- Written by Richard Payne Richard Payne
I´m in a pueblo near La Coruna Galicia called Ares and have been tasked with purchasing vino for tonight's weekly ping-pong match that takes place at my parent’s house. Guests (the same every week) start arriving around 9pm and are normally all gone by 2am, not bad for a school night. So that's a fair bit of wine I need to source. Not many are blanco drinkers so I stuck to the reds. El campo is a huge supermarket that sells everything from legs of jamon iberico, baskets of clams, salt cod, octopus, TV, videos, bikes, clothes and everything in between including a large vino section.
I bought a selection of young reds that ranged in between 1 and 4 euros. As the guests started to arrive the bottles began to open at an alarming rate. The first bottle was an unexpected surprise, a vino tinto from the Ribeiro region with the increasingly common stamp of authenticity "denominacion de origen". The cosecha (harvest) year is 2008, so I was expecting a young fruity lively red, which is exactly what I got. What I didn't expect though was the frizzante fizz that each mouth full came with. You wouldn't call it a sparkling wine but it wasn't flat either. The Ribeiro region in Galicia Spain is known for its old vineyards dating back to Roman times and its whites, notably Albariño; in fact 80% of the region produces whites, so this is a rare red with a pleasant fizz and a splendid pre lunch drink as it´s only 10,5% vol, so heading back to work after a vino tinto´s lunch shouldn't be to much of an ache in the cajones!
Back to the ping-pong night. Things have really started hotting up now and food is arriving with each guest, wine too! Croquettes are in abundance, potato, cheese and jamon filled deep fried rugby balls coated in breadcrumbs. Empanadas, a Galician flat fish pie filled with tuna, red peppers and onions and glazed in fat, were also in abundance and I was also told by my father to watch out for the tortilla when it turns up as the lady that cooks it does a particularly special one. The arrival of the Doc! I ask how he is and he tells me that all is good and that he is a year older since we last met. He hands me a bottle of red with 100% crianza grapes emblazoned on the front, I think it was a 2003. As I open the bottle the Doc tells me how the wine has been aged in oak for 6 months and how this is how he likes his vino. A fine drop and beautifully Gallego and dry to the taste, the wood barrels evident in every mouth full. It wasn't long before I was on the porch smoking with the men. I was immediately offered a cigarette as I stepped on to the porch and was asked if I wanted blond tobacco (the equivalent of the strongest cigarettes you can get in the UK) or Negro (black) tobacco, the strongest known tobacco to man. I was whole heartily told before I made my decision that the Negro tobacco is for the Hombres and I sheepishly accepted the blond tobacco as I had had a bad hombre experience previously with the hard stuff that involved turning blanco with senses spinning.
The dust had now settled and not a single ping-pong ball has been hit on this weekly ping-pong night, which is not unusual. The women had now positioned themselves in the kitchen next to the food & round table, whilst the men gathered in the dining room and porch, kids running around in between. Another vino: Rioja Campo Viejo "Tempranillo". This must be my go to vino, my every day vino, the table wine, that has the dryness and strength to want to quaff on a regular basis and not for a particular meal or occasion or time of day. This is your journeyman of Spanish wines, and it’s a journey I love to take. Still no sign of a game of ping-pong, the table tennis table, bats and balls sat idle in the basement, all the action up above; loud talking, laughter, eating, drinking and smoking. Ribera del duero cosecha 2008, Mayor de Castilla. This is another tempranillo with its own distinct flavour from the ribera del duero region of Castilla y León. Like Rioja this wine region is known for its long lasting complex vinos that can be cellared for long periods of time, so it was interesting to drink this young wine, which was light and lively not too dissimilar to our guests who are on the older side but more lively then many of the youngsters who were already tucked up in bed.
The weekly ping-pong event eventually ended when the last guest left us at gone 2am. We would see him tomorrow however as we are to be the guests at a traditional Galician lunch of caldo de grellos, a Galician stew with turnip tops, meats, hams and potatoes. In Galicia they feed the root of the turnip to the animals and dine on the stalks where as vice versa is mostly true in the UK. So the celebration of life accompanied by food and drink goes on and our days are almost planned around what we eat and drink next. My visit to El Campo was a success and the wine we drunk almost insignificant in the ritual of eating and drinking with friends and family. The lights now out on the table tennis equipment dust gathering, significantly a large box of empty bottles sat on top of the table.
Game, set and match.
R J Payne
The Galician Vino y Cocina Desk
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