Back in March I told you about attending the Spanish food and wine trade show in Valladolid and raved about the food there. I promised I’d talk about some of the wines I’d tasted, thinking I’d get the wines I had selected to buy relatively quickly.
Silly me. Everything in this business takes longer than I think it will, and the wines didn’t arrive in DC until just before Thanksgiving. But despite the delays, the wine is here, rested, and ready! From two different producers – Bodega Hiriart and Bodega Traslagares, neither of which had exported to the U.S. before. Both are in the province of Castilla y León, northwest of Madrid. I’ll introduce Hiriart in this post, and Traslagares soon.
Bodega Hiriart is in the village of Cigales, in a wine region also called Cigales, and wine has been produced there since the middle ages. Cigales received its Denominación de Origen (D.O.) in 1991, recognizing the region for its wine and setting out growing and production rules for wines that are labeled as D.O. Cigales.
While there’s plenty of red wine in Cigales, made from Tempranillo (called Tinta del País locally) and Grenache (called Garnacha in Spain), Cigales is famous for its rosés, or rosados. Like French rosés, they’re made mostly from red wine grapes, pressed gently and the juice stays in contact with the skin for a very short time. But in Cigales, winemakers blend in up to 20% juice from white wine grapes. The two white grapes in the region are Verdejo and Albillo, although they’re not generally used to make white wine for sale there.
Why does Cigales allow white wine in rosés? Primarily to add brightness, via acidity and citrus flavors not found in red wine grapes, especially those grown in hot, dry climates like Cigales’s. (Many red wines in the region used to have a little white wine blended in for the same reason.) The acidity also preserves the wine for longer, and rosados from Cigales have no trouble keeping for two or more years before drinking them without losing freshness, unlike some French rosés. There are a fair number of Spanish rosados that don’t use white wine grapes, but many of them instead contain tartaric acid, which winemakers are allowed to use for acidity (it’s sometimes used in red wines, too). By requiring white wine grapes in the rosados, Cigales accomplishes this freshness and acidity naturally.
All this focus on rosados isn’t to say that the red wines aren’t excellent. While they’re not as well-known here in the U.S. as wines from neighboring Ribera del Duero, I think they’re every bit as good. They follow the typical Spanish red wine naming conventions I’ve talked about before, but with slight variations in rules.
Now a little about the winery. The Hiriart family began making wine in about 1750. They’d lived in Cigales for a long time before that and were sheep farmers by profession. The winemaking came about through trade with people in the Bordeaux region of France, which had been France’s powerhouse wine exporting region since the 12thcentury. The Hiriart ancestors learned about grape growing and winemaking there, and created their winery underground like others in Cigales, primarily for temperature control. Their original fermentation and storage vessels were made of clay, and you can still see some of these at Bodega Hiriart, although they’re not used anymore.
The Bordeaux connections of the Hiriarts and other families may be responsible for rosados being so popular in Cigales. The wine that they would originally have had in Bordeaux wasn’t what we think of as today’s Bordeaux-style blends of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. In the middle ages, Bordeaux produced something more like rosé in color. (It was called Clairet in France, meaning pale. The English changed the name to Claret as the wine became popular there). It seems logical that the Clairet tradition came to Cigales as well, and continues today in rosados.
(Naturally, I have another French-centric theory: Cigales is also the French word for cicadas, one of the symbols of Provence, where of course they drink lots of rosés. Well, it makes perfect sense to me, anyway, and it’s just as interesting even if it’s less likely.)
Back to our story…Hiriart’s clay vessels were eventually replaced by concrete tanks, which were used up until four years ago, when a new winery was built with stainless steel tanks for fermentation. The new winery is right on top of the old underground winery, requiring significant engineering expertise to shore up and hold the weight of the new structure. It’s a nice combination of modern and tradition.
Hiriart produces two reds, a Roble and a Crianza. We’re importing the Roble. It’s 100% Tinta del País, and aged in oak for four months. The oak aging softens the tannins a bit, although there’s still a little astringency there. But also ripe fruit flavors, and even a little hint of something like cinnamon. It’s a great wine with lamb, particularly the local Lechaza, lamb that’s still milk-fed and hasn’t yet started pasturing. But of course, you can try it with any lamb – the simpler the preparation, the better.
We’re also importing one of Hiriart’s three rosados. The Lágrima is 70% Tinta del País, 15% Garnacha, and 15% Verdejo. While Hiriart makes a rosado aged in oak, this one is aged in steel. It has startlingly fresh fruit flavors, a little strawberry and raspberry, but not too much. Plus enough acidity to stand up to more foods than other rosés might, but not as much as a white wine would have. A perfect pick for fish and seafood, and also Thanksgiving dinner – so if you eat turkey for Christmas, think about trying it. (It also looks beautiful on the table, which never hurts).
