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Don Quixote Dines in Fuquay-Varina!

Updated: Feb 2


Although it was many years ago, I still remember one of my favorite novels I was forced to read as part of "honors" English - Don Quixote. This classis Spanish epic novel tells the story of Don Quixote and his loyal companion Sancho Panza and their quest to revive chivalry and become heroes. If you have never read it it is considered by many to be a masterpiece.


My wife and I were fortunate to be on the guest list for yet another magnificent wine dinner hosted by Dave and Kathy Nershi http://www.vino-sphere.com/ and this time the theme was Spanish wines. As I donned my bow tie emblematic of the Spanish flag I felt a bit like the renowned Don Quixote himself except instead of reviving chivalry I was on a quest to do my best to be a part of an evening dedicated to Spanish wine and food.


Did I mention that it was "dinner en blanc"?


In case you are not familiar with this dining craze that has become very popular as of late, participants all wear white during the meal.


Not only did the dinner guests where white as part of dinner en blanc, but our hosts did an outstanding job in creating elegant table settings for the evening. The evening was refined, posh and an experienced to be savored. No doubt I will mimic this dining concept in my home for a future meal.







After being graciously and warmly welcomed by our hosts as well as afforded the opportunity to meet our fellow dinner guests we began the evening with the signature sparkling wine from Spain - Cava. Unlike Prosecco, this sparkling wine is made using the traditional method (just like Champagne) and the grapes Xarello, Macabeo and Paralleda are all used throughout Spain to make this affordable sparkling beverage.


Along with the cava, we enjoyed two stunning appetizers that both paired perfectly with the dry, effervescent, bubbly cava. Afterwards, a lavish multi course Spanish themed meal followed.


And speaking of the cava, we all thoroughly enjoyed the Marques de Caceres Cava Brut . A perfect balance of acidity and fruit with hints of citrus, pear and ripe green apple. It was the perfect complement to our first two appetizers.



THE WINES


Our wines were all produced at Marques de Caceres located in Cenicero, Spain, 20 kilometers from Logroño and in the heart of La Rioja Alta. In case you are familiar with these imported wines from Spain it is likely due to their immense popularity in the United States. They are among the most imported wines in the United States. If you are not familiar with this famous winery their wines are easy to procure locally.


Now, on to the food...




Appetizer -

Stuffed Belgian Endive, Brie Cheese, Walnuts, Honey drizzle, sprinkled with Pomegranate Seeds/ Whipped Feta Cheese, Capers & Red Pepper Flakes


Pictured above you see the two outstanding appetizers we began the evening with. In the center of the platter is a whipped feta cheese with capers and red pepper flakes scattered throughout all nestled in radicchio. The creamy texture of the feta combined with the saltiness of the capers and a slight bit of heat from the red pepper flakes made it a perfect complement to the cava.


The other appetizer was equally complex in flavors and textures. Slightly salty brie combines with sweet tart pomegranate, the savory walnuts and the sweetness of the honey were all accentuated by the cava. This dish paired well with the cava on multiple levels as did the prior appetizer. The bar was immediately set high with these two thrilling culinary offerings as we all sat down to begin our meal.



Salad Course -

Grilled Shrimp Citrus Salad with Naval & Blood Oranges, Shallots, Olives, Red Onion & Fennel


After the outstanding appetizers, we moved on to the salad course and by no means did it disappoint. It kept the Spanish theme going with a delicious medley of grilled shrimp, grapefruit and olives. The salty briny olives screamed Spain while the bright citrus brought to the dish by the grapefruit was a perfect match for the acidity and minerality of the Marques de Caceres Sauvignon Blanc from the Rueda area of Spain.


Although widely known for red grape varietals like Tempranillo and Grenache, Spain can also lay claim to some interesting white varietals especially Rueda where Sauvignon Blanc and Verdejo are grown. When it comes to white wine from Spain my personal favorite is Albarino (or as they say Alvarino) especially from Rias Baixas . Although it is too hot to grow Sauvignon Blanc in most parts of Spain in the Rueda area it flourishes. This salad was bright and refreshing. Skillfully composed and executed it prepared the palate for the remainder of the meal.



Soup -

Salmorejo - Spanish Chilled Soup garnished with Chopped Egg & Serrano Ham


Salmorejo, sometimes known as Ardoria or Ardorío, is a traditional soup originating from Andalusia, southern Spain, made of tomato, bread, extra virgin olive oil and garlic. Normally, the tomatoes are skinned and then puréed with the other ingredients. In many ways I found the flavor of this cold soup reminiscent of another famous Spanish soup - Gazpacho. However, the chunky texture of gazpacho was replaced with a creamy texture of the Salmorejo likely achieved by pureeing the tomatoes sans skins.


The vibrant acidity of the tomatoes was a perfect match for the Marques de Caceres Verdejo wine it was paired with. This light bodied wine that grows almost exclusively in Spain has flavors of lime, grapefruit and citrus with some green flavors. It is actually similar in taste and structure to Sauvignon Blanc but Verdejo can be enjoyed in it's youth as well as after some aging.



