Wine of the Week

2004 La Rioja Alta Vina Arana Rioja Reserva

La Rioja Alta is one of the great old Rioja houses, best known for Vina Ardanza, long one of my favorite Riojas. The 2004 Vina Arana is winning me over, though. Made with 95 percent Tempranillo, rather than Ardanza’s 80 percent (the rest being made up with Garnacha and, in the case of Arana, with Mazuelo), the 2004 has a beautiful balance and grace. It’s all in there – dark cherries, licorie, leather and earth. Ready to drink now or put away for a while. Give this terrific Rioja some time in the glass for all its layers to show themselves.

Drink it with a chorizo-laden paella, with grilled meats, roast lamb or pork. If you can commandeer a suckling pig, this is the bottle for it.

The 2005 vintage, which is just appearing on the shelves now, is an excellent vintage too.

Region: Rioja, Spain

Price: $25 to $31

Style: Rich and structured

What it goes with: Grilled meats, roast lamb or pork, suckling pig.

— By S. Irene Virbila


Ask a cook: Why is pepper salt’s tablemate?

Q: How did black pepper become the table spice of choice? Why not salt and cumin? Or “please pass the salt and turmeric”?

A: While there are many kinds of peppercorns, the familiar black pepper ended up on tables because it is mild and goes with a number of recipes, according to Marjorie Shaffer, author of the new book “Pepper: A History of the World’s Most Influential Spice” (St. Martin’s Press, $26.99).

The reverence for pepper predates the Romans, says Shaffer. Most ancient cultures thought it brought health and cured a variety of ills. It was so sought-after that it drove the spice trade. Even Columbus was looking for it.

“Pepper’s ability to insinuate itself into almost any type of food is probably the reason why it became the ever-present companion of salt,” Shaffer wrote in an email. “Cumin and turmeric cannot be incorporated into nearly as many dishes as pepper.”

Q: I watch a lot of TV cooking shows. I do not recall ever seeing a TV chef use a garlic press. They always mince it. Is there a reason for this?

A: When your question showed up in my email, I was sitting with a cooking school teacher and another newspaper food editor. So I threw the question out to the group. I should have known: We each had a different answer. So I’ll let you choose:

The cooking teacher said she never uses a garlic press because it releases oils that she thinks can impart a bitter taste.

While I have never noticed that bitterness, I said that a garlic press is fine, but it can be time-consuming to clean.

And TV cooking shows move very quickly, so mincing quickly is the way to go.

The other food editor was more cynical: She thinks TV chefs prefer to use a knife because it’s flashier. All that rapping and chopping makes for better television.

Bottom line? Unless you’re on TV, it’s up to you.

— Kathleen Purvis,