Wine and food pairing perspectives have reached manic levels as of late. The science behind the myriad thesis in play is of course solid and sound, and yes there is science at play here, but the problem is in the equipment we use to measure the applications of these thesis, and the horribly inaccurate computers we use to analyze those measurements. Yes my friends, there is a science to wine and food pairings, but our palates and our minds just seem to get in the way of its simple perfection.
By science of course I mean the basis for so many wine and food matchups that work, and that don’t work. Science comes into play when we talk of pairing a high acid wine with fish, or not matching tannins with artichokes or jalapenos, for example. But what happens if you like artichokes and tannic wines? The science continues to be sound, yet our assumptions turn out to be wrong. Thats the problem with the intersection of art and science, too many assumptions just don’t pan out, and some that shouldn't do.
Wine and food are certainly a large part of this overlapping region on many people’s art and science venn diagram, right between keeping an old car running and painting (walls or canvas, doesn’t matter which in most cases). It’s where the ‘rules’ we know we should abide by, and our preferences collide, often creating what seems to be anti-matter showering down pain on our most sophisticated, bombastic foodie friends.
Paella and Wine image via Shutterstock
The Dishes of Spain
All of this is just one heck of a lead-in to an otherwise ordinary exercise pairing some of the great classics of the Spanish kitchen with wines; some expected, and some less so. Why all the effort then? Simply to remind us all that while there is a reason why some wine and food pairings work, that doesn’t mean we have to like them. And conversely, we may like wine and food pairings that we have no real reason to like, and yet we do.
It all comes down to respecting one’s palate and doing what feels right. I know a lot of people who laugh at this idea, the idea that it’s possible to be satisfied with anything less than the perfect wine and food pairing. Those people have my sympathies. They spend their lives unsatisfied without perfection, while I revel in what I have, enjoying each moment, each morsel, not lamenting what could have been, but rather celebrating what is.
And yes, sometimes I have had some awful wine and food match ups, so I make a note and move on. Today I’m writing about some of the great dishes of Spain, super food friendly and of course well-suited to the wines of Spain, but at the same time I offer you Spanish recommendations. I’m going to offer some other options that share some of the spirit of the Spanish wines, but are different. It’s the difference between Mounds and Almond Joy, and besides, there is no scientific basis for local wines working with local fare, and yet they do.
This is a classic tapa in Spain, and a wonderful and easy addition to a buffet party, brunch or dinner menu. Great on its own, or as an accompaniment, the Spanish tortilla embraces the simplicity of traditional Spanish cuisine and elevates the humble potato to a starring role. A dish like this deserves a simple wine, but one that highlights something as elemental as the potato in the tortilla.
I love Txacoli here, mineral and precise, with mouth-cleansing acid and in most cases a playful petillance. It’s a wine that seems perfectly suited to use as a foil for the rich, earthy flavors of tortilla. The 2010 Txakoli Txomin Etxaniz de Guetaria accompanies this dish perfectly.
Assyrtiko from Santorini in Greece is a wine that shares much with Txacoli, mineral rich with mouth-cleansing acidity and lovely clarity of flavor, it even ages well and an example with some age on it might have just the right savory edge to pair with the earthy potatoes.
Paella is not a dish, so much as a method of preparing just about anything that requires the inclusion of rice, and in absolute terms a paella pan. While Paella is in many ways the mac ‘n cheese of Spain, ubiquitous with endless permutations, it’s also one of the most complex and joyous dishes in the Spanish repertoire. This classic version includes meat, sausage and shellfish, and the truth is I would opt for one of the great roses of Spain to pair with this preparation.
The Lopez de Heredia Tondonia Rosado Gran Reserva is pretty much unique in the world of wine--I mean who else is selling aged Roses? Savory, fruity, bright and complex, it’s a remarkable wine and a great partner for Paella.
The only other candidate that springs to mind on the singular occasion that I’m considering aging rose happens to be Valentini’s Cerasuolo di Montepulciano, which is frightfully more expensive than the Tondonia, and a wine that you have to buy young should you wish to drink it aged. And yet, it’s a wine well-suited to Paella, and one that should not be missed if you get the opportunity to try it. With paella of course!
