Sue Style is into food, wine and travel and writes about all three – sometimes separately, often in combination. She comes originally from Yorkshire and has migrated over the years to London, Madrid, Fontainebleau, Mexico City and Basel. She’s now happily ensconced in southern Alsace, France, within spitting distance of that region’s vineyards and conveniently placed for cross-border raids into Switzerland and across the Rhine to Baden/Germany, both of whose wines and food she explores at every opportunity. Lately, she’s discovered Catalunya, where both her children have had the good taste to settle. she's the author of nine books on subjects ranging from Mexican food through the food and wines of Alsace and of Switzerland to creative vegetable cookery. The most recent, published October 2011, is Cheese: Slices of Swiss Culture, devoted to the finest Swiss farmhouse cheeses and the talented people who make them. Her articles appear in Decanter, France Magazine, Culture Cheese Magazine, FT Weekend, and on her website suestyle.com.She gives sporadic cooking workshops in her Alsace kitchen and leads bespoke vineyard tours in the region.

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Portugal’s Famed Madeira Likes It Hot Image

“Where are the vineyards?” I wondered aloud on a recent visit to Madeira, the small volcanic island belonging to Portugal, perched out in the Atlantic, about 400 miles off the coast of Morocco.

Wine has been the principal product of the island for more than 400 years. Its fame is such that you might reasonably expect on arrival to be greeted with wave upon wave of vitis vinifera, rather as you do when traveling through France’s Champagne region. On the contrary, what you mostly see planted on poios, centuries-old terraces stacked steeply up from the island’s coastal fringe, are verdant banana palms, their floppy green leaves rattled by the frequent winds that gust in off the Atlantic.

Hidden vineyards

Terraces planted with banana palms -- and a few vines -- above Camara de Lobos, Madeira. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

Terraces planted with banana palms — and a few vines — above Camara de Lobos, Madeira. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

I did eventually spot some vines. The holdings are tiny and widely scattered, hanging on for dear life and threatened both by the bananas and the newly built houses and apartments that increasingly encroach on the available space. Trained in the traditional manner over wooden pergolas, the vines often have a crop of potatoes, cabbages, zucchini and beans planted at their feet to make full use of the scarce — and exceedingly fertile — ground.

Despite the near invisibility of its vineyards, Madeira’s wine remains one of the world’s leading fortified wines. Once highly fashionable and sought after, it was reputed to be George Washington’s favored tipple and was served at his presidential inauguration. The term “fortified” means the wine is bolstered by adding grape spirit, which raises its alcohol content (typically to 19% in the case of Madeira, as opposed to the usual 12% to 14% range for table wines), as well as giving it a longer life. Port, that other celebrated Portuguese fortified wine, gets a shot of grape spirit too, but there the similarity ends, because the grape varieties involved and — above all — the process employed in making Madeira differ in significant ways from those used in Port production.

A happy accident

Bottles of 1966 Madeira wine in Blandy's cellars. The grape variety (Bual), date of vintage and winemaker are stenciled in traditional style directly onto the bottles. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

Bottles of 1966 Madeira wine in Blandy’s cellars. The grape variety (Bual), date of vintage and winemaker are stenciled in traditional style directly onto the bottles. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

The wine starts out life in the usual way, with the grapes picked in late summer, then crushed and fermented, and grape spirit added to arrest fermentation — so far, so familiar. From here, things start to get interesting. During its long journey to maturity, Madeira is exposed to the unlikely twin enemies of heat and air, to emerge not only unspoiled but with extraordinary added layers of flavor and complexity. As Richard Mayson puts it in his recently published book “Madeira: the Islands and Their Wines,” “Heat and air, both the sworn enemies of most wines and winemakers, conspire to turn madeira into one of the most enthralling of the world’s wines, as well as one of its most resilient.”

The discovery that wine could be heated and come to no harm — and even improved by it — was a happy accident. The island has always been strategically important for trans-Atlantic shipping, and over the centuries, countless vessels have paused here to restock with provisions before the long sea journey from Europe across the Atlantic to the Americas and beyond. Provisions always included casks of wine, which by the nature of things were exposed on board to great heat. When the ships berthed and the wine was found to be perfectly good — even better than when it departed — the shippers set about reproducing the same conditions in their cellars back home, placing the huge, wooden wine casks on the upper floors of their wineries to bask in the summer heat.

Worth the expense

Casks of Madeira wine maturing in the cellars of Blandy's, a leading Madeira producer. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

Casks of Madeira wine maturing in the cellars of Blandy’s, a leading Madeira producer. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

Nowadays, a faster (and cheaper) way to reproduce this step is to heat the wine artificially in large containers called estufas, but the finest Madeiras are still aged in wooden casks, heated only by the island’s year-round sunshine. This process, called the canteiro method, is lengthier and more gentle and gives the wines their characteristic, slightly caramelized, faintly smoky aromas with exotic hints of honey and dried fruits.

A premium bottle of Madeira is always expensive, because of the time and skill needed to nurse it to perfection. One consolation — and a considerable selling point — is that once the wines have survived the rigors of heating and oxidation, they are good to go for up to 100 years. Blandy’s, one of the top Madeira producers based in the capital, Funchal, still has a barrel of 1920 wine stored in its cellar, awaiting its moment.

Once bottled, Madeira can be opened and sampled, the cork replaced and the bottle stored upright in a dark place for weeks or months without the contents coming to any harm. “If ever there was a wine to take away with you to a desert island,” comments Mayson, “this is it.”

