Posted by: tomciocco | September 24, 2008

XAREL-LO SOLO

You might actually know the good Senyor Xarel-lo (pronounced “cha-REH-lo”), but are not recognizing him removed from his usual and more rarified milieu. Senyor Xarel-lo typically dresses himself with a lot more natty “sparkle”, and is almost never seen without his 2 best cronies, Parellada and Macabeo, but here we’ve got him in a rare(ish) “unplugged”, one man show, so go “see” it while you can… Without the strained conceit, what I mean to say is that the Xarel-lo grape variety is usually encountered  in blends with Parellada and Macabeo, and then bubble-fied and called nothing other than CAVA! 

To tell the complete truth, there is actually a rarely encountered (at least here in the U.S.) Catalan wine appellation called ALELLA that is made mostly if not entirely from Xarel-lo, though in Alella the grape is known by the name Pansa Blanca. The few Alella wines I’ve drunk bore a fair similarity to both Portuguese Vinho Verde and Basque Txakoli: lightly sparkling, with ripping acidity, and low alcohol… 

But what we’ve got here is a slightly different approach to this sassy little grape from a way cool producer…Albet i Noya is a large ORGANIC producer (Spain’s largest? – If not THE largest, certainly one of them) located in the Penedes D.O. that makes both traditional Catalan wines from authoctonous vine varieties (including such extreme vinous rarities as Caladoc and Arinarnoa) as well as creative blends of “international” and Catalan grape varieties. Check them out here

I used the word “sassy” just above to describe this wine, and I’m going to use it again because that’s exactly what it is. Xarel-lo might not be everyone’s cup of wine – texturally it reminds me of a pin cushion: piercing acidity bristling from a soft, round core. Further, Xarel-lo often offers up olfactory sensations of a mixed green salad (with which it is a very reliable companion, by the way) that can be a bit off-putting to those reared on more conventionally fruited and/or oak treated wines (this and all Xarel-lo wines has no affinity for wooden barrels), but matched with shellfish or chicken dishes with strong vegetable components, Xarel-lo is a great companion. 

I served this wine with a pretty traditional Catalan card: a pureed chick pea and mint soup ( with garlic, a bit of pimenton…) and a Catalan classic main dish called “Mar i Muntanya” which is literally “sea and mountain” but properly rendered in English would be “surf and turf”, but the picture of the cross-grilled steak and the lobster tail with the hedge of raw kale and parsley between doesn’t cover it… The one I served was a chicken and shrimp (with bittersweet chocolate and almond paste!) iteration, but the cookbook from which I got it (Colman Andrews’ Catalan Cuisine, The Harvard Common Press) also includes the powerfully strange and elaborate Mar i Muntanya recipes made with rabbit, snails, monkfish, cuttlefish, and prawns, and another with rabbit, pork, sole, and mussels – BOING!?!?!?  These dishes epitomize the gutsy, bold, and often bizarre Catalan kitchen which is directly derived from a melange of Roman Spain’s cookery folded in with north African elements, and a glaze of Italian (especially in Barcelona) and classic French influences from the 19th and 20th centuries…It takes a wine like this one to keep up with (great) food like that!  

 The notes:

Albet i Noya Penedes Xarel-lo Clasic 2007

Very pale gold color. Nose of minerals, ripe pears, funky, herby notes, and almonds. The wine has a nice and slightly oily texture with apple and pear nectar flavors on counterpoint with a marked “energy”  a mouthwatering acidity, and a zesty lemon peel finish. A clean but bold and slightly off-beat wine.

Tom Ciocco

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