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Red Sangria

Question: “Hey, wasn’t there at least one other contributor to this blog?”

Answer: Well, yes. The answer is yes. And my defense is this: I have just found myself up to my eyeballs in sangria. That’s not exactly true. But I have found myself, as the weather improves, experimenting with a couple different sangria recipes.

Sangria is a drink that I (and all of Spain) believe is the quintessential summer cocktail. Icy cold, fruity, and refreshing, Sangria should be in everyone’s summer cocktail arsenal. As a wine lover, and lover of most things Spanish, I thought it was high time to make some of my own. I had some ideas in mind, but wanted to cross check my ideas against a “traditional” Spanish sangria recipe. Whether or not my search on the internets, this vast series of tubes we find ourselves tangled in, led to an actual traditional recipe, I do not know. But it did yield a few guiding points. My initial instincts were not way off. Here is what I was thinking …

Take a bottle or two of a youngish Spanish wine … why youngish? Well, I wanted a wine that was more fruit forward and possessed less oak. My two favorite Spanish varietals are Tempranillo (grown in the north of Spain) and Garnacha (the “workhorse” grown all over Spain, pretty much). I selected one of my favorite, inexpensive garnachas, Monte Oton from Aragón. Once my wine was selected, I consulted a good friend of mine in the wine department about an ingredient, besides brandy, that would make my sangria really pop. I told her I was anti bubbles, so that ruled club soda out. She suggested gin. Gin is probably my favorite spirit, so, I was all over this suggestion. She also suggested that I leave any citrus juice out, as that can cloud the finished product. She instead, suggested I use the zest of any citrus I was thinking of using.

So, I had my wine picked out, I was armed with a few new pointers, and I was on my way to making a (hopefully) delicious and refreshing sangria. I picked up two bags of frozen mixed berries, a couple of gala apples, an orange, lime, and lemon. Once I was home, I began preparing the fruit. I chopped the apple into pieces that were of similar size to the average sized strawberry from the bags of mixed berries. I zested some of the orange and lemon. I added 3oz. each of gin (had Tanqueray on hand), brandy (Cognac to be exact), a splash of Cointreau, Chambord, and Navan (a vanilla infused cognac). I had wanted to let the fruit set with the alcohol for several hours, but I was so anxious to try this concoction, that I doubt it set for more than 20 minutes. I added the wine and into the fridge it went … for minutes, not hours.

The June sun was out, the deck, drenched in warm light. I anxiously pulled the pitcher from the fridge. I grabbed a pint glass and a spoon. I poured the deeply colored libation into my glass and spooned in some of the delicious fruit. Since the berries were frozen, they acted as ice (who needs ice in wine, anyway???).

It was love at first sip. Maybe not sweet enough for some, but I found that the addition of Cointreau and Navan added enough sweetness, along with the fruit, for me. The gin added some lovely herb notes. The wine paired with the fruit very well. It acted as the perfect red canvas for this liquid artistry. I’m not gonna lie (and this is not saying that I think I make the best sangria ever), but, I could have consumed the whole pitcher in one sitting. It’s like the most dangerous fruit punch you’ll ever drink.

Sangria!

It is summer. Ice cold beers should not be the only beverage you reach for. Take some initiative and make yourself up a pitcher of sangria. The fruit you use is completely up to you. The wine is, like I said, a red canvas for liquid artistry, but in case you are not feeling as gung ho, here is my recipe …

Sangria

2 bottles of red wine (again, I used a garnacha … the only wine I would warn against using is Cabernet Sauvignon. Too oaky)

3oz. brandy

3oz. gin

1oz. Cointreau or triple sec

1/2oz. Navan

splash of Chambord (just to help the berries)

2 bags of frozen mixed berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries)

2-4 apples, chopped (I used gala)

1 t. orange zest

1 t. lemon zest

Combine fruit and all alcohol, except wine in pitcher. Feel free to let this mix infuse, but beware its charm! Add wine and stir. Again, feel free to let it set for hours … but, it will be hard not to want to tear into this drink right away! Once it has set for as long as you deemed appropriate, spoon fruit into glasses, and pour. Garnish with a slice of orange or lemon, or both, and enjoy!

Salud!

