Wine Tasting Dinner at Parador de Plasencia
Extremadura is a region known as the Pantry of Spain – the place where all the ingredients for great Spanish food come from. We’re talking ham, paprika, vegetables, fruit, and wine. While traveling in the area I visited the walled market city of Plasencia on the banks of the Jerte River. There I got to taste all the local wonders at the Parador de Plasencia.
The Spanish government recognized early on that Spain needed a chain of reasonably-priced hotels accessible to the people. It also knew it had a lot of historic buildings to preserve; its ancient convents, castles, palaces, and monasteries needed to be repurposed to be saved. From these realizations came the Parador Hotels of Spain. They offer a high standard of service, costing less than expected, in beautifully preserved surroundings.
The Parador of Plasencia is the former Convent of Santo Domingo, founded by the Zuniga family in the middle of the 15th century. It is a magnificent gothic structure in the center of the historic district. The menu features the produce and the meats of the region, as well as the wine. Dinner there for my colleagues and I was an elaborate event presided over by sommelier Catalina Bustillo. We had great food paired with delicious wine in a regal setting – all curated by a most charming and knowledgeable hostess.
My only complaint was that at first, the lighting was so romantic and dim that I had trouble getting good photos. It took some doing to get the “mood” lighting changed to photograph quality – as you can tell by some of the photos here. Sorry about that.
The appetizers from left to right – Zorongollo (roasted red peppers, tomato and garlic salad with Tuna fish belly) served in a little pastry spoon; smoked trout with avocado and salad; Torta del Casar cheese with paprika from “La Vera” in a pastry cup; a mushroom and a cod croquette – all excellent examples of locally sourced and delicious food beautifully presented. The sparkling dry rosé was not too sweet to ruin their delicate flavors.
Was this next dish a salad or a soup? It was a pureed bowl of creamy, rich, cold asparagus, almost a gazpacho, that was decorated with micro greens which, when eaten together, created the perfect taste of spring. My mouth got confused at first taste and I thought the soup was the salad dressing – it could have been either – but it was great as both!
The fish course was served in the Monacal style. It was a colorful flag of scrumptious cod with a browned sauce cap of mayonnaise, milk, and garlic, on a bed of spinach and creamed potatoes. The decorative red and green sauce accents evoked the surrounding forests and the local pimenton (red pepper paprika) industry. My bread plate was empty by the time I finished this dish!
For the next course, we switched wines again. This time from the white to a luscious red called Seleccion that really paired well with the meat course.
Since Extremadura is the home of the famous Jamon Iberico Bellota, the black-footed pig with fat-marbled meat that is as good for you as olive oil, naturally we had pork. This cut was a baked filet with wine sauce that I wanted to bathe in. The fried peppers were more for color accent than anything (the plating was beautiful) but the apple and golden raisin side was a disappointment. I don’t mean bad, but with a meal of such wondrous highs, something that would be perfectly find elsewhere just didn’t cut it here. I had a taste but didn’t bother to finish them.
Another red wine – Carabal – is that thoroughly drinkable stalwart that could accompany any hearty meal. We were served it several times and each time I enjoyed it.
In total, we had two whites and three red wines, plus a white and a rosé cava. I just mentioned the highlights but each was correct in its place and a delight to taste. Sommelier Catalina Bustillo outdid herself with each pairing of the delicious wines of Extremadura.
Alright – enough about the wine – I know what you want.
Dessert is always a big deal at the Parador table. They are fancy, complex, creatively plated and far too plentiful for this person. But even though everyone else likes them, I treat them as a buffet presentation and just eat what I want. I’m a sucker for fruit and any kind of ice cream dish. So, in this case, I ate the mango sorbet and that orange fruit which I think is a bush strawberry, so named for its flavor. Then I peeled the chocolate off the fig and ate . . . the fig! (I don’t like chocolate.) I’m assured that the little wedges of cakey whatever and the whipped cream were great. I wouldn’t ruin such a good meal by tasting them.
After the plates were cleared we lingered over another bottle of Carabal, discussing the highlights of the day spent in the rugged countryside. Extremadura is beautiful! Earlier we picked some of the cherries the Jerte valley is famous for and then hiked into the Garanga de los Infiernos Nature Reserve to experience the glory that is Hell’s Gorge. This meal was the perfect ending to a perfect day. So, exhausted and happily satiated, we finished the bottle and went upstairs to bed.
For more information about the bountiful region of Extremadura, Spain, visit their website. http://www.turismoextremadura.com