Today, the chief market for Madeira is France, followed by the island of Madeira itself. Portugal, surprisingly, consumes little Madeira, but the UK remains a big fan, with Japan, Germany and the U.S. not far behind. Check www.winesearcher.com for your nearest supplier.

Top Madeira producers (commonly known as “shippers”) include Blandy’s, Henriques & Henriques, Barbeito and H.M. Borges.

Main photo: A tasting of Blandy’s Madeira wines. Note the difference in colors, depending on the grape variety used and the age of the wine. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

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Roasted Vegetables For A Healthier Holiday Feast Image

At Christmas, in our house at least, roasted potatoes have always been obligatory, along with parsnips and even the occasional carrot.

More recently I’ve discovered that almost all vegetables are good to roast. The key to success is threefold: first, don’t crowd the roasting pan. Second, roast vegetables in a very hot oven, and if you have the option to combine broiler and oven heat, even better. Third, try prepping the vegetables the night before and leaving them out on the counter, loosely covered with paper towels to blot up excess moisture. All these steps combined will give you perfectly golden, toasty vegetables, packed with flavor and goodness. Try these recipe ideas for your holiday feast.

Roasted Spiced Butternut or Hokkaido Squash With Raw Spinach and Goat’s Cheese With Apple Dressing

For this lovely golden-green, sweet-sour dish, inspired by a recipe from the restaurant Honey & Co. in London, you need a firm squash like butternut or Hokkaido (or potimarron, to use its French name), not a soft pumpkin of the jack-o’-lantern variety, which collapses in a fluff on roasting.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 35 minutes

Total time: 45 minutes

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

For the vegetables:

2 pounds butternut or Hokkaido squash

Salt and pepper to taste

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ginger

½ teaspoon fennel seed

½ teaspoon nutmeg

½ teaspoon coriander

½ teaspoon cumin seed

2 pinches of crushed chilies

2 tablespoons oil

Zest of half an orange

Juice of 1 orange

4 ounces baby spinach leaves

1 small radicchio (or curly endive)

4 ounces small soft fresh goat’s cheeses, halved

For the dressing:

Juice of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons cider vinegar or wine vinegar

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 teaspoon honey

1 small apple, unpeeled, finely diced

Directions

  1. Heat oven to 425 F. Line a baking sheet or roasting pan with nonstick baking parchment.
  2. Scrub the butternut or squash (no need to peel), cut in half-inch slices and again in half if large. Place on the baking sheet and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Mix together all the ground spices with the crushed chilies and sprinkle them over the vegetables.
  4. Mix together the oil and orange juice, brush the slices lavishly with it and scatter the orange zest over the vegetables.
  5. Roast for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown, crisp and tender when pierced.
  6. Meanwhile, wash and spin the spinach leaves and radicchio or curly endive and tear them in smallish pieces.
  7. When the butternut or squash is tender, remove from the oven and arrange around the edge of a large serving dish or bowl with the salad leaves.
  8. Place the lemon juice, vinegar, oil and honey in a frying pan and cook hard to reduce by half. Pour the hot dressing over the salad and mix it up a little.
  9. Arrange diced apple and halved goat’s cheese on top and serve.

Roasted Zucchini and Eggplant With Walnut Sauce

Roasted Zucchini and Eggplant With Walnut Sauce. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Roasted Zucchini and Eggplant With Walnut Sauce. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

The warm roasted vegetables are paired here with cool walnut sauce (a cross between a Mexican nogada and a Middle Eastern tarator sauce). The same sauce is great stirred into thin strands of pasta or served as a dip with sticks of raw carrot, celery and radishes.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 30 minutes

Total time: 45 minutes

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

1 thick slice of country-style bread, about 2 ounces, crusts removed

A little milk

4 tablespoons freshly shelled walnut meats

Juice of half a lemon

4 ounces fromage blanc or curd cheese

6 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Chopped flat-leaf parsley

3 zucchini

2 eggplants

Olive oil

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

Directions

  1. Place the bread in a dish, add milk to cover and leave to soak up the milk. Once the bread is soft, squeeze it out well (reserve the milk) and place in a blender with the walnuts, lemon juice, fromage blanc, olive oil and salt and pepper. Blend until smooth, scraping down and re-blending to make sure all is incorporated. If the blades are having a job turning, add a little of the reserved milk.
  2. Tip the sauce into a bowl and sprinkle with parsley. Refrigerate until needed.
  3. Top and tail the zucchini and eggplants and slice thickly lengthwise or cut in chunky batons about the size of your little finger. Place them, nicely spaced out, on a baking tray lined with nonstick paper, sprinkle with olive oil, chopped garlic and salt and pepper.
  4. Heat the oven to 425 F and roast vegetables until a little browned at the edges — about 30 minutes. Stir them up once or twice to ensure they roast evenly.
  5. Serve the warm vegetables with the cool walnut sauce.

