Up a secretive set of stairs at Little Goat, the casual sibling restaurant of Girl & the Goat, lies a gorgeous private dining space featuring a sleek, modern kitchen, a homey and bright dining area, accompanied by a rooftop area with a gorgeous view of the skyline. This was the striking set for a wine tasting and food pairing led by Jill Zimorski—the Wine Director at Alinea, aka the current greatest restaurant in the world—focused on the wines of Rías Baixas.
About Rías Baixas
Rías Baixas, a region in Northwestern Spain, is a unique area in Galica where, according to local legend, God allegedly rested after the creation of the world. Resting his fingers created deep inlets where the Atlantic Ocean can go miles inland. That’s led to a very unique climate that’s cool from the salty ocean breeze, but with lots of sun and humidity.
Though the climate is quite unusual, Rías Baixas turned out to be an incredible place to grow wine. Though there are multiple varieties, the vast majority of Rías Baixas focuses on white wines created with the Albariño grape. As described by Jill Zimorksi, Albariño is a fashionable, high quality grape that’s fresh, acidic, and aromatic. It’s a crowd pleaser you can drink in any season, anywhere in the world. The wines we sampled were crisp, fruity wines, but are quite dry so they’re not overly sweet. Part of that crispness is this slight mineral texture to the wines, almost as if you can taste the salty mist that coats the grapes in the vineyards.
There are thousands of growers in Rías Baixas from massive vineyards to families growing grapes in their backyards. And while they are all focusing largely on the same grape, that wide range of cultivation leads to very different wines. What’s even more noteworthy is the wine production in the area is increasingly driven by women.
First Course: a Guided Sampling with Food Pairings
The first part of the lunch involved our host carefully guiding the room through five different wines and three food pairings. As someone who’d rather grab a beer over wine any day of the week, this was extremely helpful to appreciate the aromas, flavors, and the skill involved in crafting these wines.
Valmiñor & Pierogi
To start was a 2015 Valmiñor, a modern Spanish winery with Celtic roots founded in 1997. I was told this was good wine to start with because it was a bit more straightforward and light, though with the crispness and acidity common in Rías Baixas wines. And like other wines from the region, it favors stone fruit and citrus flavors and aromas.
Condes de Albarei, Pazo San Mauro & Tuna Poke
Condes de Albarei formed as a collective of vine growers in 1988, making it one of the oldest wineries in the area. A 1991 Gold Medal at the Challenge International du Vin marked the first Spanish white wine to earn the prestigious award and put Rías Baixas on the map. Their 2014 wine has this very ripe fruit smell that’s not unpleasant, but quite intense. That gives away to a fresh, bright tasting wine with hints of yellow apple.
Next was a 2014 from the Pazo San Mauro Winery, which is located farther from the ocean so there’s more sunshine and not as much of the crisp sea breeze. This very likely contributes to the flavor which is warmer, richer, and has a floral taste. Drinking this you think of a beautiful green field full of colorful flowers and less of the cool, Atlantic sea breeze.
These two wines were paired with a fresh, raw tuna poke on a piri piri and these incredible blueberries that were bursting with flavor, but had been smoked to give them an earthy flavor. Fish is a staple of the region, so it’s clearly a great pick with both wines helping to bring out the smoothness and freshness from the tuna while taking some of the edge off the piri piri.
Pazo de Señorans, Paco & Lola, & Beef Carpaccio
Pazo de Señorans is a family-run business on the spot of a 16th century manor house. They produce their wine with more lees contact, creating this creamier, almost yogurt-like feel to it. There’s slight limey acidity to their 2015 wine, but this is a much fruitier wine with pineapple and peach tastes to it.
The last from the group was the 2014 Paco & Lola. Paco & Lola– formed as a cooperative group of vineyards that is now the largest in the area with more than 400 members. Because of their size and production capability, this is one of the wines from this region you’re going to be able to find readily around Chicago. I found it to be the richest and one of the more complex wines of the group that had this balanced fruity smell that wasn’t overly ripe. It was my personal favorite, though that’s coming from no wine expert.
These last two were paired with a very thin, tender piece of beef Carpaccio topped with a pea English tapenade and blackberries. Though the beef was rich and fatty, the peas were the dominate flavor. According to Zimorski, the complexity of flavors here requires a richer, complex wine where the wine isn’t going to get lost or be an afterthought.
Second Course: Buffet and Five Additional Wines
The second part of the lunch was much more free range. Five additional wines from Terra de Asorie, Bodega Veiga Naum, Martín Códax, Bodegas La Caña, and Altos de Torona were laid out in the kitchen space along with a new array of food to much on.
Having to get back to work, I needed to take it easy on the wine and fixated on the food. One of the best dishes was a wonderful kale salad topped with cheese, toasted almonds, and blueberries (non-smoked this time) that were fresh, crisp, rich, and not bitter in the slightest. I also loved a shrimp slider sandwich paired with avocado and a fried piece of plantain. In a bite, you’re getting this rush of the fresh, creamy avocado, the crunch of the shrimp followed by the even crunchier plantain chip.
Enjoying the Rooftop Space
As a bunch of people hovered around the kitchen to slurp and spit—one better of the wine tasting experience I’ll never get used to—a few others took their plates outside to enjoy the very pleasant weather and take in the stunning view of the city. Sitting outside in the sun and looking at the skyline with a wineglass in hand as the Little Goat sign spun round and round was a perfect end to a great lunch before I slipped away for the Blue Line and back to work.
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