Author: east bay cru

It’s no secret we are both obsessed with Italian wine. So the fact that we met working for the man who wrote the Bible on the subject is really not that crazy. The crazy thing is that we live less than a mile away from each other. Even more crazy is that we live so close to California wine country we get the privilege of tasting some amazing new-style juice from amazing up and coming wine makers. So here is our blog about just that—our travels in and throughout the California wine scene. -Erin and Holly Check us out twitter: @EastBayCru

Sherry. Because the best things in life are rarely easy.

Back in my hay day I did some pretty solid, pretty fly bartending at the neighborhood Applebees in Livermore, California. We had this bottle of Harvey’s Bristol Cream Sherry in the corner that for years lay unopened, lonely and lifeless. One slow afternoon, however, my Applebuddies and I decided to crack that bad boy open and discover what lurked inside. It was how it sounds- creamy, super sweet, somewhat offensive, largely repulsive and invariably responsible for decades of Americans turning their heads at this delicious table wine. In addition to the false,  syrupy sweet reputation Sherry has obtained, it also has the misfortune of being more difficult to explain than Greedo shooting first. Fortunately, we now live in a universe where Sherry is praised by somms, where wine bars and restaurants alike are working to change its reputation, and where I’m here to answer all your burning questions.

—Because I strive for brevity, I’ll use this post to talk about dry styles of Sherry only. We’ll talk about the sweet stuff on a day where I’m feeling, well, sweeter.

The Location

At its core, Sherry is a fortified wine that comes from one of three towns in the Andalucía community of Southern Spain- a region dubbed by wine geeks as “The Sherry Triangle.” The three towns that make up The Sherry Triangle are Jerez de la Frontera (‘Jerez’), El Puerto de Santa María (‘El Puerto’) and Sanlucar de Berrameda. They lie fairly close to each other, yet each town boasts its own micro-climate, and each micro-climate brings its own distinct flavor to the wines.

The Grapes

There are three grapes allowed in Sherry production: Palamino Fino, Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel. Palamino Fino is the number one stunner, the star of the show, the total ball hog. It makes up 95% of all Sherry production, it is responsible for all styles of Sherry that are not considered sweet and it’s the only grape we are going to talk about today. It grows mostly in a soil called albariza- a white, chalky, limestone rich soil accredited with giving a neutral grape like Palamino Fino its pazaz.

The Science

There are a few elements that make sherry the delicious beast that it is. One of these main elements is the Solera System. When you walk into a sherry bodega, it doesn’t look like your average winery. The floor is covered with a layer of dirt and sand so barrels can be sprayed with water. The ceilings are high, encouraging sea breeze and salty sea air to waft through the bodega. The sherry barrels are stacked directly on top of each other, typically three or more barrels high and often times in very long rows to create what’s known as the Solera System. The Solera System is a method of fractionally blending newer vintages into older vintages in such a way that the finished product is a blend of all the ages. As the Solera ages, so does the average age of the wine. Solera itself literally means “on the ground” or “floor”, and it refers to a stack of barrels that pull wine gradually from top of the stack (the newest vintages) to the bottom of the stack (the oldest vintages.) No container is ever drained, so some of the earlier product always remains in each barrel. 

Another main element is a special thing that happens in the Sherry triangle, mostly due to weather and proximity to the ocean. The conditions in this specific region of Spain cause a layer of ambient yeast, called flor, to grow naturally on the surface of the wines. This layer, or veil, of flor is the main contributor to the flavor of every dry style of sherry except for oloroso. Flor is what gives sherry the intensely unique, insanely briny and extremely dry flavor profile found in fino and manzanilla- two types of sherries that spend their life under this veil of yeast. 

The Styles

Fino and Manzanilla- These guys got the flor. Both finos and manzanillas are aged entirely under flor. They are the driest wines in the world, as that layer of yeast manages to suck up any notion of creaminess or body attached to the wine. Full on flor power leaves you with an insane salinity and a complete dryness. The difference between a fino and a manzanilla is solely geographical. Fino can come from both Jerez and El Puerto. Manzanilla can only come from the seaside town of Sanlucar de Barrameda, where the weather doesn’t fluctuate as much throughout the year, and the sea breeze infuses the sherries with intense flavors of salty sea air. Style wise- manzanilla is typically leaner than fino, but it varies from producer to producer. Drink this wine as a palate cleanser and with salty foods like olives and jamón. Or get a fuller style of fino and drink it with your whole meal.  Pro somm tip– this style of fully aging under flor is called ‘biological aging.’

