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Traditional Galician Gaiteiros (Bagpipers) a midst Celtic ruins.

As we continue our endeavors to add a Spanish flare to all holidays, we set our sights on St. Patricks day; the day when all the world is Irish. Or should we say galiciamapGallego? As it turns out, Ireland isn’t the only “Land o’ Green” to proclaim Celtic heritage. The Celtic tribes that eventually settled the Emerald Isle first visited the farthest Northwestern portion of Spain: Galicia. It’s in this vibrantly verdant region that a lesser-known Spain is to be found.

 

 

On a cloudy Summer afternoon, my small plane descended through dense fog to A Coruña, the once Celtic capital of Galicia. Having lived in a small town in Andalucia & visited Barcelona, Northern Spain seemed an obvious next step. As we banked toward the still-hidden runway, the clouds parted to reveal a sight more akin to the British Isles; intense green fields dotted with sheep, cows & pigs, small circular stone cottages & misty jagged cliffs descending to the sea. This was not a Spain I had ever experienced.

 

Everything about Galicia & the Gallegos who live there was a direct contrast to the Spain I had known except, of course, the Spanish sense of hospitality. White-washed galicia-subinilla-galiciaarabesque houses were replaced by stone buildings & the ever-present strum of a guitar was exchanged by the quivering pitch of a bag pipe. Gaiteiros, Galician bagpipers, are an emblem of the region, as is the numerous redheaded & green eyed inhabitants. Even the language, Gallego, is tinged with Celtic roots, though luckily for me, Castilian was the normal dialect.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like the rest of Spain, the culture carried accents of other Spanish regions, but here everything seemed to be a little less touched by change than in other parts. Galicia has always maintained a somewhat distant relationship with the rest of Spain. This was one of the only areas never to be conquered by the Moorish invasion in the 7th

Pulpo Gallego

Century. Using the land as an ally, Gallegos repelled the invading army using high mountain passes & falling boulders. Maybe that’s why their descendants proudly tag their nationality at the end of their regional dishes like Caldo Gallego or Pulpo Gallego. On one particular evening, I wandered into a Marisqueria (a restaurant that specializes in local seafood) and ordered the specialty, a Mariscada Gallega; a plate so overflowing with oceanic creatures that you could almost open an aquarium. “Un medio, por favor.” I said, since eating an entire platter of shellfish seemed a daunting task for me alone. Of mariscadacourse, what arrived was anything but medio. Luckily, help wasn’t too far away. A moment later a chipper older woman & her daughter sat down beside me & I asked if I wanted some help with my crustacean –laden table. Gallegos are always willing to help those in need, so it would seem.

 

 

 

 

 

tetilla

Like a cheesy Hershey’s Kiss!

Along with their world-class seafood, the Celtic roots of Galicia can also claim ownership to the introduction of Jamón. Celtic tribes were swine herders who, according to some historians, domesticated the local wild boar, now known as the Pato Negro. Though most Jamón is now produced outside Galicia, it was in the Catholic North where pigs found a home during Moorish times. Tetilla cheese is also a specialty of Galicia enjoyed all over Spain. Maybe it’s the creamy fruity flavor that makes it so popular, or perhaps it’s that its name translates to “nipple”. I concluded that it’s probably a little bit of both.

 

 

 

 

 

Of course the most exciting bounty of Galicia for me was the wines. The most internationally recognized wine from Galicia is Albariño, specifically from Rias Baixas. The cool, moist oceanic air flows up the finger-like fjords through pergola-albarinopergalatrained vineyards, maintaining an electrifying acidity in the grapes. Another white grape growing in popularity is Godello. Rescued from the edge of extinction in the 1970’s, Godello has reemerged as an extremely complex wine, both single varietal & as part of blends with other lesser known white grapes. Its Chardonnay-like attributes make it an ideal varietal for oak-aged or steel tank fermented wine styles. Even lesser known are the red wines of Galicia, with Mencia leading the pack in popularity. Recently, though, many new high-end bottlings have emerged made from esoteric varietals like Caiño

A few of Raul Perez's wines soid at Vinos y Mas

A few of Raul Perez’s wines soid at Vinos y Mas

Tinto, Espadeiro & Bastardo. Cult winemakers like Raul Perez have started a revolution, of sorts, that aims to make Galicia Spain’s answer to Burgundy. From what we’ve tasted recently, the truth of that bold endeavor seems to be very much a reality.

