So Saturday was a pretty great day. I spent the day sampling Spanish food and wine from Rioja at the Rioja Tapas Fantasticas festival near Tower Bridge. As the name promised, it was fantastic.
The festival, now in its seventh year, takes place at Potters Fields, a green area at the southern end of Tower Bridge. Potters Fields is a great little public space with lovely views of Tower Bridge and the Thames. There is often some fun activity happening there in the summer, particularly on the weekends. During the Olympics, they set up big screens for public viewing. They do the same every year for Wimbledon. I watched Andy Murray’s victory there last year in the blazing sun with a bunch of happy Brits. A couple weeks ago on Sunday evening, Louise and I spotted a random dance party complete with DJ as we walked home from church. Naturally we joined it and boogied until they stopped playing. I am still unclear on what it was exactly.
All that is to say, Potters Fields is a fun spot and Rioja Tapas Fantasticas is a particularly great use of the space. Louise has gone for a few years now. I was very sad to miss it last year, so I made sure to sign up for the fun when it rolled around this time. While Lou had booked a wine tasting in the afternoon for a bunch of friends, we saw no reason to limit ourselves and decided to head up earlier in the day to take advantage of all there was to see.
We started at 12:45 with a tapas and wine demonstration presented by Jose Pizarro and Susy Atkins. Jose owns two restaurants on Bermondsey Street (aka our neighborhood): Jose and Pizarro (get it??). Susy is a wine expert who writes a regular column for the Sunday Telegraph magazine, among other things.
They bantered and chatted away while Jose cooked up some yummy food and Susy told us about the wine we were sampling: Decenio Blanco and Faustino Rivero Rosado. Jose talked us through preparing scallops with cauliflower puree and delicious chorizo croquetas. Both were amazing. I nearly bought the cookbook on the spot.
We had such a lovely time at the tapas demonstration that we immediately decided to return for the Ibérico ham carving masterclass 30 minutes later. In that class, presented by Chuse Valero from Bar Tozino (another local spot), we learned ALL about Ibérico ham. Chuse told us all sorts of interesting things and by the end of the class basically had us convinced that we need to invest in a whole ham and carving stand for our at-home snacking pleasure.
I took notes and Louise made fun of me, but I don’t care. We learned that Ibérico ham comes exclusively from specially bred black Iberian pigs; it is aged for a minimum of 3 years; the flavor and desirability depends on whether the pig is acorn-fed (this is the top-of-the-top) or grain/acorn-fed or grain-fed; and that within a single ham, there are 12-15 different textures and flavors.
We also learned all about the two different styles of knives you need; how to make the first cut; how to cut around the tricky bone/tendon sections; and what to do with the bones once you’ve managed to strip them of all that tasty meat.
Oh and we got to eat two plates of the ham and had two more glasses of wine: Navajas Crianza and Berberana Carta de Oro Tempranillo. The crianza was really good – interesting and different. The color was quite yellow and the flavor was robust/oaky. And of course, the ham was amazing.
After that class, we had some time to kill before our wine tasting class. As other friends started to arrive, we milled about a little bit, sampled some of the food on offer around the fair, and then headed to the wine tasting tent for a session with Olly Smith, a wine expert/columnist/TV personality and all around delight.
He talked us through five different wines from Rioja, including one from Vivanca, a vineyard that features a glass elevator which takes you underground! Per Olly, it is a “Gotta go!” if you visit Rioja. He also told us which wines smell most like a puppy (South African, earthy).
All-in-all, a really lovely day. The sun even decided to come out in the afternoon – how nice!
I don’t think it’s overstating things to say I am eternally indebted to Louise for bringing such a fabulous, happy event into my life. I’m DEFINITELY going back next year.