Amontillado- So amontillado starts it’s life under flor, but after a certain amount of time (at least two years by law), the cellar master breaks the veil of yeast by further fortifying the wine, leaving the wine to age in the barrel, fully exposed to oxygen, for a good amount of time before being bottled.  Some of the finer amontillados will live for eight or ten years under flor, giving the wine this beautiful dry, salty flavor as a base and then layering it with the nutty richness caused by aging and exposure to oxygen. Amontillados can be served with roasted nuts, richer sauces, full on meals and savory desserts.

Palo Cortado- A somewhat confusing category, palo cortado is similar to an amontillado, but more of a freak accident then a planned event. It is a rare style that the cellar master has chosen to be a fino, accidently loses its flor to become an amontillado, but somehow takes on a flavor profile more like that of an oloroso. Although every bodega differs, the flavor is generally more like that of an oloroso- complex, roasted and velvety while maintaining some of the salty characteristics of a fino. Palo cortado has gained a fair amount of popularity over the past few years, and a lot of houses are manipulating its rare style. For the real deal palo cortado holyfield, stick to your trusted wine shop and your trustee, ultra knowledgable sommelier. 

Oloroso- Oloroso is kind of the yang to fino’s yin. It’s the Han Solo to Princess Leia. While fino is delicate and lean, oloroso is bigger and more bulky. Oloroso lives its whole life without seeing flor, therefore aging oxidatively in the barrel for years and years. The more the wine evaporates as it ages, the higher the alcohol content gets. Most olorosos clock in at about 20% alcohol, some even higher, and they develop a distinctly bronze to chestnut brown color. The best olorosos should be dry to off dry. Sweet olorosos are typically not the business. Olorosos have aromas of figs and nuts, and are velvety and complex on the palate. Drink for or with desserts or rich foods.  Pro somm tip- this style of aging without flor is called ‘oxidative aging.’

Despite the fact this is probably my longest post, this only begins to touch on the world of sherry. For complete, geeky and easy to read info on the subject, read Talia Baiocchi’s book, Sherry or Peter Liem’s book, Sherry, Manzanilla & Montilla Follow these cats on Instagram, too.

Blogged at: Anina, SF

Soundtrack: J.I.D The Never Story

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Wanderlust, Galicia

I’ve mentioned before that Galicia is one of my favorite places on the planet, and hands down one of my favorite wine regions in the world. Often overlooked for San Sebastián or Barcelona, this autonomous community in northwest Spain is lined with beaches, inundated with rivers, packed with green hills and mountains and stocked with some of the best seafood in the world. You could spend weeks here hiking, beaching and eating your weight in pulpo, but here are my personal tips (in no particular order) for experiencing one of the best vacations Spain has to offer.

Playa de Nerga-

Galicia is lined with over 1,660 kilometers of coastline including its offshore islands and islets, so finding a beach is no problem. My day on and around Playa de Nerga, however, was one of my favorite. Playa de Nerga itself is gorgeous, fairly secluded and typically sought after by locals. There’s the tiniest little bar/restaurant on the beach should you want to enjoy a delicious beer or glass of Albariño. The real treat here, though is a small restaurant on the way to the Playa in Puerto De Aldán. Here, the most wonderful man by the name of Manuel stands at a table outside the restaurant and cooks up the most delicious pulpo. Steamed, Galician style and tossed with delicious olive oil and paprika. Manuel even bakes the fresh bread served along side this delicious plate of octopus and, having lived in Texas for 5 years, his english is perfect. You are in Rías Baixas here so don’t sleep on that Albariño.

Cambados-

The Albariño flows like water in Cambados, located in the Rías Baixas wine region in the province of Pontevedra. And while I do have a serious relationship with the pulpo of Galicia, the cockles, clams and various other marine fixings of Cambados are like none other. Grab a table almost anywhere that doesn’t look super touristy, or hit the fish market and take home anything from eel to sardines. Do not forget to was these sea creatures down with a bottle of salty Albariño. Afterwards, hit any of a number of beaches near Cambados. Playa de Lanzada, Praia Da Braña and O Grove were all beaches I hit up at some point, but the world here is really your oyster.

