Iberia Is Near 

So you think you know Spanish and Portuguese wines?

You've heard of Rioja, Vinho Verde, perhaps Albarino. But have you ever tasted an Alicante or a Priorato?

You finally have your chance. After a yearlong application process, Alcohol and Beverage Control has finally granted the Spanish Table a license to sell beer and wine. The store, located at 1814 San Pablo in Berkeley, specializes in Spanish and Portuguese cookbooks, cookware -- including five-foot outdoor paella pans -- and food products of every kind, many imported directly from Europe.

The Berkeley Spanish Table opened in September 2001, just in time to survive the slump. Its founder, Steve Winston, opened the first (and only other) Spanish Table in Seattle in 1995 after retiring early from US Customs. He combined his job experience and his passion for traveling around Spain and Portugal to start a second career as a retailer and importer.

Now that the liquor license has arrived, cases and cases of wine are soon to follow. By early May, says store manager Libby Connolly, the Berkeley store expects to have more than 500 wines representing fifty regions of Spain and Portugal. Its collection will center around the well-known Rioja and Ribera del Duero regions, but will also highlight up-and-coming regions, small producers, and a varied selection of sherries and ports. Nikki Crevy has moved down from Seattle to serve as the store's full-time wine manager.

Though the Spanish Table will soon have the largest collection of Iberian wines in the Bay Area, it's not the only place where you can try them. Albany's Beverages and More carries upwards of thirty Spanish and Portuguese wines, and the Vino stores and North Berkeley Wines all feature small selections of wines, sherries, and ports.

Michael Cawelti at BevMo has been promoting interest in Spanish and Portuguese wines with tastings at the store. "I'm really fond of them. Riojas are smooth and not particularly heavy, and some of the Portuguese wines have a lot of punch."

The taste is not the only draw. All three stores commended Spanish and Portuguese wines as great buys -- some starting as low as $5 or $6 a bottle. Ian Dick of North Berkeley Wines commented, "People really just want a nice bottle of wine. Rather than go with some mass-produced Californian wines, they can turn to some of the less expensive European brands. These wines are still great value -- and they're more exciting or complex than many Californian selections at the same price point."

The Spanish Table is located at 1814 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley; 510-548-1383; open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

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