One of the new perks of being a New School of Cooking alumn is being able to sign up for one of their alumni classes. The school has seminars on all kinds of subjects, from planting herbs to preparing fancy food. This one was all about pairing Spanish food and wine. I was particularly excited, and not just because I happen to like drinking wines that truly complement the foods I eat, but because the woman teaching it, Beth Schumann, was Chef Carol’s assistant during my Pro Chef “Deux” course. She helped all of us immensely and was really fun and silly during class.  

I was even more impressed with her when I found out that she’s an NSOC alumni and Certified Specialist of Wine, and has been formally studying wine for the last six years. She is currently a candidate for the prestigious Wine and Spirits Educational Diploma. Pretty cool, huh? Who knew?Since it was only a 90 minute seminar, Beth chose three wildly different wines to be paired with small bites of Chef Carol’s amazing Spanish food. Beth started with a basic explanation of “terroir,” how soil, climate and culture affect the grapes and wines. Those of you who are also members of know a lot about this concept. She then got down to specifics.

The first wine Beth shared with us was a Cava, a dry, sparkling wine called Capdevila Pujol NV-Brut Natural. This is made in the traditional Champagne method and aged at least 9 months. The grapes to make this slightly sweet, bubbly liquid are Macabeo, Xarel-lo and Parallada. The region these grapes are grown in is called Penedes, and it is the birthplace of Cava. With it, Chef Carol made an amazing Tortilla Espagnole, which is basically a dish made with eggs, potato and leeks. I’ll share it with you at the end of my story. I went back for seconds of this, it was that good. What was also good was how the Cava neutralized the savoriness of the leek and potato. It was a lovely combination worthy of a “guests for brunch” meal.

Next, Beth introduced us to a dry white wine called La Cana. It’s made with Albarino grapes and is made in the Rias Biaxas, Galicia region, which is on the opposite coast from Penedes. Still northern Spain, but on the Atlantic Ocean. The Spanish once considered this area “the end of the world.” This area has its own language and was highly influenced by both the Celtic and Roman cultures. This was an interesting wine, sort of a mix of Riesling and Chardonnay; no oakiness at all with a crisp, citrusy taste. I didn’t love it by itself, but when paired with Chef Carol’s Empanada Gallega, a savory tart with tuna, olives, peppers and onions, the wine reduced the fishiness of the dish and the tart cut the floral and citrus tone of the wine. This is truly a wine to pair with food.

The last wine Beth shared with us was a dry red called Pago de Los Capellanes made with 100 percent Tempranillo grapes. It’s aged for about 5 months in oak barrels. This wine is from the Ribera del Duero, Castilla y Leon region. It’s in the middle of the northern area of Spain, a bit southeast of Rioja. Rioja wine is also made with Tempranillo, but because it’s grown at a lower altitude, it tastes totally different. The Ribera area enjoys a lot of pork, beef and lamb because of the melting pot of cultural influences. This wine is dry enough to handle the strong flavors. To quote Beth, it has an “…Old World funk that you just don’t get with California wines…” That was the perfect description! You could taste the mustiness of the grapes. The food we tasted with it was a bit of antipasti, some Jamon Serrano (dried pork), Manchego cheese and some slices of Chorizo sausage. I loved this with the cheese. It matched up nicely with these nibbles, smoothing out my palate after that high fat content coated the inside of my mouth.

None of these wines were over $15. It was interesting to see how the less popular countries for wine can make perfectly enjoyable ones that don’t cost an arm and a leg. I can’t wait to see what country Beth and Chef Carol pair up next!

Here’s Chef Carol Cotner Thompson’s wonderful Tortilla Espagnole:

Tortilla Español

1 1/2 lb. small high water content potatoes such as Yukon gold, fingerling, red, etc., sliced
2 large leeks, thinly sliced and washed
6 eggs
1 t. fresh thyme (opt.)
1/2 C. extra virgin olive oil
about 2 t. salt
½ t. pepper

In a heavy pot, combine potatoes, leeks, thyme and olive oil. Cover and slowly cook mixture until the potatoes become soft, about 30 minutes (don’t over-stir).

Put the potato mixture into 2 six inch or 1 ten inch non-stick sauté pan(s). Scramble the eggs, and pour over the potatoes. Cover, and cook on low until eggs are set up. Cool. Invert onto plate. Serve at room temperature.