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Alto Almanzora Este 2007 Red Table Wine

“Move over Las Rocas, there’s a new smash hit value in town. Outstanding ripeness and concentration, with notes of black cherry, black currants, mocha and a savory coffee note. This is a must buy by the case.” — Wine Library

Este de Bodegas Alto Almanzora

I thought that this quote from the Wine Library was an appropriate way to begin this post on Alto Almanzora Este. If you’ve read this blog, you know that we here at Roused love our wine … more specifically, we love our red wine … even more specifically, we love Las Rocas. I’ve always been a sucker for Spanish reds, so I am constantly on the lookout for the next amazing and cheap Spanish wine … not to replace Las Rocas by any means, for that cannot be done, but to broaden the scope of delicious Spanish reds our house enjoys. I recently ventured outside of my home Whole Foods to the Roosevelt Square location … so glad I did. Their wine department is much larger than my store. I immediately found two wines that caught my eye. One of these wines was one called Monan, another Spanish garnacha that will most likely make an appearance here at some point, the other wine was Alto Almanzora Este.

Andalucia

I’ve since been back for another bottle (already gone, so I’ll be headed back again soon), but from the first sip, I knew that Las Rocas had a new brother to play with. Este is pretty great. The winery is located in Andalucia, a region in the southeast of Spain. The label of Este depicts a pregnant Andalusian mare, which is a tip of the cap to the unique and beautiful horse native to the region (and some of the most beautiful horses in the world), the rich history of the region, and the fertility of the land. A blend of 45% Monastrell/Mourvèdre, 25% Tempranillo, and the remainder being rounded out with Syrah, Garnacha, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon, I was instantly reminded of Bogle Phantom … maybe it was the blend being somewhat similar, but it was more from the big blackberry and cherry notes along with pepper, oak, spice, smoke, and even some dark chocolate. Este gets its oaky depth from being aged a combined 6 months in both French and American barrels. Despite being a full bodied wine, it drinks easy. I feel like this is a product of each varietal that builds the blend working in perfect harmony with the next to create a depth and mellowness that is mindblowing. Monastrell, which tends to be tannic on it’s own, becomes more easy and deep when blended with Garnacha, which features spice and berry notes. Tempranillo introduces some herbaceous and tobacco qualities. Syrah brings some dark fruit and pepper to the party. What little merlot enters the blend balances the tannins of the cabernet sauvignon and offers plum and currant notes. Cab Sauv loves oak and lends more herbaceousness and peppery notes to round out this astounding blend. And oh yeah, have I mentioned that this bottle is less than $10?

Alto Almanzora Este 2007

Go find it … buy it … open it … you will love it.

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Las Rocas 2007 Garnacha (Spain)

My love affair with Spanish wine began roughly a year and a half ago. It wasn’t a specific instance. No moment of sipping a Spanish wine and having a “best wine ever” epiphany. No trip to Spain. No passionate Spanish woman (a la Penelope Cruz’s character in Vicky Christina Barcelona) came into my life. Those things would have been lovely. But my love affair was rather,  a culmination of several different things that I happened to love, coming together. A perfect storm, if you will, of loves. Deepening more with each additional element joining in.

Element #1: Tapas Teatro & Pazo

These two Baltimore tapas restaurants set aflame my heart and palate. Pazo’s open atmosphere and fantastic tapas and wine menu quickly made it one of my favorite Baltimore bars/restaurants.

Pazo

Where Pazo is a huge open room full of energy, Tapas Teatro, located just north in the Mt. Vernon neighborhood of Baltimore, is everything you would picture a European street cafe being. A small, charming, and warm space with tasteful art adorning the walls, and right-on-the-sidewalk seating.Where Pazo tends to be more widely Mediterranean, Tapas Teatro is almost exclusively Spanish.

Tapas Teatro

Where I would end up on a given night, would depend on my mood. If I was feeling more social and felt like putting up with crowds, I’d go to Pazo. If I was looking for something more chill, a casual night with friends, I would go to Tapas Teatro. You would’ve been more likely to find me at Tapas Teatro. Their small plates were amazing. The attention to detail, from presentation to flavor, was stellar. The sangria: served in a giant rounded pitcher, icy, ruby-colored, and jeweled with fresh cuts of fruit. If you’re ever in Baltimore, go to Tapas Teatro.

