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


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.

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 



Celler Frisach- Drink, Drink, Drink

Bodega Celler Frisach is in Corbera d’Ebra, a small town in the region of Terra Alta about two hours southwest of Barcelona. Corbera is your typical 1,000 person community. Everyone knows each other, everyone says hi to one another and at some point throughout the day everyone occupies a seat at one the two cafes on the town’s main drag. There are even a couple cool bars in Corbera, one of which I’m particularly fond in that it reminds me of a dive bar in Missoula Montana, Al’s and Vicks, for which I hold a number of heart-twisting feelings.

Directly above the main drag of Corbera, above the small groups of abuelos who sit outside for hours on summer evenings, above the tight knit community and the Montana-like dive bars lies the Poble Vell, or, the Old Town. The Old Town, an official historical site, is a chunk of history that represents the 1938 Battle of Ebro- probably the deadliest battle of the Spanish Civil war. Almost everything in the Old Town was destroyed in the 115 day battle, save the old church that been restored as a rotating art gallery and the ruins of old stone houses and cellars. There’s an unequivocal weight of sadness in the Old Town. You feel the sensation of terror in the dry wind that blows through the pine trees, you almost experience the grief in the silence that sits at the top of the hill. But walk down the road a bit to the “new town” and you find business as usual. You find both young and old generations occupying life, you find bars and restaurants filled with local community and you find Celler Frisach- a tiny Bodega making some of the best wines coming out of Spain.

I’ve been doting on this lineup for a while now. Winemaker, Francesc Ferré takes Garnatxa Blanca and makes you wonder where the hell it’s been all your life. The L’Abrunet red, white and rosado (which just got some major press ) are the bright, energetic, quaffable workhorses. The Vernatxa is the old vine Garnatxa Blanca with texture, salt and complexity that gives white Burgundy a run for its money. The Foradora is a shout out to the ancestors, to an old school style of winemaking with the proper amount of skin contact that takes you all the way from entremesos to the main dish. And the Sang de Corb is the serious, yet restrained red blend with elegance, muscle, a moniker and a label that depict the bloodiest battle in the Spanish Civil war. I tasted all of these wines, from tank to bottle to barrel in my 5 day stay in Terra Alta last week, and they are fire.

There is a new project at Cellar Frisach, however, that’s going to need the bulk of your attention. In an effort to save old vineyards parcels from certain destruction, Francesc is sourcing fruit from old school farmers in the region. He’s vinifying and bottling monovarietal wines from old vine Garnatxa Peluda, Morenillo, Grenache Gris and Cariñena and adding zero sulfur- purely as an experiment. The experiment is working. The wines are fresh, clean, thorough and energetic. Were I forced to pick a favorite, the Garnatxa Peluda comes in first. It is bright and full of acid and fruit, perfect with the tomatoes and lamb chops we fixed for our backyard BBQ. These wines taste like the Old Town, the New Town, the local swimming hole and the Montana dive bar. I hope the wines make it stateside in time to taste like a Bay Area summer. But, while you patiently wait, grab yourself a bottle of the L’Abrunet, throw a blanket down at Lake Merritt and in the words of Francesc himself: “drink, drink, drink.” Miss ya’ll something fierce.

Blogged at: The tiniest, cutest Air bnb ever. Bajamar, Tenerife.

Soundtrack: John Legend, Love in the Future


Clos Lentiscus, Wild Thoughts

Last week’s Catalonian travels took me to Penedés, the land of Cava for a vineyard tour, an aura reading and a tasting at Clos Lentiscus. Clos Lentiscus is a biodynamic operation run by brothers Manel and Joan Aviñó. They produce both still and sparkling wines made from an assortment of indigenous varietals.

The Bodega and vineyards of Clos Lentiscus are historic, wild and energetic. They sit in the Protected Parc Natural of the Garraf Massif- a coastal mountain range south of Barcelona, between the towns of Castelldefels and Sitges*. The vineyards are surrounded by forest and planted around the 1,000 year old Mastic tree (Pistacia Lentiscus) that has become their trademark. Coastal marine wind is a major component in the freshness of the wines here. It blows through the vines, combats the summer heat and regulates temperature and acidity. They are Bio-D to the fullest extent. Poop cones, moon cycles, quartz crystals and dowsing rods are just a few tools that are used to find minerals, water and energy in the vineyards. The vineyards are trimmed as needed by local sheep and the Bodega’s horse, Ringo (a favorite Beatle of mine.) They farm their own colony of honey bees, both to pollenate the vineyards and to make honey for dosage in some of their wines. Fennel and wildflowers grow throughout the vineyards. Water basins are left out for the wild boars, a calculated solution to prevent them from eating the grapes. The wines are natural- no herbicides or pesticides, no chemicals, no added sulfur- and every one of them is on point.

