For most of my life I ranked France clearly on the top rung of the ladder when it came to wine. But then I started to spend a considerable amount of time in Mexico. And in Mexico there wasn’t much French wine to be had. Here, the big three countries, as far as retail shelf space is concerned, are Chile, Argentina and Spain. So I started to drink and better appreciate the wines of those three countries. And, as the years went by, I started to rank Spain higher and higher on the pleasure ladder.

“It could be argued that Spain
is a viticultural miracle.
After years on the sidelines
of the world of fine wine,
it is now a major player.”

Jancis Robinson

I concentrated mostly on the wines from the regions of Rioja and Navarra. The red wines made primarily from the Tempranillo grape. They had this long standing reputation as Spain’s very best. They were categorized by how long the wine was aged in oak barrels and then aged further in the bottle going up the quality and, of course, price scale from Joven to Crianza to Reserva to Gran Reserva. I used to wish that I could afford the Reservas and Gran Reservas but on the odd occasion that I (or someone else) splurged, I realized that, perhaps, I preferred the freshness and fruitiness of the Jovens and Crianzas; perhaps I wanted to taste grapes not oak trees.

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Spain has always made a lot of wine. They have more acreage planted with grapes than any other wine-producing nation. And like a lot of wine-producing countries, the designations and labeling of the wines is more complicated than Swahili to understand. Spain has seven different official wine regions but they’re not the obvious geographic choices like Rioja (it is actually part of a region called Ebro Valley). Spanish wines also have designations such as VdM, VdT, VCIG, VC, DOC, and VP that supposedly indicate the quality of the wine but reading an explanation of them reads like an SNL script. So my advice is forget all that mumbo jumbo unless you’re studying for your master sommelier exam.

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What I do now is just concentrate on the grape variety (though you won’t always find that on the label either) and the four varieties that have become my favorites are Garnacha and Tempranillo for reds and Viura and Verdejo for whites. Those four grapes along with two sherries were featured in a recent wine-pairing dinner in San Miguel de Allende.

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The event was held at Mi Casa Bistro with the most hospitable Anders Litzen as maitre d’, Kajsa Åkerblom as our chef, and Arael Gómez from Argot del Vino as sommelier.

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“Look for Spain to continue to soar.
Today it is emerging as a leader
in wine quality and creativity,
combining the finest characteristics
of tradition with a modern and
progressive winemaking philosophy.”

Robert Parker

We started with Martín Berasategui Blanco 2014, a wine from Navarra that combines the Viura grape that I like so much with Chardonnay in a 60/40 ratio.

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Since Ferran Adria’s retirement, Martín Berasategui has become the most celebrated chef in Spain. So you can presume that, if he puts his name on a label, the wine is going to be very good. It worked nicely as a quaffing wine before the first course arrived and even better when it was paired with the garlicky gazpacho. Like all of the wines that evening, it comes from distributor Argot del Vino and is priced at a very appetizing $200.

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The second course was spicy shrimp in a parsley and ancho chile oil. Sommelier Arael had to make a last minute change to the Verdejo we had planned on but it was a very welcome change.

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Castelo de Medina 2014 is 100% Verdejo from Rueda in central Spain. In 2014, it was named the best Verdejo in the world and the best white wine in Spain by the WAWWJ, the World Association of Writers and Journalists of Wines and Spirits.

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It has aromas of grass, apple, pear and fennel and is nicely balanced on the palate. It sells for a reasonable $320.

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When I think of Sherry, I think of my great aunts holding their cut glass stemware between their thumbs and forefingers and pouring in an ounce or two from their cut glass decanters before dinner. But my great aunts never lived in Spain and, in Spain, not just great aunts drink Sherry, especially when they’re eating Jamon Serrano.

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It was Sommelier Arael Gómez’ somewhat bold decision to be very authentic with this pairing. The dry Sherry, Emilio Hidalgo Fino N.V. is made from 100% Palamino grapes and has notes of olives and roasted almonds on the nose.

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“It also goes well with spicy Mexican food like adobos”, said sommelier Arael. A bottle is priced at $380.

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I gave huge plaudits to chef Kajsa for the next course. To attempt a paella for a crowd of 65 people and have it come to the table hot and moist and without any of the ingredients over or undercooked is a major accomplishment.

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The paella was paired with our first red, a Rioja. Picardo Crianza 2014 is 90% Tempranillo, 10% Garnacha. It has the typical cherry aromas of a Rioja with hints of vanilla, sage and licorice from the 12 months it spends in American oak barrels. It’s available from Argot del Vino for $320.

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There is always controversy as to whether the best Tempranillo comes from Rioja or Ribera del Duero and we had the opportunity to try one after the other as the pork stew was served. Hizan Joven 2014 is 100% Tempranillo from a single vineyard in the north central portion of Spain. It has an intense aroma of raspberries and is priced at $250.

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We still had one course to go and I sadly wondered if it would be the last dish that I’d ever have prepared by Kajsa Åkerblom. Kajsa and her husband Anders Litzen, two of the best restauranteurs to ever work in San Miguel de Allende recently announced that they were returning to their native Sweden. The dish was crema catalana, a Spanish classic, as was the wine that was served with it.

The wine was another Sherry but a very different Sherry. Emilio Hidalgo Pedro Ximenez is sweet, very sweet, with aromas of caramel, pecans, figs and raisins. At $500 for a 375 ml. bottle, it’s well over my budget but the opportunity to taste what is considered a great Sherry was unforgettable.

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Spain currently sits third behind France and Italy with just over 14% of the world’s wine production, but the gap between the three countries is narrowing. If Spanish producers continue to abandon those dark, dry, over-tannined and sometimes overpriced wines that brought them fame in the 20th Century and employ modern technology to produce fresh and fruity wines that are much more to my palate, they may attain that world number one position in my lifetime. We had four good examples of 21st Century style wine at the Mi Casa Bistro dinner. The more young Spanish wines I drink, the more I’m glad I spend half my life in Mexico where there are so many good Spanish wines to choose from.

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All of the wines that we consumed at the wine-pairing dinner are available from Arael Gómez Tello of Argot del Vino. You can email Arael and place your order at arael@argotdelvino.com. There is a minimum order quantity of one case.

Bistro Mi Casa features the music of Gil Gutiérrez and friends on Tuesday through Friday evenings. For reservations, email bistromicasa@gmail.com.

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