Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Spanish Garnacha: A Steal of a Deal

I keep bumping into the guy. First in the Bordeaux section, a couple of minutes later we’re both cruising through the Sauvignon Blancs of New Zealand. I head for Piedmont, and there he is – again. We smile at each other over Cognac, one of those “okay, this is either too weird or too funny” sort of smiles. But it’s not till we simultaneously hit Spain that we actually strike up a conversation.

Clearly, this man has a fairly upscale taste in wines. Not that I was actually checking out his purchases… much. I guess I just “happened” to notice some of the bottles. Since he obviously likes all the same wine regions Frank and I do, I wanted to see if he chose anything we hadn’t tried. Not much under $40 will find its way to his table. So when I see him piling bottles of $9.95 Castillo de Monseran Garnacha from Spain into the now groaning basket, I can’t help myself – I have to ask.

“One of the best deals going,” he tells me. Then he actually winks at me – it’s a cute wink too. “Just don’t tell too many people about it – all the more for us.” A good natured laugh and he’s gone. What the heck, at the price, if it’s awful, I figure it will pour down the drain more easily than some of the pricier stuff that’s been know to suffer the same fate. I snag a bottle.

A couple of days later I’ve got a spicy chicken stir fry on the go, a quiet evening with just my book ahead, and uh-oh – no Riesling to go with dinner. In fact, there’s nothing that seems to go with the food. I manage to catch Frank just before he goes into his meeting. “Am I absolutely crazy or do you think the Garnacha might work?”

Initially Frank’s not impressed, but after some deliberation, we decide it will probably be a more or less acceptable though not stellar pairing. With 12.5% alcohol, it’s at least not going to totally burn out the taste buds when it hits the chili spices on the chicken. I cross my fingers, open the bottle, and hope for the best. The kitchen sink is within arms reach.

The initial nose is surprising. Exotic spices – cloves, allspice, cinnamon. There’s a whisper of anise and leather too, kind of like John Wayne strolling through the kitchen chewing on a licorice Twist. Later coffee and cocoa appear introducing a not unpleasant grittiness like riding through the desert.

And it worked with the chicken too – as expected, not stellar, but not half bad. There was a complementary nature to the spices and just enough of fruitiness in the meat’s marinade to work with the wine. Alas, Tenderland Meats on Granville Island where I buy it aren’t parting with the secrets of all the seasonings they use, but they did confirm there’s allspice, cilantro, and sweet green chili peppers. I’m betting there might be a hint of papaya in there somewhere too.

Hopefully, one day I’ll run into the gentleman with the cute wink. I’d like to tell him he was right, this wine is a steal of a deal. And I wonder if he knows it also goes fabulously well with the chocolate Hedgehog from Purdy’s Chocolates that I had after dinner – that pairing is almost stellar. Sorry, Frank, I guess it slipped my mind to tell you about the Hedgehog.

The Wine: Castillo de Monseran Garnacha 2006 ($9.95) - if you find their website, please let us know because we couldn't
The Food: Chicken Chili Stir Fry from Tenderland Meats
The Chocolate: Hedgehogs from Purdy’s Chocolates
The Scoop: One of the best under $10 values going

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