Crisp-roasted Kale With Pumpkin Seeds or Pine Nuts

Crisp-roasted Kale With Pumpkin Seeds or Pine Nuts. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Crisp-roasted Kale With Pumpkin Seeds or Pine Nuts. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Kale is definitely having a moment: It’s all over the place, juiced, steamed, boiled or in salads. Here’s another idea: Chop it very fine, sprinkle with sea salt and sesame oil and roast it to a crisp in a hot oven. The result is not at all cabbagey (kale, like cabbage, belongs to the brassica family) but delightfully crunchy – a bit like those flash-fried basil leaves or parsley used as a garnish. Lovely just to snack on, or with fish or chicken, sprinkled over soup or pasta or with bacon and soft-cooked eggs for a light lunch or supper.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes

Total time: 20 minutes

Yield: 2 servings

Ingredients

10 ounces kale (mix green and purple if you like)

A sprinkling of sea salt

1 to 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

2 tablespoons pine nuts or pumpkin seeds

Directions

  1. Heat oven to 400 F.
  2. Shred the kale finely, spread it out on a baking sheet lined with baking paper, sprinkle with sea salt and sesame oil and mix in the pine nuts or pumpkin seeds.
  3. Roast for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the kale is lightly toasty and crisp and the pine nuts/pumpkin seeds are golden — mix it up halfway through to make sure it toasts evenly.

Main photo: Roasted Spiced Butternut or Hokkaido Squash With Raw Spinach and Goat’s Cheese With Apple Dressing. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

 

 

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Elusive Swiss Alpine Wines Perfect To Drink Now Image

Whenever I mention Swiss wine — which I do at every possible opportunity — most people get a glazed look in their eyes. Some folks are unaware that wine is even grown in this tiny, mountainous, landlocked country. Those lucky few who have had the chance to taste a delicate Chasselas from Lake Geneva, say, or a smooth, plummy Merlot from Lake Lugano tend to get distracted by their high price and lament the fact that the wines are hard to find outside the country.

Besides, they may add, there are so many interesting — and more accessible — bottles out there waiting to be sampled, and the time and effort required to track down these expensive, elusive Swiss drops is just too much of a stretch.

Bear with me: There are treasures in them there hills (make that mountains), and now is the moment to start discovering them. Why now, all of a sudden? Wine has been made in Switzerland — as in the rest of Europe — for at least 2,000 years, but it’s in the past 20 that there have been huge changes. Swiss winemakers have access to all the same kinds of recent technical advances that have benefited wine making all over the world. But a hugely significant — and specifically Swiss — development came in the 1990s, when restrictions on the import of foreign wines were lifted. At a stroke, that oh-so-comforting protectionist cushion was removed and winemakers were faced with serious international competition and forced to raise their game.

An introduction to Swiss wines

Steep vineyards above Fully, Valais, Switzerland. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Steep vineyards above Fully, Valais, Switzerland. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

For Paolo Basso, Best Sommelier of the World in 2013 and a Swiss national, the key players in this story are the new generation of wine growers. “They are much more dynamic (than earlier generations),” he explained in a recent email. “They have studied viticulture and enology not just in Switzerland but also abroad, they travel widely and they enjoy discovering wines from other countries.” While they remain hugely proud of their deeply rooted wine making traditions and culture, this does not stop them from constantly striving for innovation and improvement.

Swiss vineyards are a magnificent patchwork of different climates and terroirs, which means there are always exciting discoveries to be made. At a time when more and more of us are interested in sampling curiosities and hunting down original wines that stand out from the crowd, these Alpine beauties press plenty of buttons. Basso concludes, with complete impartiality: “If the Best Sommelier of the World is Swiss, it’s because Switzerland has some of the best wines in the world!”

Here’s a selection of Swiss wines to put on your bucket list. The country’s calling cards, which together account for the majority of plantings, are Chasselas and Pinot Noir, but some of the most exciting finds come from grapes that are indigenous to Switzerland and seldom (if ever) found outside.

Chasselas (aka Fendant)

Ripening Chasselas grapes in the vineyards of Cave Alain Emery, Aigle, Switzerland. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Ripening Chasselas grapes in the vineyards of Cave Alain Emery, Aigle, Switzerland. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Switzerland’s signature white grape, known in the Valais as Fendant and in all other Swiss regions as Chasselas, gives delicately fragrant, low-acid, low-alcohol wines with a slight prickle. When made from the best genetic variants, planted in prime sites (such as Lavaux, recently designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, whose impossibly beautiful vineyards climb steeply up from the shores of Lake Geneva), and its vigorous growth carefully controlled, Chasselas can give wines of distinction and subtle depth. Most examples are floral, fresh and highly quaffable, making them the perfect aperitif wine.

Petite Arvine

Petite Arvine from Les Fils Maye, Valais, Switzerland. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Petite Arvine from Les Fils Maye, Valais, Switzerland. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Petite Arvine is one of Switzerland’s most thrilling white varieties, indigenous to the Valais region and to neighboring Valle d’Aosta (Italy), which has recently shot to stardom. It makes wines that vary from lip-smackingly dry with gorgeous grapefruit tones and a characteristic salty finish to luscious, highly concentrated, sweet wines from late-harvested grapes. Some of the most expressive come from the village of Fully near Martigny, whose biennial event, Arvines en Capitale, celebrates this unique variety. This distinctive white wine is perfect with raclette, preferably made using an aged alp cheese from the Valais.

Heida (aka Païen)

Heida from the Provins cooperative, Valais, Switzerland. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Heida from the Provins cooperative, Valais, Switzerland. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

This is none other than the Savagnin grape of the Jura region (where it gives the famous Vin Jaune), which is now firmly anchored in the Valais region. When the wine is made in the upper part of the Valais region, where German is spoken, its name is Heida; further down the valley toward Lake Geneva, where French is spoken, its name is Païen. Grown in tiny — but steadily increasing — quantities, it gives full-bodied, spicy white wines of enormous distinction. The excellent Provins cooperative, which makes this bottle, recommends Heida with assertively spiced and seasoned dishes such as scallop carpaccio or fish tartare with coconut milk.

