TURNING ON TO WINE & TAPAS AT WEGMANS
Providence Town Center
On Thursday evening, April 6, 2011 in a private room adjacent to Wegmans Café, members of the Regency at Providence Wine Club and other wine lovers from the Regency at Providence community were treated to a thoroughly enjoyable evening of “Wine & Tapas.” Many, many thanks to Mary Jane Doyle for coordinating with Wegmans in organizing this fun-filled and informative event.
Tasted were five wines from Spain and South America (2 whites, 3 reds)… each wine paired with an appropriate tapa… Tapas (the plural form) is the designation given to a wide variety of appetizers or small snacks that originated as a part of Spanish cuisine. However, in select Spanish bars/restaurants, as well as in their counterparts in North American and the United Kingdom, the tapas concept has evolved into an entirely unique and sophisticated culinary art form.
The first white wine sampled was a Martin Codax Albariño Rias Baixas from Spain ($11.99). Albariño (also known as Alvarinho) is a low-yielding white wine grape grown in Portugal and in Spain’s Galicia region. Rias Baixas refers to the southern part of Galicia. The Albariño grape is capable of producing creamy, rich, and exceedingly complex wines. This particular vintage – eminently quaffable and rife with layers of peach, apple, and lemon – was quite reminiscent of an Italian Pinot Grigio. And its crisp mineral elements and racy acidity married quite well with an excellent octopus/scallop salad imbued with hints cilantro, garlic & herbs, and splashes of olive oil & vinegar.
The second white wine, hailing from Argentina, the Alamos Torrontés Mendoza ($8.99), requires just a bit of explanation. Alamos is the name of the winery; Torrontés is the grape variety; and Mendoza refers to the growing region, which produces 70 – 75 percent of Argentina’s wine and 85 percent of its quality vintages. The Torrontés varietal is known for its fresh, aromatic white wines – and the Alamos is certainly no exception. Some may find this wine a bit too florally scented, but I think it makes a welcome change from over-oaked Chardonnays and cookie-cutter Sauvignon Blancs, Rieslings and Pinot Gris. And this particular vintage had just enough aromatic punch to stand up to the twice-fried green plantain topped with a seasoned shrimp.
The first red wine tasted was the Las Rocas Granacha Calatayud from Spain ($9.99); and, once again, a bit of explanation is in order. The producer of the wine is San Alejandro; Granacha (Grenache) is the grape variety; Calatayud refers to the 19,000-acre Aragón growing region northeast of Madrid; and Las Rocas (literally, “the rocks”) has reference to the type of soil in the individual San Alejandro vineyards that produced this vintage… And this is really a lovely wine. Soft and supple, it reverberates with black raspberry and hints of spicy oak. A first-rate match for the sweetness of the fig cake crowned with a salty triangle of Manchego cheese.
The Santa Ema Carmenère ($12.39) is produced in Chile’s Cachapoal Valley, near the city of Peumo. At its best, Carmenère is a grape that is capable of turning out wines that are full-bodied, full-flavored, and deeply colored, combining some of the best qualities of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. And this particular vintage is big, bold, and intensely concentrated, awash with ripe fruit and hints of black pepper and chocolate. No question, this is clearly an assertive red wine – some might say too assertive after reveling in the supple subtleties of the aforementioned Las Rocas Granacha – but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Yes, it’s deep, dark, and earthy… But it is also nicely balanced – tannins, oak, alcohol – and that keeps it from overwhelming the palate… And it had more than sufficient character to marry exceedingly well with the rosemary roasted lamb with which it was paired.
The final red wine, which was partnered with the chocolate mousse, was the Bodega Norton Malbec Mendoza ($10.29) from Argentina. Malbec is a French red wine grape that is grown in Bordeaux, the Loire Valley, and Cahors, where it is generally blended with other grape varieties to a greater or lesser extent. In Argentina, however, it is produced as a single grape varietal. I freely confess that I have never been a fan of Malbec, usually finding it a bit too inky and rugged for my taste. The Bordega Norton really isn’t a bad wine… but it is quite rough around the edges. And those rough edges were even more apparent because of the wine’s unfortunate match up with the creamy and decadently rich chocolate mousse. And the representative from Capital Wine & Spirits, who was present the evening of our tasting, was quite honest, admitting apologetically that, for a number of reasons, this vintage had been a somewhat ill-advised last minute substitute. The Norton Malbec would have blended perfectly well with a robust beef or lamb stew; but when set against the unctuous sweetness of the mousse… well, let’s just say that this was hardly a marriage made in heaven. In fact, this is one duo that should have filed for divorce before ever reaching the altar.
In his book The Wine Avenger, wine critic Willie Gluckstern writes that “Most people choose to ignore the possibility that any rhyme or reason might apply to matching wines with food.” However, as Mr. Gluckstern goes on to note: “… Like it or not, profound chemical changes occur when wine meets food and both meet saliva. These changes alter the flavor of both, sometimes for the better but more often for the worse.”
Both food and wine give us pleasure. And when some forethought is given to their meaningful integration (as it was in four out of the five pairings during our “Wine & Tapas” evening), that pleasure is significantly enhanced.
By the way, just for the record, and depending upon your particular oenological predilections, I would recommend all the wines sampled – yes, even the Malbec. Served with an appropriately rustic dish (and avoiding anything approximating chocolate mousse like the plague), I’m sure it would acquit itself with suitable distinction
The Artful Diner
Diner is an independent, freelance food writer. His latest review and an archive of past reviews for restaurants around the country and the world can be found on this site on the REVIEWS page.
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