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18 May
2010

 

Savouring Spain Slowly  Print

Aqualung at TresWhat’s that you say, Aqualung? Yes, we know. There isn’t a better qualified venue in Los Angeles than SLS Hotel/The Bazaar by José Andrés to hold the 17th Annual Great Match: Vivacious Varietals/Tantalizing Tastes event. And who better than the person credited with introducing the small plates (tapas) concept to the United States than José Andrés to offer a sampling of avant–garde Spanish fare to compliment the great wines of Spain?

Answer: No one. {At least no one we could think of after experiencing this highly enlightening and well–organized event. Kudos to the event sponsor for achieving their goal of creating greater awareness of Spanish wine in the US—or at least here in Los Angeles.} Spanish chef José Andrés (recently profiled on 60 Minutes) put together a fantastic menu of culinary creations to complement the main event, which showcased over 130 Spanish wines. We were both surprised and impressed with his molecular gastronomy, all of which was a delight to experience. And the wines? They blew us away, too.

If you haven’t delved into Spanish wines, this is a great time to start. The value/price ratio is very favorable and you’ll find many great wines that will become your newest favorites. To begin, we decided to make our way around the room tasting the sparkling Cavas and then to make additional rounds to sample the whites and, lastly, the reds.

We rated two Cavas from Colección Internacional del Vino—the Cristalino Brut and Cristalino Brut Rosé (the latter being 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Trepat)—from the Jaume Serra Winery (suggested retail about $10) as the best Cavas at the event, with the Mont-Marçal Brut Reserva 2006 from Classical Wines ($15 retail) and the Mont Ferrant Rosé Brut from Pacific Estates (about $17 retail) as also being very good. By law, Cava must be made in the “Methode Champenois” but, due to European regulations prohibiting use of that term outside Champagne, Cava is labeled as “Methode Tradicional”, which has the same requirements with an added stipulation that cava must age for a minimum of nine months on the lees before release. Notably, Jaume Serra imports their yeast from Champagne, France in order to impart more Champagne–like quality to their Cristalino Cavas.

Scenes at the 17th Annual Great Match

On the second round, we tasted a lot of Verdejos and Albarinõs. Verdejo is a white wine grape that is very similar to Sauvignon Blanc and, in fact, many Verdejo wines are blended with Sauvignon Blanc. For us, the best Verdejos were those produced by the Agricola Castellana Cooperative, offered by Cuatro Rayas. USA Manager María José Besada poured the Azumbre Viñedos Centenarios Verdejo 2009 (from 75 year old vines; $18 retail) and the Cuatro Rayas Viñedos Centenarios Verdejo 2009 (from 100 year old vines; $20 retail). Unlike many of the more grassy Verdejos and Sauvignon Blancs, these wines were smoother, with excellent fruit flavor. We recommend them very highly. For an even softer alternative to Sauvignon Blanc and some Verdejos, the Sangre de Toro Viña Sol 2008 from Torres, produced with the Parelleda grape, was nice.

Albariño, a crisp, fresh and medium–bodied wine with great acidity, is one of the first Spanish white grapes produced as a varietal and is sometimes called Albarín Blanco. Some of the best were being poured by Rías Baixas Wines. In particular, we enjoyed the Laxas Albariño 2009 ($18 retail) and the Mar de Frades Albariño 2008 from Bodegas Ramón Bilbao ($25 retail), which was also being poured by W.J. Deutsch & Sons. For those who like their white wines with some oak, the Brandal Barrica Albariño 2006 ($17 retail), also poured by Rías Baixas Wines, was very nice.

Scenes at the 17th Annual Great Match

On the red tour, we focused on Tempranillo (Spain’s answer to Cabernet Sauvignon) and Rioja blends. We really liked the Cruz de Alba Tempranillo 2006 (a biodynamic wine; $25 retail) and the Bodegas Ramón Bilbao Limited Edition Tempranillo 2006 ($19 retail) poured by Jason Hayes of W.J. Deutsch & Sons. Other favorites included two blends of Tempranillo, Mazuelo & Graciano, the Heras Cordon Reserva 2004 ($40 retail) and the Marqués de Tomares Reserva 2001 ($45 retail) poured by Vibrant Rioja.

