Summer solstice was just around the corner as we met alfresco in the intimate Vineyard Cafe Wine Room off Hyde Park Square. Great weather graced a time for good friends and grand experiments in pairing food with wine. Our theme was with the Iberian peninsula so all our wines were from Spain or Portugal. Chef Elliot Jablonski created a series of tapas to accompany the wines using traditional recipes as well as some original ideas. We began with a light hearted Prosecco from Bortolotti as platters of fried cheese and ham wrapped melon canapés were passed around. Crispy plantain tostanes topped with pork tenderloin and aioli were a highlight as we prepared for our rounds to come.
Our first wine was an Albariño, the well known Spanish white grape from the Atlantic coast. This was paired with a spicy shrimp in a buttery peppercorn sauce, which made a nice match for the floral fruity wine. Given the proximity of Rias Baixas to the ocean, seafood makes for a natural counterpart. Next up was a Portuguese red utilizing grapes typically used for port but here made in a totally dry style. With a nose of leather, fruit, and oak, the wine had an earthy rustic body that made for a fantastic match to wild mushrooms wrapped in phyllo dough. These flavors were destined to be together and made for the best pairing of the night.
We ventured across the border again with wine from a grape known variously as Monastrell, Mataro, or Mourvedre. Instead of any rustic character, this had floral and lavender aromas going to deep plum flavors and thick fruit with a lush, soft finish. The penne dish with spicy Italian sausage and Mediterranean notes was tasty but the pairing did not elevate either the food or the wine in this case. More unfortunate was the next course of a beautiful delicate Rioja served with a hearty chicken featuring capers, raisins, olives, and possibly a hint of curry-like spices presented on a pie crust. Although both were excellent on their own, the food simply overpowered the wine and made for the weakest match of the night. The Portuguese wine made for a better combination.
Our fifth course featured another beautiful Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero which exhibited youthful fruit and powerful oak perhaps in need of some bottle aging. This time the wine overwhelmed the salad of grilled peppers and mushrooms although aromas of cilantro in the dressing still managed to waft across. We were now due for another skillful match and were assuaged with a complex Priorat blend reminiscent of some Bordeaux bottlings brought together with beef tenderloin. This was given a hint of Asian flavors in the sauce and the addition of almonds brought in a definite Spanish influence to make a wholly satisfying and resounding success. We brought the evening to conclusion with baked items that Chef Jablonski learned from his family’s eastern European heritage. Not the spicy leafy green arugula but rather the airy, flaky pastry known as rugelach (ROO-ga-la), this was the perfect end to an exceptional time and tasted divine combined with the powerful roasted flavor of Starbucks coffee liquor. Sharing tapas and wines is highly recommended as a great way to experiment with different tastes and makes for camaraderie among friends both new and old. Salud!
J.T. Mayer, Vice Chargé de Presse