Element #2: Hemingway (Specifically, The Sun Also Rises)

The Sun Also Rises was the first Hemingway I read. Ever. His writing style is understated and simple. His stories are almost always based on his own experiences. The Sun Also Rises follows a group of friends (and expatriates) living in Europe. The story jumps from Paris to Spain (San Sebastian and Pamplona) where the characters take part in the running of the bulls and the fiesta surrounding it.

“El vino did flow.”

Although it was most likely a product of the atmosphere surrounding the celebration in Pamplona, drinking all hours of the day seems to be romanticised by Hemingway … which is why I am a bit uncomfortable with the fact that I felt drawn to the particular lifestyle our expat friends were living. But c’mon, who wouldn’t want to spend their mornings, afternoons, and evenings enjoying (for the most part) food, booze, coffee, and friends?

Hemingway and friends in Spain

Element #3: A Summer Visit to Seattle/My First Encounter with Las Rocas

Living in a Baltimore suburb. In my parent’s basement. Working at a Christian radio station. These three things don’t exactly allow one to “fall into culture”, if I can quote my own phrase. My limited exposure to wine was basically my Dad bringing home a bottle of Corbet Canyon Merlot or Chardonnay from Buttons, one of the local liquor shops. I began to branch out a little, but was still more of a beer guy, truth be told (I still am, by the way). I am totally going to be nailed on this, because I am going to come off sounding as if Seattle has culture and Baltimore does not. If you are thinking that, let me refer you back to the three opening sentences of this paragraph. The point is that as things were in Baltimore, I had to try hard to find things I loved. I had to go out of my way. That was not the case in Seattle.

Seattle (courtesy of Ork Posters)

My dear friends (and now housemates) Emily & Scott moved to Seattle in the summer of ’07, thus opening a bright, shiny (sometimes rainy), and obsessive place to me. Obsessive? Seattle seems to be a place where everyone wants to perfect their craft, whatever that may be. Restaurants (for the most part) want to be the best at what they do. Brewers and wineries want to craft the perfect beer or wine. Coffeeshops and roasters want to pull the perfect shot and achieve the perfect roast or blend. With this attitude seemingly all around me, it was easy to get excited about finding really good stuff in Seattle. Emily and Scott certainly fell for this aspect of the Emerald City. It was transmitted to me upon my first visit in October of ’07.

When I visited again in the summer of ’08, Scott & Emily were more settled and more in love with Seattle. Summer in Seattle is brilliant, if you didn’t already know. You probably thought it rained all the time, didn’t you, Steinberg? Not even close …

Let me set a scene for you wizards …

EXT. HOUSE, QUEEN ANNE, SEATTLE  – LATE AFTERNOON

BRIAN, ERIC, & SCOTT stand together on the deck off of a house. The deck overlooks Lake Union, the Cascades mountain range, and the Seattle skyline. The three young men enjoy a cold brew, a clove, and take in the view that is laid before them. The sun is still high in the sky. It is Sunday. It is warm. It is perfect.

After a drink or two and a smoke, we headed inside to the dining room table for dinner. Forgive me for not remembering the meal exactly (Apricot Chicken?), but when we sat down for dinner with Emily and Tab (Eric’s wife), there was a bottle of Las Rocas on the table. The rest, as they say, is history.

Las Rocas

How much do I love this wine? In short, about as much as one can love a liquid. It goes well with anything. Just ask my friend Dave S. from back in Baltimore. He had it for the first time with a peanut butter sandwich and said that it was a nice complement.

Las Rocas drinks well out of it’s price point. It’s peppery, a bit sweet, and subtle. The tannins are smooth. The fruit (cherry and raspberry, mostly) is present, but not overpowering. There is oak. There is some chocolate. There is a whole lot of goodness in this bottle. A whole lot of goodness for around $10.

Maybe I think this wine so great because I’ve been influenced by the perfect storm of events that surrounded my trying it: the tapas, Hemingway and Pamplona, a Seattle summer and good friends. Maybe I want so badly to love it because I love the places, characters, events, and friends that helped me experience it. Or maybe I love it because it actually is a fantastic wine. One that is easy to drink, cheap, really good, and complements sitting down with friends, a good book, a good meal. This is why I like wine as a whole. It screams of community. There is no better representation of this than what adorns a wall in our apartment. Beer bottle-caps line the frame. Wine corks from bottles, long emptied and enjoyed, line the inside. Tacked to the cork are pictures of friends. Loved ones. The people we most enjoy, over a drink or two. For relaxing times, make it Suntory Las Rocas time.