This spring, I’ve been marking the changes of the season with a heightened sense of wonder, with an intensity I don’t recall since childhood. The first dawn with a phoebe singing by the pond. Raking out the daylilies and daffodils, then watching them recover from a late snow, only to green up faster.
Recording the arrival of the tree frogs at twilight on an early April evening and sending their cacophony, embedded in an iPhone video of a still pond, to our executive editor Tara Thomas. She’d been homeschooling her two girls in Brooklyn for weeks and she showed the video to her nine-year-old, who said, “Whoa, that’s very cool.” Maybe it was because the frogs showed no signs of social distancing—except when a human got too close to the pond and they all went silent. In all other ways, they were oblivious to my newly quarantined life.
This winter, Spain was quickly descending into COVID-19 lockdown while Patricio Tapia and I were racing to finish our research for this issue before cutting our trip short. In an outpost on the high plain above Ribera del Duero, I found myself taking comfort in the focused energy of a chef, Mannix’s Marco Antonio García, as he shared his recipe for lechazo, the roasted milk-fed baby lamb that has, for centuries, sustained the local farmers and restaurant community. A month to cure the cazuelas, the terra-cotta ovenware that holds the meat, an hour and a half for the fire in the domed oven to turn to coals, another two hours to tend the cazuelas as the meat roasts. The culture of lechazo here is as old as the culture of wine, bringing flocks of tourists from Madrid—or Massachusetts—to stuff themselves like the pig I believe I was, demanding lechazo at lunch and dinner for two days straight, then quickly leaving town to catch the first available flight home.
But my appetite seemed only to goad the chef on, the tension and the fear of this pandemic moment accelerating what was, in this fifth-generation lechazo specialist, a legendary, almost manic energy focused on the perfection of crisp skin and a subtle, refreshing purity of flavor in the tender lechazo. As we talked by the oven in the kitchen of Mannix, chef García recalled how, as a 14-year-old, he would drink 1970 Vega-Sicilia every Sunday with his father, when their restaurant seemed to have an endless supply. Now, their stocks, like everyone else’s, are more limited. He took a moment to check on the placement of the cazuelas in the oven, which seemed to brighten his mood. Then he turned back to me, holding his fist in the air and beaming like a football player after a score, filling the empty kitchen with his own rebel yell: “Siempre Lechazo!”
W&S June 2020 Features:
WHEN SMOKE GETS IN YOUR WINE, PART II
In our April issue, Jamie Goode described how smoke from wildfires can damage grapes; here he explores what can be done when smoke affects a harvest.
W&S VALUE ALL-STARS
Forty brands that excel at great wines for $20 or less.
RETAILER CHALLENGE: LOBSTER ROLLS & WINE
Rachel DelRocco Terrazas gathers summer-dining intel from five top retailers in Portland, Maine.
Elaine Chukan Brown considers the thin-skinned grape’s future bonding with the Pacific.
POST-MODERN RIBERA DEL DUERO
Patricio Tapia reports on the region’s new, cool and nervy tinto fino, while Joshua Greene offers tips on the best lechazo—the local roast baby lamb—to go with old-vine Ribera del Duero.