The Camino de Santiago-

Okay, so I’ve never actually done this, but seeing as though it’s probably Galicia’s most well known activity, I couldn’t leave it out. The Camino de Santiago or, The Way of Saint James is one of 8 paths, each winding up at the shrine of the apostle, St. James in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Back in the day, when Catholicism was more like a death sentence, the Camino was recommended as a pilgrimage of indulgence or, a walk you could take to make either hell or purgatory a little less painful. Today, the route is taken by some as a path to spirituality, an amazing conduit for a little exercise or a sweet way to experience the Galician countryside. Pick your own path or take a guided tour – bring rain gear, people.

The Miño River- 

I have so many good memories of this river it’s hard to know where to begin. Guided tours that lead to waterfalls, kayaking or simply sitting on the grass and reading Hemingway are all excellent ways to enjoy the Miño. Head to el embarcadero de Belesar, in the town of Belesar to take a catamaran tour led by a woman named Luisa. Luisa will take you down the Miño from Belesar to A Maiorga, passing vineyards and tiny beaches before finally arriving at a small swimming hole with an insane waterfall. On the ride back, opt to stop at the river house for meats, cheeses and the quintessential bottle of local wine. For a refreshing swim and an excellent Gin Tonic, head to the little village of Os Peares in the Ribeira Sacra wine region. Bring a bottle of Mencía and a blanket and take a siesta on the grass; this cold pocket of the Miño is perfect for combatting Ribeira Sacra’s high summer temperatures.

Hot Springs-

As if we need another reason to love the Miño river- this delightful river is loaded with natural hot springs. There are plenty of spots near the town of Ourense to hop in the springs for free, but why not live like Tom and Donna and “Treat. Yo’. Self.” Chill for a couple of  hours in the Termas Outariz, a super slick spa and hot springs with a Japanese vibe. I believe there’s a sushi bar, or head to Ourense after and grab yourself a tortilla and a bottle of vino. Try to go on a weekday for a lighter crowd and mucho relaxation.

Wine Tasting-

So, while Galicia is pumping out some of the best wines in Spain right now, it’s a long way from the Napa Valley. Most of these cats don’t have tasting rooms, winemakers gather grapes from various vineyard sites and the majority of these folks are farmers. This can make tasting a little more challenging, but there are always plenty of options. For the best wine tour Galicia has to offer, hit up Fazenda Prádio in the Ribeira Sacra region. Xavi, the head winemaker, offers a tour of the vineyards, tells you stories about the region, and opens up the good stuff for a taste of some of the best wine coming out of Galicia. You can stay for lunch if you like (stay for lunch!!) and he has a rad hotel/guest house should you want to stay in this central area of Galicia. There are certainly wine tours in the Albariño land of Rías Baixas, and larger houses like Algueira and Guímaro in the Amandi subzone of Ribeira Sacra are usually able to host you with a little notice. Smaller wineries in the Ribeiro or Valdeorras take a little more digging, but you can always ask me, or any other wine maker you visit in the region and one of us will point you in the right direction.

Blogged at: Boot and Shoe Service, Oakland

Soundtrack: SZA, Ctrl 

Links-

Playa de Nerga

Cambados 

Os Peares

Fazenda Prádio

Termas Outariz

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fazenda Agrícola Augalevada and My Life as a Professional Translator

Galicia is one of my favorite places on the planet. The beaches, the green hillsides, the mountains, the rivers, the pulpo(!) and, above all, the wine all come together to create one of the most beautiful experiences you can find in Spain. Right in the middle of Galicia, a stones throw from Portugal, where four different rivers meet, lies the region of Ribeiro. In this relatively small wine region sits a tiny plot of the only biodynamically farmed vineyards in the Ribeiro and the wines of Fazenda Augalevada.

My visit to Fazenda Augalevada fell on my last day in Galicia, on one of my last days in Spain and on the day I officially gave up American football for soccer (sorry, Raiders). A mutual friend had told winemaker, Iago Garrido, I was fluent in Spanish, so in addition to my own visit, I was handed the task of translating Spanish to English for a group of  Japanese importers. I’m not sure how effective I was in real life, but on the inside I felt like a straight boss.

