Monday, December 15, 2008

Stateside, Choose Xunta for Tapas

It’s been exactly one week since I left Spain and my appetite for its food, wine, and spirit has not diminished. So it was with great enthusiasm that I agreed with fellow writing group member and actor Gregory Waller when he suggested Xunta for tapas last night.
After an evening of critiquing each other’s work and reviewing the progress we made in 2008, my writer’s group descended from our cozy upstairs enclave at Solas and headed east on 9th Street. New York was buzzing on this mild Sunday night, but, Xunta was empty. Was it closed?
No need to worry! We poked our heads in and were warmly welcomed. The place was ours, and we choose a rustic wooden hightop and stools near a huge map of Espagne. I proceeded to trace my recent travel route with my index finger for my fellow writers.
Xunta is pronounced Shunta. This is from Galego--a language spoke in Galicia, a remote region in the far northwest of Spain above Portugal. There’s a map of Galicia on the wall, too, so clearly the restaurant has a Galician connection.
We turned our attention to the long, laminated menu crammed with dozens of tapas—not Americanized versions, but true Spanish treats like pulpo and croquettes. We ordered a good assortment: white asparagus in vinegar adorned with a pretty slice of roasted red pepper (a little bland), manchego with quince paste (the sweet quince balanced the salty cheese nicely), green olives stuffed with anchoivy paste (I never saw the stuffing, but these were tasty nonetheless), and sweet and savory Iberian ham slices, all served with slices of dense country bread that we rubbed in pools of olive oil on our plates.
We washed down the tapas with a bottle of Crianza. This one was a 2004 Diez Caballero, a Tempranillo from El Ciego in the Rioja Alavesa, in the northwest of the Rioja region. As a Crianza, this wine has, by law, seen at least 12 months in an oak barrel, as well as additional bottle aging. It’s released three years after harvest. I detected French oak on the nose and suspected there might be American oak as well. Checking their website today I found that this is in fact the case. The wine had good fruit and substantial tannins for a Tempranillo—this one really dried the mouth on the finish. During my time in Ribera del Duero and Rioja, I found that the barrel chosen for aging was one of the factors, in addition to age, that changed the nature of the fruity Tempranillo grape substantially. There were some winemakers devoted to French oak, some swore by American, and then there were those who mixed.
As my friends and I lingered over the food and wine, we talked about life, travel, books and more. Then we raised our simple juice glasses filled with rich red wine and toasted each other, the end of a year of writing, and the holidays.

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