Almudena de Llaguno is not only another Spanish wines importer. She was the aunthentic pioneer when she founded Classical Wines from Spain, 30 years ago.
She moved from Spain to Seattle to build a common dream with her partner Steve, who had been graduated at UW and loved the Pacific Northwest. Three decades later, Almudena has found in this city her second home altought “I miss the bright light of Spain,” she smiles.
At first, not everybody believed in their adventure. “People asked if I think I could make money selling Spanish wines in the US. But we were young, adventurous and we had nothing to lose, so we followed our heart,”, says.
Every succesful company arrives sooner or later to the tipping point, and for Almudena was the collaboration with Bodegas Pesquera from DO Ribera de Duero, one of the flagships of this wine region.
“Spanish wines were totally unknown in the 80s. That´s why we decided to include the map of Spain in our business cards” Almudena explains. “All of this changed afte the 1992 Olympic Games and other Spanish wines importers began to work in the US”. She discovered soon that all this buzz was not a threat but a big push to her business. “Spaniard wines moved from a hidden corner in the stores to a more relevant space”.
Today Classical Wines from Spain works all around the country but the biggest markets are New York, Chicago and Florida, where the latin american population is really faithful to great value classic wines.
California, Washington and Oregon are good markets too altough they´re the first wine producers in the country. “Consumers breath the wine culture and they become more receptive to new varieties too,” explains Almudena.
Many things have changed since Almudena founded Classical Wines from Spain 30 years ago. Spain produces today more wine than ever, but “It´s more difficult to find now an unique and authentic wine, the market is really even, following the directions of some gurus like Robert Parker,” explains. “Finding these special wines is our work and It´s the work that we enjoy the most”.
Since the beginning of Classical Wines from Spain, Almudena have always promoted the original grape varieties of each area, like moristel in Somontano, a region situated in the NE of Spain. Luckily, Spanish local varieties are more appreciated now than ever.
The wine culture is blooming in the U.S., where a more healthy lifestyle and mediterranean diet is gaining supporters day by day. “The influence of the media in the american society is huge , with publications as Wine Spectator , Wine Enthusiast , and the weekly column of Asimov in The New York Times,” says de Llaguno. “And luckily the influencers love Spanish wines”.
It´s fun to know how strong the city celebrates 5 de mayo, a non significant fiesta for most of the Mexicans, but a great excuse for local people to dive into the bold and spicy flavors of the Southbound neighbor.
If anybody thinks that Spaniard cooking and Mexican cooking are similar is totally wrong. In my opinion, because my husband thinks the opposite, but I don´t feel in the same way.
It´s true that after the Spanish conquerors some interesting food traveled from Mexico to Europe, like corn and chocolate, and other ingredients made the opposite trip, like rice and almonds.
But today, apart from some treats and desserts like flan or churros and other creations as moronga, similar to our morcilla, our two countries cook in a real different way. I´d say that our cooking is much more austere, depending more on the quality of the ingredients and with a range of species and condiments much more limited. And our flavours are much less explosive, I would say.
That´s why Mexican cooking is, today a total mistery to me. But I don’t mean the typical tacos, burritos and quesadillas tex mex. I mean the real deal, because in Spain you won´t find Mexican food far away from tortillas, nachos and guacamole seasoning too.
I was curious to know more about nopales, these cactus with extraordinary properties, a great deal to keep your blood pressure and sugar levels on track and full of vitamins. So I asked Eugenia, one of my best friends, who kindly organized a guided visit to the Mexican population temple here in the Eastside, La Quemada convinence shop, in Downtown Redmond.
The first thing that surprised me was the amazing collection of different spices and herbs that you can find inside. You can choose between 300? different varieties, many of them totally new for me. Of course you have a wide range of dried chiles to choose, like the famous chile de árbol, used for celebrities like Bobby Flay, in every of their dishes.
I selected a few of them for home, including whole nutmeg, and I was headed to the butchery aisle. There you can find different kind of seasoned meats for your tacos, apart from smoked pork chops and Morongo, a kind of Mexican morcilla, not to tasty as the Spanish variety, I have to say…
Then, another turnaround to land into chiles paradise, when I found so many varieties… Anyway I finally went classic, choosing serrano peppers. And here it is! Fresh nopalesl! I rounded my shopping cart with some chayotes, pasilla and tomatillos too. Eugenia was happy explaining me how to cook everything. “The nopales need few water and a pinch of salt, or they´ll end really mushy”.
Coming back home, I decide to dive a bit into mexican recipes thanks to Saint Google, patron of all the amateur cookers, and I found an interesting salad made with nopales that I reproduce here. Easy to prepare and really bold in flavor. You only need to modulate the use of the serrano peppers and let the onion marinate in salt for an hour if you´re not a super spicy pal. We eat ours as a garnish to the smoked pork chops that I´d bought at La Quemada too.
So yes, enjoy your Corona and tacos to celebrate 5 de mayo, but if you feel a bit adventurous, I recommend you a visit to La Quemada to dive into the real deal. The shop assistants, super nice, will proudly help you to choose the best groceries for your mexican party.
1/2 kg of nopales
1 small onion
2 serrano peppers
2 gourd tomatoes
cilantro The Juice of 1 lemon
1 ripe avocado
Remove the seeds from the tomatoes and chiles. Cut into julienne the nopales, the onion, the tomato and the chiles.
Boil the cactus in little salted water until al dente.
Place the onion and the chiles in a bowl and add the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper and oregano and let marinate while you cook the nopales. When they are cooked rinse under running cold water, drain them well and place in a bowl.
Add the marinated onions and chiles to the nopales. Add the chopped tomato and cilantro and stir everything. Finally add the avocado sliced or minced. You can add panela cheese into cubes too.
This nopales salad is great to accompany grilled meat or fish.