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November 10, 2019

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Toro has right character for Yunnan cuisine

SOME of China’s most distinctive dishes have come from Yunnan Province and are an ideal Spanish wine partner.

The history of wine and food is more ancient than previously thought. When I first started studying wines, historians believed winemaking was about 5,000 to 6,000 years old. New archeological finds and more advanced scientific testing say wines go back 10,000 years ago, about the same time pigs and sheep were domesticated. Henceforth; the ham, cheese and wine trio were first consumed by humans at approximately the same point of history, give or take a millennium or so. Delicious by themselves, the three are even better when enjoyed together. This is true in general and specifically true when Yunnan ham and cheese meets wines.

Xuanwei ham is produced in Xuanwei City, located in northeastern Yunnan Province, and was reputedly a favorite of Dr Sun Yat-sen, founding father of modern China.

The unique climate of northeast Yunnan is a paradise for raising the Wumeng hog and for curing and fermenting its meat.

Some Chinese chefs I’ve worked with prefer this ham to the more famous Jinhua ham, claiming that Xuanwei ham has the perfect balance between saltiness, sweetness and savory qualities. They also praise the diverse uses of Xuanwei ham in soups, stir-fried dishes, braised dishes as well as steamed.

The two famous Yunnan cheeses are rubing and rushan, the former made of sheep milk and the latter from cow milk. Both are specialties of the Bai ethic minority people.

The cheeses can be steamed, fried or grilled and are often used as flavor and texture embellishers in Yunnan dishes.

Yunnan ham and cheeses pair perfectly well with flavorful dry white wines and hearty reds. One robust red I frequently serve with Yunnan cooking comes from the northeast of Spain.


Tucked away in the far western reaches of Castilla y León, or the kingdom of castles, is Toro. The region also boasts some of the world’s best wines, hams and cheeses, so it’s hardly surprising that Toro wine pairs beautifully with Yunnan ham and cheeses.

A mere 40 kilometers from the Portuguese border, Toro is a rural region known for its bold red wines. The closest city is Zamora, famous for Romanesque architecture, including the spectacular San Salvador cathedral.

The Tempranillo variety, locally referred to as Tinto de Toro, has been cultivated since the 11th century, the Christian Reconquista, when an influx of bishops, priests, scholars and members of the royal family created a market for fine wines.

Local legend claims that Columbus brought Toro wines with him when he discovered the Americas in 1492 because the powerful reds were most suited to survive the arduous journey. This intrinsic strength comes from the grape.

Tinto de Toro is an early-ripening grape known for being thick-skinned and potent, which translates into character-filled wines noted for their color, strength and concentrated flavors.

Most vineyards are situated at altitudes of 600 to 750 meters and the soils are comprised of a mix of clay, sand and calcareous soils.

Summer days are long, hot and dry but evenings are cooler and vines are able to tap into the moisture trapped deep in these clay soils. Toro also boasts some of Spain’s oldest vines.

The majority of Toro’s best-known wines are 100 percent Tinto de Toro, although wines with just 75 percent of the variety can still qualify for DO status.

Other varieties include Garnacha and Cabernet Sauvignon, although only Garnacha is permitted to accompany the Tinto de Toro in DO wines.

A few Garnacha rose and Malvasía Bianca and Verdejo white wines are also produced.

As in many other Spanish wine regions, the styles of red Toro wines are organized according to aging time. These styles in ascending order are Roble, six months aging, Crianza, two years aging with a minimum six months in oak, Reserva, three years aging with a minimum one year in oak and Gran Reserva having five years aging with a minimum two years in oak.

I recommend Roble and Crianza wines with Yunnan ham and cheese vegetable dishes and the full-bodied Reserva and Gran Reserva wines with Yunnan ham braised dishes.

Toro wines are underrepresented in Shanghai, but a limited number of fine wines are available. One of my favorite Toro producers is Elias Mora, an award-winning winery run by the multi-talented Victoria Benavides. Other recommended producers with wines available in our fair city are Pinta, owned by Vega Sicilia, Campo Eliseo, a venture between Michel Rolland and Francois Lurton, Numanthia Teres, Flor de Vetus and Mauro.

Most of the recent Toro vintages have been good with the 2018, 2016 and 2012 vintages standing out. The wines of Toro are quite age-worthy with wines from top vintages performing beautifully after several decades.


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