Spanish wines are appealing without extra help, but the tasting took place at The Bazaar by José Andrés in the SLS Hotel. And I knew the food would be exceptional.
Look at the plate at the top. That little green item isn't a mini green tomato, but a Japanese baby plum. A savory hazelnut sauce balanced the burst of fruity sweetness, and a single hazelnut symbolized the concept. So cute.
The wine tasting spread through the restaurant, and so did the food. At one station, a carver sliced appetizingly browned flank steak to eat along with creamy rice cooked with mushrooms and idiazabal cheese.
A wine we tasted during a seminar that afternoon was called a "rice wine," meaning Spaniards would drink it with paella or other complex rice dishes such as the cheesy mushroom rice that came with the flank steak.
This wine was the 2009 Rayuelo, a red made from Bobal, the third most widely planted grape in Spain. Bobal is mostly used for blending, but in this wine it's the only grape. Look for it if you want a fresh, elegant, organic wine that's a little spicy--and if you eat a lot of rice. The producer is Altolandón.
Could you match a wine to this? Possibly a seductive blend of Viognier, Chardonnay and Riesling that is flowery and fruity but dry. The producer is Bodegas Olcavina, a small, family-owned organic winery. The name on the label is 1564, and the vintage is 2012.
Still more appetizers (or should I call them tapas?) were bagel and lox cones topped with trout roe or American caviar, ruffly thin slices of serrano ham, chicken croquettes, Manchego cheese and goat cheese with marcona almonds.
Ottoman fritters composed of carrots and apricots were set on pistachio butter for a scrumptious mouthful. What looked like a hearty bun topped with cheese broke apart like air in the mouth. These astonishingly light bites were Bazaar's Philly cheesesteaks.
What to serve with such a variety of tastes? Lots of candidates, but an interesting choice would be the 2010 Finca Los Alijares Graciano, which is made from a black-skinned grape that is native to Spain. Karen MacNeil, author of The Wine Bible, who led the seminar (above), pointed out its minerality and called it a rocky wine that has fruit. It also has a surprisingly reasonable price, about $15.
Toward the end of the tasting, the kitchen sent out miniature frosted cupcakes, including a red velvet cupcake with cream cheese frosting (how did that get into a Spanish event?). Wines that could have gone with these included Bodegas Verdúguez's Coeli sparkling rosé and sparkling white and its sweet Nebbia Moscatel, all from 2011.
The tasting ranged from popular Spanish reds such as Tempranillo and Tempranillo blends to fun wines like the colorful pair at right. They're from Casa Gualda (Gualdo House), and they're both Moscatos.
The cutest wine at the tasting was the 2010 Poker de Tempranillos from Encomienda de Cervera. Dressed up like a jaunty card shark with four aces on the label, it's a serious blend of four clones of the Tempranillo grape, each from a different area.
Also unique was the 2008 El Linze Tinto Syrah Tinto Velasco. The 15% of Tinto Velasco blended with the Syrah came from 140-year-old vines.
"It tastes like Castilla first and Syrah second," MacNeil said, noting how "the flavor of a wine can bring you right back to a place."