The Villamarta Theater in Jerez de la Frontera hosted the final between seven international restaurants in search of the perfect harmony.

Jerez is best understood when you step on the albariza, when you feel in your mouth, sharp and sapid, the exciting blow of time -and therefore, of history- that a wine is capable of containing. The perfume of the most romantic company that treasures the south of Spain, capable of collecting the idiosyncrasy of a territory, of the sea of Tetis that was, of its people, of a way of life linked to the palomino fino, the pedro ximénez and the muscatel.

Almudena Alberca, first Master of Wine from Spain, on the Copa Jerez jury

Almudena Alberca, first Master of Wine from Spain, on the Copa Jerez jury

It is the great feat of Spanish wine. A jewel that has always enjoyed greater recognition abroad than within our borders, as attested by old correspondence files requesting butts, skins and bottles of fino from England to China, passing through Imperial Russia. Thus, with this foreign fascination as a spur, the largest forum dedicated to these wines, the Copa Jerez, was born at the dawn of the 21st century.

An event, unique in the world, which celebrated its 20th anniversary on Tuesday, October 3, thanks to the idea of the Dutchman Jan van Lissum -gastronomer and lover of these wines-, the foundations of the most important competition of pairings were laid. A contest that, as it has done this time on the stage of the Villamarta Theater in the town of Cádiz, confronts seven teams composed of a chef and a sommelier in a vibrant and live fight. All of them from different countries but with the same goal: to find the perfect harmony of their dishes with some of the typologies protected by the Regulatory Council of Sherry and Manzanilla wines.

They proclaim themselves the most versatile to accompany any culinary creation, capable of linking by proximity or contrast a meeting that borders on perfection. This is what the contestants of this edition, the most ambitious, have sought under the watchful eye and exquisite judgment of professionals of the stature of Josep Roca -sommelier of El Celler de Can Roca-, Jancis Robinson -considered the most influential wine critic in the world-, Almudena Alberca -enologist and first Spanish woman Master of Wine-, French sommelier Pascaline Lepeltier and the head sommelier of Heston Blumenthal’s The FatDuck group, Melania Bellesini.

“It is really overwhelming to appreciate today the experience that surrounds everything that Jerez represents,” said Roca at the conclusion of the tasting, which took up the entire morning. The head waiter at El Celler de Can Roca highlighted the excellence and “a lot of love” that was behind each participating team. “The level has gone up this year and the knowledge is deeper,” he agreed with Robinson. The English critic has praised the high level of the pairings of the seven participating teams. “I am impressed by the effort of all the chefs and sommeliers in preparing and presenting their creations, demonstrating how important it is for them to participate in this event,” she said.

Ambivium, the Spanish team

Spain has been represented by the Ambivium restaurant -Peñafiel (Valladolid), one star and one Michelin green star- with chef Cristóbal Muñoz and sommelier Laura Rodríguez. As required by the competition rules, they presented a starter, a main course and a dessert. The first was a quail and beet escabeche with unfino La Panesa from Bodegas Emilio Hidalgo. After that, a marinade with trout, ham and halophytes with Williams & Humbert’s 2001 amontillado. Equipo Navazos’ Bota de Cream 79 ‘Bota No’ accompanied its sweet proposal based on cocoa, hazelnuts and tonka bean.

From Belgium came chef Arnout Desmedt and sommelier Gianluca di Taranto of Cook & Gtd. restaurant. They set themselves the challenge -with one of the most complex foods to harmonize- of matching an artichoke with NV Fino Inocente Single Vineyard, from Valdespino. For their vegetable rice they chose NV La Bota 103 de Manzanilla Pasada-Magnum from Equipo Navazos. Their crêpe Suzette -an icon of classic desserts- arrived at the jury’s table with a glass of NV VOS Cream from Bodegas Tradición -where the inaugural Copa Jerez party was held on Monday night.

From the United States, with The Wolf’s Tailo restaurant, chef Taylor Stark and sommelier Caroline Clark presented a trilogy of tapas -an oyster, a chicken yakitori and a chawanmushi (a kind of hot flan of Japanese origin)- with La Cigarrera manzanilla. For the main course, with Bodegas Maestro Sierra’s 15-year-old oloroso, they served a glazed lamb neck with plantain, tamarind, coconut crème fraîche and pickled vegetables. To finish, they chose unique potato doughnuts, ricotta, orange zest and whipped cream with Bodegas César Florido’s Dorado Moscatel.

Gail Ge’er Li and Jiachen Lu, chef and sommelier respectively from London restaurant Dinings SW3, showcased their cuisine through a cured red snapper, shiso emulsion, yuzu koji vinaigrette, olive, shallot and pink pepper from the hand of Bodegas Lustau’s Cuevas Jurado ‘almacenista’ manzanilla pasada ‘almacenista’. The braised beef tongue they chose as a second hit -with soy, daikon, girolles, Iberian ham and steamed rice- was paired with the oloroso VORS from Bodegas Tradición. And for dessert, linked to the season, they opted for a persimmon persimmon with lime ricotta, pistachio, white chocolate and salted egg yolk to drink with Bodegas Lustau’s Emilín muscatel.

A surprising rehydrated grape paired with Bodegas Gutiérrez Colosía’s fino was the starter chosen by chef Daniele Tortomsi and sommelier Gabrielle Tortomasi. The monograph dedicated to the use of the fruit of the vine in the kitchen continued with ‘salted grapes’ and an amontillado from Bodegas Gutiérrez Colosía. For dessert, ‘grapes from old vines’ harmonized with the pale cream ‘Mírame cuando te hablo’ from Bodegas Sánchez Romate.

From Denmark, the duo formed by Allan Schultz, in the kitchen, and Alexander Berntsen, in the dining room, brought from Parsley Salon a ‘poached’ prawn with a ‘beurre blanc’ of vinegar and rye in marinade with Soluqua manzanilla from Bodegas Barón. The main course was a quail, dry-ripened for two weeks, served with oloroso from Bodega Rey Fernando Castilla. And for dessert, an ice cream made with caramelized ripe figs and toasted butter for which they selected a 20-year-old pedro ximénez from Bodegas Tradición.

The eclecticism of Vigor, a Michelin star, traveled from Holland to Jerez to compete with the starter ‘corvina / plankton / cecina’ served with Barbadillo’s Pastora en Rama manzanilla. A harmony of chef Martijn Wijnands and sommelier Randy Bouwer that continued with the main course: ‘sweetbread/ eel/ Vigor ‘wasabi’ – sweetbread with eel – with oloroso de Gutiérrez Colosía. Dessert: ‘blackberry/ smoked chocolate/ cocoa’ was with Bodegas Baron’s ‘Micaela’ muscatel.

A global summit

Over the last two decades, the event has become a summit for the sector, attended by national and international wine and gastronomy professionals. During the day of Wednesday, October 4, there will be presentations, round tables and experiences around sherry wine with the participation of personalities from all areas of culture.

Among others, the writers María Dueñas and Luz Gabás -Planet Prize 2022- will talk about the inspirational source of the Marco de Jerez for literature. Or the scientist, expert in molecular analysis, François Chartier, who will explain why these wines allow harmonies with flavors that are difficult to pair. The closing of the Copa Jerez will bring together two worlds that are a priori unconnected, such as oenology and music. Its protagonists will be Josep Roca and the Jerez tenor Ismael Jordi, who will perform arias for iconic wines.

It will be before the gala dinner, at the historic González-Byass winery, which will mark the 20th anniversary of Copa Jerez and in which the winning duet of this competition will be unveiled.

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