There were too many wines for us to sample them all. We did manage, however, to taste all of the food. The following photos will give you a good idea of Chef Andrés’ creativity and his flair for innovative food deconstruction. (Hover over each photo for the name of each dish.) Only one dish (pita bread with two different Mediterranean spreads) isn’t represented in the photographs. It was good, but not exceptionally out of the ordinary as were the others. I also didn’t get shots of the Manchego and another cheese, which was presented towards the end of the event. By then my photos were getting as blurry as my vision and not worth attempting. Thank goodness the Wine Imbiber remembers to spit (the wine, that is) more than swallow at these events. I really should start allowing him to use my camera under these kinds of circumstances.

Gazpacho & Liquid Olives

My favorite of the day was the Croquetas de Pollo, which are described as chicken and béchamel fritters on The Bazaar menu. Paired with any one of the Cavas, I found myself not caring that I was sampling my way to being a future contestant on The Biggest Loser. The combination was nothing short of pure heaven!

Chef Andrés really knows how to take the ordinary and make it extraordinary. His Chupito de Gazpacho wasn’t the usual chunky liquid salad (i.e., soup), nor was his take on Caprese salad. I’ve never been served mozzarella in liquid form from a pipette before (though I have had tomato liquid in a pipette—a pathetic attempt by another chef trying to replicate Chef Andrés’ repertoire).

Croquetas/Caprese Pipettes & Lobster

One technique he is known for (called spherification) was found in the many “liquid olives” that were available for tasting. I actually found the recipe online, but you really need an in–home chemistry lab to replicate it. I don’t think even Martha Stewart is capable of attempting this one. Calling Alton Brown! Needless to say, we were very happy to have the opportunity to try this much ballyhooed taste sensation.

The runaway hit for Rich (and most men in attendance at the event) seemed to be the Lobster Tzatzki. What is it with men and lobster (in any size or form)? I, too, enjoyed these tasty little spoonfuls of crustacean–topped creaminess, but you didn’t see me or any other women circling the serving table like a pack of hungry coyotes in anticipation of the next round. They disappeared as quickly as they were brought out and if you didn’t get in on an early serving, you probably weren’t able to procure one at all!

Liquid Olive & Potato Mousse

One last dish that warrants mention because of its unusual flavor combinations was the Potato Mousse with Caviar and Vanilla. It wasn’t my favorite, though I didn’t dislike it. I’m usually all over anything with a caviar topping, but the vanilla distracted my taste buds too far away from the distinctive caviar flavor I enjoy so much. I expected it to be as satisfying as the salty/sweet combination of say, bacon and chocolate or caramel and sea salt. Instead, I found the vanilla flavor too overwhelming and, in the end, it was the interesting textures that held my interest the most.

Setting at TresOn the way out of the event, we couldn’t resist a quick exploratory trip around one of the two lobbies in SLS Hotel. SLS (which is an acronym for Savour Life Slowly) is the perfect home for a restaurant like The Bazaar, which is actually the second lobby of the hotel. I know, it’s thoroughly confusing (a restaurant that is actually a lobby?), but it all works together perfectly well and contributes to the SLS “experience.” At this point, I should mention I took many photos of all my amusing discoveries, but as I said earlier, blurriness was becoming an issue and I unfortunately didn’t have my tripod on hand. Instead, I’ll refer you to the photo section of their website for a better picture of the whole encounter.

One set of photos you won’t find on their website is of the bathrooms located in Tres (aka Private Guest Lobby). My thoughtful husband, knowing I love interesting design in any form, insisted I visit the ladies room (after he had first checked out the dude’s loo first). I burst through the door of the bathroom, only to find myself confronted with an experience that I can only describe with the two words, “Oh sh*t!” It was like a trip to a house of mirrors, only trickier, since I had never combined a Spanish wine tasting experience with a trip to a carnival funhouse before. It took me more than a few seconds to orient myself, and I’m not too embarrassed to admit that it involved walking into more than a few mirrors. I felt like I was getting punk’d. Luckily, I was the only one in there and felt no qualms about snapping off a few photos (which I won’t bore you all with here). You’ll just have to experience this one on your own.

Mirrors happen to be only part of the Tres experience; some of the rest of the experience you’ll find pictured in this post (like my friend, Aqualung, at the top of this post). I found him in one of the private dining rooms (this one done up all in black—with more mirrors, of course). Let’s just say I’m really anxious to return to SLS someday to experience The Bazaar in its entirety, as the genius of José Andrés was definitely meant to be savoured slowly.

 
Disclosure: We were granted complimentary media passes to this event.

Comments (2)



Jay B. said:

That looks like lots of fun!


DianaHayes said:

This sounds like a fun tasting event. I think I like you would forget the spitting part and funky mirrors would make it difficult to enjoy the facilities. Nice post.