Throughout my visits to Spain there’s a constant. Yes, the terrific regional wines are always the starring attraction and I always look forward to tasting the newest releases from the top regions of Rioja and Ribera del Duero. Much of the new buzz centers around the exciting tintos produced in less storied appellations including Valencia, Navarra and La Mancha.
But besides great wine, along the way you’ll surely encounter another mainstay of Spanish culture: the king of dry cured hams, Jamón Ibérico.
Seemingly at every meal, be it breakfast, lunch, dinner, as a midday snack or palate chaser, you won’t have to venture far to find a platter of thinly, expertly sliced Jamón. It’s prevalent at every winery, restaurant, bar or rest stop you’ll visit. If we Americans take pride in our love affair for beef, then you get an idea of how much the Spanish enjoy their Jamón.
The very best Jamón, Jamón Ibérico de Bellota, comes from the free-range black-footed Pata Negra pig that lives a seemingly idyllic life: roaming free-range in the forests of Huelva and subsisting on a diet of wild acorns. It differs from other quality hams like Italian Prosciutto di Parma or French Jambon de Bayonne by the breed and how long the meat is cured: usually a minimum of 36 months. The flavors of Ibérico are creamy, nutty, rich, moist and sublime. I guess happy pigs make for the greatest of hams.
And although it’s perfectly acceptable to enjoy this ham with white wine or Sherry, I prefer Jamón with a glass of Spanish red. I recently enjoyed some paired with Angosto Tinto ($15), a Valencia blend of Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Garnacha Tintorera (aka Alicante Bouschet). Bodegas El Angosto sources fruit for this firmly textured, yet generously flavored tinto from hillside vineyards with deep calcareous limestone deposits.
From the region of Navarra comes Cistum ($17), an old-vine Garnacha (Grenache) from a truly old vineyard planted at the turn of the 20th century. Cistum is the handiwork of winemaker Rafael Reverte whose family owns Bodegas Reverte in nearby Rioja. Remarkably, the vines used for this wine are ungrafted, a rarity in post-phylloxera Spain.
Tempranillo fans shouldn’t miss the newest release from award-winning La Mancha producer Rafael Cañizares. Señor Cañizares is head enologist and partner at Bodegas Volver, a reference point for the wines in the region. Adelfa Tempranillo ($17) is a full-bodied expression that explodes from the glass with crushed violets, black cherry compote, Asian spices, coffee and fig, leading to a long, mouth-filling finish.
All of the above should pair perfectly with Jamón!
Jim Greeley, Wine & Spirit Sales Manager
Follow me on Twitter @ABCWineJimG