Winemaker, Manel Aviñó drove me through the vineyards and the nature park, taking me to high elevations to experience the wind that blows up from the Mediterranean and to look over the various landscapes of the Penedés. The Bodega itself is lined with amazing antiques- shelves of old stemware, an armoire for which my mom would murder, a tiny room full of ancient amphorae. The wine cellar is dark and capacious, a place for the wines to hibernate before they are hit with dosage and smacked back to life again. Before tasting the wines, Manel even used the dowsing rods to check my aura, something I’ve never had done. I was thoroughly frightened for the public inner beast reveal, but he simply told me I read “strong woman”- so we’ll leave it at that.

The wines benefit from radiant aura of their own. From the still xarel.lo to the vintage dated sparkling samsó (cariñena) they are lively and enthusiastic. A couple favorites were the Greco de Suber Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature- a método tradicional sparkler made from malvasia de sitges, the local variety of malvasia. Dry, refreshing and focused with a hint of fruit and white flower. Also the Sumoll Reserva Familia, a sparkling monovarietal Blanc de Noir made from the indigenous sumoll grape. A little more savor, a little more pensiveness, still knows how to party. Whichever bottle of Clos Lentiscus draws you in, grab your crystals, get your boots on and pop a flower in your hair. You are about to have a wild good time.


*Pro Tip: Sitges has a pretty fly beach. It’s a little touristy, but there’s a bar that serves a nice Aperol Spritz and manages not to interfere with the overall atmosphere. The train will take you right there, but I parked easily in the surrounding neighborhood. Great for swimming and chilling the F out.

Blogged at: Miriam’s flat, Gràcia, Barcelona

Soundtrack: DJ Khaled, Rihanna- Wild Thoughts (possibly on repeat)


Vegetable Water: The wines of Escoda-Sanahuja

An hour or so south east of Barcelona lies the region of Conca de Barberà and Celler Escoda-Sanahuja. The winery, complete with 10 hectares of farm and vineyard land and a full restaurant, sits right outside the town of Penafreta, close to the municipality of Montblanc and completely undetectable by my TomTom.

Winemaker Joan Escoda is stocked full of energy, somewhat of a francophile and totally obsessed with natural winemaking. Upon my arrival he quickly threw on some American rock ‘n’ roll, which he dubbed “music without sulfites” and we got started on a cellar tour. Joan has a myriad of grapes- some in steel tank, some in amphora, some in underground cement tanks. He makes a handful of wines, mostly using the same varietals every year but employing no hard rules. Joan is always experimenting. He changes varietal percentage, aging process, cork or crown cap depending on the vintage, the grape or possibly how the wind blows- the jury is out. He grows French varieties like chenin blanc, merlot and cabernet franc, but indigenous varieties such as sumoll, sumoll blanc and parellada are a large part of his catalogue, as well.

“People tell you their wines are natural, but people lie,” says Joan. And no matter how many f@#*s you give about natural wine, speaking from experience, he’s right. Joan hasn’t added a sulfite since 2005. He will wait for months for fermentation to start naturally and when it is finished, it’s finished, even if the wine contains a little more residual sugar than it did the year before. When first opened, some of the wines have a hint of reduction or even mouse cage on nose, a quality in natural wines to which I’ve become accustomed and an attribute that does not come through on the palate. The wines are lively, energetic and clean. Joan places huge importance on water, in both human life and in vine life. He refers to his wines as “vegetable water” because the sap feeds the grape, because they are a liquid derivative of his plants and because one after another they are vibrant, fresh and complete.

Besides Escoda-Sanahuja, Joan partners with other French and Spanish winemakers to create various labels. He operates an on-site restaurant called Tossal Gros with Chef Kaya Jacobs, a San Francisco transplant who shares Joan’s passion in fresh, organic ingredients. He, along with winemaker Laureano Serres, founded the PVN, an association of natural winemakers that believes in neither adding nor taking anything away from their wines. He is a busy guy, always thinking, always innovating. The vineyards are beautiful, wild, surrounded by mountains on all sides and blessed with a marine wind that keeps them dry and cool in what can be very extreme weather. Escoda-Sanahuja can be found in various spots around the Bay Area or online, but Ordinaire in Oakland always comes correct with a variety of these wines.

¿Vamos? ¡Vamos!

Blogged at: My girl, Miriam’s flat. Gràcia, Barcelona.

Soundtrack: Shakira, El Dorado