Prazo de Roriz – Douro, Portugal

This young beauty starts with a refreshing blueberry and blackberry bouquet.  Violets and crushed flowers lead into a fast, berry-heavy start with tinges of vanilla.  Very nice.  The fruit rolls in with some slatey tannins – not too much – to bring it to a tight, luscious finish.  A very pleasant wine, medium bodied and delicious.  I expected less and got a lot.

  • Rating: Impressive
  • Name: Prazo de Roriz
  • Winery: Prats and Symington
  • Region: Douro
  • Country: Portugal
  • Varietals:
  • Price: $17
  • Where to Buy: wine.com
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Quimera 2011 – Mendoza, Argentina

A deep, rich beauty that will make you fall in love with Argentina all over again, from one of her finest wine houses.  A blend of Bordeaux grapes that really shows off all the classic flavors:  dense vanilla and tobacco notes, red fruit and white pepper.  Well-structured with nice tannins that will hold her for years to come, but she’s ready to drink today if you’d like.  The French oak, in a mix of new and one year old, keeps the oak nice and mellow – not overpowering like many California and Washington wines.  I always trust Achaval Ferrer, but was nonetheless impressed by this offering.

  • Rating: Impressive
  • Name: Quimera 2011
  • Winery: Achaval Ferrer
  • Region: Mendoza
  • Country: Argentina
  • Varietals: 38% Malbec, 26% Cabernet Franc, 23% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Petit Verdot
  • Price: ~$32
  • Where to Buy: Connecticut Ave. Wine & Liquor

Pepe Hillo – Sevilla, Spain

If you find yourself wandering around the Arenal district of Sevilla, near the legendary Plaza de Toros, and are in need of refreshment, there’s only one place to go:  Pepe Hillo.  This traditional tapas tavern has a mid-twentieth century inspired-décor with tons of old bric-a-brac, newspapers, and – yep – mounted noggins of famous fighting bulls that make you feel like Joselito himself is going to tap you on the shoulder any minute.  This is the kind of establishment that Spain’s meteoric rise in the period immediately after joining the Eurozone, and its population’s rush to embrace a future whose glaringly bright promise never quite arrived, placed on the endangered list.  Old men are serving you and old men are sitting nearby nursing their late afternoon or lunch drinks, though quick with that wit topped with feigned arrogance that the Spaniards of Andalucia are so famous for.

If your Spanish is up to the task, you can get a decent amount of banter out of the comically cranky barkeeps.  If not, you’ll still manage to lay your hands on fine examples of Andalucian tapas.  Pulpo (exquisite octopus, grilled or fried), anchoas (anchovies like nothing you’ve tasted), various tortillas (a type of omelet, primarily of egg and potato), gazpacho, cola de toro (succulent stewed bull’s tail), and all manner of lovely jamóns

Salmorejo Pepe
Salmorejooo Cordobeeeees!!

famously cured in the nearby mountains.  But the real star of the show, their virtuoso performance that you can scarcely find anywhere else, and, for my money, one of the most refreshing Summer treats around, is the amazing Salmorejo Cordobés.

Just what is this salmorejo, you might ask?  A shorthand might be gazpacho’s rich cousin.  Whereas a gazpacho might be made primarily of tomatoes and present almost like a refreshing vegetable drink, a salmorejo should be a rich, creamy, emulsified cold soup only capable of being taken via a bowl and spoon.  Boiled egg, Serrano or Ibérico jamón, and only the finest olive oil forms the holy trinity of delicious garnishes on the top.  I’ve had it with olive oil preserved tuna in place of the jamón, but only once.  I will go so far as to suggest that you not only order this rare and delicious beauty, but that you have it before ordering anything else just in case your taste buds drive you to order a second helping before moving to other portions of the menu.

As with many places in Spain, if you’re squeamish about bullfighting or a strict vegetarian, this may not be the place for you.  As with many of my most favorite spots, a friendly local told me about this place and I’m damn glad I engaged the chap.  You don’t have to be a fan of  tauromaquia to enjoy a stop in Pepe Hillo, but a sense of joie de vivre and an adventurous appetite will serve you well.

