On the Route of Sultans and Saffron: Lunch, Cava and Culture with a View

I’m back from Spain and what better way to celebrate Wine Wednesday than with an authentic Spanish food and wine pairing?

Unlike Madrid, it was a challenge to find a good selection of wine by the glass in Granada. Possibly, it’s a cost consideration or because many restaurants cater to tourists who even without knowing Spanish, were able to say, “Tinto, Ribera or Rioja.” (Note that Ribera del Duero is a mouthful, so saying Ribera is good enough.) While a glass is a bargain at about 3.50 Eu, you can get a glass of Granada wine for 2.50. Even the cheapest wine is good wine, but expect only simple and pleasant juice.

Luckily, if you want a better choice, buying a bottle of wine is very affordable and if you want good food, it’s best to stray from the tourist path. In the case of Granada, that means wandering the hilly streets, turning sharp corners and getting lost. I found the best way to find a good restaurant was not to look at the menu, but see which ones were inhabited by locals.

The lower end of El Albaicín (Albayzin in Arabic) is filled with tea houses and Moroccan restaurants. While I’m sure many are great, the streets are crowded with tourists and peddlers. Head up to Paseo de los Tristes where the street opens up to a stunning view of the Alhambra. On Saturday, there is an artisan market and whether you are sipping on Cava like me or just soaking in the views, you’ll enjoy being serenaded by gypsy musicians or even more so, gentle breezes that flow between the River Darro and Alhambra set high above on one side and the hills of El Albaicín on the other. This district is worthy of its own blog post, but if you need to know more, here’s a good start. One very important thing not mentioned in this article is that in 1994, El Albaicín was declared an UNESCO World Heritage site.

The Culinary Journey: Restaurante Ruta del Azafrán

Typically, I find the dish to match the wine, but since I’m not the one cooking, the star of this post is the food. I am reluctant to say fusion because today, that seems to denote trendy experiments. Perhaps, the synonym “blending” would be more accurate. Southern Spanish/Mediterranean cuisine with international flare, while uniquely paying homage to Azafrán/Saffron – the world’s most prized and expensive spice. DYK that saffron was once used as currency? Read more here.

In a recent interview with Ruta del Azafran’s Head Chef, Antonio Martínez, he says: “The gastronomic panorama of Granada is difficult, but full of possibilities.” Martínez elaborates that gastrotourism is minimal in Granada and the majority of tourists are seeking Tapas and drinks. Read the full interview here.

Here’s what I ate for lunch on two separate occasions. (If my stomach and time allowed, I would have tried the whole menu!)

  • Milhojas de manzana y queso de cabra con reducción de Pedro Ximénez
  • Crema del verduras
  • Cous-cous de pollo
  • Tataki de atún con pickles de piña
  • Salmón a la plancha con salsa de azafrán

The Wine: Dominio de la Vega, Idilicum Cava Brut NV

On this trip and in pursuit of wine education, I was determined to discover wine beyond Tempranillo and regions other than Rioja and Ribera del Duero, as well as focus on modern Spanish winemaking. As mentioned above, I was disappointed not to find much selection in Granada, but fortunately as time went on, variety found me and most times by accident.

While you may not pair sparkling wine with steak, it’s a suitable pairing for starters, seafood and lighter dishes and of course, enjoyed just by itself. Dominio de la Vega, Idilicum Cava Brut is made from 100% Macabeo (an indigenous Spanish grape called Viura in Rioja.) Dominio de la Vega is a family winery located in the Valencian region of Utiel-Requena, within the Denomination of Origin of the same name.

Background Info on the Winery: “A high plateau of destitute clay and limestone soil, with an altitude that varies from 600 to 900 meters. The climate is continental with a great Mediterranean influence: very cold winters and very dry and hot summers with scarce rainfall. The altitude and the sea’s influence give our cava and wine their features, like their freshness and great maturity.” Read more about the harvest here.

As you may know Cava is made in the traditional method just like Champagne (le méthode champenoise.) If not, it would be labeled as sparkling wine. If you are unfamiliar with this process, a Cava specific introduction can be found here. As noted in this article, the main types of grapes used in the production of Cava are the Macabeo, the Parellada and the Xarel·lo – all of which bring their own unique characteristics to the sparkling wine.

