There’s a memorable story in Cervantes’ Don Quixote, told by the faithful Sancho Panza, of the great wine judges in his lineage; particularly, two on his father’s side who were once challenged to identify a wine from a barrel. The first one brought the wine to the tip of his tongue, and declared the flavor of iron. The second one just needed to pass it under his nose before declaring a stronger flavor of cordovan leather. The owner of the wine protested, however, saying his wine was perfectly clean, with no trace of iron or leather. Days later, though, after the wine was sold and the barrel emptied, cellarers found a small iron key at the bottom of the barrel, hanging by a thong of leather.
The story of these men from La Mancha took place at the start of the 1600s, during the same period of time Cervantes wrote his epic tale. Sometimes we forget how old the fine arts – like literature, wine judging, and great winemaking – really are.
There are written records from the court of King Pedro I of Castilla in Spain, for instance, dating Bodegas Iranzo back to 1335. Evidently, the family of Iranzo Perez-Duque is still going strong after over six hundred years, as our organic wine of the day – Iranzo’s 2003 Vertvs Tempranillo Crianza (about $14) – is as bright, rose petal fresh, raisiny ripe and round as any red wine in the world. Doing justice to the Spanish connoisseurs of olde, Doug Frost MW/MS goes further by describing it as “layered and vibrant… soft… a little grippy… red raspberry, cooked cranberries, blueberry hints…” and whom, bodacious mis amigos, am I to argue?
The vineyard plantings of Bodegas Iranzo – in the region of Utiel-Requena, made up of lime-crusted sandy soils in hills some 2,700 ft. in elevation, just off the Mediterranean coast near Valencia – are also fortunate enough to be located in the middle of a National Reserve Park, and for centuries were cultivated naturally, without the use of modern day chemicals or fertilizers. So it was simply natural for this estate to attain, in 1994, one of Spain’s first EU/Agricultura Ecológica certifications; and the first in all of Spain to receive USDA National Organic Program accreditation as well.
Bodegas Iranzo’s fertilizers, as it were, are derived from sheep manure from extensively farmed flocks within the district; and the family has encouraged further biodiversity, since the 1950s, by maintaining a program of reforestation on some 75 acres of surrounding land with native woodland species, as well as the establishment of a nearby flora micro-reserve.
Hawaiian Beef Stew
But all this is beside the most important point for us: the wine makes damned good drinking; full flavored, yet soft and warming on the palate. It’s this kind of wine, in fact, that always makes me think of soft, warming dishes like Louisiana style red beans and rice, or Mexican machaca (shredded beef). But since I’m from the Islands, I have to say that it may be even better with a luscious tomato, carrot and beef studded Hawaiian beef stew, which comes in as many variations as Islanders who cook. This recipe — adapted from Muriel Miura and Betty Shimabukuro’s What Hawai’i Likes to Eat — is pretty much basic, but guaranteed deliciousness:
2 lbs. lean stewing beef, cut into 1-inch cubes
½ cup flour
¼ cup canola oil
2 medium sized sweet onions, wedged
1 clove garlic, pressed
5 cups water
2 bay leaves, broken in half
½ cup red wine (or dry sherry)
2 tsp. salt (or to taste)
¼ tsp. black pepper
2 cans (8 oz.) tomato sauce
1 can (13.5 oz.) whole or stewed tomatoes
4 carrots, about ¾ inch chunks
4 potatoes, pared and quartered
1 cup sliced celery
Dredge beef in flour; brown lightly on all sides in hot oil. Add onions and garlic; brown lightly. Add water and bay leaves; simmer 1½ hours, or until beef is tender. Add remaining ingredients; simmer additional 30-60 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. If desired, thicken stew with flour water mixture. Serves 6-8, and strongly recommended with steamed white Japanese rice.
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