Photos and text by Richard Frisbie
My recent visit to Spain was ostensibly to follow the Ruta de Santa Teresa, but honestly my primary interest was to sample the wine and food that the Castilla y Leon region is famous for. My colleagues and I ate in many great restaurants and had incredible wines both paired with the meals and as tastings in the wineries themselves. But the most unusual wine tasting occurred in Valladolid.
Valladolid is the largest city in Castilla y Leon, a region in Spain west of Madrid that, because of all the World Heritage sites, calls itself “the world’s largest living museum”. Valladolid has its fair share of those sites, along with some great parks and an engaging pedestrians-only section of streets lined with fabulous architecture that houses great restaurants and shops.
Just a short walk from the centrally-located Hotel Gareus, Valladolid’s modern and very spacious hotel, I attended a wine tasting on one of those attractive streets in a space that was both a wine bar and a shop – Senorita Malauva.
Earlier in the day I entered the shop and couldn’t decide what it was, except that it was looking for some kind of identity. It was very modernly appointed, with art on the walls and showcases of stylish but disparate items for sale around the shop. The back wall held artfully displayed bottles of wine, too, but none of these elements seemed to add up to a whole. I left not being able to figure it out.
That evening it all came together when our wine tasting was held there. The glass tops of the lighted showcases held tiny place settings with wine glasses and trays of tapas. My traveling companions and I sat at stools around one such case, with the others all likewise surrounded by mostly Spanish—speaking young professionals.
While local vintners plied their wares to the Spanish crowd, the owner graciously poured us local wines and paired them with local foods for a most unusual and informal wine tasting. He carefully explained each in English as he gave us an overview of why Valladolid attracted so many culinary tourists.
He said “There are more than 1000 wineries employing approximately 20,000 people in the area. Food processing as an industry is also a major employer with local companies as well as major multinationals
providing a diversity of products. Then you have the local cuisine, especially the hams and charcuterie and the aged sheep cheeses that rival the best in Spain.” He concluded by saying that “90% of all the tourists that visit Valladolid come for the wine and food.”
He certainly had us pegged correctly! The highlights (of the wine, at least) included a verdejo called Gilda, crisp and satisfyingly dry, a clarete, which I erroneously referred to as a rose’ (rose’
would have only red grapes, this had two red and two white) called Barguilla, and a hearty red called Cordella.
The amazing part of the tasting was the tapas the wines were paired with. Served with the Gilda were eight local cheeses, each significantly different from the last, chosen to represent the hundreds of local cheeses available. They were hard, medium and soft cheeses, smoked, infused with wine, herb crusted and blue, running the gamut of
fresh to aged in local caves for years. As a person who routinely picks the cheese course for dessert I was thrilled to taste them all!
Naturally the charcuterie platter featuring the aged sausages and thin slices of the local jamon iberico was a big hit. Spanish cured meats are the best in the world, and Valladolid’s is a fine example of their greatness. But the big surprise of the evening was the beef.
A local farmer raises some of the beef cows Castilla y Leon is known for. They live a very good life which, to a certain extent, is modeled after mine. They receive regular massages, drink red wine and listen to classical music! Where we part ways is that after a full life, meat from these cattle is cured, as pork is cured to make ham, and air-dried to perfection. The end product is called Cecina. The best prosciutto and jamon cannot compare to this cured beef ham of pampered cows.
There was, of course, more food and more wine served that evening, but you’ve just read about the best of it. Now it is time to schedule a visit to the Castilla y Leon region to taste them for yourself. The art exhibit celebrating the 500th anniversary of St Teresa’s birth, titled: Teresa of Avila, a Master of Prayer, runs through early November, 2015. Late summer and fall are the perfect times to let the strong dollar deliver the best of Spain’s food, wine and culture – so grab a place at the table and Enjoy!