Typically, many restaurateurs’ notions of tapas cuisine are that all the miniature entrees must trace their origins to the Iberian Peninsula, and that the sangria might as well flow from a spigot. Or, to balance the sangria, the alcoholic offerings go bi-polar, with harsh and boozy red wines that attack the palate with a torrent of tannins.
It’s a template so tired, it might as well reduce the buoyant sound of salsa music to the predictability of a Prussian military hymn.
Not so at La Taberna Tapas in University Village. There, the Spanish culinary concept of small plates is enhanced by the many spices and flavors found throughout the Latin world. A sumptuous Catalonian flatbread, or helpings of Argentine-style beef are the restaurant’s examples of these. And, there is an energetic, light ceviche, too.
Of course, La Taberna’s offerings include the staples of Spanish origin – such as Pan Con Tomate. It features one of Spain’s most sought-after exports: Manchego cheese. And, the region’s famous Paella makes a robust appearance, too – with spicy chorizo, chicken and a decadent saffron-infused rice.
A menu with such pronounced ambition and wide-ranging flavor can’t feature wines from just one area, or be limited to a few familiar varietals. And with a clientele that’s drawn heavily from the nearby University of Illinois-Chicago, keeping prices reasonable for both food and wine is paramount.
Wine director Moises Gonzalez has had to take these many variables into account. Value Wine Chicago met recently with Mr. Gonzalez to find out more of the details:
Value Wine Chicago: What was your philosophy in crafting your wine list? How does your list stand out from those of other tapas restaurants – other than not being dominated by Spanish wine?
Moises Gonzalez: I wanted to build a wine list that would really be food-driven. Our wine selection is able to really touch a lot of different foods from around the world. This is important because our tapas has [influences and that are] Mexican, Mediterranean, South American and Spanish. So, that’s why I have wines from California, Chile, Argentina and even one from Sicily.
As an example, we have Empanadas. This is a classic dish in Argentina. So, that’s why we carry a few Malbecs and Argentine Cabernet Sauvignon. But, if you choose a seafood item – a lot of people in Spain enjoy seafood – we offer a few different Albariños. And the reason we carry some California wines is that we think their complexity works well with our Mexican-influenced tapas entrees.
VWC: Have any varietals or regions caught your attention lately, or that you have put on the list recently?
MG: I’d say a region that really impressed me was South Africa. I recently tried the La Capra Cabernet Sauvignon, and I had to put it on the list. It’s very reasonably priced. It has flavors of chocolate and black cherry. This Cabernet is great on its own, and it would be nice with a full-bodied meal such as steak, spice-rubbed pork tenderloin – and even Paella, with chorizo and chicken.
VWC: Please recommend a white and red value wine, priced at less than $15 at retail, and what you would pair with each?
MG:I really like the Lo Tengo Torrontés. one of my favorite white wines. You can find it at Whole Foods. Torrontés was originally a wild grape that’s native to Argentina. I like this wine’s citrus aspect, and although there’s sweetness in the aroma, it’s dry on the palate. I’d pair it with ceviche, or with our Asparagus tapas with shaved Manchego.
For a red, I love the Penélope Campo de Borja 2009. It’s 85 percent Garnacha and 15 percent Syrah. There’s a lot of dark fruit in this wine, but it’s versatile in that there’s not much tannin. It’s very easy to drink. There’s a nice fullness from the Garnacha, with a dry finish that comes from the Syrah. I’d pair this with a Cornish Hen.