In simplest terms, the ideal way to enjoy a glass of wine is paired with the cuisine of the region the wine is from. In early days of wine making, wine was intended to be the drink enjoyed with food during the daily meals; even before you could safely drink water there was wine. If you ask most winemakers, they will agree their wine is made with thoughts of the food pairing in mind,. Think about how “California Cuisine” was created in the heart of Napa in the 1980′s and early 1990′s by chefs like Alice Waters, Michael Chiarello, Thomas Keller and Cindy Pawlcyn who focused on local products meant to highlight the flavors of the area and pairing well with wine coming from the valley; it is also why you enjoy a hearty, beefy Malbec in Argentina while feasting on smoky, barbecued meat, pork and lamb at an afternoon Asado; why tomatoes are one of the hardest things to pair, yet Chianti is always the ideal match for pasta with marinara sauce; and why artichokes and asparagus can give a Sommelier a headache when they see them on a pairing menu except in Spain, where the ideal pairing can range from a crisp, acidic yet still fruit forward Cava or racy, dry Fino Sherry.
The idea of eating and drinking regionally is fully embraced by the Spanish culture, as was evident on my recent trip as a guest of Segura Viudas. Wine lists were filled with selections from throughout Spain’s diverse regions paired with menus containing lavish selections of seasonal veggies, fresh seafood and shellfish, lots of pork and locally produced olive oil flavoring everything.
The final day of the trip was spent with Chef Ismael Prados touring the Barcelona Mercat de Sant Josep de la Bouqueria, one of the oldest open markets in the country dating back to 1217; followed by a four-course cooking class upstairs at the market with the chef and his team of fellow cooks.
Chef Isma is a rock star among Spain’s celebrity chefs, often referred to as the Jamie Oliver of Catalonia. He is a cookbook author, former star of several popular television cooking shows including “Cuina X Solters”(Cooking for Singles) and “La Cuina de l’Isma” (Isma’s Kitchen,) and soon to be restaurateur who also visited Dallas last year as a featured chef with Central Market during their Spanish celebration. And, he is charming, gracious, funny, talented, knowledgeable, fiercely proud of his roots and delightfully humble as he shook hands with fans throughout the amazing market filled with gorgeous produce, freshly baked bread, dried mushrooms, and every kind of pork, meat and fish you could want.
While walking the Bouqeria and listening to Chef Isma describe various items and purveyors I quickly got a sense of the type of chef he is, similar to some of the other chefs we had met throughout our week like young Chef Pere Massana of Divinic, a new tapas and wine restaurant in Vilafranca del Penedès.
Mainly, cook locally, cook seasonally and, perhaps most importantly, cook with respect to the ingredients.
Chef Isma notes his heritage and the heritage of all Catalan cooks when describing his cooking style, whether these cooks have been formally trained or trained at the knee of their Spanish grandmothers, the use of their local products prevails over everything else.
Arros Moli de Pals, a rice used in a baked paella style dish Isma created during our lunch came from a regional producer established in 1452; his sofrito, the common base of most dishes in Spain, was created from regionally grown onions, red peppers and tomatoes, and slowly cooked in a bath of local olive oil to a sweet, caramelized layer of local flavor; Catalan artichoke hearts bathed in fragrant olive oil, were slowly cooked sous-vide, and quickly finished in a hot pan with freshly shelled market peas; and piles of cod, squid, lobster, shrimp, clams, jumbo whole scallops, oysters, octopus, and razor clams that arrived that morning from boats docked just a few miles away at the Mediterranean Sea were tempting elements to chose from for our luncheon meal.
Preserving and honoring the heritage is as important as creating great food; but when the ingredients available need such little manipulation to be delicious, that preservation is easy. Chef Isma noted that every region has their own way of making rice, just like every family has their own way of making their sofrito – the main tool you need for good cooking is a smart head and the best, freshest ingredients, his preferably from Catalonia.
When pairing these ingredients with the wines of the Penedes region you quickly understand why eating and drinking locally is so ideal. Chef Isma’s menus often start with the wine, pairing his flavors around what wine will be served.
For our cooking class and lunch we made a salad of huge Fresan strawberries, just in season, and spicy baby mustard greens garnished with fresh trout roe paired with the cherry, berry and spice filled Segura Viudas Brut Rose, enhancing the sweet and savory elements of the dish lifting the juicy fruit flavors of the Tanat grape based Cava.
A second course of slow poached cod throat (with a high amount of gelatin helping create the sauce) was served with the sous-vide artichokes and baby peas, finished simply with more of the beautiful, local olive oil was paired with Segura Viudas Aria Brut, the second tier, slightly more high end Cava from Segura Viudas which the multi-talented chef sabered for us. The fresh, vibrant and lively bubbly cut through some of the richness of the dish, while marrying well with the clean, spring flavors of the veggies.
Roasted blue foot chicken roulade served with the fragrant baked rice dish was served with Mas D’ Aranyo Reserva, a food friendly, slightly earthy red blend of Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon, the only red still wine Segura Viudas makes and unfortunately only available in Europe.
Segura Viudas Off Dry Cava, just slightly sweet and spicy, paired well with warm baking spices in a delicate dessert of poached pears with cardamom and vanilla ice cream.
After the time spent with Chef Isma and his talented team, along with the delicious tastings and pairings tried throughout the week, the obvious love of wine and food permeates every element of the Spanish culture, with incredible attention given to pairing regionally. I am not sure they are quite like some Italians I know that plan what is for lunch during breakfast and what is for dinner during lunch, but the celebration of food with wine is an honored part of their culture.
A few other interesting and delicious pairings I tasted throughout the trip included poached cod with honey and pistachios served with the tropical fruit filled still white wine Segura Viudas produces from the Xarel-lo grape, Crue de Lavit; a foie gras and mushroom stuffed artichoke with the Segura Viudas Brut Rose, giving the foie the berry and spice notes it shines with; spring pea soup with shaved ham and lots of olive oil with the Segura Viudas Brut Reserva; roasted pork shoulder with Shiitake mushrooms paired with 2006 Valdubon Reserva Ribera Del Duero Tempranillo, Segura Viudas’ sister winery; simply sauteed baby squid with olive oil and pulled roasted pork tacos with pickled red onions were served with red fruit and spice filled Fra Guerau Rose from the Montsant region, another sister winery of Segura Viudas.
With flavors like these and the elevated respect given to each ingredient it is hard not to fall in love with the food, wine and the people of Spain. And, in bringing these ideas home, to enjoy the flavors of the season and to celebrate the products of our region. To help pair your favorite foods with a light, crisp Cava Segura Viudas just launched their Discover and Share Your Perfect Pair facebook app to help create your perfect pairing. The app is available here and open to anyone over the age of 21.