The holidays are upon us and, thankfully, this year there’s more opportunity to reunite with friends and family. We asked some of the country’s wine experts what you should serve (or give) on the occasion. ‘Tis the season to think Spanish wine and pairings!
Do you seem to get stuck when choosing the right wine for a special occasion? With the holidays upon us - and many opportunities to gather with friends and family - we face the burning question of what to pair with our festive feasts. As wine makes an almost-universally appreciated gift, fear not, because Spain’s wine cellar has a multitude of excellent choices to offer. To help us select some gift-worthy pairings we turn to seasoned Spanish wine expert, Rick Fisher, Spanish Program Director for the Wine Scholar Guild and Lisa Denning, Founder of The Wine Chef and writer for the Grape Collective.
First things first, let us transport you to aperitivo hour where cheese is the hero in need of a sidekick. Lisa Denning is convinced that a bubbly DO Cava will stand up to any cheese board because “complex aromas of these traditional method sparkling wines are a great complement to all types of cheeses, from hard to soft, and creamy to crumbly. Whether it’s a rich triple-crème option or a tart and earthy goat cheese, Cava pairs perfectly with the fatty, salty notes of cheese. The bubbles easily cut through a cheese’s inherent richness and bring excitement and energy to the palate”. Plus, she adds, “who doesn’t love a festive gift of sparkling wine to pop open during holiday gatherings?!”
Indeed, and if you want to delve deeper into pairing cava to your canapés, remember that a non-vintage cava joven is great with crunch or fruitiness, reserva cava works excellently with all things smoked and a gran reserva (the longest aged cavas) makes a slice of jamon ibérico simply melt in your mouth.
Seafood is a staple of Christmas celebrations in many parts of Spain, so having a fish friendly grape at the table is a must. Rick Fisher reveals that “the amazing wines of Rías Baixas, Spain’s westernmost region, are an easy choice when I am considering a wine to accompany a seafood feast. The refreshing acidity and brightness Albariño brings to the table is the perfect pairing for a wide range of seafood choices. Characteristic notes of citrus, stone fruit, and salinity all create a taste sensation unequaled by other white wines. Try Albariño with raw oysters, boiled pulpo, grilled sardines, or sushi – the possibilities are simply endless and worth the exploration!”
Spain’s most popular indigenous white, Verdejo, is the next go-to choice when it comes to seafood. Equally bold, but with nuances stretching from grapefruit to tarte tartin, Verdejo is pure liquid gold that will complement any seafood spread.
For the main course, and especially if it’s something elaborate, you might want to stick to a dry wine to create a balance with the dish. Fisher has DOC Rioja in mind as an unrivaled partner: “if I were going to choose a dry wine from one Spanish appellation to take to a friend’s home, it would have to be a Rioja. This choice is by no means cliché or without much consideration. Rioja is home to some of the world’s best and most age-worthy red wines. From light and fresh Joven wines to complex Reservas and Gran Reservas, Rioja’s signature grape – Tempranillo – shines brightly here. They are also the perfect wines to pair throughout a meal or to just sit and sip. Don’t forget the white and rosé wines from here, too. You just cannot go wrong with Rioja!”
If you like to play it a little differently, then go for the more modern DOQ of Catalonia - Priorat. You’ll find mineral undertones, blackberry, and anise aromas and unique complexity of terroir in its reds, or heady licorice and herbs in its dry white wines - these are sure to turn heads.
Finally, we turn to the sweet ending. If you just can’t decide what to bring as a dessert wine, Denning has it covered: “my sweet Spanish wine suggestion is a fine quality cream sherry from DO Jerez-Xeres-Sherry. The best examples of this off-dry wine are blends of well-aged dry Oloroso with a little bit of sweet Pedro Ximenez. The addition of PX brings the wine to a level of sweetness between 115 and 140 grams per liter of sugar-sweet, but never cloying! Good cream sherry makes a perfect gift because it can be enjoyed in many different ways: on ice as an aperitif with hors d'oeuvres and cheeses and with desserts like apple pie, caramel flan, and rich chocolate cake. And, for after dinner, cream sherry’s touch of sweetness can beautifully offset the bitter notes of coffee and tea.”
If you want a lighter, but no less interesting accompaniment to dessert, go for one of the many excellent Spanish dessert wines available. Try for example an aged Moscatel, with jammy, rose petal aromas, or a sweet Garnacha wine with notes of mature fruit and dates.
This holiday season, when you find yourself deliberating in the store over which wines to buy -either for pairing or gifting- remember to check out the Spanish section. From shrimp to good old turkey and ham, Spain’s got you covered. Let’s raise a glass and brindar to that!