Old vine Rioja rules at Spanish wine dinner

Craig Gandolf of Jorge Ordonez Selections pours Llopart Rosé Brut Cava.
Craig Gandolf of Jorge Ordonez Selections pours Llopart Rosé Brut Cava.

I made a trip to Spain recently without paying for the airfare and lodging.
That’s the beauty of a wine dinner, where I can satisfy my insatiable hunger and thirst for great cuisine and be home by 9 o’clock.

The 2005 Prado Enea Rioja stole the show.
The 2005 Prado Enea Rioja stole the show.

On Thursday, May 7, Spanish wines and food were featured at the United Teen Equality Center’s fourth Celebrity Chef Extravaganza. Held at UTEC’s downtown Lowell location, the 60 guests enjoyed a four-course dinner prepared by Anna Jabar-Omoyeni, formerly the owner-chef at La Boniche restaurant. Craig Gandolf, a cheerful Lowellian and sales consultant at Jorge Ordonez Selections, selected the wines.

It was another magnificent event, where students in UTEC’s culinary program work side by side with a celebrity chef and serve guests in a professional setting. The proceeds from the $75 ticket fund the youth center’s many educational programs.
The evening was launched exquisitely with appetizers of asparagus quiche, mushroom pizzetta and lamb meatball with feta and mint. Gandolf’s selection of the 2011 Llopart Rosé Brut Cava ($25) proved to be a refreshing and elegant sparkler. The Llopart family has been crafting cava since 1887 in the Penedes region, Gandolf noted. Only 1,000 cases of this Monstrell-Garnacha-Pinot Noir blend are produced, making it even better that we got a good taste of it.
Other wines tasted are as follows:

Chef Anna Jabar-Omoyeni
Chef Anna Jabar-Omoyeni

• Nisia Verdejo 2013 Rueda ($16) — This pleasing white comes from one of Spain’s driest regions where vineyards are situated in ancient river beds. Old vines dig deep into poor, sandy soils to dredge up nutrients captured in this bottling’s citrus and honeydew flavors. Light-bodied and vibrant on the palate, Verdejo chills perfectly as a patio sipper or with seafood and salads.
• Vega Sindoa El Chaparral, Old Vine Garnacha 2012 ($15) — For the price, there’s a lot of power and delicious ripe fruit in the bottle. Grenache is one of my favorite red varietals, producing dark cherry and blueberry flavors with a spicy kick on the finish. Here’s an intriguing wine note on this one: “The wine is fined with egg whites and lightly filtered before bottling.” This paired wonderfully with Provéncal tomato fish soup and green garlic crostini.
• Muga Prado Enea Gran Reserva 2005 Rioja ($62) — Here’s the big boy, 10 years old and aging with velvety smooth grace. Wine Advocate rated it 95 points and for good reason: It’s something special. Kudos to Gandolf for sharing this Tempranillo-Grenache-Mazuelo-Graciano blend with us. It’s still got a long life ahead, delivering intense black fruit and earthy expressions. I’d prefer it with a grilled steak or hearty game dish, yet enjoyed its pairing with Chef Anna’s braised chicken thigh topped with mushrooms and a red wine, garlic and herb sauce.
• Victoria #2 Muscat de Alexandria 2013 Målaga ($25) — This white dessert wine comes from grapes that are hand-picked from the choicest mountaintop rows of old vines, and left to dry out in flat boxes placed inside the winery. Gentle breezes caress the grapes for two months until they become raisins. The dried-out fruit is then pressed. The result is a highly concentrated, naturally sweet wine of apple, orange rind and herbs. Gandolf noted that it takes 17 pounds of grapes to make one 375 milliliter bottle! A most decadent partner with our strawberry rhubarb bread pudding with lavender créme.

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