Winemaker, Iago Garrido is kind of a badass. He almost played soccer professionally, and while waiting for FC Barcelona to call he went to Culinary School, taught special needs kids the art of gardening and learned how to grow and make wine biodynamically. He also managed to have two super cute little kids with his amazing wife. And maybe he never got the call from Barcelona, but he is the first certified biodynamic winemaker in Ribeiro, his wines are straight up delicious and he doesn’t have to share a spotlight with Leo Messi.

Iago farms 2 and a half hectares of land near San Clodio, a small town about 37 kilometers outside of Ourense. The terraced hills outside of his house were once planted with Treixadura, Albariño and Godello, but in an effort to plant varietals he feels better suited to the area, Iago decided to rip out his Albariño and Godello vines and replant with varietals like Caiño Longo, Caiño da Terra, Caiño Blanco and Agodelo. His older wines are made solely from his vineyards, but while he waits for the newly planted vines to grow up and produce fruit, he uses locally sourced grapes to make his wines. Sourced or homegrown, the wines are aged underground in clay amphorae- a super ancient method that is still used by wine makers all over the world. Amphorae increases oxygen exposure in wines while they age, softening tannins and enhancing aromas like nuts and baking spices.

This very minute the wines are on a boat headed to Oakland, and as soon as they land I’ll let you know where to get them. We tasted the 2014 “Ollos de Roque,” named after Iago’s son, made from mostly Treixadura, with a little Albariño, Loureira, Lado and Godello. This delicious white wine is made from grapes sourced straight from Iago’s vineyard, before he decided to replant. The red, dubbed “Mercenario” is a blend of Brancellao, Caiño Longo and Ferrol. Don’t know any of these grapes? Don’t know anything about soccer? Don’t worry. Let’s just sit back, drink the wines and watch some Barcelona Futbol. Vamosssssss Barçaaaaaa!

Blogged at: Commonwealth, Birba, Mom and Dad’s

Soundtrack: People Under the Stairs, O.S.T.

 

A Love Letter to Barcelona

I want to take a moment here for Barcelona.

I was just in Barcelona a little over a week ago. I had a shift in plans during the last month of my trip, so I somewhat unexpectedly spent the last four days in Barcelona with my friend, Miriam. That Sunday, we had plans to drive to H20 Vegetal, a natural wine fair a couple hours outside of Barcelona. It was going to be pretty epic. At least 5 of the producers I’d met on my travels were going to be there, I was going to get the chance to sample the Ratafia I’d made in Terra Alta and- no joke- my favorite Thai restaurant outside of Thailand, Night Market + Song, was cooking food there. It was going to be kind of Spanish send off  that would take “It Rains in Spain” from a wine blog to a James Beard award winning novel (ha.) Only come Sunday we wake up to find there are zero cars for rent in Barcelona. There are no trains to take, no friends with whom we could get a ride. No wine fair. We were crushed.

Throughout my travels in Spain there were a number of “surprises.” I missed a flight, I missed a rental car, a restaurant was closed here or there. Every time, however, something better was waiting for me around the corner. And it turns out this was no exception. After we found we had no way out of it, Miriam and I decided to dedicate our day to the city of Barcelona. We decided to brunch in it. We drank Bloody Marys and cried together over Eggs Benedict. We went to the beach, we saw a naked guy, we tried (and failed) to walk to the W. We drank Cava and Cider and we ate carpaccios in El Born. We had Martinis and first-time Negronis at El Nacional. We walked past churches and through squares, we saw Gaudi architecture and oversized Zara’s. We saw sunset turn into dark. We made plans for my next time in Barcelona and then we finally made it home to Grácia.

On Monday I spent one last solo day in Barcelona. I hiked one more time to the top of Park Güell- the hike that made me feel so at home my first few weeks in Spain. I walked to the Sagrada Familia, the Picasso Museum and to one last lunch at Bar del Pla- one of my favorite wine bars in Barcelona. We had ceviche and bubbles for dinner. Tuesday morning I flew back to Oakland.

