Day eight of his “12 Wines of Christmas” series sees Peter Ranscombe exploring Spanish food and wine pairings.
THINK Spain, think sunshine.
Long lazy days spent soaking up rays on the beach, simmering summer evenings spent devouring plates of tapas, and cringe worthy late nights spent crooning to questionable karioke in “Irish” pubs.
Yet master of wine and Scotsman wine columnist Rose Murray Brown made a very interesting point when she hosted a recent online seminar that paired Spanish food with Spanish wine.
She pointed out that 90% of Spain’s vineyards sit at a higher altitude than those in neighbouring France.
When you’re lying on a beach, it’s easy to forget just how much of Spain is dominated by its mountains.
That elevation brings with it freshness – a bigger shift towards cooler temperatures at night allow grapes to retain more of their acidity, while still reaching ripeness during the day.
Murray Brown’s online masterclass, part of the Spanish government’s “Eat Spain, Drink Spain” promotion, paired Spain’s wines with some of its most famous foods, with packs of ingredients posted out to participants so they could try their hand at food and wine matching in the comfort of their own homes.
THE WINE: Anna de Codorniu Brut Cava (£11.99, Waitrose)
Savoury, nutty, and lemon rind notes on the nose led into much more fruitiness on the palate, with red apple, lemon, and a nutty finish. Cava’s characteristic freshness was the star of the show.
THE FOOD: Gazpacho soup
Murray Brown paired the cava with a classic gazpacho soup, which worked superbly, with the acidity from the sparkling wine cutting through the thick tomato soup. Cava is really versatile, and I enjoyed the way its acidity sliced apart the fatty Fisan Iberico ham.
THE WINE: Cuarenta Vendimias Verdejo 2019 (£10.95, Ultracomida)
As we’ve seen before, verdejo grapes from the Rueda region can make really refreshing white wines, and the Cuarenta Vendimias didn’t disappoint. Made using 40-year-old vines, the wine’s exciting nose full of pear, red apple and a floral note opened out into concentrated orchard and citrus flavours, with an apple skin texture.
THE FOOD: Hake pate
Hake pate smeared on toast was Murray Brown’s pairing, while I felt the wine brought out the creaminess in the manchego cheese.
THE WINE: Castro Martín Family Estate Sobre Lías Albarino (£15.49, Buy Great Wine)
No Spanish food and wine matching event would be complete without an albarino from Galicia in North-West Spain. Concentrated lemon and apricot on the nose and then an almost oily rich texture on the palate, with its squeaky clean acidity balanced by complex lemon curd, red apple, and peach flavours.
THE FOOD: Seafood
Seafood is the classic match for albarino, and Murray Brown opted for a tuna niçoise salad, while I ventured into the Beher ham shoulder, which brought out more of the wine’s red apple flavour.
THE WINE: Bodega Clunia Albillo (£18.99, House of Townsend)
From “albarino” to “albillo”, a rare indigenous variety grown at 1,000 metres above sea level in the Castilla & León region. Gentle aromas of lemon, apricot, and grapefruit point towards lemon and grapefruit on the palate, with pear flavour coming through too to help balance the high acidity.
THE FOOD: Manchego cheese
This style of fresh, young wine illustrates why whites can pair perfectly with cheeses – the albillo brought out more of the salty notes in the manchego.
THE WINE: Altos R Pigeage Graciano 2018
It looks like Laithwaites is sold out of this impressive graciano from Rioja at the moment, but I see Vinissimus is dispatching bottles to the UK from Spain for just over £30 a bottle. Graciano is one of the grapes used in smaller quantities to make Rioja, alongside bigger contributors tempranillo and garnacha. This example offered violet and fresh blackcurrant on the nose and then sweeter blackberry on the palate. The wake-you-up acidity and slightly grainy tannins mean it could probably do with a little longer in bottle to knit together – Vinissimus is currently stocking the 2016, for example.
THE FOOD: Lamb, lamb, and some more lamb
Rioja and lamb is a classic, although I’m partial to a sip with chorizo cooked in oil too – that acidity would be enough to cut through the grease.
THE WINE: La Báscula No Stone Unturned 2017 (£15.99, Kwoff)
An awesome organic blend of 60% garnacha, 25% cariñena, 25% cabernet sauvignon, and 15% syrah from master of wine Ed Adams and South African winemaker Bruce Jack. The sweet nose – full of blackcurrant, blackberry, and liquorice – hints at what’s to come on the finish, with raspberry jam and some cedar notes along the way. Ripe yet well-integrated tannins and some tangy acidity complete the party.
THE FOOD: Cured ham
Back to the cured ham, especially the paleta or shoulder. Tasty with the sliced chorizo too.
THE WINE: Valdemar Balcon de Pilatos Maturana 2017 (£23.99, All About Wine)
Intense aromas of black fruit, dark chocolate, coffee, and vanilla on the nose signpost the even more complex mix on the palate, stretching from sweet and sour balsamic notes through to milk chocolate, coffee, vanilla, coconut, and dark fruit. Thirteen months in new American oak has turned this into a very grown-up style or Rioja.
THE FOOD: Lamb, mushroom risotto, salchichón
Murray Brown highlighted its pairing ability with lamb or mushroom risotto and I concur thoroughly. From the selection of treats included in the tasting pack, this was the only wine that had the gumption to stand up to the truffle-dominated salchichón… but only just.
THE WINE: Perelada 5 Fincas Castillo 2016 (£16.75, Amps)
After 18 months in a mix of French and American oak barrels, there are heavy coffee, cedar, and vanilla aromas sitting alongside the dark fruit. Its blend of 32% cabernet sauvignon, 26% garnacha, 21% merlot, 11% syrah, 7% samsó, 2% monastrell, and 1% cabernet franc delivers a delicious and complex sweet yet fresh mix of chocolate and vanilla balanced by black olive and blackcurrant.
THE FOOD: Chocolate
Murray Brown reminded her audience about the excellent match that oak-soaked reds can provide to chocolate. For me, the wine sang alongside the chorizo, creating a sweet and spicy mix.
THE WINE: Viña Pomal Reserva 106 Barricas 2017
Back to where we began, with a classic Rioja from cava maker Codorníu. Smeda Wines has the 2013 (£19.99), while Deliver Wine Co stocks the 2015 (£19). A blend of 90% tempranillo, 5% garnacha and 5% graciano aged for 20 months in 85% American and 15% French oak. What’s most impressive is the way the fruit still shines through the oak, with a mix of black and red cherries, plus spicier liquorice, before the vanilla and blackcurrant jam come to the fore towards the finish. Surprisingly mellow and pleasingly chewy.
THE FOOD: We’re back to roast lamb
Hard to move past roast lamb, but it worked well with the chorizo and manchego from the tapas too.
THE WINE: Fernando de Castilla Antique Oloroso (£28.95, Royal Mile Whiskies)
Never underestimate the power of Spain’s diverse range of sherries when it comes to food and wine matching. This oloroso has a deliciously-fresh finish, having taken in sweet caramel, orange peel, and nutty notes along the way.
THE FOOD: Almonds and more chocolate
Murray Brown paired her oloroso with almonds and chocolate, while other participants chipped in with suggestions including dried fruit, air-dried smoked beef, and even duck with drier examples, courtesy of Miguel Crunia at The Green Room in Edinburgh.
Tomorrow: the 12 wines of Christmas continue with carmenere from Chile.
In the meantime, catch up on yesterday’s article about high-end wines from KWV in South Africa, and then read more of Peter’s vinous adventures on his drinks blog, The Grape & The Grain.