Wine&Dine: Viña Gravonia & Partridge

If this is the tasting note:
Golden colour, deep honey-like, sweetish smell, in the mouth dry, full-bodied, complex, honey, sourish apricot, mandarin, almond, freshly-cut herbs (the latter to my astonishment), long aftertaste,
what to eat?

Let me first explain a bit more about the wine. This was one of the first wines I tasted during the DWCC (Digital Wine Communications Conference) in Rioja (on which more in a future post). That day’s programme didn’t permit it really, but we had heard so much about them that we sneaked out and drove to Haro, to Bodegas López de Heredia, better known as Tondonia or Heredia. A traditional winery if ever there was one. Think huge wooden barrels, thick layers of fungi on the walls, and temperature control by opening or closing the windows. Their wines are named after the vineyard and should express the character of that terroir and of that terroir only, (and this is unusual) consistently, year after year.

Tfgravoniahey sure take their time. The wines not only spend years in barrels, the harvesting of the grapes for Viña Gravonia Crianza 2004, the subject of the tasting note above, took 33 days, enabling the harvesters to pick only the grapes that are perfectly mature. No rush after that either, as this Crianza of 100% Viura (12,5% vol) has spent four years in barrels and five years in the bottle.

But what to eat with a wine of such complexity? Rest assured: anything goes, according to the information leaflet: “Perfect with all kind of fish, no matter the way cooked. Grilled seafood. Well seasoned white meat. Also very nice with pasta.”

As I feared the wine might overwhelm a humble white fish, I chose the not so white meat of partridge, this being the game season. A traditional recipe is Perdreau aux Choux, for which one needs one old and one young partridge, the older merely to infuse the cabbage with taste. Alas, old partridges are a thing of the past (don’t ask your supplier for an old bird; I did and was nearly kicked out of the shop).


Partridge with savoy cabbage ‘Spanish style’

Preheat oven at 175 °C. Rinse, dry and season partridges (one p.p.) and brown them on all sides in a mixture of olive oil and butter. Cover them with vine leaves (partridges are delicate) and put them in the oven for about half an hour. (Note: vine leaves can be salty.)
Cut a (piece of) chorizo into small cubes and fry them in a dry pan till the fat has run out. Put the cubes aside and fry a diced onion in the fat. Add savoy cut in small stripes and fry on low heat. Season to taste. You may add a handful of dried cranberries: good for taste, not so good for the Spanish touch.

Now was this a good match? Bird and wine proved to be a happy combination: almost lively, even if that’s an odd thing to say about a dead bird. Bird and cabbage were good too, rubbing each other’s darker sides. Wine and cabbage didn’t do much for each other.

In the Netherlands some wines of López de Heredia are for sale here.

Leser aus der Schweiz, pass auf: Schnäpchen bei Real wines bis zum 30. November.


At King’s Tables

Though the category has officially ceased to exist, the term table wine is still widely used for simpler wines. As the dictionaries will tell you, a table wine is an unfortified wine that is not very expensive and drunk at ordinary meals. That’s a helpful albeit not very specific definition, but it doesn’t explain the term itself. Why table wine and not, for example, “common wine”, “economy wine”, or “dinner wine”? It wouldn’t be because table wine is put on your table, would it? As opposed to wine that is, ahm, not put on your table?


When leafing through Embers, a novel by the Hungarian author Sándor Márai, I learned that the name table wine, or better still, the phenomenon, is of noble origin. As the book’s main character, an old army genera,l explains to his company, every guest at the king’s table (nineteenth-century Austrian-Hungarian empire) had his own portion of table wine, in a crystal bottle, to be poured by oneself at one’s discretion. The finer wines were offered by the glass, by liveried servants.

In another text Márai says:

“I have heard it from Géza Szüllo that the name ‘table wine’ came from the table of the young Franz Joseph: he was the first among Hungarian kings and Austrian kaisers who – with a great knowledge of mankind – ordered that on the occasions of more confidential luncheons a bottle of light wine must stand before the guests, from which the person could take sips as his mood allowed, pouring it himself. Only finer and more ‘official’ wines were handed out glass by glass by the pages. So it was ‘Table Wine’ in the Monarchy, at the king’s table which was consumed by every guest according to his/her own taste, measure and necessity. When Franz Joseph decided on this he probably didn’t know much about wine, but he knew people well.”

banquetWe all know that what is fashionable among royalty or celebrities, will soon be copied by ordinary people. In his grandfather’s time, so the general in Embers tells his dinner guest, there was a pint (1,5 litres in the old Hungarian metric system) of wine for every guest: table wine. His guest sighs: In those days, everything had its order.


(December 13, 1962 at The Greenbrier in White Sulfur Springs, West Virginia. The Crystal Room. Photo credit: clotho98 via photopin cc)