Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Everybody Loves Tapas

Tapas is all the rage these days. At least every second bar or restaurant I go to seems to incorporate this informal, sharing style of grazing into their menu offerings. And I'm certainly not complaining, having fallen in love with the concept on a trip to Spain a while back. his trip, and my ensuing enjoyment of Spanish and Portuguese food and wine, was the inspiration for my latest wine tasting event. 

When tickets went on sale, they were so popular we had no choice but to increase the number of guests. Under other circumstances, I would have been concerned that too many people would take away from the intimate and personalised experience I aim to create for guests. However, I was already planning a more informal and relaxed approach for tapas. I wanted to emulate the atmosphere encountered at a tapas bar in Madrid or a Pintxos establishment in San Sebastian.

For the evening's wines, I selected a mix of Italian and Spanish varietals to be enjoyed with the tapas. Of these, half were made in Australia, as I wanted to provide some education and insight into the mediterranean varietals that are taking off in our own country.

Groote Eylandt residents are notoriously tardy. The phenomenon is put down to the fact that people run on 'island time'. At past wine tasting events, I have had to wait up to half an hour for enough guests to arrive so that I can make a start. At one such event, I had people ordering a beer whilst waiting(!), so I thought it might be good to start this event off with a full glass of sparkling on arrival. In keeping with the theme, I chose a Spanish Cava. Such a wine acts as both a palate cleanser (helps those who thought it was a good idea to brush their teeth or have a cup of tea before coming) as well as a tongue loosener!

1. Mainegra, Cava Brut, Penedes D.O. - Spain

Pairing: Platter of rubicon red cheddar cheese, kalamata olives, smoked paprika toasted almonds, grilled spelt bread with EVOO and balsamic vinegar
Tasting Notes: Straw yellow with a persistent bead. Crisp citrus at the fore with underlying creamy caramel providing interest.

As guests arrived, I poured them the Cava, explaining that this Spanish take on Champagne is made using the same production method. What sets the Spaniards apart, however, is that they often produce these wines in Methode Champenoise style by machine - resulting in high volumes and lower prices whilst retaining the benefits of extended time on lees and the associated influences of yeast autolysis (creamy, nutty flavours). 

The Penedes region is just outside Barcelona and was my drink of choice when visiting this vibrant city. Three main grapes are used which each bring their own unique characteristics to the mix: 

  1. macabeu - simple, light, floral and lemon
  2. parellada - very high acidity, zesty citrus
  3. xarello - very rich and aromatic: floral, pear and melon flavours

Cavas are usually aged for 9 months on lees, if not more.

2. Mitolo, Jester Vermentino, McLaren Vale - Australia

Pairing: Anchovies with a marinated vegetable melange
Tasting Notes: Almost translucent in colour, herbaceous and salty nose, creamy mouthfeel with melon and a bitter but refreshing finish

Vermentino is grown in both France (where it is called Rolle) and Italy (where the Sardinians call it Favorita). It is now thriving in McLaren Vale, an Australian wine region which is championing Mediterranean varietals. Mitolo is one such project, headed up by Frank Mitolo in partnership with Ben Glaetzer. Their McLaren Vale site is suitable for vermentino due to its coastal climate, imparting saline and chalky notes. 

Fruit flavours in vermentino are temperature dependent, ranging across the spectrum from lime, through grapefruit and apple to mango at the warmer end. Vermentino can be identified by its bitter phenolics on the finish (think grapefruit pith or bitter almond). Therefore, it works well with richer foods such as seafood gumbo, fried calamari, tomato based dishes or salty seafood. It is a wine to drink young and fresh.

3. Ophalum, Albariño, Rias Baixas D.O. - Spain

Pairing: Smoked salmon croquetas
Tasting Notes: Greenish yellow and pungent with rich tropical fruits

Albariño typically exhibits fruity aromas with some saline notes and a full body - and this one did not disappoint. The wine hails from the classic Rias Baixas subregion where 90% of the vineyards are planted to the albariño variety. It is well suited to Thai, Moroccan and Indian cuisine due to its high acid and fruit concentration. 

4. La Linea, Tempranillo Rose
, Adelaide Hills - Australia

Pairing: Chorizo and prawn skewers with romesco sauce
Tasting Notes: Delicate pink hue, strawberries and pink sweets on the nose moving through to a vibrant and sweetly spiced palate with a bone dry finish

Recently rated in the 'Best Buy Wines Under $20' by GT Wine Magazine, this wine is part of the Adelaide Hills La Linea project, a collaboration between high profile winemaker Peter Leske and David LeMire MW. 

The winery focuses on production of Tempranillo in a truly Spanish inspired style. 'Temprano' means early and Tempranillo is always picked earlier than Grenache, alongside which it grows in Spain. La Linea's wines are intensely flavoured wperfect with Spanish foods such as paella.

5. La Vendetta, Sangiovese, Tuscany - Italy

Pairing: Sicilian spiced meatballs
Tasting Notes: Cherry red with berry aromas. High acidity interplays with creamy berries and pink, musky spice.

Acidity is the key to a good match with most Italian food, particularly if the sauce is tomato-based. A typical sangiovese fits the bill perfectly. The most well-known region and style for Sangiovese is Chianti. I advised my guests to look for 'Chianti Classico' on the label when searching for a quality drop from this region. 

La Vendetta's sangiovese is not from Chianti, however, but from a northern area of Tuscany, 30km west of Florence where deep, rich soils allow a more full bodied expression of the grape variety. The wine is 86% sangiovese with some less-traditional merlot and cabernet sauvignon in the mix.

6. First Drop, Nacional,
 McLaren Vale - Australia

Pairing: Twice-cooked pork belly
Tasting Notes: Velvet red with smoky dark fruits. Pepper and Christmas spices to season.

Touriga Nacional is a Portuguese variety which has long been associated with port production in the Douro Valley. More recently, winemakers have been realising what an excellent table wine  it can produce. I do still find that the flavour profile arouses visions of a glass of port by a fire on a rainy winter evening.

Once again, McLaren Vale, is represented here, championing alternative varieties. First Drop are leading the way with their rich yet elegant Touriga Nationale, with vibrant fruits and a silken texture.

It is safe to say that each guest learnt something new as they took their palate on a tour of Spain, Italy and Portugal. Most were excited to learn that Australians are experimenting with Mediterranean varietals. The success of the event means that tapas are likely to be back on the menu at some point in future!

In the meantime, I am in the planning stages for my next event which will be in a different format - a dinner with matched wines. Watch this space...

All in all the guests had rather a good time!