If you are more familiar with wine, you may find this article written by Jancis Robinson quite interesting: Macabeo/Viura – the Cinderella grape? After reading it, I realized how fortunate I was to drink a wine made from 100% Macabeo and hope that in order to inspire the demand for it, you try Idilicum too.

El poema, la canción, la imagen, son solo agua extraída del pozo de la gente, y se les debe devolver en una copa de belleza para que puedan beber, y comprendan ellos mismos. ~ Federico García Lorca

The poem, the song, the picture, is only water drawn from the well of the people, and it should be given back to them in a cup of beauty so that they may drink – and in drinking understand themselves.

Federico García Lorca was born in Granada. His works were banned during Franco’s dictatorship and he was executed by the Nationalists during the Civil War. While visiting Cuevas del Sacromonte, I was fortunate to hear an actress from Extremadura recite one of his poems .

Granada is magical. Google Maps won’t take you where you should be. The magic begins once you resign to getting lost.

Until next time, keep your glass empty and let it be filled with spontaneity. Pair it with a dish of curiosity and may it lead you to deeper understanding of both yourself and the world.

@AllegoryPR #MyArtEscape

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If You’re Looking for Me, You Can Find Me In Andalucia. Olé!

If you’ve read my last post, you’ll know that I’m still working on Chapter 11, Spain.

Studying has been quite the “journey.” Yes, I can read, but am I reading with understanding and more importantly, mastering the content? Almost every night after a long of day work, I find myself reading and then re-reading, taking notes, using the flashcard and testing applications on Quizlet, watching video tutorials and completing the workbook. It’s not easy and it has been a journey.

Studying wine also means tasting and that’s where the romantic journey begins! My finger traces over wine region maps, stopping at the places where I have yet to taste their wines. I begin by searching for indigenous grapes and try to find a single varietal and then a blend to taste and compare. I imagine what the soil feels like and the various climate conditions. It’s limitless and I’ve only just scratched the surface.

I have to admit that once I reached the Sherry section of Chapter 11, I closed the book and said to myself: let’s skip that part and just learn the facts enough to pass the test. Why? Because images of my mother and her British family popped into mind. Sherry was sipped after a Sunday dinner with family or poured into Trifle. I despised both. The drink smelled jammy and a sherry and custard soaked dessert was far from appealing!

As I tried to move on to Chapter 12, guilt set in. Why study enough to get by? This journey was to improve my knowledge and therefore I shouldn’t be taking a short cut. So I backtracked, beginning with this video which changed my outlook and commanded me to keep learning.

There’s more to Jerez (Sherry) than your grandmother’s (or in my case mother’s) drink. I’ve had a taste and now I’m on a plane looking for the perfect pairing. I’ll start with Manzanilla and Fino and move on to Oloroso, sticking to young and dry selections.

The Wine: Manzanilla (Chamomile) La Gitana – Bodegas La Gitana

Sherry (the English name for Jerez) is a fortified wine. I need to learn more before I even attempt to start writing about the aging process. However, if you’re curious I suggest you start here to learn about Fino Sherry and for more general information, here. You’ll be fascinated by Solera, Criadera and Flor.

Manzanilla La Gitana is made from Palomino Fino grapes. It has 15% alcohol and can be paired with seafood and tapas.

Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana was founded in 1792.  They offer a variety of tours where you can taste five wines directly from the barrels! Find more information here.

Cada paso que damos en la tierra nos lleva a un mundo nuevo. (Every step we take on earth brings us to a new world.) ~ Federico Garcia Lorca

Until next time, go for a long walk with a glass of Sherry in hand and let it lead you to some place new.

@AllegoryPR #MyArtEscape

Special thanks to @WinebytheBay for the wine and education. You can purchase Manzanilla La Gitana at this link.

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Memories, Movies and La Meseta

If you’ve been following my Blog or are connected with me on social (@AllegoryPR #MyArtEscape,) you’ll know that I’m slowly making my way through the Society of Wine Educators (SWE) Certified Specialist of Wine Guide. I’m on Chapter 11. Don’t ask me when I’ll be done, because I don’t know. I spend my whole professional life a slave to deadlines so, I’m in no hurry and enjoy getting lost in the process.

