Sunday, December 30, 2012

2008 Recorba White Wine

Producer: Bodegas PradoRey
Name: Recorba White Wine
Varietals: Verdejo 60%; Viura 40%
Region: Rueda D.O., Spain
Vintage: 2008
Tasted: December 1, 2012
ABV: 13%

Rueda - nestled into the southwest corner of Valladolid, along the borders with Segovia and Ávila - has been producing wine since the eleventh century. Originally the Verdejo grape, which practically defines the region, was used to make an oxidized wine reminiscent of a fortified wine. In the late twentieth century, however, collaboration between interested parties from the Rioja region (notably Marqués de Riscal) and foreign oenological expertise (notably Émile Peynaud) resulted in a more approachable wine. Not oxidized, not fortified, just elegant and delectable. In recognition of its newly realized potential, Rueda wines made with at least 50% Verdejo were awarded Denominación de Origen status in 1980.

The Recorba white has paired Verdejo with the Viura grape, often known as Macabeo. Viura is used in whites all over Spain and southern France, and in fact tends to be the main grape in white Riojas. Here, the two blend together to form a vibrant, luscious specimen.

The wine is an even, limpid goldenrod color. Though a tad on the pale side, it is still deeper in hue than most whites. The aroma, at first, is an interesting combination of sweetness, tartness, and introversion. One can get a whiff of honeycrisp apples and canned peaches, but the notes are not bursting forth quite yet. The wine still needs some time to warm up and get ready for its big performance on the palate, which works out just fine because the tasting notes are indeed dynamic. The initial note is of sweet florals. The Rueda is strong now, confident, out of its shell. It offers the flavor of lychee with the crispness of apple. There is citrus around the edges, but where one would expect zest one gets instead a mystifying combination of florals and sweet fruit which glide about each other as they dance around the mouth. Obviously those two notes have some common denominator, but at least one taster is still left pondering just what it is. The wine is now strong and confident, but that is not to say talkative. Expressive, certainly, but in a poetic riddle sort of way. Normally such wines would be a bit on the thick side, but this white is medium-bodied, getting the job done without hammering anything home gratuitously. Thickness, really, would be out of character. Finally, the wine finishes with a note of white table grapes. It is confident as it goes down, but calm, almost mild. But only almost; perhaps the best way to describe it is pungent without even a hint of drama.

After breathing for twenty minutes, the Rueda has not changed altogether too much, just enough to befit a white. The nose has become much sweeter and more vibrant, emitting a delicious scent of apples dipped in honey; florals (mostly honeysuckle) and apples dominate the palate, whose personality has not changed at all; and golden apples have usurped the finish.

To the Moors, who brought Verdejo grapes to Spain from North Africa; to the monks and farmers of Rueda, who have upheld the local viticultural tradition for a millennium (and counting); to the oenologists, Spanish and foreign alike, who revolutionized the region some decades ago; and to Bodegas PradoRey, which has brilliantly blended the Verdejo and Viura grapes just so; to all, a great deal of gratitude is due, for each group was instrumental in bringing it about that today we may at our own leisure sit and enjoy a glass of this delightful white wine. ¡Salud!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Bonita Peach Rooibos Tea

Name: Bonita Peach Rooibos Tea
Ingredients: Green Rooibos Plant, Sunflower Petals, Orange Peel, Natural Peach & Strawberry Flavoring
Purveyor: The Spice & Tea Exchange
Preparation: One teaspoon steeped in about eight ounces of boiling water for 5:00, sipped plain

Tea is what brews from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. The leaves can be treated in a way that includes oxidation, creating black tea, or else in a different way that does not, creating green tea (or, of course, in any of a few other ways as well).

Any time that one steeps something not from the Camellia sinensis plant one gets a tisane, more commonly known as herbal tea. Some herbal teas are comprised of cheap plant parts whose only purpose is to hold the myriad artificial flavorings that make them taste so yummy. However, there are also very many species of flora that, though not related to Camellia sinensis, create legitimate brewed beverages in their own rights. Principle among these are hibiscus, chamomile, rooibos, and yerba mate. (The latter, in fact, is even naturally caffeinated, an extremely rare distinction among tisanes.)

Rooibos, naturally non-caffeinated, comes from the leaves of the Aspalathus linearis plant, a legume native to South Africa. The word "rooibos" comes from the Afrikaans for "red bush", and its beverage is also known as "red tea" for, of course, its red color. So imagine my surprise to read that I was drinking a "green rooibos". Surely, unless we are describing Christmas decor, this must be a contradiction, either a silly error or a cheap marketing ploy.

No, not at all, in fact. It turns out that what gives standard rooibos its red color is the oxidation that it undergoes during treatment - the same thing that gives black tea its black color. Green rooibos leaves are not oxidized. Avoiding oxidation "results in a grassy, naturally sweet flavor and a lower tannin content," as The Spice & Tea Exchange tells me, and boy is that ever so.

The Bonita Peach Rooibos Tea has the dual benefits of being an authentic green rooibos tea and chock full of some excellent natural flavoring, both at the same time. Observing the dry leaves, one enjoys a complete medley of colors with delightful, almost wood-like tones. The ingredients present as straight little sticks of light green, brown, yellow, orange, tan, and maroon. They fall together in patterns of little square clusters such that, while still packed tight in the bag, they look like the floor of the the Boston Celtics's home court before (or after?) a paint job. Taking in the leaves' aroma, one can smell the peach right away, with a mere wisp of spices and herbs. It is rich, sensual, sweet. If the leaves' colors belong to autumn, then the scent belong right in the heat of August on a hot, lazy day, the kind of day on which one can expect to find oneself biting into a ripe peach and chewing on the soft flesh as the strong, sugary juice allocates itself between one's throat and one's chin.

