A Taste of Spain – in Cincinnati!
My personal brand is place matters in community and in the vineyard, and it would seem that my theme for 2011 is venue -- Venue Magazine, Venue 222, new travel venues… Perhaps I should change “place” to “venue”?
On a recent stormy Friday night, Venue 222 provided a fabulous gathering place for a Spanish wine and food tasting. Entrepreneurs Wade and Debbie Dent have run several businesses over the years individually and as a couple. Urban pioneers who have invested much time, talent and treasure in Over-The-Rhine, the Dents’ newest venture is located at 222 E. 14th Street just off Sycamore. Their classic five-story OTR building is used primarily for business meetings, but can also be rented for parties or evening events. On this particular night, the exposed brick walls and rotating art exhibit was the perfect backdrop for my wine tasting program and food pairings by Chef Catherine Pleva of MOTR.
We welcomed our 20 guests out of the stormy night and into the cozy warmth of Venue 222 with a glass of Cristolino Brut Cava NV. Cava is made in the traditional sparkling method from indigenous grapes that grow best in six designated areas just outside Barcelona in the Penedés area of Catalonia, Cava’s spiritual home. Cristolino is a fairly large producer, in business since 1943, and is thus readily available in the Cincinnati market. Cava is a delightful, flavorful and affordable apéritif, a great way to begin almost any party or event. I assure you that your guests will never be disappointed! We paired the Cava with a plate of Spanish cheeses, sausages, olives and a savory torta (crustless quiche), all of which complemented the wine’s sparkling acidity.
Oeno~phile: The indigenous grapes are Parellada, Macabeo, Xarel-lo; up to 10% Chardonnay is permitted. The classic Cava flavor profile is green apple, citrus (lemon and lime) and pronounced minerality, although the Macabeo lends an earthy/nutty and mushroomy note. Drink chilled now!
Moving from northeastern to northwest Spain and the province of Galicia on the Atlantic, we next savored a white wine made from 100% Albariño grapes. Staying with the “venue” theme, this relatively young wine region called Rías Baixas (pronounced REE-ahs BY-shas) is the spiritual home for the Albariño grape. No other grapes are permitted in this varietal wine. In less than 25 years, nearly 200 wineries have sprouted up. Our selection for the evening was a very affordable 2009 vintage from Salneval, named for the Salnez Valley. Our food pairing was shrimp marinated in tomato and garlic sauce, the perfect briny base and strong flavors supported by a robust grape.
Oeno~phile: This slightly green-tinged wine is fresh and lively, with floral aromas, ripe fruit and hints of apple and grapefruit on the nose. Drink now!
I made a (venue) pilgrimage to Rioja in 2009, which also happens to be the vintage year for our third wine, the El Coto rosé. Many people think that rosé is either a viticultural accident, lower quality red wine, or American white zinfandel. It is decidedly none of that! With winter skipping spring and going right into summer, I can think of no better celebration for the longest days of the year in Cincinnati than Spanish rosé. In truth, the spiritual homes for rosé are the Tavel and Provence regions of France, near Avignon and the Rhone Valley. But Rioja and Navarra, its regional neighbor, absolutely rival the very best that France can produce with rich pink/red hues, vibrant strawberry aromas, and a crisp mineral acidity on the palate. (If your mouth isn’t already watering with that description, I can help you get there!) For the crowning note, our tapas tasting was a date stuffed with chorizo sausage. The sweet/savory contrasts were exquisite.
Oeno~phile: Rosé wines can be made from any red grape in the world. Spanish rosés are made from Tempranillo and Garnacha grapes. The classic style is dry, light, crisp and simple with red fruit flavors. Drink chilled now!
We happily remained in Rioja for the final wine in our tasting line-up, the 2005 Marqués de Riscal Tempranillo. The back story for this winery is as interesting as the wine itself. The founders of Marqués de Riscal started planting Bordeaux varieties (predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) in 1858, just three years after the Bordeaux classification system made it impossible for some winemakers to prosper. Only recently did Spanish wineries revert “back to the future” and reinvest in indigenous grapes, in this case Tempranillo, Graciano and Mazuelo. In a nod to modern architecture, Marqués de Riscal commissioned Frank Ghery to build its winery and adjacent hotel complex. Our very affordable (<$20 retail) red wine showed a deep cherry red color with aromas of dark fruit, spice and toasted oak. This is a modern-style fruit-forward Spanish Tempranillo, appealing to the American palate. The food pairing was a huge hit with our guests: grilled pork tenderloin served on a sweet potato “bun” with cayenne aioli.
Oeno~phile: A special note to all wine lovers: Spanish red wines are generally meant to “drink now” upon release. For reasons that don’t make 100% sense from a pure business standpoint, Spanish winemakers cellar their wines until they are ready to drink and then release them into the market. This particular 2005 has been in the Cincinnati market for a while, but it is still available and quite delicious.