It’s not that it could have been me on the street in Las Ramblas yesterday. It’s simply Las Ramblas. It’s the street, the city. Tourist, local, shopkeeper, server. People on motos, people pouring beers at La Boqueria. It’s the Gaudi, the fresh fish, the crowded summer beach and the bar where Hemingway and Picasso used to drink Absinthe together. It’s the Catalan flag hung proudly in every window, FC Barcelona and the natural wine bars and the breakfast at Granja Elena. It’s the Picasso Museum and the colors and it’s The Terraces of Barcelona.

Today, my friend, Miriam wrote: “Avui la meva ciutat perd una mica de llum.” Today my city loses a little bit of light. And it’s true, Barcelona does lose a little light today. We all lose a little bit of light today. All I can actually hope for today, or this week really, is with the right amount of love, and maybe with the right amount of Cava we can at least try get it back. Because whatever this hateful shit is, it’s not working. Joder.

I love you, Barcelona. See you soon.

Lessons from an Airport

Airports. I’m tired of crying in them. I’m tired of being in them, really. This is the second time I’ve cried in the Santiago de Compostela Airport. This time it’s my fault. It’s raining. I look to my left, another girl is crying. She has someone holding her, though, so it’s probably for different reasons.

All the men in Galicia wear the same cologne.

This is it, the last leg of my trip. I’m headed to Barcelona for three more days and then home. What have I learned? I know how better to drink Gintonics. I know how to get gas, to order food. I can take a coffee, drive a car, kill roaches in a hotel room, buy groceries. I almost learned how to cook an octopus. Could I do all of that already?

In the last two days, though, I’ve learned 4 new varietals, I drank one of them out of a barrel. Yesterday I drank Ferrol out of a barrel with Luis Rodriguez. On Monday I tasted the wine I helped make last year at Fazenda Prádio. Last week I drank Txakoli like a champion and the week before I drank the wines of one of the funniest, foul-mouthed men I’ve met since my Grandma Jan. I’ve stained my hands making Ratafia. I’ve learned about mildew, about vine training, about planting vines on volcanoes. I’ve learned about sulfites and no sulfites and wind and drought. I’ve learned about solera systems, about making barrels and about aging in amphorae. About sacrifice and loss and replanting for the good of the region.

When I get home I’ll learn how to cook that octopus.

Spain is an incredible place. All of the people I’ve talked to, the winemakers I’ve met- each with different ideas but all with the same goal in mind. There is so much happening here I don’t know how many blog posts it will take to relay the message. I hope I’m the right person to do it. I hope a little Picasso and a stroll through El Born will give me inspiration to pull it all together. Otherwise, what the fuck was I doing here?

I think next I will learn how not to cry in airports. It’s so dramatic, really. Wildly unnecessary. A solid waste of time when I could be enjoying a Gintonic.

Perhaps I’ll start that lesson next time. See you soon, friends.

Blogged At: Santiago de Compostela Airport, Galica

Soundtrack: Tensnake 58 BPM

Matías i Torres. Island Time.

Matías i Torres is a tiny operation set in the small town of Fuencaliente, on the island of La Palma. La Palma is one of the 7 Spanish-owned Canary Islands, a collection of mountainous, volcanic islands formed by the Mid Oceanic Ridge** that sit about 70 miles off the coast of Africa. La Palma is relatively small in size, and its topography is all over the place. Lush, green forests sit just up the hill from black, possibly active volcanoes. Banana plants, a major export, line the edges of the island. Vines sit directly on top of the soil here, and the bright green and yellow branches pop against the porous, black volcanic rock. The water surrounding the island is an indescribable color of bright blue, also amplified by the charcoal volcanoes and the black sand beaches that line the shore. It is an incredible place, and for now, less inundated by tourists than its fellow Canary Islands.

Victoria Torres owns or rents small parcels of these bright green vines all over the island of La Palma. At some points, her parcels are so small and scattered you wouldn’t know where her plot begins and another one ends. After walking through a few of her vineyards, however, her real estate becomes decidedly obvious. Her vines are healthy, strong and elegant, a result of being maintained by a woman with all of these qualities. They possess a powerful femininity, sometimes twisted and interlocked like the laurel wreath of a Greek goddess. They are only controlled in a way that grapes don’t touch the hot soils, or so vines don’t blow too much in the wind. Even in the extremely windy part of the island, where rows of vines are tamed by walls of volcanic stones, there is a sort of graceful, authoritative delicacy.