Amigne

Amigne by André Fontannaz, Vétroz, Valais, partially aged in an amphora. Note the bee on the left of the label, indicating the sweetness level of the wine. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Amigne by André Fontannaz, Vétroz, Valais, partially aged in an amphora. Note the bee on the left of the label, indicating the sweetness level of the wine. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Another grape indigenous to the Valais, this ancient white variety is extremely rare: worldwide there are only 40 hectares (98 acres) grown, of which 35 hectares (86 acres) are found in the village of Vétroz, its spiritual home. The small-berried, late-ripening grapes give luscious, deep golden, honeyed wines of varying sweetness. In Amignes from Vétroz, the degree of sweetness is helpfully indicated on the label by a bee motif: one bee indicates an off-dry wine, two is sweeter and three bees is fully sweet. In August 2015 the winegrowers of Vétroz introduced a festival dedicated to “their” grape titled Amigne on the Road, with food and wine trucks serving local specialties and wines from 15 of the village’s wineries. Amigne is a delight served with a buttery, caramelized tarte tatin or enjoyed on its own, just for the pleasure of it.

Pinot Noir

The Weingut zum Sternen's award-winning Pinot Noir from Würenlingen, Aargau, Switzerland. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

The Weingut zum Sternen’s award-winning Pinot Noir from Würenlingen, Aargau, Switzerland. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

The famous red grape of Burgundy, this is Switzerland’s most widely planted vine. In the French-speaking cantons it goes by its French name, while in the German-speaking regions it may be labelled Pinot Noir or Blauburgunder (“blue Burgundy”). It is grown in almost all regions, with cantons Graubünden in the east and Neuchâtel in the west both acknowledged centers of excellence. Today, thanks to the effects of climate change, ever finer, fully ripe examples are emerging from the more northerly cantons of Zurich and neighboring Aargau. At the Gasthaus Zum Sternen in Würenlingen, where this one comes from, they pair it with Suure Mocke, a fine dish of beef braised in red wine.

Humagne Rouge

An elegant Humagne Rouge from Simon Maye & Fils, St-Pierre-de-Clages, Valais, Switzerland. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

An elegant Humagne Rouge from Simon Maye & Fils, St-Pierre-de-Clages, Valais, Switzerland. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

This is another characterful variety that came from the Valle d’Aosta region of northern Italy (where it is known as Cornalin). Arriving in the Valais via the Grand Saint Bernard pass during the 19th century, it made a niche for itself, while always remaining a bit of a rarity. In the past 20 years it has enjoyed a renaissance, joining the Valais’ other highly sought-after specialty grapes. It can be a bit of a country cousin, with a rustic character and pronounced tannins, but in the right hands and with careful vinification (including some barrel-ageing) it gives scented, cherry-red wines that can age with elegance. Try it with richly sauced game dishes (venison or wild boar) or roast lamb, or with a soft, washed-rind cheese such as Vacherin Mont d’Or.

Merlot

Merlot from one of Agriloro's prime vineyard sites, La Prella (pictured on the label). Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Merlot from one of Agriloro’s prime vineyard sites, La Prella (pictured on the label).
Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

The world-famous red grape arrived in Ticino, the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, from Bordeaux, France, in 1906 and now occupies almost 90 percent of the region’s vineyard surface area. You can find it both as a single varietal and in a blend with other red grapes. Wine maker Ivo Monti of Cantina Monti (whose wines regularly sweep the board in the annual Grand Prix du Vin Suisse) comments that “Merlot is a great soloist, but if you add other varieties, you get the whole orchestra.” Tiny quantities are also vinified as white wine (the Merlot grape has red skins but white juice), labeled Merlot Bianco. Merlot pairs well with richly sauced meats, porcini mushrooms or — for a typically Ticinese match — a bowl of roasted chestnuts.

Gamaret

Gamaret, a Gamay Noir x Reichensteiner cross that excels in the Geneva vineyards, from Dupraz et fils, Lully, Geneva. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Gamaret, a Gamay Noir x Reichensteiner cross that excels in the Geneva vineyards, from Dupraz et fils, Lully, Geneva. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

This relatively new variety, a Gamay Noir x Reichensteiner cross, was developed in the 1970s by Switzerland’s viticultural research station. It has been particularly successful in the Geneva vineyards where it is made as a single varietal, as here, or blended with its sibling grape Garanoir. Its early ripening, bluish-black grapes give deeply colored, supple, spicy wines, which would match well with pinkly roasted duck breast or beef in a red wine butter sauce.

Sourcing Swiss wines

In the United States (Madison, Wisconsin): Swiss Cellars.

In the United Kingdom: Alpine Wines.

In Canada: Swiss Wine Imports.

Alternatively, consult www.winesearcher.com for your nearest local supplier. Better still, visit Switzerland and explore the vineyards yourself, using the free app supplied by Swiss Wine Promotion body, Vinea.

Main photo: A patchwork of Swiss vineyards in the Valais, near Chamoson. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

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Rioja United: 7 Top Wineries Showcase Spanish Region Image

On a late summer’s weekend in Haro, in the heart of Rioja, northern Spain, a remarkable event took place. La Cata del Barrio de la Estación was an uncommon show of solidarity among seven of Rioja’s leading wineries. The point of the weekend was not simply for the bodegas to show their wines in a spectacular series of tastings (“cata” means wine tasting), but also to shine a spotlight on the famed Barrio de la Estación, the historic area surrounding the town’s railway station where some of the region’s top wineries are clustered.

