Category Archives: Spain

Spanish Fiesta y Cata de Vinos

Blind Tasting of Spanish Wines — Before and After

Wine class with Sommelier Mary Horn is always an adventure, serious in purpose and big fun in the moment. Five of us who are WSET Advanced or Diploma (but who do not work full-time in the industry) gather regularly for a rigorous blind tasting tutorial with Mary. That usually involves at least eight different wines, plus a “mystery wine” to start the class with Mary calibrating the assessment process. We then hunker down quietly for about 30 minutes, moaning occasionally because it is so difficult to discern the provenance and character of each wine in only four minutes!!

54 Glasses of Wine!!

Our January class featured Spanish wines. A selection of Spanish cheeses — Manchego, Mahon, Drunken Goat — fueled discussion of the wines. How did we do? Not so great. This was a particularly challenging class, with only the most powerful Garnachas and classic Tempranillos winning correct assessments.

The line-up of wines, before and after, are featured at the top of this post. As a belated “cheers” to the new year, we enjoyed a Spanish meal of Paella, Fiesta Salad (recipe from Deborah Birckhead), and Crema de Esponja (aka Flan de Valencia). Recipes (adapted to my personal taste) follow. Enjoy!!

Paella (6-10 servings depending on portion size)
Traditional Paella has either seafood or meat, but not both. I really like the combination, so I have adapted a recipe from Rachel Ray she calls “Perfect Paella.” If you don’t already have a Paella pan, there are many options available online. (Note: I am allergic to mussels, so I don’t use them in my Paella. But if you love them, Rachel Ray’s recipe calls for 18 green lipped mussels, cleaned.)

2 T extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (add more or less depending on how hot you like your food)
2 cups enriched white rice (the classic rice is bomba, but if you can’t find that type, use either small- or medium-grain rice; do not use long-grain rice)
1/4 t. saffron threads (I typically use a wee bit more)
1 bay leaf
4-6 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 quart broth or stock (I use either all chicken stock or a combination of chicken and fresh fish stock from my local fishmonger)
1 14-ounce can of chopped tomatoes with green chiles
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 medium onion, chopped (optional)
1 cup (or more) frozen peas
2 lemons, zested
Seafood options: 1 pound of medium shrimp and/or lobster chunks, plus one can of baby clams, drained
Meat options: 2+ pounds of any combination of white/dark meat chicken (cubed) and any type of mild to spicy sausage (sliced). I have also added roast pork or lardons to pop up the flavor.

It is much easier to make this dish doing advance prep, especially with guests present!  I always cook the meat ingredients ahead of time, refrigerate, and then bring to room temperature before starting to assemble the Paella. Use only olive oil, salt and pepper — no additional spices. I make sure the seafood is cleaned, shelled, chopped (for lobster), etc., and ready to be added to the Paella at the end for just a few minutes of cook time.

Preheat the Paella pan, then add 2 T. olive oil, crushed garlic, and red pepper flakes. Sautée rice 2-3 minutes. Add saffron threads, bay leaf, thyme sprigs, and broth. Bring liquid to a boil over high heat, then reduce to a simmer.

After about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, add the can of tomatoes, optional can of baby clams, peas, and lemon zest. Stir. In 2-3 minutes, add the meat which will absorb some of the juice. When the juice is nearly absorbed, add the seafood for about 3 minutes until it is fully cooked. (Don’t be afraid to add a little more broth toward the end with the seafood if you think the dish is getting too dry.)

Remove the bay leaf and thyme sprigs. Serve with lemon wedges and warm, crusty bread.

Fiesta Salad with Lime Cilantro Vinaigrette (6-8 servings)

1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped shallots
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 T. minced garlic
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Combine first 4 ingredients in a medium bowl. Gradually whisk in oil. Season with salt and pepper.

3 cups thinly sliced red leaf lettuce
3 cups thinly sliced Napa cabbage
2 plum tomatoes, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced
one avocado, diced
1/3 cup cooked corn
1/4 cup pepitas or pine nuts
1/4 cup thinly sliced onion (optional)
1/2 cup crumbled queso anejo or feta cheese (about 2 ounces)

Combine all ingredients except cheese. Toss with vinaigrette to coat. Top with cheese.

Crema de Esponja (or Flan de Valencia)
Enjoy these recipes!

Summer Caught and Stoppered: First in a Series

Posted by Amy Neyer, CSW, WSET Advanced Certified

With the temps and humidity finally making their annual appearance, it’s time to break out that classic summer bestie – rose. If you’re like me and other wine geeks, odds are likely that you’re well into your stock, despite this season’s tardy arrival from the classic Old World areas. France and Italy, I’m looking at you.

What is summer if not a time to break from the usual routines that mark the rest of the year? I’ve embarked on a personal challenge to explore new options for summer that heretofore I’ve overlooked or just didn’t know about.

How fitting, then, upon the arrival of the summer solstice, I welcomed a fun, new BFF into my line-up of summer quenchers. Its name: Txakoli (cha-ko-lee … kind of like Chipotle). Sure, it’s a little hard to pronounce the first time … or twenty … and its pedigree is obscure. Once you taste it on a late summer afternoon, the name will soon slip off the tongue with the same ease as downing the fresh oyster that pairs so wonderfully with it.

My introduction to Txakoli came courtesy of Kevin Hart of wineCRAFT at the Anchor Grill in OTR . Given the St. Patrick’s party nature of the bottle and the overall obscurity of the wine, a little nomenclature taxonomy for greater enjoyment, interesting party chatter or sleep aid is in order.


Winemaker: Nicolas Ulacia. Much of the winemaking is small scale, including the lovely bottle I enjoyed. Founded in the 1940s, the winery produces just 6,000 cases a year. Much of it never gets beyond the region. Spoiler alert: Txakoli might take some consultation with your local wine store to find it but keep at it.

Appellation: Getariako Txakolina. You’re probably thinking “it’s Greek to me” when, in fact, Getariako Txakolina is located in the Basque region of Spain. The Basque is on the Atlantic coast in the northern Spain where it’s typically cool and rainy. In Spain’s wine classification system, it is a Denominacion de Origen, an indication of quality. For foodies, the area is located near San Sebastian, home to more Michelin starred restaurants per capita than anywhere in Europe, according to the distributor’s web site (

Grape: The wine is made from two very obscure grapes – 85% Hondarrubi Zuri, a white grape, and 15% Hondarrubi Belza, a red grape.

Geek Highlight: Traditional fermentation is in foudres (large old oak barrels) but lately it’s all stainless steel.  The two grapes are fermented separately and then blended. The winemaker keeps the carbon dioxide in the bottle, which provides the light effervescence known as petillance in France or frizzante in Italy.

What to Expect: A delightfully crisp, very pale wine with a mouthful of very refreshing acidity and green apple and lime notes. With its low to medium levels of alcohol, Txakoli is a wine that cheerfully says “bring it” to the heat and humidity of a steamy summer day or early evening.

And, if it couldn’t get any more charming, Txakoli is typically served holding the slender green bottle high in the air in one hand and the glass low to the ground all the while guiding the stream of wine into your glass. The result: a sprite of a wine that you’ll want to serve well chilled as a perfect aperitif  or pairing to fresh shellfish. Summer doesn’t last forever and neither does this wine. Much like white linen, it isn’t meant to be worn beyond Labor Day.