Your friendly guides on this tour of Spanish culinary delights (l to r): Norbert Wabnig, owner of the Cheese Store of Beverly HIlls, Antonio Martínez of Antalva Imports, and the Cheese Store's Tony, who leads the educational discussions on cheese at the monthly tastings. Photo courtesy of the lovely and talented Ulla Kimmig, herself a Cheese Store alumna. View more of her exquisite images at http://www.ullakimmig.de.
“…it made him to dream that he was already arrived at the kingdom of Micomicon, and that he was then in combat with his enemy, and he had given so many blows on the wine-bags, supposing them to be giants, as all the whole chamber flowed with wine.” - Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote, Part I.
You literary types may recall this scene from Don Quixote, in which our hero’s valiant quest to slay a super-sized enemy turns into a sleepwalking fiasco involving gallons of spilled red wine and a furious Spanish innkeeper. My own hunt for the perfect Spanish wine and cheese pairing ended less chaotically at the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills. I’m happy to report that not a drop of Garnacha was wasted, and unlike Quixote’s angry host, the proprietors here plied me with serrano jam and marcona almonds.
On a recent Thursday night, I and nine other lovers of Spanish wines and cheeses gathered for The Cheese Store’s monthly wine and cheese pairing. The theme: “España.” Our mission: To sample 10 cheeses and seven wines from the land that brought us flamenco, paella and Pedro Almodóvar.
Importer Antonio Martínez of Antalva Imports, the consummate caballero, started us off with the Cava Blancher Capdevila y Pujol, a sparkling wine made in the méthode champenoise style, which, simply stated, means the wine was produced according to a traditional method developed in the Champagne region of France. I tasted pears; the tasting notes said green apples. Go figure. A future post will delve into the wine novice’s conundrum, “But I Taste Pears, Not Apples,” so stay tuned. For now, suffice it to say that the delicate bubbles did a gentle zapateado on the taste buds, and at $16 a bottle, this one’s definitely fiesta-worthy.
As for the cheeses, if Manchego is as far as your Spanish cheese repertoire goes, get ready to explore new horizons. Nine of them, to be exact: Nevat, Leonara, Tetilla, Pata Cabra, Idiazábal, Valdeón, Romáo, El Porfaio, Abrigo. The barnyard was well-represented here, with cheeses made from the milk of sheep, goats and cows.
Among my personal favorites was the Leonara, which is produced in Castilla y León from goat’s milk. The rich, buttery taste was a perfect contrast to the dry sparkle of the Cava Blancher. Picture yourself with a bottle of Cava, a wedge of Leonara, Javier Bardem (or Penélope Cruz), in a tucked-away Salamanca wine bar, and you’ll understand how otherworldly this pairing is. (El Full Disclosure: In case my husband is reading, I swear I went to the tasting with Debra, not Javier Bardem).
Before launching into another Tempranillo-soaked, bodice-ripping food fantasy, I want to mention a couple of the standout wines that were poured that evening. Yes, all of the wines were A-plus, but with all due respect to Cervantes, I want this post to be a little more concise than Don Quixote, parts 1 and 2.
Three flights of wine were poured with the first plate of five cheeses. The 2010 Maria Andrea Ribeiro Blanco, a crisp white wine made from a blend of Treixadura, Albariño, Godello and Loureira grapes, was a winner. I tasted melon (and so did the tasting notes!) and I was even able to identify malolactic fermentation from the creaminess on the palate. Malolactic fermentation, in case you’re wondering, is a process by which an acid that occurs naturally in crushed grapes is converted to lactic acid, which tastes smoother and gives the finished wine a buttery, creamy taste.
Pair the Maria Andrea with the Idiazábal cheese, a semi-hard cheese made from sheep’s milk smoked with beechwood. You’ll notice a subtle, smoky flavor with the nutty sweetness typical of cheeses made with sheep’s milk. The smokiness works beautifully with the acidity of the wine. De-li-cioso.
And speaking of delicious, the second plate of cheeses paired with an additional three flights of wine saw the marriage of two Spanish classics – Manchego cheese and Tempranillo wine. Manchego, as noted by Tony Princiotta, one of the Cheese Store’s High Priests of the Palate, “lives with red wines.”
For me, the ultimate fusion of flavors was the 2009 Viña Zangarrón “El Vino del Buen Amor” Toro D.O. (Tempranillo) paired with the Valdeón blue cheese, also from Castilla y León. This melt-in-your-mouth cheese is made from a blend of cow and goat milk. Wrapped in sycamore leaves, you’ll feel a bit of a spicy kick but not to the point that it dominates the delicate flavor, which I found more subtle than your typical blue cheese. The rich texture was a perfect match for the inky, full-bodied Toro, an organically made wine which, according to el Señor Martínez, boasts triple the antioxidant content of most red wines. I’ll drink to that!
To come full circle, “El Vino del Buen Amor” happens to be a phrase coined by the great 14th century Spanish poet, Juan Ruiz, in a collection of poems on romantic themes. Pair this wine with your favorite carne asada dish or a hearty seafood paella and watch love blossom (Javier Bardem optional).