The tisane brews into a light, golden orange liquid, rich and suave. The aroma is also rich, smooth, a succinct combination of sweetness and spice. Or perhaps more herbs than spice in this case; the orange peel and the floral hints are unmistakeable, and of course the peach is hardly away in hiding. Sipping it brings back a wonderful memory. In many sushi houses - including, at least, the one where I grew up - along with the check come sucking candies, and not just any ol' sucking candies but ones absolutely packed full of the most perfumey peach syrup on earth. Well, take the intensity level down to normal, and there you have the initial layer of flavor of this herbal tea. As it hits the back of the tongue one gets a complex floral note balanced by both the sweetness and the rooibos itself, which is finally emerging from obscurity into a more visible role.

Those who require caffeine in the morning will probably want to stick with Camellia sinensis or yerba mate (or coffee). But otherwise, the Bonita Peach Rooibos Tea fits in nicely at any time of the day. The flavors are lively, the body is smooth, and the sweetness is a real peach. Enjoy.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Costa Rica Tarrazú Asoproaa

Name: Tarrazú Asoproaa

Origin: Costa Rica
Roaster: The Gentle Brew
Roast: Medium-Light
Varietals: (unknown)
Preparation: Freshly ground, French-pressed, sipped black

Coffee has long been a key component of Costa Rica's economy, and in the Tarrazú region coffee is especially important. In fact, lately coffee is reported as being Tarrazú's single most important product. It is not a stretch to imagine that there never has been much of anything else in the region that could assume such a recognition. On the other hand, it is also not a stretch to worry that the discrepancy has been stretched too far, and that the bottom could fall out from under a fair chunk of the coffee market.

Starbucks recently made headlines for adopting a Tarrazú crop as its most premium coffee, offering it at a record $7 per brewed cup and goodness knows how much per bag of beans. No doubt Starbucks invested a fair sum into developing a farm or two in the region, or at least convinced someone else to invest in the area with the promise of short-term rewards. Maybe the farmers borrowed or raised their own cash.

But here's the thing: For how long will Starbucks, or anyone else, continue to underwrite coffee farming as much as they have been in recent times? For as long as they expect to continue selling $7 cups of coffee. And for how long is Starbucks going to offer a cup of Tarrazú coffee for almost twice as much as a gallon of gasoline costs? For about as long as people will buy it, which, excepting an aggregate ten or twelve square blocks among New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and London, will not be for altogether too long. Ditto, by default, any fads that develop from serial copy-catting. Surely some of the resources directed towards the farms went to one-time purchases, and just as surely some went to ongoing commitments - employees, planted land, etc. It is inevitable that some Tarrazú farmers will wake up one day to find that their ascent up the economic ladder necessarily includes a subsequent descent. The suddenness and profoundness of the decline - that is in the control of various decision makers.

Hopefully production stays at current levels for a long time to come, because this coffee is brimming with personality.  Gentle Brew did not charge premium prices for their Tarrazú, but it sure does brew into something special. It figures that Royal Coffee (whence Gentle Brew gets their green beans) has product notes, or "coffee cards," for all Tarrazú varieties except for the Asoproaa, and their help staff must all be on vacation for the month, so there is no accounting for the varietal in this review. But that notwithstanding, we have great coffee from a premium region roasted with mastery (and quite keenly brewed, if I may say so myself), so let us see if we cannot find something to say about so dynamic a beverage.

I use the word dynamic advisedly here, for while it is not remarkable for a coffee to have tasting notes, for example, as sophisticated as a wine's, it is quite special to have them pulled together into a level of character as engaging as the spirit. Even the color of the brew is personable: my notes say that it is "an excitable brown, a brown that wants to come out and play." The aroma opens up with a nuttiness, mainly chestnuts, and a bit of earthiness. But it is just playing. Soon there are some florals, entering slowly at first, but before you know it they are dominant. The chestnuts have not gone away, but they are no longer important. A subtle savoriness has become a robust flowerbed with winy undertones and a sweetness dangling on the horizon.

So now it is time to actually taste the coffee. There are the florals again, but they are mild, and an earthiness more becoming a very dark roast casts itself over the whole thing like rainclouds over a meadow. This is it, after all that? Nope - fooled again! "Gotchya!" giggles the coffee. "Why, you little scoundrel!" I reply, but really shame on me for letting it happen a second time, and in any event I am smiling along with the brew as I say it. Who could stay angry at something so delicious and playful? No sooner have I taken my third sip than an orchard of mixed fruits comes out of nowhere and bathes the palate. The earthiness is edged out towards the horizon, kept more for its balancing smoothness than anything else. The florals are still there, as are tannins, wininess, the cornucopia of fruit, and a delightful pungency as they meld together. What is missing, furthermore, is equally important here: acidity, and thank goodness for it. One would think that among citrus notes, wininess, and tannins there would be at least a token hint of astringency, but no. We have the good - plenty of it, really - without the bad.

Tasting the plethora of fruits leads me to believe that I am getting a vicarious mouthful of the local Tarrazú terroir. I certainly hope that that is the case, and that my visions of vast swaths of the region leveled down to make room for extra coffee fields that will soon be rendered vestigal and superfluous are all just paranoid delusions. Any region that can make coffee like this deserves an eternity of prosperity and success.