I love trying new experiences! On our second to last day, Friday, we had a wine tasting class and food tour. I was super excited because I have never done a wine tasting class and know next to nothing about wine since it is illegal to buy alcohol in the United States when under 21 years old. Since I don’t have a taste for wine, I was intrigued to learn more about a drink Spain is famous for. We began by learning about Spanish culture and customs when eating.
Spanish culture and Customs:
It was eye-opening learning how differently Spanish people view eating as not only a physical activity but a social one too. The way of sharing a table in the United States of America is literally physically sharing a space and a seat, whereas in Spain it is more important who you’re sharing a seat with. For example, it is normalized to sit near someone you may not know when grabbing a bite of lunch and not talk to them in the United States, but in Spain, there is a cultural expectation to socialize and talk to anyone next to them, even if they don’t particularly want to or know the person. Eating in the USA is very fast and not every meal allows time for social interactions, but since Spain has a few hours when the whole city stops for a midday siesta, this allows plenty of time to talk and catch up with others around.
Spanish food and diets:
Next, we learned about some types of special Spanish food! She taught us about tapas, which are a complimentary snack a restaurant will offer.
It can be anything as simple as a dish of olives, nuts, or pieces of bread with ham and cheese! They are called tapas because it’s the Spanish word for “top or cap” since they would be used by placing on top of the drink to prevent dust or bugs into their liquor! I love this idea and realized that I had received tapas at some small restaurants which were delicious. On a previous day, we had received some pieces of bread with ham and cheese on top. I remember being excited but confused when we realized they were free! At this point in the presentation, I was getting hungry looking at all this good food she was showing us. Afterward, we learned about the Mediterranean diet that most people in Spain tend to follow since Spain is a big peninsula. It consists of two main ingredients: olive oil and fresh vegetables. Other parts of a local Spanish diet are ham, seafood, and garlic. All of these options sounded like my type of food! I noticed there were a lot of ham places when walking around Spain this week. I’d bet you can’t make it 100 meters around Spain without running into a ham shop or a place that’s menu has ham dishes. You can see Iberian ham legs hanging from the ceiling in the local grocery, which as she explained can get very pricey because of where they are grown and their diet of only acorns.
On to the tasting!
Finally, it was time to bring out the food. We were given a plate with three different pieces of food. One was a cracker with cheese and a jam-like paste on top, next was an onion and potato tortilla that the instructor homemade on some bread, and lastly some pieces of chorizo which is spicy meat on more bread.
With the food making us incredibly hungry, she then brought out the wine. She quickly realized I didn’t drink wine because of how I held my glass of wine. I grabbed the glass by the bottom of the cup, which is incorrect because wine should be ideally chilled and the warmth of your hand will warm up the wine. So, as she explained, a true wine connoisseur would hold the glass by the stem to keep the drink most cold.
I learned the difference between white, red, and rosé wine was the amount of skin they would have in the juice. White wine is fermented with no skins, red contains skins, and rose has skins for a short period to give it its soft pink color.
When you first get the wine you use all 5 senses and the bottle label to evaluate the smell, color, consistency, where it was made, and the age of the liquor. Another thing I learned was how to determine the alcohol content in wine. We were taught to swirl our wine glasses on the bench and watch the tears that formed and fall on the sides of the glass. Slower falling tears meant less alcohol content, whereas faster falling tears meant a higher percentage of alcohol.
We first tried the white wine, which was an 11% Marisqueiro Ribeiro. It was a lighter, semi-sweet wine with slow falling tears and sparkling clear color. We learned that since cork was expensive, younger wines, such as the white wine we were trying were capped with a plastic cork, to lessen the cost of the wine. But for older wines, cork tops were necessary since the wine needs to breathe as it develops. When storing a bottle of wine, you must lay it on its side in order to allow the maximum surface area of the wine to breathe. She described the wine as being “alive” and suffocating it would be effectively killing the wine. Leave the wine a little to allow it to grow in taste and mature, but leave it for too long, and it dies and tastes vinegar.
We were instructed to first take a sip and let it sit in our mouths for a second to decipher the tastes. Then swirl and take another sip to see how the flavor changes and evolves.
Lastly, we tried the red wine which was a conde de tresaguas, 14% deep red wine. It was a stronger wine that had faster-falling drips. This was paired with the tapas from earlier, which changed the flavor profile of the wine! When I tried it, it made the taste of the red wine more intense and bring out a stronger flavor overall.
Overall, I enjoyed this unique experience. It was fascinating to eat and drink food that Spain is most known for. I highly recommend the wine class to anyone interested in learning more about Spanish culture and food, even if you don’t enjoy drinking wine, there was far more that I learned by experiencing the culture first-hand right in the heart of Madrid, Spain.