It was a step into cloistered history, entering my cell-like hotel room in a former convent in Oaxaca. The thick walls gave off the heavy, chalky scent of old plaster, a scent I hadn't experienced again--until the other day.
What did it come from? Not ancient walls, but a wine. For an instant I was back in that hotel room as I tasted a Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero in Spain. Then the fragile scent disappeared, overcome by the wine's vibrant fruitiness.
This happened at a seminar that launched "Spain's Great Match--Wine and Food" at The Bazaar by José Andrés. The wine was Pesquera Reserva 2009 from Bodegas Alejandro Fernandez. There it is, in my glass (above).
The seminar, given by Steven Olson of aka wine geek, covered four Ribera del Duero red wines and four wines from Rueda, where 95 % of the production is white and 85% of that is Verdejo.
In the photo above, Pesquera is the first red, starting from the left. My choice among the whites is the one at the far right, Naiades Verdejo 2011 from Bodegas Naia in Rueda. It had a lovely green, floral aroma and a touch of oak. The others were more dry and acidic, perfect with fish. In Rueda, the Naiades would be matched with pork, Olson said.
The seminar was followed by a massive tasting arranged by Wines from Spain. As Olson pointed out, Spain is now the country to turn to for good, low-priced wines. The program for the tasting was dominated by bottles under $20, including quite a few at $10 and a couple for even less, $8.99.
I liked two red blends from Clos Pons, located in Lleida province. They were the Alonia 2011 and Alges 2010, both just $12.99.
There were stacks of cheeses such as Idiazabal from the Basque country and Manchego (above). Also dried apricots, tiny dried figs that looked like large nuts, Marcona almonds, cubes of quince paste and paper thin slices of dry-cured serrano ham.
Hot dishes (above) included, at left, an adaptation of Canary Island patatas arrugadas (wrinkled potatoes). The correct potato, one that wrinkles when cooked, isn't available here. The distinctive flavor comes from cooking the potatoes in heavily salted water. The green sauce is mojo verde--a blend of cilantro, parsley, garlic, olive oil and salt.
In the center is flank steak with natural jus. At right is a croqueta de pollo, a chicken and bechamel croquette.
Who would think that a humble slice of bread could steal the show? But pa amb tomàquet--tomato bread--was a tough contender. The dough, from Spain, produces bread that is amazingly light and airy (above). You can make it with baquettes or even sourdough, although the texture won't be the same. Here is the procedure:
PA AMB TOMÀQUET
Cut a baguette in half lengthwise, then into short lengths. Toast or grill these lightly. Rub each piece of bread with a cut garlic clove. Then rub with a tomato, cut in half, allowing the juices to sink in. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with sea salt. Serve as is, or top with cheese or meat.