The idea was dreamed up by British Master of Wine Tim Atkin together with Guillermo de Aranzábal, president of La Rioja Alta, one of the oldest (established in 1890) and most esteemed wineries, and head of the association designed to develop tourism in the famed station area. De Aranzábal approached his fellow winemakers, who jumped at the idea. Within a year of the initial informal discussions, the fully fledged project was in place.

The event opened with cava and selected wines served in the impressive cellars of Bodegas Roda, flanked by massive oak casks, one of the defining features of Rioja. Afterward, some of Rioja’s finest wines were showcased at the gala dinner prepared by Michelin-starred chef and local hero Francis Paniego, as well as at the professional tasting staged at Bodegas Bilbainas the following day. Over the course of the weekend, all seven wineries opened their doors and cellars to the public. In brilliant September sunshine, some 5,000 people wandered from winery to winery (all are within walking distance of one another), glass in hand, eager to sample this extraordinary lineup of Rioja wines. The weekend was declared a resounding success by all concerned — the wineries, the local tourist authorities and the general public — and there are rumors (and hopes) that it may become an annual event.

Wines shown at the professional tasting ranged in age from 1981 to 2013, while those tasted in-house were of the latest vintage to be offered on sale. Below is a selection presented by the seven participating estates. Rioja of this quality is widely exported. Check wine-searcher for your nearest supplier.

Bodegas Bilbainas, Viña Pomal Gran Reserva

Viña Pomal Gran Reserva from Bodegas Bilbainas. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Viña Pomal Gran Reserva from Bodegas Bilbainas. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Bodegas Bilbainas was founded in 1901 and occupies pride of place right beside Haro station. In 1997 the estate was acquired by the Catalan-based Codorniú group, which has invested handsomely in both hardware and oenological expertise. Viña Pomal is its signature brand, made principally from Tempranillo with a little added Graciano for color and aging potential. Gran Reservas are aged at least two years in American oak, a further year in oak casks and three more years in bottle. Garnet-red tinged with russet, richly perfumed, supple and elegant, this is a wine to have and to hold.

López de Heredia, Viña Tondonia Reserva

Vina Tondonia Reserva from López de Heredia. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Vina Tondonia Reserva from López de Heredia. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

López de Heredia, just across the tracks from Bodegas Bilbainas, is the station’s oldest winery, established 1877. They make classic, traditional-style Rioja presented in bottles clad in the characteristic gold wire netting that was originally designed to prevent tampering and fraud, now purely decorative. Viña Tondonia is its 100-hectare (250-acre) vineyard, planted in 1914 and responsible for impressive, deep golden white wines, significant reds and some rosé. Red Reservas blend Tempranillo with Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuelo and are aged six years in American oak. They are vibrant in color, supple and beautifully textured with good acidity and firm tannins auguring long life.

La Rioja Alta, Gran Reserva 904

Gran Reserva 904 from La Rioja Alta. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Gran Reserva 904 from La Rioja Alta. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

La Rioja Alta, founded at Haro station in 1890 by five families from Rioja and the Basque Country, is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year. Another classic bodega making touchstone Rioja, it is responsible for a range of impressive red wines (no white) destined for long aging. Gran Reserva 904 (Tempranillo and a little Graciano) is fermented in stainless steel and aged four years in small, used barriques, made in-house by the firm’s own cooper from imported, all-American oak staves. With its cherry-red color,  intense bouquet and jammy fruit, it’s smooth and powerful — a wine for fall, perfect with lamb braised in red wine or a rich mushroom risotto liberally seasoned with black pepper.

CVNE, Contino Reserva

Contino Reserva from CVNE. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Contino Reserva from CVNE. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

CVNE, which stands for Compañia Vinícola del Norte de España (usually styled Cune for simplicity), was set up by the Real de Asúa family in 1879. It remains in family ownership, run today by the fifth generation, and is famous for dovetailing the best of ancient and modern Rioja. Contino comes from Tempranillo grapes (plus Garnacha, Mazuelo and Graciano) grown in a single 62-hectare (150-acre) vineyard situated just outside Haro. Fermented in stainless steel, the wine spends two years in used oak barrels (40 percent American, 60 percent French) and at least a year in bottle before release. Rich ruby and silky-smooth, it’s an intense mouthful of long-lasting pleasure.

Roda, Roda I Reserva

Roda I Reserva from Bodegas Roda. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Roda I Reserva from Bodegas Roda. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Roda is the new bodega on the block, arriving at Haro station in only 1987. What the estate lacks in antiquity it amply compensates for in terms of excellence, and it has made an immediate impact with its modern Rioja wines, made exclusively from own-grown, indigenous grapes (Tempranillo, Garnacha and Graciano) and given extensive oak aging in a purpose-built, temperature-controlled barrel room, which is carved straight from the rock face. Roda I, closed with a black capsule, is 100 percent Tempranillo, aged 16 months in French oak barriques and given another 20 months in bottle before release. Bright cherry with a lively fruit nose and rich, plummy depths, it’s a wine to curl up with in front of the fire.

