Thursday, February 7, 2008

Drinking wine at 11:30 am

When I was told about the seminar and tasting for wines from the autonomous community of the Kingdom of Navarra (Wikipedia seems to want to spell it "Navarre," but I'm going with the spelling in the press material I got) in Spain, I imagined the seminar to be simply an informational seminar. I didn't think they'd really make us drink that early in the morning. However when we arrived at the conference room in the W Hotel for the seminar I noticed the desks were set up with two rows of glasses. And it was 11 am.

I gingerly squeeze into a seat, bumping into some of the glasses set on the table behind me, making them clink ominously. Once I sat down, I tried to not fidget too much lest I knock over the glasses in front of me that were clinking away at any movement I made. At one point I was very tempted to make the glasses "sing" to see if they were crystal, but I managed to reign myself in. Luckily, I didn't break any wine glasses, though I witnessed others breaking some glasses later on in the seminar

Being both unfamiliar with wine as well or wines from Navarra for that matter I hunkered down to take some serious notes.

Ana Laguna, wine export specialist and principal educator and lecturer for The Navarra Wine School, explained how wine making in the region went back to the Roman occupation. The are is also along the pilgrimage route "The Way of Saint James," making it an important location for the Christian world, which meant monastaries and monks continued the winery tradition by wetting up their vineyards.

Also, Ana pointed out that diverse wines are able to be cultivated thanks to the diverse climates and conditions within the small area located in northern Spain. Besides the traditional Garnacha (French, Grenache) and Tempranillo varities, I also learned that there are wines also made from imported varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot.

Fun fact about Denominación de Origen(DO)in the Kingdom of Navarra. Did you know that there are two DOs within Navarra? Besides the eponymous Navarra DO, Rioja is also a DO within the region.

Not all winemakers in Navarra have to submit to the DO, but there are certain qualifications and designations that can only come from submitting to certain set regulations depending on the region the DO looks over.

For example, vino de pago or estate wines have to meet criteria that includes climate and soil conditions of a plot it grew in with a bunch of quality control. The tricky business is that while "vino de pago" is a DO certification, some wines can use the designation "pago de..." which is just a market name and has nothing to do any sort of qualifications.

All in all, we got to taste 14 different wines with whites, rosado (rosés), reds and a moscatel at the end. I'd been to wine tastings before, but hadn't done serious side-by-side comparisons like that. A Sauvignon Blanc punched me in the face with ti's very floral and fruity scent, while a Garnacha rosé had a nice rosy almost light vermillion color. And there were a lot of full-bodied reds that had smells like tobacco and chocolate and raisins. Ana said that the rosado wines were popular in the summer, when it gets too hot for reds and pairs well with vegetables from Navarra (it seems the region has great pride for its vegetables) such as piquillo peppers or white asparagus.

Another new thing I got to try out was Pacharan. Ana mentioned that the digestif liqueur made by soaking sloe berries in anisette is popular throughout Spain with restaurants serving a small glass at the end of a meal as a thank you. Some serving it in new ways such as ice cream. I managed to score sample-sized bottles of two pacharans that have each been macerated for different lengths of time. I'm tempted to run to a bartender with them, make them have a sip, and let me know if they'd mix something with it. I need to see if I can make that happen.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008


I almost got lost on my way to Naima on 27th and 10th Ave. for a tasting. I forgot there was a huge parcel of land that ate up part of 27th street starting at 8th Ave., and didn't let 27th return until 10th Ave.

Located a block away from the nightspot Marquee and tucked away in an industrial section of town. Melanie Weitzner, explained that the area with its industrial space is home to quite a few galleries and other artistic ventures.

Naima has a cocktail list as well that I wanted to give a spin. The first cocktail was the restaurant's signature Naima, made with red grapefruit vodka, maraschino, lime juice and cranberry juice. I thought there was a blush of liqueur at the bottom of the glass, but realized it was actually a maraschino cherry.

Melanie told me how the two owners Alessandro Passante and Roberto Guotto were childhood friends from back home on the island of Capri.

"Friends from back home" seemed to be the theme of the evening. I talked to Naima's bartender Bratislava. He told me that besides working at Naima he was also working at Employees Only.

"Oh? Do you know Dushan?" I asked, referring to Dushan Zaric of Employee's Only, who I had met a while back.

Bratislava said that in fact he was friends with Dushan from back in the day when they were both in Serbia. They both worked at a bar in Belgrade called Absinthe, which was opened by a man who first organized the first bartending school in Belgrade. Bratislava also said that they served real absinthe there for a while before it was made illegal.

This lead to a discussion about absinthe and where it came from, who still makes it or if anybody can recreate the original between Bratislava, Alessandro and myself.

I also ordered the Markana, made with cachaca, Aperol, pineapple juice and lime juice. Alessandro said it was a cocktail that people either really enjoyed or didn't because of the Aperol, but it was something that's a little bit different.

And last but not least, I got a sneak peak of a cocktail that's being worked on for the new cocktail list. Alessandro said it's still unnamed, but unofficially it's called the Amore Mio. It's made with gin, Prosecco and strawberries cooked with sugar and vanilla.

For the curious, the food I had:

Pear con prosciutto, gorgonzola e noci
Soft Cold Pear stuffed with gorgonzola, walnuts wrapped with prosciutto

Cestino di parmigiano ripieno di mozzarella di bufala
Bufala mozzarella, arugula, tomatoes & olive oil in a parmesan shaped basket

Ravioli Capresi
Homemade ravioli filled with caciotta cheese and marjoram in light tomato sauce

Farfalle con zucca, gamberetti e rucola
Bow tie pasta with butternut squash, shrimp and arugula

Grigliata di polipo, radicchio trevigiano e finocchi
Grilled mix of octopus, trevisan raddichio and fennel

Carre' d'agnello con pure' di patate e broccoli al vapore
Grilled lamb chops served with mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli

Strawberry Pannacotta