Of all the numerous delights that the Spanish have given the culinary world, perhaps the most enduring has been the concept of tapas.
Different stories exist as to the exact origin but the idea of covering a glass with a slice of jamon or chorizo to protect the content embodies the belief, prevalent in Mediterranean culture, that food and wine should be served together. Northern countries like the UK were slower to embrace this and still saw food as a means to soaking up alcohol, rather than accompanying it as an equal.
Time marches on and Tapas have become more refined, kitchens have become global and wine has become the drink of choice, even in countries with little or no viticulture. The variety of spices and raw material that are now available to restaurants and the home enhances and challenges both cooks and sommelier alike to provide matches.
What makes for a successful pairing?
Firstly, stay away from generalisations: perceived wisdom was that fish and white wine go together as do reds with meat and cheese. A Garnacha Blanca based white from the Costers del Siurana estate in Priorat has the body to cope with pork or veal.
Similarly a red with low tannins, such as a Pinot Noir from Penedes or a Tempranillo Joven from Rioja would match fish. Highly aromatic whites such as Sauvignon Blanc do not cope with oily fish or brown crab meat. A recent revelation was a white wine with high residual sugar complementing a hard white cheese such as Manchego, the secret being the marriage of opposites: sugar and salt.
Given that much cheese is accompanied by membrillo, perhaps this is less of a surprise, but many would not consider a white at all. Secondly, cast the net wider: the regional pride that exists throughout Spain can be witnessed on the wine lists, not always advantageously.
Cava or Pansa Blanca may be the natural aperitif in Barcelona, with no Manzanilla to be seen, but the latter is a wonderful food pairing. The fuller bodied reds of Rioja or Ribera del Duero may match many items, but for a blue cheese such as Cabrales, the fulsome charms of Toro Albalá’s Pedro Ximénez (PX) from Montilla-Moriles are highly attractive.
This wine also works well with chocolate, making it one of the few that can cope with both the sweet and the savoury at the end of a meal, be it the 1983 Don PX or the simpler Dulce de Pasas.
Words Philip Harris Photography Courtesy of LA Rioja Alta and Bodegas del Palacio de Fefiñane
Read the rest of this article