A taste of Spain

Tortuga Rum Company and Luca Restaurant teamed up to host a wine dinner that featured foods and wine from Spain.

When it comes to European wines, most people think about France and Italy. But right behind those two European countries in terms of wine production is Spain. In fact, with some 2.9 million acres of vines planted, Spain has more acreage of wine grapes than any other wine producing country in the world. Yet most people know less about Spanish wine than they do about French and Italian wines.

That’s starting to change. Spanish wine sales in the United States have increased dramatically in the past decade as consumers discover that when weighing quality versus price, Spanish wines give more bang for the buck than the more famous wines for their European neighbours.

However, the trend toward Spanish wines has been slow here in the Cayman Islands. Tortuga Rum Company, with its new focus on wines from around the world, wants to help change that and on 3 November, it hosted a wine dinner called A Taste of Spain at Luca Restaurant featuring wines from Spain.

On hand for the event was Javier Schoendorff, a director of The Zamora Americas, Inc, a distributor of Spanish – and some Italian – wines and liqueurs for the Americas. After a welcome reception featuring Prosecco and spoons of wahoo ceviche, Schoendorff welcomed guests and told them a little about Spanish wines.

“There are good wines and bad wines from Spain, just like from every other country,” he said. “We’re in the business of doing good wines.”

Served with the first wine – 2009 Algareiro Albariño ($19.95 retail at Tortuga) – was an appetizer course that featured five items – shrimp fritter, Serrano ham, steamed octopus, marinated anchovy and olive pate.

Albariño is the most popular Spanish white wine, growing particularly well in the Rías Baixas region of the northwest part of the country, just above Portugal.

“This is the area of Spain where the best quality white wines come from,” Schoendorff said.

The light-bodied, acidic and unoaked wine has floral aromas, with a hint of fresh grapefruit and minerality. On the finish at the back end of the palate are notes of almonds.

“You don’t find those aromas in any other white grape in the world,” Schoendorff said while smelling the wine. “Maybe Viognier – it’s similar.”

With the appetizers, the Albariño went best with the steam octopus.

“This wine goes perfect with seafood and various soups,” Schoendorff said. “Also with sushi and oriental foods. It’s booming in the US and Japan, and in many other places in Europe.”

For the second course, Luca served seafood paella with Ramon Bilbao Crianza ($15.65) from Rioja, a wine made from 100 per cent Tempranillo grapes.

“Crianza means nursery in Spanish,” said Schoendorff, explaining that wine with this description has to be aged at least two years, at least 12 months of which has to been in oak barrels. In the case of this wine, he said it was aged 14 months in American oak. With aromas of ripe berries, tobacco and smoky wood, the Crianza represented a great value wine, Schoendorff said.

Served next was slow-roasted pork and lamb shoulder with white bean and chorizo stew, along with two wines – 2001 Ramon Bilbao Gran Reserva ($28.99) and 2005 Ramon Bilbao Reserva ($20.80).

Schoendorff said Reserva wines are all aged a minimum of three years, at least one of which must be in wood barrels. Gran Reserva wines are aged at minimum of five years, at least two of which must be in wood barrels. Both of the two wines tasted were 90 per cent Tempranillo and 10 per cent two other grapes – Graciano and Mazuelo – to help it age longer.

The Gran Reserva in particular was impressive, exhibiting aromas of tobacco, leather and cedar.

“If you look up Gran Reserva in the dictionary, you should see a photo of this wine,” Schoendorff said.

Now 10 years old, the Gran Reserva showed the capability of the wine to age. Though the wine had picked up a brick colour along the rim, it still had good fruit and nice structure, with soft tannins.

The Reserva, which got a 90 point rating from Wine & Spirits, was a complex wine with an earthy aroma.

“2005 was an excellent vintage,” said Schoendorff.

As a surprise, guests were given tasting-size glasses of Mirto, Ramon Bilboa’s top wine made from grapes taken from vines 70 to 80 years old. In addition to lower yield from the older vines, Schoendorff said the grapes used to make the wines were carefully sorted to remove any non-optimal fruit. The wine is aged for 14 months in new French oak barrels.

The result is an extremely elegant, award-winning wine suitable for special occasions, but has a friendly price of $51.99 retail.

“If we were French, we would sell it for over $100,” 
Schoendorff said.

The evening finished off with creama catalana, a dessert which Schoendorff said was called something different in France.

“There it is called crème brûlée,” he said. “But it’s the same thing.”

The dessert was served with Villa Massa liquore di limone di Sorrento, more commonly known as limoncello. Normally served chilled from the freezer at the end of a meal as a digestifs, Schoendorff said real limoncello has to come from the Sorrento region of southern Italy and use the zest of Sorrento lemons in its production.

“The essential oils in the lemon peel are unique to that area of the world,” Schoendorff said.

With so many limoncello-like products on the market, Schoendorff said his company markets Villa Massa with blind tastings and lets the buyers be the judges.

“It’s risky to do that, but 95 per cent of the time, they choose 
Villa Massa.”