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Friday, October 24, 2014

Bodegas Franco Espanolas is what Rioja Wines Are All About by Philip S. Kampe

                                     2012 Bodegas Franco Espanolas Royal White

                                  2005 Bodegas Franco Espanolas Gran Reserva
                                                     2010 Crianza Rioja

                                                        2008 Reserva

As fate would have it, I received an invitation to attend a ‘Wine Dinner’ at Chez Nous restaurant in Lee, Massachusetts (the Berkshires). The week night event was a welcome change of pace from New York’s hustle and bustle.

Until this fateful day, all, and I mean all, of my intimate wine luncheons or dinners took place in the New York City area. After two-hundred plus events, this was the first invitation I received from the Berkshires.

I was very excited.

Driving to the Berkshires in my old Subaru was as scenic as a New England drive could be. The foliage was peaking, the sun was shining and an evening of wine and food with a French-Spanish theme awaits me.

The wine dinner was sponsored by Bodegas Franco Espanolas, roughly translated into ‘French-Spanish Winery’. The winery dates back to the invasion of Rioja by a group of French wine producers who were looking for new sources for grapes to meet France’s demands. This was the late 1800’s, after phylloxera devastated the French vineyards.

The result of the search for sourcing new grapes ended in 1890 when Frederick Anglade Saurat, a Bordeaux negociant, partnered with winegrowers and investors from Spain to found Bodegas Franco Espanolas. The partnership ended in 1922 when the Spanish owners bought out their French partners.

Today, the winery is owned by Rosa and Carlos Eguizabal. They have turned this company into a well-respected winery that caters to all price ranges.

After entering Chez Nous, I was seated at a large round table—the type that you could interact with all the occupants. At the table, directly across from me, Juan Carlos Llopart, director of Bodegas Franco-Espanoles, talked fondly of the wineries special visitors. Ernest Hemingway comes to mind.  He was a huge fan of our wines. The story goes, according to  Juan Carlos, that Hemingway actually mentioned one of the Bodegas wines, ‘Diamante’, in his book, A Moveable Feast. To me, said Llopart, that is true dedication.
Jim Nejaime, owner of Spirited, a local, popular wine shop in Lenox, Ma., and his wife, Heidi, sat next to me. This was my first visit to the restaurant. Jim explained that the restaurant is owned by two chefs, Franck Tessier, from Brittany and Pastry Chef, Rachel Portnoy. Both moved up the ranks rapidly in the industry, met in 1997, worked together shortly afterwards and the rest is history. They are married and what I was about to learn was that they are both accomplished chefs, who one day deserve a Michelin star.
                                          Part of our table  at Chez Nous
         Director Juan Carlos Llopart explaining Bodegas Franco Espanolas mission
After an introduction from Juan Carlos Llopart and his importer, Mark, from Vision Wines (NJ) about the history of Bodegas Franco Espanolas, the initial wine was served. It was a 2012 Rioja white, aptly named, ‘Royal’ ($13). The dry, appealing wine is made from the Viura grape, one of Spain’s numerous indigenous varieties. The wine was lush, crisp and could have been used not only as a pairing wine, but, as an aperitif, before or after a dinner. It paired perfectly with Patatas Bravas, garlic-roasted fingerling potatoes with aioli.
        Chez Nous and Bodegas Franco Espanolas can turn any event into a 'real party'

I could tell that Chef Tessier is an accomplished chef who instinctively knows how to pair food with wine. The rest of the meal was as perfect of a wine pairing meal as I have ever had. Courses ranged from Spanish seafood stew to paprika marinated organic chicken with saffron rice, peas, olives and thyme juice. 

The wines that went with these and several other dishes that were served during the evening at Chez Nous were big, earthy, rich in flavor, old world style wines with modern concentration levels.

Bruce Beckwith, who sells these wines through MS Walker, says the key element of Bodegas Franco Espanolas wines are balance, concentration and lushness. Bruce went on to say that ‘The wines have created universal appeal worldwide and are known as wonderful food pairing wines’. My first exposure to these wines was through Mr. Beckwith.  

My favorite wines from Bodegas Franco-Espanolas include:
2012 Bodegas Franco-Espanoles Royal Red Rioja ($13)
2009 Crianza Rioja($17)
2008 Reserva Rioja($19)
2005 Gran Reserva Rioja($29)

All in all, it was an interesting and educational evening for all that attended. If you haven’t had a chance to try any of these wines, isn’t it?

Philip S. Kampe

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Forget Limoncello in your freezer, Hello Black Fig Vodka by Philip S. Kampe

Growing up in New Orleans has made me a lifelong fan of figs. My parents had several fig trees in the backyard and my task as the only child, was to pick the figs early in the morning, before someone else did.. The reason I picked the figs early was simple, if I didn't the blackbirds would.

Figs ooze a little syrup early in the morning. The fig syrup is a magnet for hungry blackbirds, who survey the neighborhood for fig trees.

Since those early years of my life, figs have played an important role. When I traveled Europe for several years in a VW camper, part of the trip was traveling to the southern parts of Europe and Turkey to find figs. Some were fresh, many were dried. I remember the south of Italy, Sicily, Spain, Yugoslavia (at the time)  and Turkey were fig meccas for me. Dried figs last a lot longer than fresh figs. My preference changed through the years for dried figs.

Upon returning to America, I opened several nut and candy shops--akways carrying dried figs in bulk. There were Turkish figs and California figs. Both sold well.

Today, at wine tasting events, dried figs exist, usually as part of a cheese plate.

My wife's family is from the Isle of Capri. I took a fancy to Limoncello during a visit twenty years ago and have been stocking my freezer with Limoncello ever since. Capri and Sorrento are famous for Limoncello. The reason is that the lemons are football size and taste like no other lemons in the world.

At a recent trade tasting, a gentleman from the Boston area was pouring Fig Vodka next to a guy pouring Limoncello.

I chose to try the Fig Vodka instead of the Limoncello, since it was a new product for me. The fig vodka was aptly named 'Black Fig' vodka. As the glass approached my lips, the aromatics of the figs took over. For a split second I felt like I was eating dried figs. I then sipped the fig vodka and knew that this was the drink for me.

Shortly after leaving the tasting, I went into a local wine shop and bought my first bottle of Black Fig Vodka. I paid a little under forty dollars. When I returned home, I took the Limoncello out of the freezer and inserted the bottle of Black fig Vodka.

It's been two weeks since the purchase of the first bottle. I am ready for bottle number two. For whatever reason, I feel healthy drinking this vodka. Maybe because it is made with calimyrna figs and wheat grain.

At 30% alcohol, I have found my match.

There will always be room for Black Fig Vodka in my freezer.
And hopefully yours?


Philip S. Kampe