Outstanding In the Field: Remelluri, La Rioja

Outstanding in the Field. If you've never heard of it, it's basically dinner in the field. With lots of people, most of whom you don't know. That, of course, is an absurdly simple summary of this event that has basically conquered the United States, selling out in venues from California to Alabama. It's been going on for almost 15 years, and its mission is to spotlight farmers and the people and places behind our local food systems.

Last Saturday, I had the pleasure of attending OITF in La Rioja with two very good (too good) friends.  This OITF took place on the grounds of the bodega Remelluri, a winery whose mention draws nods of approval and respect from locals. Sancho, the son of the owners, is good friends with Jim, the founder of OITF, and the dinner felt more like a family celebration than an 'event'.

After socializing in the garden, framed by the family's personal frontón and hermitage, we moved into the vineyards for the dinner.

The menu? After aperitifs of almonds, gazpacho, jamón ibérico, and bruschetta, we sat down to toast with truffle from the mountains and butter.  Then a vegetable soup with veggies from the family garden, Terreña veal with tomatoes and pisto.

It was sort of surreal and really interesting to be part of OITF in Spain, and at the side of my friends, born and raised here.  The part of OITF that is novel in the United States, the hours long meal with love and attention lavished on both products and diners, the luxury of spending time talking at a table and savoring every dish, giving it your full attention, all that is something that is NORMAL here.   Instead, I found that the novel part of OITF for people from here was the fact that it was such an 'event'. That it was so 'cool'. That a meal could be something worthy of such introspection and for lack of a more positive word, navel gazing. Really interesting.

The last course was grilled lamb, both incredibly tender and unbelievably crispy, potatoes, and salad.  It was accompanied by a red that, after tasting, prompted me to dump my previous glass of Remelluri Red 2004 Double Magnum and fill it up anew with the 1999 Remelluri Gran Reserva. So good. Even Absemio Andoni pronounced it 'drinkable'.

As the sun set, cold started to get the best of everyone. We moved inside to watch a video of Jim, founder of OITF, doing some of his landscape sculptures on the beach of Urdaibai, in Vizkaya. Remelluri family friend/famed Basque musician Mikel Laboa had composed a song especially for the video.

After the movie, we moved into the bodega for drinks and desserts. The post dinner drinks were a highlight....champagne, riesling, port and sherry. And, of course, more red wine.

Then on to dessert, classic and correct, oranges with walnuts, leche frita, and almond cake.

Berei Good.