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.
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.