Muga, Prado Enea Gran Reserva

Prado Enea Gran Reserva from Muga. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Prado Enea Gran Reserva from Muga. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Muga joined the other bodegas in the Barrio de la Estación in 1932 and makes super-classic Rioja characterized by long fermentations followed by extensive oak aging and long spells in bottle. Prado Enea, which comes from selected high-altitude plots, is an exemplary Gran Reserva that majors on Tempranillo with 20 percent Garnacha and a smidge of Graciano and Mazuelo and spends three years in oak (French and American) and three more in bottle. Deep ruby in color with a brambly nose (blackberries at end of summer), it has mellow spice flavors and enormous elegance and grace –- a  wine to cellar whatever the vintage (it’s not made every year), and to enjoy with favored, wine-loving friends.

Gómez Cruzado, Honorable

Honorable from Gómez Cruzado. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Honorable from Gómez Cruzado. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Gómez Cruzado was founded by exiled, Mexican-born aristocrat Don Angel Gómez de Arteche, who began making and bottling his own wines here in 1886 (a rarity at the time — most wines were sold in bulk). In 1916 the estate was acquired by a local nobleman, Don Jesús Gómez Cruzado, who gave it its present name. The smallest bodega in the Barrio, it has made giant strides in recent years under the supervision of consultant winemakers David González and Juan Antonio Leza. Honorable comes from one of the estate’s prime parcels of vines, many of them aged more than 50 years, mainly Tempranillo with the other three varieties present in small quantities. Black cherry jam hues with loads of ripe red fruit and good acidity to give it backbone, this is truly an honorable wine from an estate that’s moving up.

Main image: The López de Heredia winery in Rioja, Spain. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

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4 Dips And Salads Capture The Magic Of BBQ Embers Image

It’s midsummer and the barbecue has reached peak heat. Your butterflied chicken, leg of lamb or rib of grass-fed beef is now perfectly cooked and ready to serve. What to do with all that residual heat? The answer: You need to have on hand a bunch of peppers, eggplants and onions to throw onto the fire, ready to turn into any one of these delicious dips or salads.

First brush the vegetables with a little oil, then throw them straight onto the barbecue. The direct heat gives them a terrific smoky kick that you’ll never get if you just bake or broil them. Serve any of the following  recipes with your ready-grilled meat or fish (or have them lined up ready for that next barbecue) or as a dip with crackers, toast, pita or crusty bread.

Baba Ghanoush

Baba Ghanoush. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Baba Ghanoush. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

 

(Salad or dip of roasted eggplant with yogurt and cilantro)

Baba ghanoush is a piquant eggplant sauce/dip/salad originally from Egypt and found throughout the Middle East with slight variations and different spellings. This one has yogurt instead of the more usual tahini, giving a lighter, less rich result. Be sure to prick the eggplant all over first, otherwise it will explode. Serve as a dip with pita or as a sauce or relish with kebabs or kofta.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 30 minutes on the barbecue

Total time: 40 minutes

Yield: About 1 cup

Ingredients

1 large eggplant

Olive oil for brushing

1/2 cup natural yogurt

6 tablespoons olive oil

Juice from 1/2 lemon

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 teaspoon ground cumin

Plenty of chopped cilantro or flat-leaf parsley

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions

1. Light the barbecue and get it good and hot.

2. Brush or rub the eggplant all over with oil, prick it in a few places with a fork and grill until the skin is seriously toasted and the eggplant quite soft and deflated — at least 20 minutes, depending on your heat source — turning it often to toast it evenly.

3. Remove the eggplant, allow to cool, cut in half, scrape the flesh out of the skin and discard the skin.

4. For a textured baba ghanoush, mash together with a fork the eggplant flesh with the yogurt, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, cumin, chopped herbs (reserve some for sprinkling on top) and salt and pepper to taste. For a smoother result, use a food processor.

5. Cover with cling film and refrigerate.

6. Sprinkle with reserved herbs just before serving.

Muhammara

Muhammara. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Muhammara. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

 

(Spicy Syrian pepper and nut dip)

A colorful and delicious nutty, peppery concoction from Syria. Muhammara goes great with any grilled foods or with toasted sourdough.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes

Total time: 20 minutes

Yield:  About 1 cup

Ingredients

1 red pepper

Olive oil for brushing

4 ounces (about 100 grams) walnuts or 2 ounces (50 about grams) each walnuts and pine nuts

2 to 3 slices sourdough or French-style country bread, crusts removed, cut in cubes

Juice of 1 lemon

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon paprika

Salt to taste

1 clove garlic, crushed

1/2 teaspoon crushed red chiles

6 tablespoons olive oil

Basil leaves and flowers for garnish (optional)

Directions

1. Brush the pepper with a little olive oil and sear on the barbecue, turning it often till evenly blackened and blistered — about 10 minutes if the barbecue is good and hot.

2. Rub off the skin (easiest to do under running water), remove the stalk and seeds and chop the flesh roughly.

3. Place the pepper flesh in a food processor with walnuts (and pine nuts, if using), bread cubes, lemon juice, sugar, cumin, paprika, salt, crushed garlic and crushed chiles. Process to a rough paste.

4. With the motor still running, pour the olive oil through the funnel in a steady stream and continue processing until the mixture has lightened in color and is fairly smooth.