Arroz Con Pollo
Arroz con Pollo is the true soul food of Spain. We tend to think of Paella as the soul food of Spain, and even I am guilty of this misnomer, but who are we kidding? Since when does soul food include clams and shrimp? No, if you’re really talking soul food that even the least affluent can indulge in, then Arroz con Pollo it is, and in that light we’ll be needing to pair it with an equally accessible, and affordable wine.
Light, fresh and with some bright fruit that is simple enough to compliment and not dominate the relatively mild flavors of this dish, lets look to tempranillo in general, and Rioja specifically, but not the usual Reservas and Gran Reservas we reach for. This is the time to break out the Joven, that increasingly rare fruity young wine that celebrates nothing more than being alive. It’s not a wine that shows much in the way of terroir, or breed, or winemaking skill. It’s all about the fruit, in a non-fruity, non-fruitbomby way, and that is delicious. Serve it with a slight chill in the summer!
There are very few wines like this left in the world. Everybody wants to make something important with their signature. Beaujolais Nouveau is an option, though most kind of suck, so instead just go for some good gamay. Some of the examples from California benefit from the warmth of their growing season, offering a fruitier experience than the classic wines of Beaujolais. We all love the Edmunds St. John Bone Jolly, and at $18.00, it’s still pretty affordable.
Romesco sauce is a classic Catalan accompaniment, primarily used with seafood and white meats, though it compliments red meat quite well. At its most elemental, it’s a simple blend of chilies, nuts and garlic in oil. Piquant in the classic sense of the word, Romesco enlivens just about anything in comes in contact with, and it’s a great way to add some spice and juiciness to baccala. The combination of assertive Romesco, and subtle seafood can be a challenge to pair with wine.
The key to success here is to match the spice of the sauce with an assertive wine, but making sure to not overpower the delicacy of the fish. How are we going to do that? By using an assertively perfumed wine, that’s how. Break out your dry Muscat baby! Let’s even keep it local and reach for Torres’s Vina Esmeralda, a blend of Muscat and a dollop of Gewurztraminer which adds a hint of richness on the palate. It’s perfect for lightly spicy fish dishes like this one.
Looking for something floral yet less aggressive on the nose? Let me introduce you to my little friend: Hans Wirsching Iphofer Scheurebe. It’s in the weird bottle. More mineral and zestier in the mouth than the Torres, this is also a great match for Romesco with an Old World soul.
Lamb and Roasted Red Peppers
Since we’re dealing with classic dishes of Spain we had to include at least a little lamb, no pun intended! This recipe is ‘Spanish Style”, and I’m not sure what that actually means, though it appears to be an iteration of a Spanish staple. I like the jist of the recipe, though why on earth would I use Kalamata olives in a “Spanish Style” dish? Maybe that’s what the quotation marks mean. Find your self some good spanish olives, there are tons of them to chose from, and use some fresh red chilies, or even better, authentic Pequillo peppers to make this dish Spanish Style. Quotation marks never made a dish taste better.
Lamb and roasted red peppers, it’s a match that screams out for Bordeaux, and Cabernet Franc-rich St Emilion in particular. But this is an authentic Spanish style dish, so we need to find an authentic Spanish wine to match up with the flavors at work here. There’s plenty of fat in a lamb shoulder, so we’ll need a wine with good acidity and little tannins, and then there are the flavors, deep and rich from the meat with the great vegetal counterpoint provided by the peppers.
Many wine writers have compared Mencia, a grape grown in the Bierzo region of Spain with Cabernet Franc, and while I don’t see too much similarity in the flavor profile of the wines, there is certainly a distinct similarity in the texture of the wines. Mencia is a lovely wine for lamb, bursting with crunchy red fruits, sapid and slightly tannic, it’s a blend of brilliance and rusticity that encapsulates the finest attributes of the modern Spanish table.
OK, I already said it so it’s out of the bag, Mencia is sort of, kind of like Cabernet Franc, so where else would one go to find a similar wine than: Chinon of course. Chinon in the Loire Valley is the heart of the world’s Cabernet Franc production and their fresh, juicy, yet rustic red fruited versions are the world’s very best. Many, if not most, retain the vegetal edge that will serve as a bridge for this very successful wine and food pairing. I’m a fan of Bernard Baudry’s Chinon Grezeaux, give it a try it and let me know what you think!