miércoles, 14 de noviembre de 2012

El Meson Restaurant (Houston Texas) and Bodegas Urbina (Rioja Spain)


El Meson is delighted once again to host wine importer Walter Sanchez so soon since his first visit last spring when he presented wines made with exotic grape varietals, such as Brunal (Brunyal) and the Juan Garcia. You might also remember the barrel fermented Albarino (Albarinyo) that was subjected to an undersea ageing regime after bottling. Walter's enthusiasm for Spanish wines has certainly earned him a return visit. This Wednesday, November 14, he'll present two very distinctive single estate wineries with owners that may be considered eccentric, or at the very least, uncompromising in their respective missions. One is from Spain's premier wine region, Rioja DOCa, and the other is from Castilla La Mancha, the land of Cervantes' Don Quixote.

Bodegas Urbina and Pago Casa Del Blanco
Two Eccentric Estates from Spain
with Special Guest Walter Sanchez, Lerin Wines
Wednesday, Nov., 14th at 7:00 PM

El Meson Restaurant: Chef (Pedro Angel Garcia)
2425 University Blvd.
Houston, Texas 77005


Bodegas Urbina is a family owned winery in the Rioja Alta sub region of Rioja DOCa, about 15 miles west of Haro, the town known for the annual wine festival where everyone participates by battling each other with wine. The custom is to show up dressed in white with a red kerchief, not unlike the San Fermines during the running of the bulls in Pamplona, and end up drenched in red wine as you can see here. They call it "La Batalla del Vino," or the battle of wine.

The Urbina family has been in operation for four generations since 1870. They source from their own vineyards, approximately 170 acres. They use traditional techniques, harvesting by hand and avoiding the use of weed killers and pesticides. Organic fertilizers are used to keep soil rich and local yeasts are used during fermentation to give the wine a personality that screams Rioja. Pedro B. Urbina withholds his wines from the market for a considerably long time, until he thinks that they are ready to drink, a practice rarely seen these days where most wines are produced ready to drink and ready to immediately produce income. Some may see this practice eccentric, but when you experience the smooth tannin and developed aromas, no one can deny that this practice leads to excellence.

The Urbina White Rioja made with the Viura grape, however, does find its way out the door quite fast. We'll be pouring the 2011. No oak used here, just stainless steel. Look for honeydew melon, apple, and pear flavors with a hint of almonds on the nose and lingering acidity on the finish. The neutral sea scallops with the aromatic lemon grass and the salty caviar will make a dashing pairing with the Urbina White Rioja.

The 2001 Reserva Especial is traditional in style, which is to say that the fruit concentration is not over the top, however Urbina does view it as a signature wine, a wine authored by the winemaker. The blend is 95% Tempranillo with the remainder consisting of Mazuelo, Garnacha y Graciano. The vines are all over 50 years old and the wine is aged in French and American oak for two years. Look for black cherry and wet leather and barnyard aromas the nose, a tell tale marker for old world wines. The pronounced aromas quickly waif and reveal a truly majestic bouquet of plums and cassis. Roasted beets with Manchego cheese is a classic Spanish combination, and while the Asparagus known for its disagreeable interaction with tannin, will in this case be mediated by a sherry marinade that will provide a nutty touch to the ensemble and accentuate the wines characteristics.


The Casa Del Blanco estate, located about 150 miles roughly south of Madrid, has a storied and well documented history going back to the 1850's, but I won't dwell there. The huge estate which encompasses a 1,000 acre game preserve holds about 100 acres of vineyard which are quite unique and has been awarded the distinction of being recognized as an appellation unto itself.

The estate changed hands various times over the years and it wasn't until Joaquin Sanchez bought it in 1990 with the dream of restoring the vineyards and winery that was a powerhouse in the 19th century. He founded the winery in 2002 after many improvements and began production with the country wine designation, "Vinos de la Tierra de Castilla," existing outside any recognized wine region.

But Sanchez had loftier goals. In 2009 he applied for the coveted "Pago" status, wherein an estate after demonstrating not only superior quality, but unique attributes, is recognized as a region to itself, similar to a Grand Cru on the west bank of Bordeaux, and here's where it gets interesting. It turns out that the wine produced on the estate has a higher concentration of Lithium than is found in wines from surrounding areas, 10 times as much. Lithium, it might be worth mentioning, is the principal active ingredient used in anti-depressive medicine. Furthermore, the antioxidant activity linked to the health benefits of wine when compared to the wines of surrounding areas is twice as much. That would be Resveratrol, the suspected key ingredient in the paradoxical Mediterranean diet. However, no prescription is required and the side effects are outstanding.

Health benefits and mood enhancing properties aside, oenologist, Antonio Merino does a splendid job along with his co-workers making these wines. Merino shows his restraint by allowing a relatively short maceration period, 12 days, and ageing period, 11 to 12 months in American and French oak. Sanchez, as director, places a great deal on emphasize on the collaborative effort, calling himself and everyone on staff the Human Team. He also calls the vineyard, the wineyard. Perhaps, he's just mildly eccentric, or Quixote, but the wines are quite impressive, and so I say, "Viva the Human Team and wineyard."

The two wines solely identified by their cepage, the Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah blend, and the Merlot, Tempranillo, and Petit Verdot blend, feature celebratory titles given by wine importer, Walter Sanchez, 1605 and 1615, respectively. The titles are homage to the two years in which Miguel de Cervantes published his novel, The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, in two parts. I find the 1605 to be leaner and the 1615 to be a bit more powerful, just like the written work.

Served with farmer Felix Flores' young lamb, 6 or 7 months old, from Black Hill Ranch, in a traditional Manchego style, is not only fitting, but truly a treat. And speaking of treats, for dessert, Pastry Chef, Jessica Chapa, will present her Apple and Blue Cheese crisp with the Alejandro Cream Sherry which I love for its high acidity and long finish.


- Wine Spectator Award of Excellence 2011
- Wine Enthusiast Award of Unique Distinction 2011
- Cartaví International Catalan Wine List Award 2010 Finalist

Chef Pedro Angel Garcia
- Certified Sommelier ' Court of Master Sommeliers
- Certified Specialist of Wine ' Society of Wine Educators
- Certified Spanish Wine Instructor ' Wine Academy of Spain
- Advanced Certificate ' Wine and Spirits Education Trust
- Senior Diploma ' International Sommeliers Guild

It may seem surprising that Spain has more vineyards than any other nation accounting for 15% of the world’s total, but when you take a look at the land you can easily see that just about anywhere in Spain is perfect for growing grapes and making wine. It has the basics, mountains and rivers everywhere, and it’s almost entirely surrounded by water, A curious geographical feature of Spain is that it sits high, higher than any other nation in Europe except Switzerland. All the land depicted in a lighter shade is well over 1,500 feet above sea level and in many places much more. The many rivers attest to this little known feature and where ever there is a river there are vineyards nearby.

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