Pepe Hillo, Calle Adriano 24, 41001 Sevilla, Spain

Peloro – Faro, Italy

Fresh flowers and moss on the nose.  Yep.  Fresh and mossy.  A light bodied red fruit explosion sneaks up on the front end, with a hint of vanilla.  Some pleasant green tannins bring this one to an abrupt close, and a lingering hit of that same freshness as it fades out to warm tannins.

  • Rating: Everyday Red
  • Name: Peloro Terre Siciliane Rosso 2014
  • Winery: Le Casematte SRL
  • Region: Faro (Sicily)
  • Country: Italy
  • Varietals: 70% Nerella Mascalese, 30% Nocera
  • Price: $21
  • Where to Buy: S&R Liquors

Shardana 2010 – Sardinia, Italy

Dank, dark, and rusty on the front end, like some old shipwreck pulled up out of the sea.  Nice tannins, leather, and some hints of vanilla.  This is a tough beauty.  Prunes and dark, black fruit.  A tight finish from not inconsequential tannins.  Excellent with seafood and fennel.

  • Rating: Impressive
  • Name: Shardana 2010
  • Winery: Neil Empson and Santadi
  • Region: Valle de Porto Pino, Sardinia
  • Country: Italy
  • Varietals: 85% Carignano, 15% Shiraz
  • Price: $28
  • Where to Buy:   Litteri

Domus Pensi – Terra Alta, Spain

Somehow both fresh and leathery on the nose.  Ripe red and black fruits on the front end, flowing quickly into tannin-laden leather notes and a faint hint of violets.  This is a young one, but a beauty.  All those powerful notes, but still somehow manages to hold a medium body, feeling fresh and clean in the mouth.  It went equally well with heavy Italian sausage as it did with lighter Portuguese seafood paté.

  • Rating: Impressive
  • Name: Domus Pensi 2013
  • Winery: Altavins Viticultors SL
  • Region: Terra Alta
  • Country: Spain
  • Varietals: 45% Cabernet, 30% Garnacha, 15% Syrah, 10% Merlot
  • Price: ~$25
  • Where to Buy: Total Wine

Casa Guedes, Porto, Portugal

With apologies to my Jewish and Muslim friends, I did not make this rule:  the name of the game in Porto is Pork-o.  Like, for real.  While true for most of the Iberian peninsula, this little rule seems to be magnified in Portugal’s second city . . . much to the disappointment of my travel companion who was excited to break his Yom Kippur fast Casa Guedes outdoorsoon after landing.  Our gracious AirBNB host gave us more great recommendations than we were ever able to hit, but his stories so frequently included roast pork and the local favorite francesinha sandwich (think Portuguese Hot Brown with ham, sausage, roast beef, coated in a cheese and tomato sauce) that we had to do a bit of our own searching.  Casa Guedes, however, had enough options on offer that we made it work.

This little family run spot sits at the corner of the pleasant park Jardim de São Lázaro.  As with most of Porto, the locals that have been going there for years seem fascinated by the trickle of foreigners that seem to be coming in ever growing waves.  (Yes, that’s a mixed metaphor.)  Still, it’s a mostly locals spot and the counter service staff gets a kick out of foreigners who can actually manage to order in proper Portuguese.  While the bolinhos de bacalhau (classic Portuguese codfish balls) and fresh country

Casa Guedes Sande de Pernil
The Star of the Show – pernil sande!

cheese are worthy companions to the Super Bock on tap, the real star of the show here is the pernil sande – slow roasted pork sandwich.  I chose the version with fresh cheese and it was to die for.  I say this, mind you, with many years of consuming Cuban lechón straight off the Caja China and 12-hour Kentucky-smoked pork under my belt.  But beware:  you will most likely end up getting two or more and having your friends roll you out of here in a wheelbarrow.  If you’re lucky enough to visit on a warm day, have an espresso or two on the terrace to recover.  Bom apetito!

