Sunday, June 13, 2010


Recently, I went to Pata Negra as it has been on my list for must experience Spanish wine bars for over a year. Originally I thought I was in the mood for a red, but in the end went with a white wine- which opened a door to a grape I had not yet been familiar with:

X'armant Arabako Txakoli 2008, Pais Vasco

I can honestly say I was more satisfied/impressed with this wine than a Tocai I had tried just a few days prior. Surprising is the adjective I would associate most with this white. The citrus is a tartaric citrus immediately prominent followed by subtle notes of apricot and grapefruit. Most notable was it's exquisite dryness and perfectly harmonious acidity; light and smooth yet lively; it's a perfect summer wine, quite drinkable by itself or alongside a variety of raw fish/meat dishes. Delicious!

The 08' X'armant (which means "charming" in Basque) is a popular Txakolina; you can find it it at both Astor Spirits and Tinto Fino in New York City.

Txakoli (Pronounced like Jacque-O-Li-(na) or Chalk-O-Li-(na)), is a dry acidic apertif wine, meant to be drunk young and most commonly produced as a white wine, though red and rose varieties do exist. At Tinto Fino I came across one of the less common Red varieties, whose Hondarrabi Beltza vines date back to the 19th century:

Bentalde Gorrondona Txakoli, 2008, Bizkaiko 
This red is a true Gem. Utterly Unique and Infinitely Carnal.
My first impression was Woodsy. Woodsy as in naked women dancing around a ritualistic bonfire woodsy. You see, this wine is dry and spicy; but that of a peppered spice- so the notes of hot and sweet pepper alongside a bit of smoke make their presence known, while maintaining their fiery dignity. A few hours after decanting, I noticed how beautifully the tannins melted onto my palette. You can't help but want food with this, and I really began to feel guilty for not pairing it with Idiazabal cheese or some other type of Basque Cuisine, which consists of grilled meats and fish with peppers, tomatoes, and/or paprika. I had to stop myself (and my guest) from finishing it and cork it for tomorrow when I plan to make Piperade: (recipe below)

The Piperade pairing was a perfect choice, simple and traditional. Instead of the Basque pepper d’Espelette I used 1.5 tablespoons of Paprika and .5 of Cayenne. It needs a bit of spicy to match up. I also found Bayonne Ham at Despanaa, a Spanish Grocer, but it was $159 a lb. $40 for 4oz. So I passed on that for now- and unfortunately they didn't carry the Basque Espelette.

Since Authenticity was my goal for this pairing, I decided to skip the substitute for the Bayonne Ham and instead add more Celtic Sea Salt in place of the salty ingredient. It worked out really well. When I travel the Wine Countries of Spain and France I will make a point to get a taste of Real Basque Cuisine, but for now, I had to settle for a New York City influenced recipe on the classic.

I also came across a phenomenal Basque Sheep's Milk cheese, a bit pricey ($35/ lb @ Whole Foods) but completely worth it, which had a really impressive creamy texture to it. I'm no cheese expert, but I felt it complemented this wine with sublime unison.

Julia Child's Piperade (for 6)
  • 6 medium tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 4 ounces thinly sliced Bayonne or prosciutto di parma
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, finely minced 
  • 2 medium yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced 
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped thyme leaves
  • 1 medium bay leaf
  • 2 medium red bell peppers, cleaned and sliced lengthwise into 1/4-inch strips 
  • 2 medium green bell peppers, cleaned and sliced lengthwise into 1/4-inch strips 
  • 2 teaspoons piment d’Espelette (or paprika/ cayenne)

How to make it

  • Bring a small pot of water to a boil over high heat. Prepare an ice water bath by filling a medium bowl halfway with ice and water. Using the tip of a knife, remove the stem and cut a shallow X-shape into the bottom of each tomato. Place tomatoes in boiling water and blanch until the skin just starts to pucker and loosen, about 10 seconds. Drain tomatoes and immediately immerse them in ice water bath. Using a small knife, peel loosened skin and cut each tomato in half. With a small spoon, scrape out any seeds and core and coarsely chop the remaining flesh. Set aside.
  • Place a large frying pan over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon oil. Once oil shimmers, add Bayonne ham (or prosciutto) and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 8 minutes. Remove to a plate with a slotted spoon and reserve.
  • Return pan to heat, add 2 teaspoons oil, and, once heated, add garlic and onion. Cook, stirring rarely, until soft and beginning to color, about 8 minutes. Stir in herbs and pepper slices and season well with salt. Cover and cook, stirring rarely, until peppers are slightly softened, about 10 minutes.
  • Stir in diced tomatoes, browned ham, and piment d’Espelette (or paprika or cayenne pepper) and season well with salt. Cook uncovered until mixture melds together and juices have slightly thickened. Serve

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