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Pairing Spanish wines: From the sommeliers

In partnership with ARAEX Grands

As the third largest wine-producing country, there’s no lack of diversity in Spanish wine. But with so many options, finding the perfect pairing can feel like a daunting task.

In partnership with ARAEX Grands

Pairing Spanish wines: From the sommeliers

Top Spanish somms Guillermo Cruz, Best Sommelier of Spain 2014 and Head Sommelier at Mugaritz restaurant, and Manuel Jiménez, Best Sommelier of Spain 2017 and Sommelier at La Cava de Pyrene, share their tips and favourite flavour combinations for matching Spanish wine with food.

Putting Cava back on the dinner table

Vintage Cava is undergoing a renaissance following the announcement of the Paraje Calificado, and these complex sparkling wines make fantastic food wines.

“These Cavas are often vinified in oak and many spend more than five years in the bottle, so they are complex, full bodied and are generally dry, with a low dosage,” explains Jiménez, suggesting that you try Cava Paraje Calificado with more substantial cuisine.

“They pair wonderfully with traditional roasted lamb with aromatic herbs and roast apple or plum; or with wild turbot and black butter.”

pairing SPanish wine, lamb

Lamb with a caramel coat at Mugaritz restaurant. Credit: José Luis López de Zubiría/ Mugaritz

Cruz is also an advocate of pairing Cava with an assortment of dishes and on the dinner table he likes to pair Cava Gran Reserva Brut Nature with oyster tartare.

“The long ageing period of the Cava with extended contact with the less gives the wine a controlled oxidation, which pairs well with oyster tartare which has an iodised note that mimics the perception of oxidation. The bubbles of the Cava do all the rest – cleaning the palate and creating an affinity between the liquid and solid textures.”

Thinking beyond the Sherry triangle

The Spanish aperitif of choice, Sherry is a staple in every tapas bar across the country and is classically served with the holy trinity of Jamón ibérico, olives and local seafood. But there’s a greater scope for sherry pairings according to the somms.

While Cruz says that Manzanilla sherry from Sanlúcar with grilled prawns is a classic ‘go-to’ pairing, his absolute favourite sherry pairing at Mugaritz is very old Palo Cortado (VORS) with garlic in a lamb reduction.

“Palo Cortado is a special accident whereby the flor of a Fino sherry stops developing and the wine goes through oxidative ageing too. With this dish, the garlic is the protagonist which we confit and serve with a lamb reduction. The pairing is a complete contrast, and one of the most beautiful I have ever tried.”

Jiménez also loves off-piste sherry pairings, and in addition recommends looking for unfortified wines from the region of Jerez – “there are some very austere white wines being made there, with low acidity but an aromatic purity and chalky texture in the mouth, which is fantastic with shellfish like mussels and oysters. Most of all [when planning pairings], you need to respect the fresh produce – simplicity isn’t easy!”

Spanish reds for a range of dishes

Rioja is known for its easier-drinking Tempranillo-based reds which are traditionally paired with local roast pork, chorizo and aged cheese. But for a Gran Reserva Rioja, Cruz recommends trying higher protein meat, and his top pairing suggestion is grilled pigeon with white truffle.

pairing Spanish wine

Roasted pigeon breast with white truffle, at Mugaritz restaurant. Credit: José Luis López de Zubiría/ Mugaritz

“The protein of the meat with the tannins of the wine make one of the most classic and elegant combinations.” For the more robust Tempranillo wines of nearby Ribera del Duero, his classical pairing recommendations are with fattier meats like suckling pig and roast kid.

On the other end of the red scale, Jiménez recommends the extraordinary pairing ability of lighter red wines from Galicia.

“If there was a style of Spanish red wine that is especially food-friendly, this is it. For Asian cuisine, these light Galician reds (particularly from Ribeira Sacra) are becoming much more common pairings. Especially for sushi, with its spices and spiciness, and with fattier fish, red varieties like Merenzao and Bastardo are light and elegant with sharp acidity and notes of crunchy red fruit and spices. Light Mencia wines, or Caiño, Sousón and Mouraton are also becoming the secret weapon of Spanish sommeliers!”

For heavier dishes, Jiménez recommends trying old-vine Garnacha from Aragon.

“These Garnacha wines from old vines at altitude are capable of withstanding much more complex, heavy dishes than just the typical ‘red meat with red wine’ pairing… Try them with game served with truffle sauce; or duck with cassis; or a civet (traditional Spanish stew) with wild boar. The pairing is surprisingly well balanced.”

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