COOL FOOD VALENCIA, FINCA SANTA ELENA
AND THE GASTRONOMIC WONDERLAND THAT IS THE VALENCIAN TUSCANY!
. . . And that’s without mentioning, this week anyway, Restaurante Julio, the Michelin Starred gastronome paradise nestled in the tiny nearby village of Fontanars!
I was intrigued, a couple of months ago, to receive an e-mail invitation to visit the website of a new gastronomic, rather hip, company called Cool Food Valencia (www.coolfoodvalencia.com). An e-mail reply asking for more details following my cyber visit brought an even better invitation – to meet the directors at the beautiful Finca Santa Elena for a wine and artisan beer tasting, a barbecue, a luxury overnight stay and a whole lot more besides!
En route we stopped at the nearby Bodegas Enguera, subject of last week’s Cork Talk and makers of exemplary DO Valencia wine, arriving at Santa Elena late afternoon. Although sunny there was a bitter wind blowing any daytime heat to locations far away! We were welcomed into the centrally heated warmth of a grand and yet cosy finca with its own grounds, including, on such a freezing day, a rather forbidding swimming pool!
Santa Elena has ten double rooms, each with an en suite bathroom and huge bath and some with four-potser beds – and for winter stays, central heating throughout! It’s hard to describe Santa Elena in conventional hotel terms – there’s an element of grandeur, blended with country house hotel style and a pinch of bed and breakfast conviviality. Sounds like a recipe, which in fact is quite appropriate!
Our hosts were Cool Food Valencia, a new dynamic business with young hands-on directors: Marta, who is also an English Teacher and Robert, a student who hasn’t actually completed yet his degree in Business Studies in the University of Valencia! Also significantly involved is Robert’s mother, Adela, a renowned cook in the Ontinyent area, whose responsibility is the cooking demonstrations.
Essentially Cool Food Valencia offer cooking demonstrations held at Santa Elena and other venues and there are various packages from which clients can choose. Knowledgeable about their local area, Robert and Marta offer guided tours of Ontinyent which also cover local fiestas some of which are quite spectacular, and can include bodega tours and tastings. There are day visits, weekend and week-long breaks catered for, in every way, and wine tasting can be included too. This, as you might imagine, is where I come in!
The area around Ontinyent, stretching to Fontanars and Moixent, also known as the Valencian Tuscany, is becoming increasingly recognised as the jewel in the wine making crown of DO Valencia. Take a look in the Peñin Guide, for example, and you’ll see that most of the top quality DO Valencia wines come from its Clariano sub-zone, the very area to which I’m referring.
Indeed regular Cork Talk readers will know of the group of quality wine bodegas known as Terres dels Alforíns located in this area. And the wines we tasted at Santa Elena were from two of those extraordinarily good wineries. However there was beer to taste too, and this coming from the excellent artisan brewery, Gram – whose beers are the nearest thing I’ve come across inSpainto my beloved real ale in theUK. Yes, this man shall not live by wine alone, you know!
The daytime temperatures had started badly, and faded with the light as a near freezing night approached. However outside we went, to be greeted by the terrific warmth of a purpose built brick barbecue whose old grubbed up vines were coming to a glowing red and orange colour just ready for the meats and sausages, supplied by another artisan producer, this time Medina Embutidos Artesanos. I told you we were in an excellent gastronome heaven!
And it got better! Not only was Adela there directing operations but she was far more than ably assisted by the Head Chef at the aforementioned Restaurante Julio, the very man responsible for the Michelin Star. But more on the Restaurante Julio experience another week!
There were two Gram beers to sample for pre-dinner drinks. Now, I don’t profess to be a beer critic, but cliché or not, I know what I like. A northerner, my first loves are the creamy headed bitters of Yorkshire, though I have to admit that there are some pretty good ‘copies’ in the south! No insipid, practically tasteless, fizzy lager stuff for me, thank you very much! So I was keen to find out what artisan Spanish beers can taste like in a country awash with the ‘L’ word.
Well the Gram brewery seems to bridge the gap between the two styles of beer, perfectly. It’s fizzy, though this is underplayed, but the flavours of the two we tried are full and delicious. Gram Freda is a relatively lightly coloured golden beer, whose lager-esque appearance deceives. It has 4·8 alc which is quite strong but it’s light and yet full flavoured in the mouth with a long finish that makes you reach again for the bottle (I told you, I’m a northerner, no glasses for beer!).
My favourite, marginally, was its stable mate, Gram Prima. 5·2 alc gives a certain presence on the palate and its dusky dark colour suggests plenty of flavour. This beer delivers the promise with a combination of endearing real ale and homebrew flavours. It too has a long finish with a touch of fruit in there as well. And yes, after the first taste I quickly reached for the bottle again!
While the barbecue did its work we discussed options for the future with Cool Food Valencia. Adela presents cooking demonstrations with local specialities. She too is an English teacher so the demos can be in Spanish and/or English. If the BBQ and attendant dips, breads, salads etc are anything to go by then I’m sure they’re very well received!
Wine wise we started with Bodegas Belda Chardonnay Fermented in Barrel 2011. The FB means that there is an extra depth to the wine but without losing any of its freshness. The use of oak also means that the wine can last a little longer than most Spanish white wines – hence the 2011 was as sprightly as a youngster and a super aperitif.
When the meat was brought to the table, the white wine was gently nudged aside to be replaced by a favourite of mine, from Bodegas Los Frailes, which is also included in the Grupo Terres dels Alforíns.
Trilogíca Tinto employs Tempranillo with Monastrell and some Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend, all of which have enjoyed a long maceration period where colours, mature tannin and deep flavour are extracted. Fully ripened fruit sits on an integrated bedrock of Hungarian oak vanilla and cinnamon aromas and flavour.
Two super wines – and Marta and Robert could have chosen many others from this area which would have gone equally well with the huge dinner that we enjoyed.
It’s clear to me that there will be great interest in Cool Food Valencia when the word gets out!