Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Pairing Spanish Wine and Food

By Liza B. Zimmerman

Spain has long produced a sea of food-friendly whites and reds. However they have sometimes languished in wine-pairing small plates and "Tapas Ghetto." The country is lucky that its food has long surpassed its regional barriers and morphed into an international love of bite-sized snacks, but that culinary movement hasn't always helped Spanish wines.

It is a shame because so many Spain's wines pair with lots of delicious dishes. Sarah Knoefler, the beverage director general manager of Gitane, a Mediterranean restaurant that is part of the Café Claude and Gaspare Group in San Francisco, had a few suggestions.

Sharing Insight
While Gitane's wine list is not solely Spanish, nor are its culinary inspirations, although they are primarily assertive and savory in a Southern-Mediterranean way. To work with her Spanish wine selections, which features a wide range of Spanish wines with a focus on cool-climate whites, Knoefler suggests, keeping "it simple and focusing on one flavor element. Bold spicy flavors will hold up with many of the wines. Think about sense of place also, seafood will pair with a crisp refreshing white wine."

Spanish wines are a great entry point to Old World wines, she adds. "They have the balance of ripe fruit with underlying earth and structure. This structure of acidity or tannins balances out the wine and keeps it fresh on the palate. Because of the fruit, these wines are approachable to your typical New World-style wine drinker."

Cool Whites for Seafood and Reds for Meat
Spain has long been justifiably famous for its beautifully balanced white wines. For Knoefler, seafood always reminds her of Albariño because the northern region of Galicia is on the coast. "The wines have a briny element that goes well with anything from the ocean." The Do Zoe Rias Baixas is a great example.

"My two favorite regions of Spain [for whites] are Rueda and Galicia. Both of these regions have wines that are balanced with fruit and acidity which makes them easy to enjoy," she says. "Rueda is the home of Verdejo which is made in a variety of styles with or without oak. They are very versatile with apple, pear and tropical fruit flavors with a vibrant acidity to match."

When transitioning into heartier fare, Paella--the traditional Spanish rice dish--can be paired with "a light red wine like Mencia or any of the great Spanish rosés that are out there." She adds that the deeper color of these Spanish roses allow them to stand up to more spice. "Grilled meats also work well with Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero which has a bit more dark fruits and smoke then Rioja."

Galicia's reds showcase, "the meaty spicy Mencia grape with is almost like a cross of Pinot Noir and Syrah. This wine also has dusty tannins and good acidity to match many different foods."

Since the price point of Spanish wines is still very good, a huge selection of quality choices can be had for under $15 and sometimes even under $10 a bottle, so Knoefler suggests trying a few different styles and just having fun. Mix and match to see what you like best at home. Ask questions and let the staff know what you like in wine. They can help you find a new varietal or style of wine that you would like based on your own comfort zone."

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Liza Zimmerman has been writing and consulting about wine and food for two decades. She is principal of the San Francisco-based Liza the Wine Chick wine writing, education and consulting firm. She has worked on staff and freelance at national magazines such as Wine Enthusiast, The Magazine of La Cucina Italiana, Wine Spectator, Where SF and the Examiner. She currently contributes to Cheers, Wine Business Monthly and the Examiner, among others.

Zimmerman focuses on demystifying wine and transforming it into a tool for business and networking for companies all over the country. Past clients include Genentech, Roche and IBM.

She has visited all the world’s major wine regions and is one of select few in the U.S. to hold the Diploma of Wine & Spirits (D.W.S.), the three-year precursor to the Master of Wine.

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