Monday 23 September; Hotel Caro and Sucede Restaurant, Valencia.
Today saw the most extraordinary and unforgettable event we have had the pleasure of being invited to. Castro and Gonzalez, the 109 year-old family company producing acorn fed Iberian jamón of sublime quality, assembled a group drawn from the Valencian wine and gastronomy press described as of ‘the best tasters of wine and jamón‘. The tasting was to compare and contrast the four parts of a jamon with eight Spanish wines and invite a conclusion as to which wines best pair with their Premium Reserve Jamon de Bellota with four years curing.
This was then to be followed by a lunch in Sucede Restaurant, in the basement of Caro Hotel with its original archeological remains of the city´s Islamic and Roman walls.
Castro y Gonzalez:
The family firm based in Guijuelo (Salamanca) is now in its fourth generation and headed by Miguel Gonzaléz and was represented yesterday by Aurelio Gonzaléz his son. The family farms are in the dehesas of Salamanca, Sierra Norte de Seville, Cordoba and the South of Extramadura. Here, the 100% Iberian pig is fed on cereals when young, then grass and bellota acorns increasing in size from 30kg to 180kg before slaughter.
The company have extensive distribution of their jamons and other products in Spain as well as a growing export market where China´s new middle class represents 20% of the total foreign sales.
The chosen jamón for this tasting was a Premium Reserve Bellota, at 650€ it is top of their range. A jamón has four parts each of which absorb more of the salt in which it is cured and which have different amounts of fat and distinct textures. This animal was slaughtered in 2016.
The Maza is the underpart of the thigh. It is the most desired part of the jamón for its colour, brilliance and fine texture. It has an intense flavour with a smoothness between the salt and the natural feedstuffs giving a long aftertaste in the mouth.
The Jarrete is the part nearest the ankle which is more difficult to cut because of the proximity of the shin bone. Small slices of intense juicy meat emerge with a concentration of natural oils. This part has the deepest aromas and a greater absorbtion of fat.
The Punta is at the end and the most difficult to slice, it provides irregular shaped pieces, unequal colour tones and a mixture of juiciness and a ‘bite’ in the mouth It has varied aromas appealing to all tastes.
Finally the Babilla is the top of the thigh, the thinnest part of the jamón. This has the most meat and the least absorbtion of fat. Perfect elegant slices are obtained of intense brilliance or alternatively matt in appearance. Juicy with a balance of salt and jamón flavour the aromas accentuate the curing process and it has the thinnest element of fat.
Eight wines were to be tasted with each of the four parts of the jamón as described above.
The first was a DO Cava, Gran Claustro Cuvée 2012 with 30 months on the lees. It is pale yellow straw in colour, with green tones. Fine bubbles form a crown on the surface. On the nose clean with mature fruit and notes of patisserie from the crianza. Fruity and unctuous in the mouth with hints of the oak in which part of the chardonnay was aged, (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay 50% each in a blend) dry, smooth, well balanced, creamy and elegant.
This matched best with the Maza, the bubbles opening the palate to the flavours. It also went well with the Punta, fatty, salty and rich contrasting with the freshness of the wine. With the Jarrete the bitterness in the jamón emerged and with the Babilla the wine totally dominated.
The Second wine was La Encina del Ingles Blanco 2017, an Andalucian varietal white from Ronda and a blend of Moscatel Morisco, Doradilla and Pedro Ximenéz. Golden yellow with green flashes, the predominant Moscatel gives pear, white stone fruit such as apricot, with a floral touch. Very fresh on entry, balanced and long with a salty note and citric acidity.
This went best with the Jarrete, the bitterness contrasting well with the citrus acidity. The Punta was almost in harmony, everything was more concentrated. With the Maza the wine and the alcohol in particular dominated and with the Babilla the sweetness of the Moscatel completely dominated the jamón.
Third up was Chivite Colección 125, DO Navarra, 2016 100% Chardonnay with 11 months in French oak. Pale yellow with green notes, it has an aroma which is fresh, intense and complex, with white fruit, white stone fruit, white flowers, citrus, fresh almond and fine smoky notes and oak. In the mouth it has a voluptuous attack with a perfect balance and volume and a long aftertaste.It is a perfectly harmonious wine.
This made a perfect pairing, well balanced with the Babilla, was so-so with the Punta, but did not work with the Maza and Jarrete which in particular elevated a bitterness.
We turned to a Rosado, a genus of wine VÍ Vid have always (up to now) found matches with everything! Chivite Las Fincas Rosado Joven 2018 and a blend of Garnacha and Tempranillo (60-40%) is pale rose in colour with an intense fresh red fruit and subtle, floral nose. Smooth, balanced, unctuous in the mouth, lively and persistent.
This is the first wine we had tasted with raised polyphenols which enhance bitterness. It only worked well with the Babilla where there was some harmony. With the Maza there was a metallic note, with the Jarrete the jamón was dominant and with the Punta the wine was totally in control!
The young red we moved to next was ‘Indispensable’ an Empordá Crianza from 2017 and a blend of Garnacha Negra, Samsó and Cabernet Sauvignon. Cherry red with violet edges, it has an intense soft red fruit nose. In the mouth it is balanced, fresh, and lightly tannic, smooth and with a long aftertaste.
This was a very good match with the Jarrete, cleaning the fat from the mouth but not dominating. With the Babilla the fruit came up but did not dominate, with the Maza the wine pulls the salt from the jamón and the wine was very dominant and with the Punta the wine was totally dominant.
The Conde de la Salceda DO Rioja 2014 is 100% Tempranillo and now the way the wine is made complicates the picture! The oak, the tannins and the acidity all play their part in the pairing as well. Deep garnet in colour, with a fine, complex nose with black fruit, blueberry jam, plum with spicy notes, and fine oak. Balanced on entry, deep, powerful, well structured and a long finish.
The power of the Jarrete made this the best match, softening the wine and giving a good balance. This was less so with the Punta and the Maza made the wine tannic and dry. With the Babilla the wine came up and dominated.
With a sweet wine the contrasts took another turn. Chivite Colección 125 Sweet white 2017 with 9 months crianza is Moscatel de Grano Menudo DO Navarra. Yellow straw in colour it has a complex, intense nose, white flowers, citrus peel, honey-wax, dried peach, white fruit jam and dried figs. It is balanced with great volume, very full and a good acidity.
This worked just about with the Jarrete, but with the Maza, Punta and Babilla the wine was far too powerful.
The final pairing was the great classic sherry, Tio Pepe Fino, DO Jerez, and 100% Palomino. An elegant and authentic sherry, pale gold, clean and bright. Pungent on the nose, with almond notes, full-bodied, fresh and very dry with a complex, long finish with salinity. This was perfect with the Maza, probably the best pairing of all, worked very well with the Punta which calmed the sherry, well with the Jarrete although the fino was powerful and wasn’t bad with the Babilla.
The tasting was led by Carlos Delgado, the food critic who felt the Fino was the best overall match, a view shared by all those present, followed by the Cava ( a Champagne would work equally well), the Tinto Joven and the Oaked white.
This was an educational and enlightening masterclass for which VÍ Vid would particularly like to thank Castro and González. Undoubtedly we have learned more about pairing from this exercise. Now to practice!