An eclectic mix of activity for VÍ vid this last week!
Firstly a seminar on three of the rice varieties which are used in Valencia organised in las Arenas hotel with participation of the 18 restaurants taking part in the III Jornadas Gastronómicas de Arroces Marineros Playa de Las Arenas.
Those attending learned at the hands of Santos Ruiz, Head of the DO Arroz de Valencia the basic attributes of rice in general and three varieties in particular (Bomba, Gleva and Basmati.) We also heard in what sort of dishes they should be used, and sampled three examples cooked in the hotel´s own kitchens.
The rices were provided by one of the growers, La Campana, who are credited with introducing both Bomba and Gleva into Valencia.
Anyone who has ever cooked a paella will know that Valencia´s flagship gastronomic dish is difficult to do well. In fact it is a recognised fact that it is the most difficult dish in the canon of Spanish cookery to prepare. It is affected by the type of rice used, the proportion of water to rice, the size of the pan, evaporation rates, air pressure and a host of other factors. Cooks will tell you that it rarely takes the eighteen minutes it says on the packet, once the rice goes in. Few realise that rice has several other properties that affect the way the dish tastes, both texturally and flavourwise.
Take Basmati for example, the rice best known for its inclusion in the cuisine of Thailand, India and Pakistan. It can be a very fragrant rice, with hints of lemon but most notably it has an aromatic note of dried nuts such as almonds. In fact, Basmati does not absorb other flavours so there is little point in cooking it in stocks or with spices. It will absorb the colourings which are sometimes added in curries but retains its own flavour. It is this which makes it a good accompaniment with light seafood dishes or in a salad. We tried it with a fillet of sea bass and a light seafood sauce cooked with peppers. The rice was separated, had a good texture in the mouth, firm but not gritty and its flavour added well to the delicate fish . On the other hand, not all rice dishes are paellas. Here in Valencia we have dishes which use more stock and are served `meloso´. Gleva was used in the example we tried, an arroz with bledes and gambetes (Rice cooked with a stock containing potatos, small prawns and fresh leaves of chard). Whereas Basmati is a long grain rice, Gleva and Bomba are round grain rices which do absorb flavours but unlike other rices do not need washing first to remove starch. This dish had a deeply earthy flavour overlaid with the fish stock, concentrated and the rice added a texture and foil to what otherwise would have been too rich.
The third dish was a more recognisable paella cooked with the Bomba, wild mushrooms and free range chicken. Bomba is served drier, loose and with all the stock and flavour of the ingredients locked in. It can stand `over cooking´ to caramelise the rice at the bottom of the pan into socarrat, much favoured by Valencians. This dish had achieved that.
The three dishes were accompanied by wines from Bodegas Nodus and commented on by José Manuel Sanchez, Sumiller . The Basmati and sea bass was accompanied by the bodegas Brut Cava, a blend of Macabeo and Chardonnay with nine months crianza on the lees. On the nose it is light fresh and notable for its apple and almond notes and light patisserie. In the mouth it has well integrated bubbles and is fresh.
Second the Chardonnay 2015 accompanied the arroz meloso. This is straw yellow in colour with lots of tropical fruit on the nose. In the mouth it is rich and full.
The third wine was the Reserva de la Familia a blend of Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon. It has lots of red fruit on a fresh nose, hints of jam. 18 months in oak has not hidden this fruit in the mouth and this went well with the rich chicken and mushroom flavours absorbed in the paella. The seminar included a question and answer session and VÍ vid joined in the debate, Marian commenting that in our courses we regularly recommended pairing of wines with food and in particular how English-speaking people prefer to taste their wines, in particular drinking cava as an aperitif. All too soon however the seminar was over, but it had been a fascinating and educational experience. VÍ vid also undertook a pre-tasting of some of the wines for our next English language tasting and planned the wines for the October, November and December meetings. One of the Bodegas whose wines we will be highlighting will be Sierra Norte. For the October tasting we have selected the two wines from the Mariluna range and for the December meeting the four Pasión´s. The Mariluna Blanco 2015, 12.5%ABV, DO Valencia, is 60% Macabeo, with 20% each of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. The bodega has vineyards across Valencia, Alicante and Utiel-Requena and sells wines from all three DO´s . This is a very mediterranean white. Pale gold, clean and bright it is immediately fresh, floral and then as it evolves in glass a little it becomes aromatic with apricot and apricot stone notes. The initial pass is clean and fresh, ripe apple, it fills the mouth then full with ripe fruit flavours and a good balancing acidity, leading to a long full finish.
