Monday, March 22, 2010


PHOTO MONTAGE BY HARALD KUNZE. Clockwise from upper left: duck legs in Málaga wine sauce with red Torques 2002; Harald Kunze, who took these photos; old posters; raspberry sorbet with dark chocolate truffles; piquillo peppers stuffed with bonito in tomato sauce; duck leg and sauce to mop up with bread; spring flowers; Julian Sanjuan introducing the wine and me, sniffing; two of the wines sampled; wine labels. In the center, duck liver pâté and aged sheep’s cheese from León.

I recently participated in a Wine and Food Pairing event at the Museo del Vino, a museum and vinoteca in the village of Mijas on the Costa del Sol. Sponsored by the local Foreigners Department of the Mijas town hall, the tasting attracted residents who were British, American, Canadian, Scandanavian, German, Dutch and even a few Spanish.  Featuring five wines and five (small) plates of food, the lunch-hour tasting cost €20 ($27).

Thirty of us sat around four heavy wooden tables in the upper level of the  Museum, decorated with ceramics, old posters and other wine paraphernalia. (Downstairs is a wine bar, tasting room, cellars, shop and charming patio.) Julian Sanjuan, proprietor and host, made the rounds to introduce each of the wines as they were poured.

Julian, who originally trained in art history, got into the wine trade by the side door. His purpose was to convert historic buildings—a distillery in the village of Ojen, an electric switching station and village house in Mijas—to small museums, originally featuring the wines of Málaga. As both sites became popular tourist destinations, he gradually increased his knowledge and stock of wines from all the regions of Spain, taking courses in oenology and tasting at the University of Málaga and University of Barcelona. 


We started with a chilled white wine, Castaño 2008, from DO Yecla in the eastern province of Murcia. Yecla, once known mostly for producing bulk wines of little distinction, now makes some superb wines.  Composed of half Macabeo, a rather blah variety, and half Chardonnay, the Castaño never spent time in oak, so kept its freshness, aromatic qualities and pleasing acidity. The wine was a good aperitif and a sprightly contrast with piquillo peppers stuffed with bonito and napped in tomato sauce.

“You need a wine with some structure and weight to complement the intense, mouth-filling taste of the sweet peppers and tomatoes,” said Julian. “The chardonnay in the coupage gives it that point of acidity.”

Next was pisto con atún, a medley of vegetables including zucchini, tomatoes and peppers. This version included chunks of potatoes and meaty tuna. We tasted Pagos de Araiz 2007 from DO Navarra (north of Spain, next to La Rioja). An estate-bottled wine made up of 60 percent Tempranillo, Spain’s main red-wine grape, and 20 percent each of Merlot and CabernetSauvignon, the Araiz had three months on oak.

“The sautéed vegetables (called sofrito) present a cocktail of forceful flavors,” commented Julian. “They need a wine that starts off strong. The Araiz is young and powerful, clean in the mouth, very fruity. But, it’s not long in the after-taste. You want to leave room for what follows.”

What followed was, for me, a whole new experience—a red wine from DO Málaga. Málaga, for centuries famous for its sweet muscatel wines, now produces table wines of some note. This was Torques 2002 from inland Antequera, a blend of half Syrah and half Merlot—neither of them Spanish varietals—with 12 months in new oak. At first taste, it seemed tannic, but as it opened, I could taste lovely flavors of fruit compote and spices. The Torques accompanied braised duck legs with a reduction of Málaga wine, PX and the duck juices with prunes.

“A very polished wine,” said Julian, “to go with the rich duck meat and sweetness of the sauce. The Syrah helps to maintain the structure, the Merlot gives the ripe fruit, the oak gives a hint of chocolate. This is quite an elegant wine.”

Funny how, after a few glasses of wine, the noise level goes up. Our group of tasters was now gabbing and talking back and forth, comparing notes.

The wine that came next was a revelation for me—Señorio de Broches, a sweet white moscatel of DO Málaga, from the Bodegas Dimobe in Moclinejo. The grapes are sun-dried a week before pressing. The must is cold-fermented and fermentation stopped with the addition of grape alcohol in order to keep residual sugar. It was fresh, not too sweet, with hints of tropical fruit, apricots and orange blossom, truly delightful.

The Señorio de Broches was paired with pâté of duck liver sprinkled with coarse, spiced salt and aged sheeps’ milk cheese from León.

 “You would have to serve a red wine with plenty of structure to go with the strong, salty flavors of the pâté and cheese,” said Julian. “But instead of repeating a red wine, we chose the sweet white. It has a clean, intense flavor, with fruity, floral aftertaste and a good balance of sweetness and acidity.”

The final wine, a true dessert wine, was also a muscatel, also with DO Málaga, from Bodegas Málaga Virgen (also in Antequera). The mahogony-colored wine was syrupy, but with hints of bitterness. Julian explained that the grapes are “raisinized”—dried in the sun for 20 days before vinification. Grape alcohol is added to stop off the fermentation, maintaining the natural sugars. The wine is then aged 10 months in French oak, smoothing the flavors and giving them balance.

It was served with a spoonful of tart raspberry sorbet and a dark chocolate truffle. The chocolate seemed to turn the wine into caramel sauce. Yum.

Recipes for some of the dishes served at this tasting meal have appeared, in somewhat different versions, in previous blogs. Vegetable medley (pisto) is here; stuffed piquillo peppers is here. My version of the sauce for duck is below.

Salsa de Higos y Vino Dulce
Fig and Sweet Wine Sauce

This sauce is similar to the one served with the duck legs at the wine-tasting lunch. If desired, use prunes instead of dried figs.

Serve this sauce with foie gras, grilled duck breast or braised duck legs, pork tenderloin or with any dish where the sweetness of the fruit makes a good contrast. Pedro Ximénez wine (also called PX) is a superb choice, but Muscatel or oloroso Sherry could be used instead. If desired, add a splash of Sherry vinegar to the sauce for a sweet and sour effect.

Makes  8 fl oz.    

6 ounces dry figs
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil  
3 shallots, chopped
Strip of orange zest, finely chopped
Pedro Ximénez wine
2/3 cup water or chicken stock
Salt and pepper
Pinch of ground cloves

Cut out the stems and rinse the figs in running water. Chop them coarsely.

Heat the oil in a small frying pan and sauté the shallots for 3 minutes. Add the orange zest, figs, wine, water, salt, pepper and cloves. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer until figs are softened, 15 minutes. Serve the sauce hot or room temperature.

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