When you’re at a big wine and food show, it’s sometimes hard to decide which wines to try. I noticed the Hiriart wines right away, though, because of their distinctive labels. They were designed by Manolo Sierra, a well-known artist in the Cigales region. The labels reminded me of paintings by Michael McGuire, who lives and paints in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where Cy and I take a vacation every summer. So I look at a bottle of Hiriart’s wine and think of vacation. And the wine’s good, too!
**You’re probably wondering about the title of this post. It came to me out of the blue. It’s a little obscure, but I’m sure some of you will recognize it immediately. The first three people who identify it and explain why I changed it from the original (there’s a hint on that in the sidebar) will get a free bottle of the Hiariart Roble and Lágrima, with the following caveats: 1) The wine must be delivered to an address in Washington, DC where the person is allowed to receive it. Work addresses are OK, but we’re generally not allowed to deliver alcohol to federal or city government buildings. No Maryland or Virginia deliveries, no exceptions. 2) E-mail your response to first dot vine at verizon dot net. 3) Your e-mail must include delivery address information and a telephone number for contacting you. 4) You must be at least 21 years old to participate, and someone over 21 must physically sign for and take delivery of the wine – we’re not allowed to leave it on people’s doorsteps. Good luck!
Now for the recipe. Sausages poached in wine are popular as Spanish tapas, but the sausages are usually poached in red wine. Roel Diterwich, Hiriart’s Export Manager, told me that in Cigales they serve chorizo or salchicha cooked in rosado. Spanish chorizo is a dried, spicy, cured sausage that can be cooked or eaten as is, while salchichas are generally uncured (or only lightly cured) and have to be cooked before eating. Mexican chorizo is usually uncooked and is more like a salchicha, but it works just as well in this recipe. You can also use Italian sausage (probably better without fennel seeds), or turkey or chicken sausage if you’re not in the mood for pork.
Chorizo poached in wine is an excellent party dish, simple to prepare. Cook the sausages whole in wine along with some garlic and herbs, then slice the poached sausages and brown them while you reduce the cooking liquid a bit. Put the browned sausage slices back in the liquid for a few minutes. Then spoon everything in a shallow bowl (or leave it in a nice casserole, if that’s what you used to cook it in), put out some crusty bread and toothpicks, and let your guests have at it. It’s good at room temperature or warmer.
You can cook and serve the dish with the Lágrima ($13) or serve it with the Hiriart Roble ($14), depending on the intensity and spiciness of the sausage you choose. Nothing wrong with using two different wines for a meal, especially if you’re cooking with one of them.
Serves lots of people as a party finger-food dish
1 pound sausage in casings: chorizo (dried, cured Spanish sausage), salchicha (uncured, uncooked Spanish sausage), Mexican chorizo (uncooked), Italian sausage (uncooked, preferably without fennel), or spicy turkey or chicken sausage (uncooked)
4 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled but not chopped
Herbs: 2 sprigs fresh rosemary (good with Spanish chorizo and some spicier sausages or salchichas), 2 sprigs fresh thyme (good with most sausages), or a few fresh basil leaves (good with Italian sausage)
2-3 cups rosado (rosé) wine (a bottle, or a little less)
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
Prep the sausages: If you’re using Spanish dry chorizo, go ahead and take the casing off if you can. Leave the casings on the uncooked sausages. If the sausages aren’t in links already, cut them into about four-inch lengths. Prick the sausages all over with a fork or a small, sharp knife.
Put the sausages in a skillet or stovetop-safe casserole dish that’s big enough to hold the sausages in a single layer. Add the garlic and herbs, and enough wine to cover the sausages (you may not need an entire bottle). Bring the liquid to a boil, lower the heat, and cover the pan. Gently cook the sausages for 20 minutes. The Spanish chorizo should have plumped nicely, and the other sausages should be cooked through. (Do-ahead note – at this point, you can let the sausages sit in the poaching liquid to cool, and refrigerate for a day.)
Remove the sausages from the liquid with a slotted spoon, then pour the liquid into a small saucepan. Bring it to a boil, then lower the heat to medium-low and reduce the liquid by about a third while you finish the sausages.
Meanwhile, let the sausages cool for a couple of minutes so you can handle them. Remove the casings and slice the sausages into ¼ to ½ -inch pieces. If the sausages don’t look particularly fatty, add a bit of oil to the skillet, then heat it up, and brown the sausage slices (no need to add oil if it’s a non-stick skillet or if the sausage has visible fat pieces in it). When the slices are brown, add the reduced wine mixture and scrape the bottom of the pan to remove any browned bits that are stuck there. Taste the sauce for salt and pepper, then cook everything for another minute. Turn off the heat, cover the pan, and let it sit for 10 minutes – longer if you want to serve the sausages at room temperature. Serve with plenty of bread.