Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Melissa's Main St. Bistro: Spanish Tapas Dinner

Memories of my last autumn's trip to Spain. Ah! What a joyous time.

I got to relive a bit of those memories this past Sunday when I attended a Spanish Tapas Wine Dinner at Melissa's Main Street Bistro in Stoneham. I chose the wines for this dinner and spoke about them at the meal. And it was a wonderful and fun dinner. If you were not there, you missed out on a very good time.

As the meal began, we each received a plate covered by various enticing tapas and three glasses of wine, two whites and a red.

The first wine was a Ulacia Txakoli. Nicolas Ulacia e Hijos is a traditional winery located in the heart of Basque country, northern Spain. It is a small family-owned estate that has been around since the 1940’s. They only produce about 6,000 cases of wine each year, most of which is consumed locally. Txakoli is a light, white wine. It is a blend of two grapes: 85% Hondarrubi Zuri, a white grape, and 15% Hondarrubi Belza, a red grape. The wine is pale yellow in color with a vibrant aroma of green apple and minerals. It has a slight, refreshing effervescence to it and is high in acidity. But it is only 11% in alcohol. This wine pairs well with many foods, especially salty or oily foods.

I recommended that the Txakoli go with the Honey Roasted Marcona Almonds, Manchego Cheese, and Membrillo, though also suggested that everyone try it with some of the other tapas too. The Marcona Almonds were delicious as usual, probably my favorite type of almond. And the combination of Manchego with the Mebrillo also makes an excellent pairing. The Txakoli seemed to be a big hit with the other guests and I was asked by several people where they could buy some.

The second white wine was the Pazo de Senorans Alabarino from the Rias Baixas region of Spain. Rias Baixas is located in Galaicia, in the northwest corner of Spain. Because of the Atlantic Ocean, it has a specific climate that allows the Albarino grape to flourish. Pazo de Senorans, a small, family owned estate, is owned by Marisol Bueno, who has been at the forefront of wine making in this region. The Albarino has a nice crisp taste of green apple and peach with a bit of minerality.

It goes well with seafood so I suggested it should accompany the Scallop Ceviche and Salt Cod Cake with Roasted Tomato. The chef also added an extra tapas, a marinated baby octopus to the plate. The Scallop Ceviche came atop a thin, fried banana slice and was quite good. The Salt Cod Cake was also delicious and both went well with the Albarino. The octopus was not as well received by everyone, because it looked just like a baby octopus, but it actually had a good flavor to it.

The red wine was the Dominio de Tares "Baltos" Mencia. The Dominio de Tares Estate is located in the Bierzo region, in the northwest of Spain. The Mencia grape is usually very fruity when young, as well as having mineral notes. The older it gets, it becomes more elegant and complex. It is not a heavy red though and gives nice red fruit flavors. The Baltos is not an old Mencia so it is more fruity but with character.

For this wine, I recommended the Chorizo Sausage Empanada, Black Mission Figs Stuffed with Goat Cheese & Serrano Ham, and the Petite Sandwich of Spanish Style Braised Pork. And I think they all paired quite well with the wine. The Empanada was very tasty with just the right amount of spicing. The figs were superb and I could have eaten a dozen of them easily. The Braised Pork was like a slider, a small sandwich with very tasty pork inside. The Mencia wine was very popular as well, even by a couple of people who were not big red wine fans.

After the tapas, then it was time for our entree and another wine, a red. The wine was the Abadia Retuerta Seleccion Especial from the Ribera Del Duero region. Founded in 1996, Abadia is an interesting fusion of high tech and tradition. Its wine making facility is very modern, utilizing much of the latest technology. But there is also a 12th century monastery on the property. I actually visited the winery this past fall. The Seleccion Especial is a blend of 75% Tempranillo, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Merlot. The wine spends 18 months in oak and has an alcohol content of 14%. This wine has a dark red color and a very aromatic nose with more more spice, like cinnamon, rather than fruit. The wine has a rich body and on the palate it has a good balance between fruit and spice. It is a very smooth wine, with mild tannins, and a fairly long finish.

The entree consisted of a very generous portion of sliced Flank Steak A la Plancha with Patatas Bravas (Spanish Potatoes with Red Pepper and Garlic Aioli) and Olive Oil Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Cabreles Bleu Cheese. What a delicious entree! The steak was tender and flavorful, and went very well with the Bleu Cheese. The potatoes were cooked just right. And there was so much food, especially considering how large the tapas plate had been. The wine went perfectly with the entree and it too was a very popular wine.

Yet just when you thought you could eat no more, dessert was still forthcoming. For a dessert wine, I chose the Castano Monastrell Dulce from the Yecla region, which is located not far from Spain's east coast. Bodegas Castano has been involved in winemaking for generations. The vast majority of their vineyards are planted with Monastrell. And this wine is made form 100% Monastrel. It is a deep, rich red in color with an intriguing nose of candied fruit and prunes. On the palate, it has some sweetness but it is far from cloying. And it has much flavor as well, touches of prunes, figs and dates as well as vanilla and cinnamon. It has some complexity and it very different from many white dessert wines that people may be used to. This wine especially goes well with chocolate.

Our dessert plate was like another dish of tapas as we received a bunch of different desserts, including: Candied Fruits and Nuts, Cinnamon Churos with Hot Chocolate, Almond Cake with Poached Pears, Walnut Gourmandise Cheese, Sweet Rioja Gelée with Champagne Grapes and Spanish Coffee Mousse with Roasted Pistachio Cookie. So much food! And it all was absolutely delicious. Some of the desserts were very different such as the Walnut Gourmandise Cheese, but quite tasty. Many people liked the dessert wine, except for a few who just were not fans of sweet wines.

Though I did tell everyone about the wines, I also later went to each table a couple times to see what everyone felt about the wines and the dinner. I received a lot of very positive feedback. Most people were unfamiliar with many of the wines but definitely enjoyed them. And they also loved the food. Jason, the Chef, did a superb job on this dinner. The quantity, quality and taste were all top notch. Service was also excellent, deftly handled by Melissa and Samantha. Overall, just a great time.

As I had lots of fun, I will likely assist on some future wine dinners at Melissa's Main St. Bistro so I hope to see you there.

Melissa's Main Street Bistro
407 Main Street
Stoneham, MA
Phone: 781-438-7243

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