Dec 07 2022

Christmas with Spanish Wines: Merry Pairings!

Wine expert Ilya Kirilin aka @garnacha_man shares his ideas on classic and experimental combinations.


by Garnacha Man - @garnacha_man

Spain is one of the most diverse country in terms of food and wine variety. The best moment to explore this rich selection is Christmas time, when the best dishes are on the table and the finest wines are in the glasses.

Conservas aka canned fish and seafood

In Spain fish conserves are not just a basic cheap thing. It’s an art. Just open a can and look how perfectly shaped are little fishes or clams? The people who pack them deserve a special recognition, this job is not an easy one. And locals respect them a lot, there are even some clubs of collectors that age their little cans and taste them after few years. Like a great wine, great fish goes better with time. And what is the wine that has the longest history not only in Spain but in the whole Europe? Jerez!

Classic pairing. Galician coast is a paradise for the lovers of fish and seafood, the variety is amazing, the quality is out of this world. So are the wines, Rías Baixas shows the best expression of Albariño grape variety, it’s very salty, mineral, citrusy and fresh. Most people think that it’s only good when young, but trust me, there is nothing better than Albarino from Val de Salnés subzone with 4-5 years of ageing.

Experimental pairing. If some form of extraterrestrial life would ask me to name only one Spanish wine that is completely unique and represent the country, I would say Jerez or Sherry. It’s ancient, it’s  diverse, it’s absolutely stunning but it’s not easy to understand. How just three grape varieties can give such a variety of styles, from the driest wine in the world like Fino or Manzanilla to the sweetest Pedro Ximénez? We think of Jerez as a wine made in the cellar with flor ageing, fortification and solera method, but it’s has started as a wine made in the vineyard and new generation of winemakers are reviving historical styles. These non-fortified wines are mind-blowing, they completely change our perception of Palomino as a neutral grape variety. It has a lot of character, it’s with saline aftertaste that goes perfectly with a huge range of high end canned fishes from completely opposite part of Spain.   

Jamón Iberico aka Spanish ham

Jamón is a real gem of Spanish gastronomy. No ham in the world has got any close to the greatness of Jamón Ibérico. It’s as complex as wine with it’s different DOs, varieties and techniques that deserve a special article. But let’s focus on the Christmas – how to choose right Jamón? Get the best you can find. The same about wine.

Classic pairing. Classic elegant Spanish red wines are amazing. Rioja Gran Reserva is one of the greatest wines on the planet, long ageing gives lots of aromas of leather, tobacco, wet forest floor that somehow remind us aged ham. Just don’t forget the most important rule, jamón should be room temperature and Rioja a bit colder.

Experimental pairing. What goes perfectly with something with rich intense flavor full of umami and creaminess from the fat? Long aged sparkling wine from Penedés! While the whole world focuses on French grape varieties, Spanish winemakers believe in the greatness of local grapes like Xarel.lo, Macabeo and Parellada. As it’s Christmas and jamón, let’s choose only the best which means Xarel.lo based blend and extra long ageing on the lees. You can find it in Cava Gran Reserva, aged at least for 30 month, top wines from Corpinnat and Penedés Classic DO. Some of the wines spend more that 10 years is humid dark cellars before they arrive to your table, so show some respect, don’t use small flute glass, get a regular white wine glass. !Salud!

Besugo aka Seabream and other wild fishes

Madrid is the second biggest fish market in the world. Here you can find almost anything, try to compare red prawn from Denia with the one from Sanlúcar, it looks and tastes completely different. Christmas dinner always starts with seafood plate but the first main dish is usually wild-caught fish like Seabream baked in oven. Sounds like a white wine only but there is a way to pair it even with red.

Classic pairing. The white grape variety that has become very trendy lately is Godello. It’s easy to understand why, that’s the first Spanish modern white wine to get 100 points by It’s coming from Valdeorras in Galicia and it’s a perfect match with baked fish.

Experimental pairing. We rarely think of red wines with fish, but there is one amazing Spanish product that can connect them – pimentón. Just a little dash changes the taste completely. But we still have to respect the fish and not try to overpower its taste, so we are looking for a light fresh red wine like Garnacha from Sierra de Gredos. Garnacha is one of the most important Spanish red grape varieties. Born somewhere in the mountains of Aragón, it was never considered to be great, people loved it just for high alcohol content and sweet fruity aromas. Nobody expected that one of the most highly priced and rare wines would be Garnachas. And one of them are coming from Sierra de Gredos. This wine regions in the outskirts of Madrid was completely forgotten. Farmers were selling their grapes from ancient vines to cooperatives, cooperatives sold cheap bulk wines, the region was literally dying . There was no hope until the group of young winemakers arrived and believed in local terroir, local grape varieties and started Garnacha revolution! They showed Garnacha on granite soils and high altitude can give very perfumed but subtle wines, super elegant and juicy but not too shy. Those wines completely changed our ideas of Garnacha as a grape variety so it’s time to think outside of the box. Why not pair it with fish? Give it a try, it’s worth it.

Cochinillo and Cordero Lechal aka suckling pig and lamb

One of the most traditional dishes in many parts of Castilla y León is suckling pig and suckling lamb. The first one is coming from Segovia and is protected Marca de Garantía, the second one has it’s own IGT. The cooking process is almost the same, you just need the meat of the highest quality and wooden oven. Couple of hours and you get super soft and juicy meat inside and crunchy golden brown skin outside. Sounds delicious? Yes, it really is. And it’s perfect with wine.

Classic pairing. “What grows together goes together” is always right, so the most classic wine for this dish would be Tempranillo from Castilla y León. Toro, Ribera del Duero are perfect examples of rich, powerful and warming winter red wines that are elegant and strong at the same time. Just make sure the wine is not too heavy, these meats are pretty delicate.

Experimental pairing. Castilla was never a land of white or red wines, it was a land of clarete. It is a unique style of wine based on the blend of white and red grapes, usually Albillo Mayor and Tempranillo. White grapes gave freshness and lightness, red grapes a bit of color and fruity aromas. The result is hard to put into any know category, for some people it’s a pale red, for some people it’s an intense rose. But the truth is that’s it’s one of the most gastronomic wines you can find.