Liquid Learning makes education fun

ESCALON — On a warm and pleasant Saturday afternoon in Escalon, about two dozen wine enthusiasts figuratively were whisked away to the Iberian Peninsula.

Stockton’s Lynn Rich and Escalon’s Michelle Franzia, partners with Liquid Learning, offer experiential wine education packages. Last weekend, they presented an array of Spanish wines matched with their Lodi counterparts, and paired them with delectable tapas made by Franzia’s sister, Napa chef Maurine Sarjent.

We all learned about Spain’s diverse wine styles and what foods pair with them.

The experience took place at Franzia’s estate in Escalon, a gorgeous two-story home with an outdoor swimming pool surrounded by immaculate grounds: flowers, trees, shrubs and dozens of acres planted to Chardonnay.

The afternoon began with a brief presentation by Rich about Spain’s rich winemaking history dating to the Phoenicians before the birth of Christ through Roman occupation into modern times. Spain’s varied climate, topography, and cultural traditions make it one of the most diverse wine regions in the world. Rich explained Spanish wines also can be a great value with price points below $20 per bottle.

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2013 Tarima Hill Monastrell, Alicante, left, and 2014 Bokisch Monastrell, Lodi are paired with an eggplant empanada, romesco and Spanish chorizo at a recent Liquid Learning Spanish Wine and Tapas Tasting in Escalon. [BOB HIGHFILL/THE RECORD

The group assembled in fours around tall tables and tasted white wines from Rueda and Rias Baixas, then sat at a long table and sampled red wines from Calatayud, Rioja and Alicante. Each Spanish wine was placed next to a wine of the same varietal from the Lodi American Viticultural Area, which has a Mediterranean climate suited to Spanish varieties.

Up first was Bodegas Aranleanon Deshora Cava, Requena ($14) and a bite of Jamon Iberico. Cava is an everyday Spanish sparkling wine made in the traditional method like Champagne. It’s crisp and light and bubbly, super refreshing and perfect with the fatty, salty ham from Spanish pigs raised on a diet of acorns.

Next were the 2015 Marques de Caceres Verdejo, Rueda ($9) and the 2016 Bonny Doon Verdejo, Lodi ($24) with a fava bean puree, manchego and micro greens. Both wines were clean and crisp with high acid; light-bodied and refreshing, perfect with the spring-like, bright flavors of the puree.

The 2015 Martin Codax Albarino, Rias Baixas ($14) takes on some of the influence from the Atlantic Ocean near where it’s grown in Galicia, giving a touch of salinity to this light white that goes so well with oysters and seafood. The 2016 Oak Farm Albarino ($24) is more floral and lush. Both went beautifully with the tapas of saffron rice in endive with shrimp.

As an aperitif, the 2015 Albero Bobal Rose, Utiel-Requena ($7) helped highlight Bobal, the second-most planted grape in Spain. Such an easy sipper with gorgeous strawberry and cherry notes and dry on the palate.

On to the reds, starting with the 2014 Los Rocas Garnacha, Calatayud ($15), the third-most widely planted grape in Spain noted for its peppery earthiness, high alcohol and complexity. Mike McCay’s 2013 McCay Cellars Grenache, Lodi ($35) had aromas and flavors of juicy red fruit, baking spices and oak. Each had the hardiness to complement a tapas of smoked duck slices with grilled Lodi cherries.

Tempranillo is Spain’s king red grape and Rioja is the region where it’s best known. The 2012 Glorioso Rioja Reserva, Rioja Alavesa ($10) was gorgeous, elegant and plush. So was the 2015 St. Amant Tempranillo, Amador ($18): juicy and more extracted. The aged steak with balsamic reduction was splendid with both.

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Garnacha from Spain and Grenache from Lodi are paired with tapas at a recent wine and tapas tasting offered by Liquid Learning in Escalon. [BOB HIGHFILL/THE RECORD

Next, a trip to Alicante, home of the gamey, peppery red variety Monastrell. The 2013 Tarima Hill Monastrell, Alicante ($15) and the 2014 Bokisch Monastrell, Lodi ($23), the last vintage from the Belle Colline Vineyard went beautifully with an egglplant empanada on a swath of romesco studded with Spanish Chorizo. Both wines had elegance and earthy, savory qualities.

Liquid Learning offers several tasting and education experiences. Information: higherliquidlearning.com or (209) 650-5570.


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      Bob Highfill

      Record Sports Editor Bob Highfill is a wine enthusiast and has earned Level 3 certification with the Wine and Spirit Education Trust of London through the Napa Valley Wine Academy. Bob will share some of his experiences from his travels to Lodi and other prime wine locales in his blog and welcomes your suggestions, reviews and wine speak.
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