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Holiday Wines from Writers: Rick Fisher and John Maher

Here’s a quick look at what two of Catavino’s writers were drinking this holiday season. Needless to say all of us here at Catavino found our tables full of good foods and wines, sometimes Iberian and sometimes not. We’ll have more updates on the wines and foods enjoyed as we get back into our blogging rhythm! Also if you want to share a special Iberian wine holiday story, please email us at: contact@catavino.net, and we’ll considering posting it here! Happy New Year to all!

Rick Fisher

My favorite part of the holidays is the wealth of opportunities to eat great food and drink even better wine. It’s not that I can’t or don’t do that throughout the year; it just seems a better opportunity (or excuse) to pull out those special wines that are reserved for special events. This year was no exception. For most, if not all, of us Thanksgiving is the first of the “great” celebrations. I am quite the traditionalist when it comes to this holiday’s food – turkey, sausage stuffing, white sweet potatoes and brussels sprouts adorned the plate with a bottle of 100% Garnacha Borsao Tres Picos (Campo de Borja) close by.

The weeks that lead up to Christmas were filled with tons of food and, of course, chocolate! I anticipated this year’s Christmas dinner more than any before. I was to cook a traditional Catalan Christmas dinner that I learned at Catacurian (a cooking school in Cataluña) this past fall. The recreation of Chicken with Prunes and Pine Nuts was almost exactly as I remember it (without the famed blue-footed hen that roams the Catalonian countryside). Even better was the bottle of Pater (100% Garnatxa Negra) from the Montsant region that accompanied the dish. Sheer perfection if I must say so myself!

It seemed that Cava filled every spare moment of the holiday season. I’m sure I wasn’t alone! My favorite this year was the bottle of 2006 Gramona Gran Cuvee that I enjoyed on New Year’s Eve. There is nothing like a glass of bubbly (is there anything better than a good Cava?) to get things going! Finally, I wanted my New Year’s Day meal to be the start of a great year so I decided to start with a great wine. So, I decided to dig deep in the wine refrigerator where I keep my “special” wines and chose the Cillar de Silos 2004 Torresilo (Ribera del Duero) to accompany this year’s meal of tri-tip steak, lobster tail, and grilled vegetables. A great meal and wine to start an anticipatory great year!

This was a fantastic holiday season – at least food and wine-wise. I look forward to an even better one in 2010 and wish the same for all of you.

John Maher

As it happens, the most interesting wines we drank during the festive season were in restaurants rather than at home. This is mainly to do with having a visitor who is not supposed to drink alcohol, so we were reluctant to twist the knife in the wound and wax too lyrical about any bottles we opened.

We did escape from tea and TV tyranny occasionally. It is noticeable how Valencian restaurants have improved their wine lists. Not long ago there seemed to be the same ho-hum mainstream names everywhere, but now many places have short, but interesting, lists that show that an interest has been taken in putting them together.

We were drawn just off the Cathedral square by Restaurante Moma’s menú del día on a cold but bright lunchtime. As ever, the excellent value offered by these menús had me looking eagerly at the wine list. My eye was caught by a familiar wine with the same name as the restaurant, but unrelated to it. It was good value at twenty-something euros, as it retails at about 19€. This Moma is from Bodegas Los Frailes, and its name derives from the wine being 50% Monastrell and 50% Marselan – a hybrid created in 1961 by crossing Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache. Just being out of the house, with the sun shining in through the restaurant window, and this deep red, organic wine, combining power and finesse with earthiness, just swept away the holiday stupour, making me feel good about the meal, the holidays, Valencia and, momentarily, the world.

The night before New Year’s Eve a friend of a friend called as he was passing through Valencia. We arranged to meet and headed to a restaurant in the old quarter that we’d heard of but not been to, El Refugio. This restaurant has a lingering bohemian feel, and it turns out that it was previously “La Cañamería” (The Hemp Place), a restaurant devoted to cooking with cannabis. Having made their statement, they decided that they were limiting themselves gastronomically, and El Refugio is now all about producing good quality and good value Mediterranean food, with added imagination on the side. We were all delighted by the ornately carved yuca that came with my duck confit. It took me back to my youth in South America. Looking for a quirky Valencian wine to go with it, we chose Heretat de Taverners Graciano 2005. The low-yield, fragrant Graciano grape is most associated with Rioja, though becoming increasingly sidelined there (people tell jokes about its name coming from the “Gracias, no” with which it was greeted), but is creeping back into fashion. Valencia would not be the first place you’d think of finding a Graciano, but the wine has a distinctly Mediterranean warmth to go with the spicy, toasted, oaky complexity. An honest. distinctly Spanish wine, but with a few surprises up its sleeve – just right for El Refugio and our English visitor.

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