Matt R.

The Iberian Peninsula: Steep Hills, Grapes, and Thistle

What do impossibly steep hills, Muscat and Mencía, and cardoon thistles have in common? They’re all responsible for unique and tasty wines and cheese from Spain and Portugal! It’s Iberian Month in our wine and cheese department and we’re celebrating the varied and unique wines and cheeses from this part of the world all month long. Be sure to stop by 18th Hour Cafe (every Thursday night from 6-10pm at 18 Reasons) at some point in August to try some of our Spanish and Portuguese favorites. Here’s what we’re excited about this week:

2011 Avinyó Vi d’Agulla Petillant  –  $12.99

Do you like Vinho Verde? If so, you should definitely give this Spanish white a try! The Avinyó Estate is located in Penedès, Spain (just outside Barcelona) and is run by the Esteve Nadal family. The Esteves have been producing wine here since the mid 1800’s and are best known for their Cava (Spanish sparkling wine). In an effort to expand beyond sparkling wine, they’ve planted a few ‘non-traditional’ grapes such as Muscat Petit Grain in addition to the more traditional Spanish grapes used in Cava. This white is made of 100% Muscat Petit Grain which has been fermented dry. The term “Vi d’Agulla” is Catalan for “wine with a prickle,” and refers to the light bit of effervescence, similar to a Vinho Verde or Txakoli. Even though it’s made of Muscat, it’s not at all sweet. The nose has floral and honeysuckle aromas, typical of Muscat, but it’s completely dry with tart grapefruit and minerally flavors. Light, very crisp, and super refreshing!

Perfect Pairing: Spicy pepper and cold noodle salad


2010 Guímaro Ribeira Sacra  –  $17.99

The hills are aliiiive…with the sound of . . . grapes growing? Okay, we much prefer Rogers and Hammerstein’s version – but the have you seen the hills tucked into the Northwest corner of Spain?! Talk about steep!

The Galicia area of Spain has a long tradition of making the best of rough terrain. The Romans first planted vineyards along the very steep banks of the rivers Miño and Sil by terracing the land. These same vineyards were later carefully tended by monasteries and convents. The name of this sub-region of Galicia, ‘Ribeira Sacra’, in fact refers to the abundance of churches and monasteries in the area. Today, winemakers are producing exciting wines from these hills from the local native grape, Mencía. Pedro Rodríguez Pérez, of Guímaro, works his vineyards entirely by hand as there is no way to get machinery to these steep hills. This younger bottling of Mencía has aromas of plums and blueberry followed by scents of tobacco and bay leaf. It’s medium bodied with an interesting savory quality of dark fruit, cured meat spices, and iron-like minerality. A great food wine!

Perfect Pairing: Sandwich of wild boar salami, 12 month aged Manchego, and arugula


Cheese of the Week: Queijo Serra da Estrela DOP

This week’s cheese hails from Portugal and has a long and unique history in the region. Records of Serra da Estrela date all the way back to the 12th century, and it has always been made in the same manner. It’s made with raw Bordalaira ewe’s milk and has an interesting key ingredient as a coagulant: cardoon stamens. The use of cardoon stamens is not a modern invention but rather an ancient tradition dating back to 4 AD. Typically, milk is coagulated into cheese with the help of rennet, an enzyme traditionally found in the stomach of a calf. However, this cheese uses the unique properties of cardoon to coagulate the milk proteins. The cardoon thistles are harvested in the spring, dried, pulverized, and steeped in warm water to extract the enzymes. The particular enzyme released, cynarase, is particularly suited to sheep’s milk (in cows milk, it releases bitter tasting peptides that do not occur when used in sheep’s milk). This unique cheese making tradition translates to a cheese with a lush texture and a distinctly herbaceous flavor. Come ask our cheese team for a taste!

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