5. Tip into a bowl, cover with cling film and refrigerate.

6. Garnish with basil leaves and flowers just before serving, if desired.

 Ajvar

Ajvar. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Ajvar. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

 

(Balkan eggplant and pepper dip)

Typically served with burgers, this gorgeous brick-red paste is great with all kinds of meat or fish or slathered on toasted French country or sourdough bread.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 30 minutes

Total time: 40 minutes

Yield: About 2 cups

Ingredients

2 red peppers

2 medium eggplants

Olive oil for brushing

4 cloves garlic, unpeeled

A pinch of crushed chiles or 1/2 teaspoon cayenne

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

6 tablespoons olive oil

Directions

1. Rub peppers and eggplants with a little oil and prick eggplants all over with a skewer.

2. Roast the vegetables on the barbecue until the peppers are blackened and blistered (about 10 minutes) and the eggplants are quite soft and deflated (at least 20 minutes) — turning them occasionally to ensure even roasting.

3. While the vegetables are roasting, put the unpeeled garlic in a small frying pan or on a griddle and toast until the skins are a little brown and the garlic is soft inside. Remove skins and mash the garlic.

4. Peel the peppers and remove the stalks and seeds; scrape the flesh out of the eggplants and discard the skins. Put the peppers and eggplant flesh in a blender/processor.

5. Add mashed garlic to the blender or food processor with chiles or cayenne, season with salt and pepper and blend till smooth.

6. With motor running, pour olive oil through the hole in the blender lid or through the food processor funnel and continue blending or processing till the mixture thickens and lightens.

7. Tip ajvar into a bowl, cover with cling film and refrigerate until needed.

Salad of roasted eggplant, peppers and onions with herbs and pine nuts

Salad of roasted eggplant, peppers and onions with herbs and pine nuts. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Salad of roasted eggplant, peppers and onions with herbs and pine nuts. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

This recipe has its roots in escalivada, a great Catalan staple of roasted eggplants, peppers and onions drizzled with olive oil. Here I’ve added some balsamic vinegar for interest and toasted pine nuts for contrast.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 30 minutes on the barbecue

Total time: 30 to 40 minutes (plus, ideally, several hours to marinate)

Yield: 4 to 6 servings as an appetizer

Ingredients

3 medium eggplants, about 1½ pounds

1 red, 1 green and 1 yellow pepper

Olive oil for brushing

1 red onion, unpeeled, halved

5 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 cloves garlic, peeled and slivered

Salt to taste

2 to 3 tablespoons pine nuts

Directions
1. Rub the eggplants and peppers with a little oil and prick eggplants all over with a skewer.

2. Lay the eggplants, peppers and onion halves on the barbecue and grill until the eggplants are blackened and soft, the peppers thoroughly blistered and blackened and the onion soft. The peppers and onions should take about 10 minutes and the eggplants at least 20 minutes, depending on your fire. Turn the eggplants and peppers a few times during grilling, so they roast evenly.

3. Strip the skin off the eggplants and cut the flesh in strips.

4. Peel the peppers and cut the flesh in strips.

5. Peel the onion and slice thinly.

6. Lay all the vegetables on a platter, alternating the colors. Sprinkle with oil and balsamic vinegar, scatter garlic slivers and salt over the top and leave to marinate for a few hours or overnight.

7. Toast the pine nuts in a small, heavy-based pan without any oil (they have plenty of their own), shaking the pan frequently till pine nuts are evenly golden — take care not to burn them!

8. Sprinkle pine nuts over the salad and serve at room temperature.

Main photo: Residual heat from the grill is often enough to cook peppers and eggplants for delicious dips and salads. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

More from Zester Daily:

» 4 fruits and veggies great for grilling, plus 2 to skip

» Take a 4-course meal outdoors with a grill party

» Give carrots a Middle Eastern lift with tahini

» The secret to medieval eggplant

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7 Exciting Wines From Spain’s Galicia Vineyards Image

Galicia in Spain’s northwestern corner is so dramatically different from any other part of the Iberian Peninsula, it can be hard to imagine it belongs to the Spain of popular imagination, characterized by intense heat, smoldering flamenco dancers and blockbuster red wines.

This is Atlantic Spain, with the famed pilgrimage center of Santiago de Compostela at its heart, a land of scudding clouds, emerald-green pastures grazed by some of the country’s finest beef cattle, rocky shores lashed by furious waves and seafood-rich estuaries fringed with vines.

Wines from here are principally white, with the racy, zesty Albariño variety in pole position, closely followed by peachy Treixadura and full-bodied, mouth-filling Godello. Many vines are more than 50 years old, plants which — thankfully — no one thought to tear out when more fashionable “international varieties” began to make inroads into Galicia. Some red wine is also made from local specialties, with names such as Caiño, Brancellao and Sousón.

In the coastal Rías Baixas region that stretches all along the western edge of Galicia, the climate is cool and humid. Rain falls heavily and persistently, and vines are trained high on pergolas suspended between chunky, head-high granite posts, as if gathering up their skirts to keep them out of the water and the mud. This is Albariño country par excellence — at least 95 percent of vines planted here belong to this now-voguish variety.

Inland in the Ribeiro region, it’s a different story. Here, where rainfall is half that of the coastal regions, midday summer temperatures routinely reach into the 100s, with a marked difference between midday and nighttime temperatures, an important element in the production of quality white wines. Vines are stacked on steep, well-drained terraces that rise above the three rivers that traverse the region (Avia, Miño and Arnoia) and equipped with drip-irrigation systems to combat water stress.

The region’s trump cards, according to Pablo Vidal, technical director of DO Ribeiro, include a range of distinctive grape varieties, great granite-rich terroirs and a climate that is significantly less humid than the coastal region. Ribeiro has been on a roll since the 1990s, when a number of local visionaries determined to resurrect the area’s long-established but lost reputation for fine wine and set about reclaiming terraces, restoring dry-stone walls and vineyards and planting new vines.