It was a perfect foil for some home made empanadillas with pisto, balancing the strong tomato element and with a whole camembert cooked `en-croute´ with bacon and caramelised onion, the acidity being the foil for the richness of the cheese. The Mariluna Tinto 13%ABV DO Valencia 2014 is a blend of 40%Bobal with 30% each of Tempranillo and Monastrell. It is a medium bodied wine with a deep cherry colour and long legs. On the nose it is smoky, rich, with ripe red and black fruits, cherries and plums with terciary notes of vanilla from the oak. In the mouth, smooth with very rounded tannins, vanilla, black fruit and a long fruity finish with hints of oak in the aftertaste. Well balanced. VÍ vid were able to enjoy a superb lunch in Asador El Pastoret, ( Carretera en Cortes 88) a restaurant wedged between the edge of the old port towns, famous for their Holy Week processions and the edge of modern Valencia. Here they specialise in jamons de pata negra and ibericos from Joselito and cook meat over the brassa…. Valencia´s woodfired barbecues often using vines or orange wood.
We were in the company of Pedro G. Mocholí, (Las Provincias) food critic and expert on gastronomy and Julian Carazo, a madrileño now resident in Valencia, a journalist who runs Maridaje Gourmet y Mas. The restaurant enjoys a large car-park, a shaded terrace and inside there is ample space in the main dining room. This is a very popular asador, witness the fact that there were no spare tables when we went. The service did not fail however, happy, accommodating waiters who were most attentive even when asked to fetch more glasses so that we could try the wines . We selected plates of jamon, copa ( cured loin) and were served smoked sardines on freshly toasted bread with charred aubergine and peppers. The bread, cooked in their own ovens accompanied the meal amply lubricated with Vergamonte olive oil from the co-op in Higueruelas, a village in the Serranos . The main course was a simple shared plate of lamb chops cooked over the brassa to perfection, served with fresh cooked chips….simple but perfect and we repeated the plate of chips. A selection of home-made desserts and coffee completed this superb experience.
Last but far from least we attended the launch by Bodegas Vegamar ( Calles- DO Valencia Alto Turia) of their new flagship wines Esencia.
The bodega which is part of Grupo Disber have introduced a new top of the range Cava and a new red.
The launch took place in their shop and events centre where you can also enjoy a meal, on Calle Colón. Pablo Ossorio the Bodegas Technical Director was joined by Maripaz Quilez winemaker, and Pepe Hidalgo of UVÉ. Cava Esencia is a blend of Garnacha and Chardonnay ( 50% each ) with 20 months en rima. Pale old gold in colour with very fine persistent lines of bubbles it was floral on the nose with citric notes. Complex and evolving as it warmed up. As it contains juice from red grapes ( albeit a blanc de noirs) it is better served a couple of degrees warmer so that these notes are released. In the mouth it is complex with well-integrated bubbles and a very enjoyable experience. Esencia tinto is a blend of Garnacha and Syrah from the bodegas vineyards above Calles. From the 2014 vintage it has been in French oak for 14 months before bottling. The nose is a mixture of fresh and mature red and black fruit, the syrah dominating a little but in the mouth the strong fruit was from the Garnacha. Aromatic, intense, unctuous and beautifully balanced it has a long fruity finish. This is a wine to keep which will develop well over the next four to five years. Both wines come in a special box and sell for 20€ a bottle. The cava is unique in Valencia in that the cork is secured with a grappa. What else??… Did we cook a traditional valencian paella?…. We think so… But that is another story…