into alcohol fumes, but not in a bad way. it was dense. i think it may also be relatively inexpensive, which would be nice.
so, the wines were tasty. these riojas did not make me think of any identifiable fruit; in every instance, the flavours (separately from the aromas) didn't make me think "plums" or "cherries" or whatever, only "fruity" or "not so fruity." instead, it was the bouquet that was, in two cases, both arresting at the time and memorable after. i like herbaceous, astringent reds and alcohols, and the lanzaga and arbanta are the only two inexpensive reds i've ever run across that have the type of aromatic complexity analogous to that in cooked alkaloid-filled vegetables (like tea and bitter greens).

but what was outstanding was the care taken in putting the tasting list together. my big beef with many tasting menus is that whoever is putting the menu together is usually good at showing off the kitchen's technique and access to expensive ingredients in individual dishes but not so good at assembling the dishes into a coherent progression in which each course has a logical relationship with the whole and with the other parts. the latter, it seems to me, is the only acceptable logical reason (lack of imagination does not count) to surrender all choice in your dining experience. there have been few exceptions to my lacklustre track record with tasting menus; most of these isolated bright spots have been in kaiseki restaurants and one, memorably, was at quince.) in any case, this was a carefully thought-out lineup that demonstrated variation in styles, production, composition, and price. a fine evening.

(the lamb chops were stunningly good. smoky, and perfectly grilled.)

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