It’s been a long time since I’ve applied myself to studying and I’m not sure even when in University, if I ever studied correctly. However, at this stage of life it just doesn’t seem good enough to memorize facts and strategize on how to pass a test.  I want to really learn wine, so going beyond the textbook is a satisfying journey. There’s so much out there: YouTube, podcasts, the internet at large, and of course, “applied” studies – Cheers!

Photo | Creative Commons

I’m fascinated by soil and climate conditions and, in the case of Spain, time spent studying Spanish film and art has become so much more meaningful. For example, in the films of Carlos Saura or Victor Erice, the use of metaphor was a means to project ideas about life under the Franco dictatorship without being censored. A desolate landscape (La Meseta,) the countryside and the forest, are symbols of Spain’s isolation from the rest of the world and a sociological emotional state. Now, there’s really no connection to Spanish wine here, but to me every time I read about a region, a scene from a movie pops into my head!

2017 Bodega Javier Sanz Verdejo
Photo Credit | Author

The Wine: 2017 Bodega Javier Sanz Verdejo

This delicious white wine is made from 100% Verdejo grapes from the Rueda DO ( Denominación de Origen.) Rueda was formed on a former riverbed of El Ebro river. As part of Castille y Léon encompasses the northern part of La Meseta Central. Whereas, Ribera del Duero is known to produce some of the best Tempranillo wines in the country, Rueda produces the region’s best white wines. Many of the Javier Sanz’s vines are 40 years old.

The Rueda region is characterized by extreme weather conditions — hot in the day and cold at night. The vines grow like bushes, close to the ground allowing the grapes to ripen at night in soil that has retained heat, but are protected by extreme heat during the day.

Isn’t nature grand?

Tasting Notes: Javier Sanz Verdejo is the best expression of Rueda and its terroir: Youthful and bright, with light shades of green. In the nose, its shows fresh and lively varietal notes of sweet grapefruit and pineapple, combined with anise and fennel as well as floral aromas. Bone-dry in the palate, its medium body is coupled with a crisp, refreshing acidity that make it perfect to drink at all times. Read more here.

The Javier Sanz Viticultor “philosophy is based on the conservation of pre-phylloxera vineyards, local grape varieties, and the recovery of varieties that have almost become extinct.”

Baked Red Snapper with tomatoes, olives, pine nuts, red pepper, asparagus and potatoes.
Photo | Author

The Dish: Baked Red Snapper

I paired the Verdejo with baked Red Snapper with pine nuts, garlic, slices of fresh tomatoes, lime zest and olive oil. On the side were roast baby potatoes and sautéed asparagus. A little bit of research, spontaneity and cooking instincts was my recipe. Oh yummy!

Some Thoughts on Modern Spanish Winemaking

In Spain, modern winemaking is focusing more on its origins such as cultivating indigenous grapes, revitalizing varieties beyond Tempranillo and showcasing regions other than Jerez and Rioja. There is a growing confidence among winemakers to produce wines that have a unique Spanish character, but moving away from traditions of being fermented for long periods in oak. Balance, freshness and quality…read more here.

During my stay in Spain, I hope to discover more modern wines and taste some that are made specifically by indigenous Spanish grapes whether that be a varietal or blend.

Just as it is important to preserve culture and traditions, I think these new ideas of creating a truly Spanish wine characteristic is exciting!

The Metaphor

It is common knowledge that grapes do well in the poorest soil conditions where they have worked hard to find water and nutrients. The growers cultivate the plants, making sure that the right type of pruning and vine training systems correspond to the climate and conditions.

Some of the most outstanding people have come from dire conditions. If things come too easy, we can take life’s opportunities for granted. It’s cliché I know, but we should give it some deeper thought every now and then.

Man takes root at his feet, and at best he is no more than a potted plant in his house or carriage till he has established communication with the soil by the loving and magnetic touch of his soles to it.

― John Burroughs

Until next time, keep your feet on the ground and glass full of wine. There’s a tradition to keep and a life lesson to be told.

#MyArtEscape @AllegoryPR

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