The truth is, what makes the holidays easier is taking a step back and cutting off all the noise. Take a moment to close your eyes and think of someplace more relaxing, where the pace of life is always manageable and days are lived to their zesty fullest all year. Ole! Did you say Spain?
That’s right, Spain. The Spaniards lead colorful, playful lives, so what could be better than adding some Spanish flair to your holidays? Consider how an easy to fill tapas board could make your holidays easy to prepare and easy to enjoy. All you’ll need is a glass of wine and Albariño from “Green Spain,” aka Rías Baixas. It’s the perfect accompaniment to almost everything you’ll want to cook up over the coming months.
With a fresh character that features fine mineral notes and a wonderful array of fruit flavors that range from mango and peach to lemon and quince, Albariño is a great way to get one’s palate ready for celebrating. And while Albariño can be light and crisp, it’s a middleweight champ ready to punch above its weight class, hanging tough with big, rich and bold dishes in a way that sets it apart from most other white wines.
So make it a point to add some Spanish soul to your celebration and check out some of the great, easy to prepare dishes that will not only sing with Albariño, but will give you some time to enjoy yourself this holiday season!
Albariño comes from the Atlantic Coast of Northern Spain, an area known as Galicia. The bounty of the sea here forms the basis of many typical Galician dishes, and you can pretty much take your pick among the favorites.
Vieira, a fan shaped sea scallop, is not only the symbol of Santiago de Compostela, but is also something of a regional specialty. This is often served simply with a splash of Albarino!
I’m a big fan of ceviche as an appetizer, and big plump sea scallops are perfect after just a short time marinating in the zesty citrus juice dressing. Albariño, having a particularly fresh and minerally style, is a natural partner to this simple and fresh style of preparation.
Though it may not be purely Galician, Albarino has a knack for pairing with the world's spicy and exotic flavors. Try a bottle with your next adventure with Szechuan or Thai cooking and be prepared for a cooling surprise!
Almost-Ceviche, An Easy to Love Tapa
An almost-ceviche salad would still make for a killer Albariño pairing, maybe even better than the real thing. The softer acidity of the orange juice used here an added richness of a touch of olive oil provide for a nice alternative to the regular preparation.
Why All This Seafood?
You might wonder why Albariño is paired with seafood so instinctually. That old saying, “If it grows with it, it goes with it” is at work here, plus a little serendipity of course!
Galicia, that coastal region of “Green Spain,” is blessed with an extensive coastline, but that coastline is rocky and rough, making people turn to the sea for its bounty of shellfish and finfish.
Rías Baixas, the region of Galicia that hugs this rugged coastline, is peppered with inlets, known as Rías in Spanish, that make fishing about the easiest way to feed a family. Interestingly, with limited needs for grazing land, many farmers in Rías Baixas chose to grow grapes in their small plots. Even today, the average holding of Albariño grapes is less than half an acre.
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One of the most well known of Galicia’s tapas must be the Pulpo Gallego, or Galician-style octopus. This dish is a breeze to prepare and yet is filing and satisfying in a soul warming way.
Combining the deep flavors of octopus with the earthy tones of potatoes and paprika yields a dish that just screams out for the brightness and fruit of a nice Albariño. Use a nice fruity olive oil with your pulpo to add extra depth of flavor.
So What is Albariño?
Albariño is both a grape and the wine made from that grape. In Rías Baixas, over 90% of the vineyards are planted to Albariño, with the remainder being split amongst other grapes typically found in Northwest Spain, such as Loureiro and Treixadura. These grapes can add additional complexity to a bottle of Albariño, but are relatively rare.
As we mentioned earlier, the average holding in Albariño is not even a half-acre of vines, so it comes as no surprise that many of the wines are produced by cooperative efforts. Since most of these co-ops gather wines from many regions, there are five distinct zones within Albariño. Most Albariño is a sort of regional wine, bringing the consumer the finest expression of Rías Baixas terroir that each winemaker can manage.
There are a limited number of smaller and privately owned wineries in the region where you can find both single vineyard and special bottling. These are specifically designed to highlight the finest terroir and winemaking techniques of the region. So no matter which Albariño you pick up, you can be sure that you are getting the best the region has to offer.
Yes, empanadas. We might think of them as a symbol of South America, but the Empenada Gallega, or Galician empanada, is a classic dish that is closely bound with their culture. These meat and pepper pies (you can substitute chicken or turkey for the pork and still get great results) draw their flavoring from the Serrano ham, white wine, saffron, paprika and peppers that are so integral to Spanish cuisine.
For a more authentic empanada, seek out the region’s famous Pimiento de Padron, small dark green chilies that are quickly fried and served as classic tapas or a stunning garnish so some of your favorite dishes. They’re addictive, so buy them in bulk!
A Cheese Board
While we love the idea of cheese for dessert, we can’t resist cheese as part of your tapas board. Those that are soft and tangy with a slightly salty bite bring out the fruit and mineral notes from your favorite Albariño. The list of cheeses from Galicia is long, but some of the easiest to find are also the most popular.
Cabrales – A blend of goat’s and cow’s milk, this blue cheese is rich and creamy with the salty tang of sea air.
Idiazabal – A fresh, buttery sheep’s milk cheese that pairs well with a fruity Albariño.
Tetilla – The famous breast shaped cheese of Galicia. Young and fresh, this cow’s milk cheese is very rich and creamy, though the bright acidity of your favorite Albariño makes for a perfect foil.
Photo courtesy Iban via Flickr/CC
-In case you missed it, we’ve been extolling the virtues of Alabriño, the white wine of Rías Baixas.
-Next time you want a white wine remember Albariño, light and fresh.
-Grown by small farmers, Albariño brings the flavors of Galicia to you.
-Those flavors of ripe and exotic fruits, citrus, minerals and sea salt make Albariño a perfect match for a variety of cuisines, but also make it a delightful aperitif.
-Albariño is a historic wine, produced for over a century in Rías Baixas, yet almost forgotten.
Taste a part of history, taste Rías Baixas, toast with Albariño!
Photo courtesy Jamie Heimbouch via Flickr/CC