Solera's expanded wine list features Spain's best
I've finally stumped Jay Viskocil. For the last hour, Solera's general manager and beverage aficionado has been giving me a tour through the restaurant's expanded wine list, which now boasts 85 bottles from over 20 regions. As I've pelted him with questions about everything from Rioja to Rueda to Ribera del Duero, he's volleyed everything back.
Dressed in a tailored dark jacket, he looks appropriately mid-day casual. And as the gray winter light filters through the floor-to-ceiling windows at his back, he thoughtfully taps his fingers on the copper tabletop between us.
"It's so hard to choose..." he muses. And then finally, looks over and gives me a smirk:
"They're all my favorite--that's why they're on the list."
Fair enough. That's what I get for asking the man who's hand-picked every bottle to narrow it down to one.
Having spent several years at Cafe Ba Ba Reeba's now-shuttered Vegas outpost, Viskocil's experience with Spanish wines and cuisine runs deep. When he returned home to the Twin Cities in November 2010, tapas house Solera was a logical fit. But little did he know, the following months would bring a series of transitions: management would change hands, executive chef JP Samuelson would move on, and Jorge Guzman (previously of Tejas and Corner Table) would come onboard to man the kitchen.
After a flurry of activity in early 2011--which included renovating the menu and refreshing the space on the corner of Ninth and Hennepin--Viskocil put his wine expertise to work building out Solera's offering, and finally debuting the new lineup late last year.
Since he apparently won't play favorites, I'm asking for this instead: his recommendations from several of Spain's more popular regions, plus some suggestions from lesser-known areas--like the Canary Islands.
Although its estimated 4,200 wineries often play second fiddle to those in France and Italy, Spain has a rich winemaking tradition. In fact, no other country on the planet has dedicated more land to vines (1,082 million hectares).
In recent decades, Spanish wines have exploded internationally. Since the '80s, its exports have grown at a faster clip than its Mediterranean neighbors. And much of the surge has been driven by the U.S., which receives the most shipments (in euro value) outside Europe.
A mix of Old and New World styles, Spain resides at the intersection of the world's converging wine cultures. At one end of the spectrum live Old World philosophies. Firmly rooted in traditional practices, these methods strive to bring out the unique characteristics of a particular region. Producers craft wines in a way that will benefit from bottle-aging. And as they're happily ignored for years, these wines take on luscious layers of intricacy and become ever more elaborate.
In a parallel, yet strikingly different, universe: wines made with a New World sensibility. The same nuances and edges that are celebrated in Old World styles are whittled away in the name of a more refined final product. And with the help of modern techniques and materials, these bottles are engineered to be released quickly (which means grape to glass faster).
These, of course, are generalizations--broad sweeping statements that, while grounded in truth, certainly don't tell the entire story. Because as wine production continues to evolve, these disparate approaches can yield wines that borrow desirable traits from the contrasting style. New World wines are becoming increasingly complex, and claiming an Old World wine isn't drinkable is grounds for a heated debate.
"These regions offer both Old World and New World styles and embody the classics of Spain," Viskocil says, as he points to Rioja, Ribera del Duero, and Priorat on the wine menu. And as three of the more prominent wine-producing areas, they're the perfect place to start as we compile his recommendations.
About: Rioja is located in the north central part of the country and best known for Tempranillo, which monopolizes over 75% of its growing area. Tempranillo is a dark grape, and it's typically used to make red wines that are more full-bodied.
For the wine drinker who: Appreciates Cabernet Sauvignon
RIBERA DEL DUERO
About: Ribera del Duero lies to the south and west of Rioja, and is also dominated by Tempranillo. However, this region is subjected to more extreme temperature swings, so its body styles tend to be bigger than those found in Rioja.
For the wine drinker who: Wants a huge Cab
About: To the east is Priorat, where picturesque vineyards are planted into steep hillsides, and Garnacha (also referred to as Grenache) reigns supreme. Although the grape can be underwhelming when grown in certain zones, Viskocil says Priorat's unique soils and conditions impart more pronounced and distinct attributes.
For the wine drinker who: Likes a complex Pinot Noir
I take a break from scrawling in my notebook and lift my head. "Okay," I say, admittedly digging, "What about the areas we don't hear about? Where's the hidden treasure?" Viskocil's eyes light up, and he directs me toward the Canary Islands, Jumilla, and Toro. Now, we're talking.
About: Closer to Morocco and Western Sahara than Spain, the Canary Islands sit just miles off Africa's northwest shore. "Because it's an island, the grapes are grown in volcanic soil," shares Viskocil. "The wines have flinty and minerally qualities, and I find them to be very unique."
For the wine drinker who: Is adventurous, and wants something out of the ordinary
Viskocil's Recommendations (one white, one red):
About: Jumilla is in Spain's southeast region, inland of the Mediterranean Sea. Monastrell is the principle grape, and its soil (laced with lime) is able to hold large amounts of water--which helps offset the arid climate.
For the wine drinker who: Looks for a fuller-bodied Merlot
About: Toro is west of Ribera del Duero, and has dry skies that hang over sandy soils. This region features the Tinto del Toro grape--which is essentially a Tempranillo that's been renamed to reflect its homeland.
For the wine drinker who: Tends to favor more aggressive wines
Satisfied with a wide range of choices (from Old World to New, and commonplace to off-the-beaten-path), I flip the menu over for a glance at the 40+ small plates. What's a fabulous glass of wine if there isn't a meal to go with it? But just as I'm about to ask Viskocil to help me decide on a dish, I pause and check my watch. If it took a few hours to get through 85 options, 40 will take us....
Looks like that will have to wait.
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