The magic triangle of wine

El triángulo mágico del vino was the theme of the first wine tasting/dinner held at Echaurren, Rioja’s only Michelin-starred restaurant, on June 18.  The magic triangle refers to the locations of the three wineries profiled:  Agrícola Labastida in Labastida, Abel Mendoza in San Vicente de la Sonsierra and R. López de Heredia Viña Tondonia in Haro.

First, the food.  Francis Paniego is an extremely talented young chef who learned his craft both from mother Marisa Sánchez and at several restaurants in Spain and abroad, including El Bulli.  One of his favorite tricks is to take one of his mother’s signature dishes such as potatoes with spicy sausage and turn it on its head by liquifying the ingredients and delicately layering them in a conical cocktail glass.

In my opinion, the tasting menu was less of a wine pairing exercise than a feast of the senses, accompanied by four wines that showed some amazing similarities in spite of the unique personality of each.

The apéritif was:

  • a slice of Cameros cheese with sesame seeds and honey
  • a piece of marinated salmon with soybean sprouts
  • croquettes (no one makes them better than at Echaurren.  I would love to go there and eat nothing else)

These dishes were served with a barrel fermented white from Agrícola Labastida, Tierra Fidel, made with viura, white garnacha and malvasía, delicately perfumed but with a firm mouthfeel, and Jarrarte maceración carbónica, an explosion of fresh fruit.

The five-course tasting menu was

  • a Mediterranean tzatziki-type cold purée of yoghurt, liquified cucumbers, almonds, green apple ice cream, bread and olive oil
  • white asparagus cooked at 65ºC for 6 hours with a mushroom mayonnaise (by the way, this did NOT alter the flavor of the wines)
  • lemonfish with roast root vegetables and a liquified green bean sauce
  • lamb’s tail glacé with a touch of ginger and fresh vegetables
  • a piece of hard toast with lukewarm Cameros cheese, apple and honey ice cream.

Now, the wines: Tierra Fidel 2006, Abel Mendoza Selección Personal 2007, Viña Tondonia red reserva 2001 and Viña Tondonia white reserva 2002.

At first Tierra Fidel was oak, herbaceous, spicy with quite high acidity. After about 30 minutes, the nose evolved toward tobacco. Very attractive.

The Abel Mendoza reminded me of Mediterranean hillside plants like rosemary, with good balance between red fruit and oak.  Again, with fairly high acidity.

The Viña Tondonia red 2001 (according to Julio César López de Heredia, not on the market yet) was amazingly fresh and reminded me of strawberry jam. High acidity.  Julio told me that he didn’t think it was ready to drink yet, but I disagreed.  There were no sharp edges here.

Viña Tondonia white reserva 1992 had a nutty, butterscotch and honey nose and was delicate, perfectly balanced, with high acidity.

My overall impression was that in spite of obvious differences in style, all four wines served with dinner showed two similarities:  thankfully, they were not high-alcohol, overextracted fruit bombs and were fresh on the palate, stimulating your taste buds.  If these wines are the current direction Rioja is taking, I applaud the move.  Rioja has always been a food wine and these brands illustrate this trait perfectly.

Echaurren

Padre José García 19, 26280 Ezcaray (La Rioja) Tel: 941 354 047

Picture:  the Echaurren logo

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