Las Rocas Wine Dinner @Black Bull

August 23 2014 - 1:39 PM

How do you define brilliance?  Is it the creation of something complex, like a classical symphony, which demonstrates breathtaking mental acuity, or is it the crafting of something that’s simple, irresistibly popular, and timeless?   I once read a book that debunked this issue in relation to Paul McCartney.  Sir Paul was never a gifted lyricist by any stretch, but his true wunderkind nature is his uncanny ability to relate to almost anyone through his creation of stunningly inventive and instantly pleasing melodies.

Within the wine world, Las Rocas Garnacha is similarly juxtaposed.   It’s hardly a rare and special wine; it retails for about $15 a bottle.  But it is pop music as wine, and indeed pop at its cleverest.  The genius – dare I say it – of Las Rocas lies in its ability to unite drinkers of heavy reds and lighter wines alike.  Like most good wines at its price point, it’s super fruit-forward.  What separates it from most others in its class is its spiciness and its noticeable tannic backbone, at least on a Grenache scale, that fortifies it and keeps the palate engaged and not quickly subsumed by the imbalance of sugary fruit juice which has felled many a cheap wine.  Plus it helps that the fruit expressed is a deeper, dark fruit with hints of succulence.  A wine this interesting and yet pleasant for only $15 is an impressive achievement.

LR 2Armed with these taste elements, Las Rocas served as the feature wine – actually, the exclusive wine – at a recent wine dinner at Wicker Park’s Black Bull restaurant.  From the time


guests arrived at the charming, lively Spanish restaurant, until their last bite of dessert, the Las Rocas kept flowing.  It flowed into our glasses, courtesy of the friendly and chipper wait staff.  It even flowed directly into mouths sans glassware, if you were daring enough to try this stunt, from the long spicket of a porron, which is a decanter that looks like a plant-watering kettle.  Tilting it emits a rainbow-shaped liquid stream, in this case garnacha, and the object is to have your open mouth on the receiving end without spilling a drop.  Like a carnival act, one of the waiters demonstrated his porron skills during appetizer hour, as he held the container at a substantial distance and effortlessly made the fluid disappear into his mouth as though it was a long rope instead of a red-wine stream.  Bravo!

They actually invited guests to try this, too. Let’s just say that although I received compliments on my first and only pour, it was still a good thing that I used a towel as a bib.  My effort was okay enough, but one mistake with the narrow stream of red wine would have decimated my light-blue dress shirt.  Angling the device so that the outflow stream immediately cuts on and off without dribbling down your chin is a tricky endeavor.  Since I ultimately loosed a few drops onto my chin, it’s a good thing that I used an available hand towel as a bib.

With shirt disaster avoided, I and my friend Laura, who was nice enough to take some of the photos, could focus on the appetizers and courses.  Food arrived and disappeared in waves. The Jamon Serrano, described as being 100% Iberico pig, was not the melt-in-your-mouth variety I’ve had at Paulina Meat Market, but tasted like a tender, upscale prosciutto.  Another treat was the datiles con tocino, better known as bacon-wrapped dates.  These had a crispy exterior and a sweet, meaty, slightly sticky fruit core.  Finishing the appetizer round were Jamon Serrano croquettes, which maintained a light, soft exterior and were proportioned in favor of the rich, creamy ham.


Turning to the courses, after we were treated to queso de cabra, which is a warm goat cheese in a tantalizingly red and spicy tomato sauce, and lamb meatballs which carried the right amount of chewiness, a heaping plate of fried jumbo prawns arrived at our table.  By then I had become aware that evening that Spanish cooks enjoy aioli – and a lot of it.  I’ve spent a lifetime detesting mayonnaise and its progeny, and aioli is never a welcome sight on my plate. Fortunately, our waiter overheard my anti-mayo protestations, and unilaterally ensured that my portions all evening remained egg-and-oil-sauce free.  Hats off to the Black Bull staff!  Indeed the prawns delivered crispy decadence in spades, and they rivaled the solomillo con piquillos, an Angus tenderloin, as one of the top dishes of the evening.

Top honors probably go to the suckling pig, served after a highly savory vegetable paella.  Vegetarians faced limited options at this meal.  But the film Forks Over Knives was hardly a thought when that pig arrived freshly carved from the spit. It looked of a rugged, fried pork chop, but it crumbled nicely under my fork, and was chewy, crisp, and exquisitely tender, enhanced by an off-sweet squash reduction.  Sure, the desserts, namely chocolate lava cake and arroz con leche, were as terrific as any of the entrees, but by this point our palates were reading “tilt”, overloaded by a bombardment of flavors.


Of course, serving as the backbone for the entire meal was the Las Rocas.  I had always appreciated this wine’s spicy flavor, and indeed its price, but on this night I gained new respect for its versatility.  It was light enough to compliment the cheese-heavy and the sweet dishes, but it took on the heavier meats without wavering, and it carried enough acidity to hold firm against the creamier dishes.  Those consuming the aioli-drizzled dishes didn’t appear to have too many complaints.  For inviting me, thanks go to Victoria Zabel of Hunter Public Relations, and one final salutation goes out to the Black Bull staff for their incredible attentiveness to detail and for never losing their game faces. Right as we were leaving, our two favorite waiters were carrying a table, upside-down, across the bar.  Laura and I left them a couple of crisp 20’s on the table’s underbelly for a job well done.  It’s not as if I could tip the Las Rocas itself.

Black Bull Restaurant

1721 W. Division St., Chicago