You know it’s going to be a great evening when you walk into a room that’s glittering with more glassware than a Waterford Crystal showroom. This was the scene this week at Hispania, an elegant, two-story Spanish bar and restaurant just a short stumble from Bank tube station in London’s financial district.
Large round linen-draped tables were topped by a continuous ring of wineglasses—at least five per place-setting—as if the hosts expected a tangle of parched octopuses to rock up, eagerly grasping a glass with each tentacle. In fact, the group that actually filtered through Hispania’s doors–a gaggle of guzzling journos, me among them–would prove a far graver threat to the wine stocks before the night was done.
But a liberal appreciation of the libations was only to be expected, as this was a celebration, a christening for a very special new arrival. Tonight, the just-launched 2015 Vina Pomal Compromiso classic Rioja would be feted alongside a host of its brethren wines at a five-course feast prepared by Michelin starred chefs Mario Sandoval and Marcos Moran.
The Compromiso is the latest in a long lineage descended from the iconic Vina Pomal winery, part of the greater Bodegas Bilbainas family. Established in 1901, Vina Pomal is the oldest bodega in the Rioja region, but this great-great-great-granddad is keeping it real, and relevant, thanks in large part to Alejandro Lopez, an oenologist who trained throughout the wine-making world, from Europe to South America and California’s Russian River Valley, before becoming the Bodegas Bilbainas wine director in 2016.
Here’s a look at some of the bodega’s key offerings, as well as pairing suggestions…if you happen to keep a couple of Michelin star chefs stashed in your cupboard to whip up these dishes. Otherwise, I find that Rioja always goes well with most any type of cheese (other than the sort that squirts out of a can), or better still…more Rioja.
Crunchy cheese bites, Spanish omelette, espardena pilpil, and chorizo with belly pork and black pudding croquettes.
And/Or (but really, always “and”)
Vina Pomal Vinos Singulares Maturana Blanca. 100% Maturana Blanca aged in French oak hogsheads for four months on the lees, it’s got a fair bit of body backing up lighter hints of green apple. I recommend drinking this early in the meal, even as an aperitif, while you still stand a chance of pronouncing that very, very long name.
Tuna steak cured in wine salt. Served with Vina Pomal Compromiso. Billed as “a classic Rioja with a modern style,” this new kid on the block is a blend of the five traditional Rioja grapes: Tempranillo, Garnacha, Maturana Tinta, Graciano, and Mazuelo. But here’s the contemporary twist. Each has been vinified separately and aged for 14 months, allowing their distinctive flavours to mature in isolation, before being married and aged for another four months in French and American oak barrels.
Iberian meatballs with pickles and caper berries. Served with Vina Pomal Gran Reserva. An oak-aged blend of 90% Tempranillo and 10% Graciano, the Gran Reserva can stand its ground alongside the heartiest of meat dishes. It’s no shrinking violet, although violet grace notes do indeed elevate its deliciously dark palette of liquorice and red fruits.
Poached pears in wine. Served with Vina Pomal Alto de la Caseta. Made from 100% Tempranillo grapes, harvested from 35-year-old vines and pampered throughout the fermentation process. Aged for 20 months in oak barrels, the finished product is smooth, fruity and as deliciously well-rounded as Kim Kardashian’s most famous assets.
Crème caramel with mango. Served with Vina Pomal Reserva. Okay. So, that’s not what’s actually pictured on the plate. What you’re looking at here is foie with pickled mango and poussin skin.
Now, I’d never order foie in a restaurant, for all the reasons you might not either. But this was part of a special set menu, and it would have been rude…and wasteful…to send it back. Also, heaven help me, this duck liver was delicious—as smooth, slightly springy and unexpectedly sweet as a crème caramel. Hence my actual recommendation.
There could be no substitute for the wine, however. Vina Pomal Centenario Reserva, available from Majestic wines, is made from 100 percent Tempranillo grapes and aged 18 months in American oak. Rich and fruity, without being excessively jammy or chewy, this is unquestionably my favourite.
Sensuously nuanced with hints of spice and vanilla, it would make for a cracking companion by the fireside on a cold winter’s night. So, bring on the arctic blast. I’ve got ruby red Rioja to keep me warm.