Here are seven estates in Galicia whose wines are worth seeking out. Some are in the cooler coastal region of DO Rías Baixas, others are inland in DO Ribeiro. Check for your nearest supplier of wines from Galicia.

Casal de Armán

Casal de Armán's limited edition Finca Os Loureiros, Ribeiro, Galicia -- note the bay leaf motif (loureiro, in Galician) on the label. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Casal de Armán’s limited edition Finca Os Loureiros, Ribeiro, Galicia — note the bay leaf motif (loureiro, in Galician) on the label. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Casal de Armán is a 20-hectare (50-acre) estate in the heart of Ribeiro, founded 16 years ago by four brothers — José, Javier, Jorge and Juan — of the González Vázquez family. The eminently quaffable, entry-level Casal de Armán white (“our visiting card,” says José) is made mainly from Treixadura with a dash of both Godello and Albariño, while Finca Os Loureiros, their prize-winning, single-vineyard white, features the straw-gold, peachy Treixadura in starring role and is aged in French barriques.

Finca Viñoa

Finca Viñoa's superb four-grape blend, Ribeiro, Galicia. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Finca Viñoa’s superb four-grape blend, Ribeiro, Galicia. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Finca Viñoa is an impressive new venture with vineyards set high above the River Avia, which flows south through Ribeiro and into the Miño, which forms the border between Spain and Portugal. Rows of impressive terraces have been carved out of the granite hillside, which is streaked with seams of schist. Here they have planted Ribeiro’s four signature grapes, Treixadura, Albariño, Godello and Loureira, which go to make up Finca Viñoa’s single, satisfying white blend, recently tipped by Financial Times wine critic Jancis Robinson as one of her top festive white wines for the holidays.

Coto de Gomariz

A range of Atlantic red wines from Coto de Gomariz, Ribeiro, Galicia. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

A range of Atlantic red wines from Coto de Gomariz, Ribeiro, Galicia. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Also in Ribeiro is Coto de Gomariz, an impressive 28-hectare (62-acre) estate whose owners have devoted the past 30 years to resurrecting historic sites, acquiring new plots and restoring swathes of terracing. Lately they have adopted some biodynamic practices — a tough call in Galicia’s predominantly cool, damp climate. Surprisingly (because Galicia is known for its white wines), reds traditionally outnumbered whites in Ribeiro. The estate is now flying the red flag once more with a super range of new-wave, Atlantic red blends, alongside its impressive collection of full-bodied whites.

Quinta de Couselo

Parasol pines and pergola-grown vines at Quinta de Couselo, Rías Baixas, Galicia. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Parasol pines and pergola-grown vines at Quinta de Couselo, Rías Baixas, Galicia. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Quinta de Couselo winery is housed in a gorgeous stone pazo, or manor house, at the southernmost end of the Rías Baixas, watched over by a pair of parasol pines, which are featured on its elegant labels. They make two alluring, aromatic white blends, Quinta de Couselo (winner of an award for the best white wine in Galicia in 2014) and Turonia, in which Albariño’s angularity is fleshed out by discreet amounts of Loureira and Treixadura.

Zárate

Centenarian vines in Zárate's El Palomar vineyard, Rías Baixas, Galicia. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Centenarian vines in Zárate’s El Palomar vineyard, Rías Baixas, Galicia. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Zárate is a family-owned bodega in the small seaside town of Cambados, self-styled capital of Albariño and home to the Festa do Albariño, a lively street party held annually the first Sunday in August in honor of its now famous local grape. The entry-level Albariño is a pure delight, while the single-vineyard El Palomar, grown on ungrafted centenarian vines and trained in traditional style along pergolas supported by granite posts, has greater complexity and elegance.

Pazo Baión

A glimpse inside the cellars at Pazo Baión, Rías Baixas, Galicia: "new wine in an old setting." Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

A glimpse inside the cellars at Pazo Baión, Rías Baixas, Galicia: “new wine in an old setting.” Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Pazo Baión is a magnificent 30-hectare (75-acre) estate just south of Santiago, whose origins go back to the 16th century. After a succession of owners, including most recently an Argentine drug baron operating off Galicia’s coast, it was confiscated by the Spanish government and sold at auction to the Condes de Albarei group. Investment in the property has been impressive and includes renovation of the vineyards that surround the house, installation of spanking-new cellars and a superb, architect-designed tasting cellar. “New wine in an old setting” is the device of manager Xavier Zas. They make a single, fragrant, fleshy Albariño with wonderful mouthfeel from its six months spent on the lees.

Pazo Señorans

A table set for a tasting at Pazo Señorans. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

A table set for a tasting at Pazo Señorans. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Pazo Señorans is one of Galicia’s most immaculate properties, complete with its own superb hórreo (granary), a private chapel and cypress trees, all three of which are necessary components for a property to qualify as a proper pazo. Owners Marisol Bueno and Javier Mareque and their four children together run the 21-hectare (52-acre) estate, once a kiwi plantation and now a noted center of Albariño excellence. Choose between the entry-level Pazo Señorans (lovely rose petal nose, good structure) and the Selección de Añada or vintage selection, a special cuvee from selected grapes (mineral, spicy and long-lasting).

Main photo: Galicia on Spain’s Atlantic coast is a land of scudding clouds, rocky shores lashed by furious waves and seafood-rich estuaries fringed with vines. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

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