 

 

Casa Guedes, Praça dos Poveiros 130, 4000-098, Porto, Portugal

 

 

Un Je Ne Sais Quoi, Washington, DC

I generally avoid reviewing places in cities that I live in.  There are a few reasons.  First, I’m a jerk and don’t want my favorite spots to get so overwhelmingly popular that I can no longer get a seat.  Second, honestly, I still consider the mean quality level of offerings in DC to be so far behind other cities that there’s just no point.  There are exceptions, and consider this the first instalment of my reformation.

This is my new jam.  The owners Aude and François-Yann Buisine hail from northern France.  At this point, I have never seen anyone working the counter but the two of them.  Aude always greets me with a warm, smiley “bonjour” and does not reserve the warmth only for me.  The space lends itself well to the reading of books and the writing of things that do not require internet connectivity.  That translates to a blessed lack of laptop-clogged tables with clickety-clacking self-important millennial types doing their startup gigs.  Instead, you hear conversations, enjoy soft, elegant seating, and Illy brand espresso drinks made with care and a glaring lack of hollered, mispronounced names.

Jailed Croissants.JPG
Croissants so good they have to put them in jail

But what of the baked goods?  They make a range of exquisite-looking pasties and deserts, but I can only vouch for the non-sweets.  Listen:  the plain butter croissants are the best I have had since the DuPont Circle Farmer’s Market made the monumentally stupid decision to chase Baltimore’s Bonaparte bakery out of their market (I have never gone back since this move – anything else I ever bought there was simply by virtue of its proximity to Bonaparte’s luscious wares).  These croissants compare favorably to anything you will find in Paris, Lyon, Nice, or beyond.  The brioche has the dense but airy consistency that I want from a brioche.  In a word, both the croissants and the brioche are a perfect “A” note.

Epilogue:  after my summer away, there now is more counter help, WiFi, and a bustling trade.  At least I know they won’t be closing soon.  Thus far, the quality has not dropped off one bit!

Un Je Ne Sais Quoi, 1361 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC  20036

El Club del Vino, Malaga, Spain

Sometimes you just get lucky.  I happened upon this place with only an hour or so to go in my visit to Malaga, having given up on having any singular food or drink experience to speak of.  (Yes, I tried to go to El Pimpi, Oleo, and several other places that were either closed or just meh.)  I noticed the promising signage and decided to take a swing.

The owner, Bernardo, is quick with conversation and background knowledge on his stock.  As with Nuno and his crew at Castelo in Lisbon, Bernardo communicates a deep-seated passion for the wines he offers, making a point to note that he sells nothing that he doesn’t first enjoy personally.  There’s no script here; Bernardo can riff on any of the wines, giving fascinating background on the vineyards, wine makers, and character of each bottle.  Like most Argentinians I know, Bernardo and his spot have a certain style and aesthetic that I struggle to describe as sleek traditional:  wood, leather, and metal come together in a no-nonsense design with clean lines and, like the menu, reminiscent of a time when simple was good.

If you want a good bottle, a copa of sweet respite from the Andalusian heat, or to fill up on down-home Argentinian bites (and bife!), this is the place to visit.

El Club del Vino, Calle Pedro de Toledo 2 Local B, Malaga, Spain

Arenes Sauvages 2010 – Cornas, France 

Another Georges dos Santos selection.  Complex, intense nose of roses, vanilla, old wood, and fig.  An acidic kick to the front of the palate, with more wood, intense florals, with a hint of cocoa.  I find myself reaching for the name of a flavor that just eludes me.  Tannins come in with hints of slate and red fruits, in a deep, powerful attack.  Just wow.

  • Rating: Impressive
  • Name: Arénes Sauvages 2010, plot selection
  • Winery: La Cave de Tain
  • Region: Cornas
  • Country: France
  • Varietals: Syrah
  • Price: 30 Euros
  • Where to Buy: Antic Wines, Lyon, France