Entrée -

Paella - Saffron Infused Bomba Rice with Chicken, Shrimp and Chorizo


When I think of Spain I immediately think of Paella - saffron infused rice cooked in a broth with chicken, shellfish and vegetables. So when our gracious hosts opened the bidding for courses I immediately went for this classic Spanish rice dish that originated in Valencia Spain. This classic dish can feature any meats from rabbit to even snails. For my version I choose chicken, baby shrimp and yes I included chorizo in my dish (and quickly found out why this ingredient is controversial and banned from use in Valencia).


I was also fortunate to procure small cast iron pans for this classic dish which not only greatly aided with my presentation but allowed me to successfully create the socarrat or toasted slightly scorched rice on the bottom of the pan that is the sign of a great paella.


I also welcomed pairing this classics dish with the Rosado or Spanish version of rosé. The Marques de Caceres Rosé is made from Tempranillo produced with minimal skin contact with the grapes. It was a perfect pairing for the tomatoes and their acidity in the paella.


I must confess I made two mistakes in the preparation. I can assure you that this was my first attempt at paella and hence a huge learning experience. First of all, i would never use chorizo again and now I understand why in Valencia it is never used. Even mild chorizo can totally overpower the dish and render the expensive saffron in the recipe tasteless. Perhaps small amounts of cured chorizo may be better next time.


The other mistake I made was in my zeal to showcase the dish in the small cast iron pans in search of the elusive socarrat, I provided portions that were way to large. In the future I would provide an ice cream scoop sized portion, but still with the intent of crisping the bottom.


Nevertheless, in spite of these shortcomings, the flavor was there and my ample portions even allowed some to take home leftovers.




Entrée-

Ibondigas en Salsa de Almedras - Pork Meatballs in Almond Sauce


When I first saw the proposed dinner menu for this meal there was one dish that immediately caught my attention. The ingredients and the preparation both caught my eye. Poaching is the perfect way to cook meat without drying it out and at the same time take flavors to a new level. As for almonds, I still think of them as a nut forgetting that my wife enjoys almond milk regularly (so almond crème can't be far behind).


The meatballs were succulent, juicy and bursting with flavor. The roasted caramelized vegetables on the side added color, texture and even a bit of sweetness to the dish. It is my understanding that this dish is immensely popular in Spain and the meatballs can be made from anything from beef and pork to lamb and even seafood.


If you haven't had this traditional Spanish dish from Malaga Spain I highly recommend it and i encourage you to look for it on the next tapas menu you encounter. This dish was paired with the Marques de Caceres 2019 Crianza from Rioja. If you are not familiar with the term "crianza" it indicates the wine was aged for a minimum of two years (usually one year in oak and at least one year in the bottle). This medium bodied wine with moderate tannins was a stunning match for the dish with just enough fruit to accentuate the palate.




Entrée -

Smoky Lambchops with Patatas Bravas


Just like the aforementioned pork meatball dish, this is one I also looked forward to indulging in. As a child growing up I never ate lamb, but my wife will tell you if I get my way every Easter lamb is on our table. I love the gamey subtle flavor of lamb and how well it works with so many sauces, spices and herbs. But truth be told, to me it is the combination of grilled lamb and tannic wine that always makes me salivate.


And speaking of the wine, this entrée was paired with the most complex wine of the evening - Marques de Caceres Verdejo 2017 Reserva also from Rioja. Ever since I had to pair an entrée with a 100 point wine during a prior Nershi hosted meal I know personally the immense mental weight of creating an entrée to pair with and complement an exceptional wine. As with "crianza" the term "Reserva" also indicates a level of aging specifically it indicates the wine was aged for a minimum of three years (usually one year in oak and at least two years in the bottle).


Many are not aware but it is the tannins in the wine, when paired with lamb or beef, that soften fats in the meat accentuating the rich gamey flavor of the lamb. This dish did not disappoint with the lamb cooked to perfection and the accompanying Patatas Bravas also playing a major supporting role. This classic Spanish dish, that can trace its origin back to Madrid, also brought flavor and a change of texture to the final dish.


We concluded our meal with chocolates and retired for the remainder of the evening content to share conversation and bask in the glow of such an incredible experience.




As I mentioned prior, I have been fortunate to be invited to prior wine themed dinners hosted by the Nershis in the past and honestly I am a bit in awe of how they do it. The wines Dave has been privileged to showcase from Spain to Moon Mountain to Texas have all been of exceptional quality. Even more amazing, although the guest list changes the level of culinary expertise and creativity remains constant. Let me be blunt, they know a lot of friends with exceptional taste in food and wine and they enjoy bringing all the parts together that make these meals.




No doubt the look on my friend Dave's face is that of satisfaction and pure joy. Satisfaction gained from the skillful execution of a multi course meal, plus wine pairings, prepared by friends from various locations around the country going off seamlessly without a hiccup or a hitch (at least that I could see lol) . Coupled with the joy that comes with sharing and educating your friends about your passion for wine, it fuels your journey and encourages you to achieve even bigger and better things.


Like the legendary Don Quixote I feel my dear friend Dave Nershi is on a quest and I am honored to often get to ride alongside much like Sancho Panza. Use your imagination. Can't you see us riding off into the sunset headed towards Rioja? I can!


I am humbled to have been a part of this experience and look forward to the next; to our gracious hosts and honored attendees I say - ¡Bravo!




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