 

Here at Despaña, we are eagerly waiting for Old Man Winter to bid us farewell and for spring to be on the way.  With picnics in the park and lots of fresh springtime wines in mind, we have decided to launch a contest for all of our loyal customers…it’s the perfect opportunity to savor Authentic Spain as the weather gets warmer.  The last Friday of every month, we will hold a drawing for a $25 gift certificate, which is valid at any of our New York locations.  All you have to do is drop your business card in one of the bowls at the cash register of either our Soho Fine Foods & Tapas Café or Vinos y Mas for the chance to win.

 

Drawing dates are as follows:

 

March 28

April 25

May 30

June 27

July 25

August 29

 

What are you waiting for?  Stop by Soho to pick up some goodies and for your chance to win…good luck!

 

If you’re like us, you’re sick and tired of this Polar Vortex nonsense and want nothing more than a few consecutive days of above-freezing temperatures and snow-free days.  Until the jet stream works in our favor, we have some solutions to help keep you warm…and they involve one simple, yet marvelous product: beans.

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Throughout Spain, beans take the center stage of each region’s most iconic dishes.  From Fabada Asturiana to Callos a La Madrileña, Caldo Gallego to Lentejas con Chorizo, all of these comforting and hearty dishes are greatly enhanced when using premium beans.  At Despaña, we import only the highest quality and finest beans from Spain: our beans remain firm when cooked and have a silky smooth texture and skin.

 

You may remember the special recipe to Fabada Asturiana that we shared with you back in October.  Cooking with Spanish beans doesn’t stop there, though.  Some of the tastiest soups and stews are the simplest: all you need are creamy Judion beans or silky smooth Pardina lentils and our Despaña Brand Chorizo for a soup packed with flavor to beat the winter blues.

 

If you’re pressed for time or happen to be in the Soho area for lunch, stop by our Fine Foods & Tapas Café for a cup of a Soup of the Day – chances are it will feature our Spanish beans and keep you warm and full!

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Thursday Tasting Time at Despaña Vinos y Mas! (Left to right) Jesus Carmona, Simon Buck, Celina Gonzalez Garaño, Lindsey Lovel, Zach Moss

After a very enjoyable Thursday Tasting with Celina Gonzalez Garaño of the Penedés winery Heretat Mont-Rubi (HMR), I felt compelled to finally write this long-awaited article. This is about the magical variety Sumoll; a grape of obscurity, devotion, & awe. A grape that has never failed to inspire anything other than the most primal & emotional interpretation of its wine, at least for this oenophile. A grape that teetered, until the turn of this century, on the very edge of extinction. It could be for any or all of the aforementioned reasons that I am so infatuated with Sumoll, but the fact remains that if such a high-potential variety such as Sumoll can exist in anonymity, then how many more like it are out there?

 

 

 

 

The first time I ever had a Sumoll consciously (its most often used as a coloring varietal in rosé Cava blends) was before I made the decision to make wine my career. Having moved back to New York after trying my hand Els Corkat restaurant management, I was much in need of inspiration. I remember reading an article (the name of which escapes me) that gushed about the crystalline purity of a wine called “Els Jelipins” & its rarity. Intrigued, I picked up a bottle of the 2005 & brought it home. Never had a wine entranced me such as the Els Jelipins. It was like falling in love for the first time, but without any fear of rejection or heartbreak. Ethereal, yet bold, it glided from the glass directly to my core & I was forever changed. In hindsight, that might have very well been the moment in which I new wine would be my calling.

 

 

 

I needed to know more about my new love. What other examples were out there? How big of a secret was Sumoll’s magic really? Until very recently, the only information an inquiring mind could find online about Sumoll was the following:

 

Sumoll Black 
Grown in the area of Artés (Barcelona) and in the DO Conca de Barberá, although it is not covered in the regulations governing this denomination.

 

Thanks for all the info, Lords of the Web!