Maybe the moon was in Virgo on my visit…

Victoria is a 5th generation winemaker. It wasn’t until 1999 she and her father decided to bottle their wines rather than use them solely for bulk production. The wines are grown and vinified organically and pressed in a super old school wood press called a Lagar de Tea, a beautiful antique press that, in most other wineries, has been replaced by newer and faster machines. Negramoll and Listan Blanco make up most of the plantings, but Malvasia, Diego and Albillo Criollo are planted, as well.

Victoria’s father became ill and passed away two years ago, and in the digestion of that process she has also taken over process of working the vineyards and running the entire winery. As Victoria and I drive through the island, we talk about everything from recycling, to life goals, to Riesling. She is in a constant effort to turn her neighbors and fellow La Palma winemakers on to organic farming. Unfortunately bananas are the king here, and conventional farming is a hard habit to break. She can only lead by example, slowly but surely proving her method effective- a process that like most politics on the island, moves at a pace that is less than ideal. The vineyards here are no joke. On hillsides, on rocky, volcanic terrain and on hands and knees, Victoria spends the entire day working these tiny parcels of land. She loves it. Everywhere she looks she wants to purchase or plant more vines. She rents from people who are no longer able to work their vineyards. If there is an old vineyard next to hers, she searches for a way to recuperate it. She is in constant motion, always thinking about the next step, yet seemingly content.

I immediately want to move to her island.

Not all of the Matías i Torres wines make it to the US and production is small, so get your hands on any wines you can find. Listan Blanco and Negramoll will probably be the easiest to track down, but look for her Malvasia Seco, unusual for La Palma as most of the Malvasia is vinified in a sweeter style. It is aromatic, like honey and wildflowers but super dry with minerals for days- a unique benefit of being grown on the side a volcano, on top of an island.

**The Mid Oceanic Ridge is an underwater volcano chain formed from millions of years of plate tectonics. It is the largest mountain chain in the world- just one of it’s faults makes up the entire San Andreas fault. I learned about the Mid-Oceanic Ridge in my first year of Geology at Los Positas College in Livermore. Miss Hannah was my teacher, and I will remember it forever because, having gone to a Christian school, it was my first interaction with a shit ton of scientific facts they decided to leave out at Redwood Christian Schools. It was one of my favorite classes in college, and Miss Hannah was one of my favorite teachers. I’m happy to use it in my writing some years later.

Blogged at: Hotel Beri, Llança, Costa Brava

Soundtrack: Enrique Iglesias, Spotify 

 

 

On traveling alone

Traveling alone has its moments. One day you are inspired by adventure, coincidence and improbability and the next day you are getting kicked in the dick. My ex husband told me, after a few months of sobriety, the best thing about being sober is that you have feelings again…and the worst thing about being sober is that you have feelings again. I think this paradox translates to the process of traveling alone. Every day is a new experience I get to feel in its entirety. I get to throw myself out there, to make 100 percent of the decisions, to communicate with people in an area where I don’t even really speak the language. It is one of the most exhilarating feelings I’ve felt as a human being but, no lie, every once in a while it’s hard AF.

Today I miss my dog, I missed my flight and I’m missing my best friend’s 30th birthday. It’s a kicked in the dick kind of day. At the end of tomorrow I will have met up with some amazing friends from San Francisco, I will have seen them dance Flamenco in Sevilla, I will have gone out in a dress for the first time in a month and I will have (hopefully) forgotten about today.

So tonight, while I’m in this twilight zone region of Tenerife South, drinking a Brandy Alexander and eating strawberries, I’ll thank my lucky stars I have friends here in Spain, that I own this absolutely heroic MacBook Pro, that I have a mom that answers text messages and that I’m lucky enough to live a life like this in the first place. Tell you what, though, tomorrow can’t come soon enough. Vale, babies. See you soon.

Blogged at: Grand Muthu Golf Plaza Hotel LOBBY (There’s no wifi in my room:)

Soundtrack: Eels, Fresh Blood