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Union Station evokes images of film noir, the hustle and bustle of a growing community, and the best of what Los Angeles might become. It also proved to be a wonderful place for a wine tasting.

A few weeks ago it was the setting for the Rioja Festival. Featuring Spanish wines from the Rioja region, delicious food linked with Spain, and a party atmosphere, Union Station provided the stage for a delightful afternoon.

We tasted dozens of red and white wines from Rioja, an area of Spain about 2 hours driving time north of Madrid. In California we’re proud of wineries that might date back to the forties or fifties.  In Spain some of these places date back to the 19th century. That is what you call history.

Our favorite wine was Faustino Gran Reserva 2001.  Fragrant, with aromas of the forest floor, the wine tasted of plums but not prunes. There are also notes of cherry.  It has a great, long finish.

The other Delight was our reintroduction to Spanish jamon.  When we toured central and northern Spain a few years, we found these massive full pork legs selling in grocery stores and featured at numerous tapas bars. 

These legs are the Spanish version of Italian prosciutto, only it tastes soooo much better.  We couldn’t get enough of what is commonly sold there, known as jamon serrano.  Sliced paper thin, served with some crusty French bread and Spanish olive oil (maybe with a little crushed tomatoes), we had it nightly.

Jamon Serrano comes from white pigs which have a variety of foods to eat, from grass to grains to whatever.  The best serrano is aged and dry-cured for more than fifteen months.  And we thought we’d tasted heaven when we had it in España.

The Rioja Festival took us to a whole new level.  There, Teddy Rebollo, CEO of Iberico Club (www.ibericoclub.com), carved generous samples of the undisputed king of jamon, Jamon 100% Iberico de bellota.  These are pure-bred black pigs that are free range and eat solely acorns without additional grains or fodder.  They are dry-cured for up to five years.

Featuring an intense nutty flavor with a pungent aroma, Teddy’s Jamon Iberico melted in our mouths for a long-lasting delight.  For some unknown reason, import of Jamon Iberico is more tightly controlled than the sale of assault rifles.  Only four companies have the right to sell Jamon Iberico in the States.  Consequently, it’s not cheap – But it is the ideal appetizer for that special evening. 

© Carl J. Kanowsky