 

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Uneven ripening is just one of the difficulties in growing Sumoll

Now, with the wealth of quality wine blogs (http://catavino.net) & detailed reference publications (specifically “Wine Grapes” by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding & Jose Vouillamoz) the floodgates of information are open. Indigenous to Cataluña, Sumoll spread to Andalucía & the Canary Islands because of its natural ability to flourish in arid conditions. Its large bunches & late ripening made it a grape well suited for warm vintages when other grapes perished. Unfortunately its strengths are also its weaknesses: late ripening means that it has a higher probability to be negatively affected by bad weather & a cool rainy vintage will result in under-ripe or rotten bunches. Sumoll berries are large & its clusters few, so the crop is further threatened by predation, temperature swings that could shatter the thin skin, & bunch rot. For these reasons & the growing popularity of “international” varieties, many Sumoll vineyards were torn up during the 1950’s & 60’s. Today only 250 acres of Sumoll exist in Cataluña with nearly insignificant plantings in the Canary Islands.

 

 

 

All this started to change in the year 2000 when Australian scientists came to Penedés in search of a varietal that could be used to breed a new hybrid grape with drought-resistant properties.  “We thought to ourselves ‘what do these Australians know that we don’t’” Celina told me when asked why Heretat Mont-Rubi chose to focus on Sumoll. “The following year (2001) we HMRDespanafotomade our first vintage of Gaintus ($54.99 at Vinos y Mas), the first 100% Sumoll wine & we haven’t stopped since”. HMR owns roughly half the Sumoll plantings in Cataluña & has expanded their offerings with “Durona” ($21.99 at Vinos y Mas) a blend of 50% Sumoll, 30% Garnatxa & 20% Samso. The ‘06 Durona has been overwhelmingly successful since we brought it in at the beginning of December, displaying Nebbiolo & Etna Rosso (Nerello Mascalese)-like qualities of sweet black earth & black cherry skin & balsamic herbs for a fraction of the price of its look-a-likes. If getting more than what you pay for makes you a smart shopper, picking up a Durona is an act of pure genius.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Els JelipinsWinemaking

Needless to say, the wine making style of Els Jelipins is “au naturale”

The wines of Heretat Mont-Rubi prove to me that the potential of Sumoll as a quality varietal is a fact. Even more so, we just received the 2009 vintage of my first love Els Jelipins ($84.99 at Vinos y Mas). This wine is so good that I feel like I should be writing in iambic pentameter when talking about it. Luminescent ruby red in the glass, many would think Els Jelipins could pass for a rosé wine. The gauzy cloudiness gives away the non-interventionist leanings of Gloría Garriga, Els Jelipins winemaker. Sweetly floral with sour cherry & wild red raspberry liquor notes that float from the glass like silky incense smoke. The more technically minded will note that there’s a slight note of VA, but this is not a flaw for this wine. In fact the reductive notes seem to lift the sweetness of the nose to another level. The palate is crushingly delicious. I put it that way because it is way too easy to drink this wine. Feminine & pure, the palate mirrors the nose & leaves an impression of possible residual sugar. Earth, love, sweet red berries, & passion; they are all right there in the Els-Jelepins-2009-600x800glass, every sip. Recently, we tasted the new vintage of Els Jelipins with a few of our wine distributor friends & they seemed as impressed as we were. After sharing my feeling that the wine tasted like something that could sell for $250 or more everyone agreed. Luckily that’s not the case! I can’t say there’s much else out there that can get you so close to heaven for $85.

A new year means it’s time to learn a new skill…and trust us, you’ll make a lot more friends at the next party you go to if you tell them you’re an expert at carving jamon rather than give them all of the details of your Crossfit class.  Our jamon carving classes would make a great Valentine’s Day gift – this is definitely a one-of-a-kind, thoughtful experience for anyone who’s passionate about food and wine.

Despa–a food,wines and more.

Don’t delay in signing up and securing your position in our next series of classes, scheduled during February and March.  All classes are held at our Soho Fine Foods and Tapas Cafe at 408 Broome Street in Manhattan.  We begin at 7:30pm sharp and run until 9:30pm.

 

For $400, you receive semi-private instruction on how to carve paper-thin slices of jamon serrano at home.  Best of all, you get to take that beautiful 18 pound leg home with you after the class is over which means you can keep carving at home!  (Once we’ve used all of the jamon, we like to use the bone to make a delicious soup stock.)

 

Positions are only secured by purchase and there are limited seats available.  To register, please call our Fine Foods and Tapas Cafe at (212) 219-5050 and we would be happy to sign you up!