Wine Dinners: Spanish Lessons

Discover the Spanish approach to mealtime as you linger over little nibbles or share paella with your best pals.

Tapas: Small Plates–Big Flavors
Tapas are Spanish appetizers that typically accompany drinks. Presented on individual small plates, tapas can include shrimp fried in garlic and olive oil, a petite potato omelet, a few nibbles of chorizo sausage, a cod fritter or two, some olives, thinly sliced serrano ham, and roasted almonds.

Scott Ure's Clams and Garlic

Photo by cookin’mama

Wine to Pair with Tapas

It’s fun to entertain with tapas. So why not break open a bottle of bubbly? Spanish cava–the sparkling wine of the Penedes region of Spain–is a refreshing sip that pairs really well with salty and fried tapas. A chilled dry sherry can also be excellent with tapas. Watch out, though! The alcohol in sherry can sneak up on you in a hurry! You might also try a fruity sangria served over ice.

Sangria! Sangria!

Photo by StarGal

Tapas Tips
These little bites make terrific bar food, and that’s just where the tapas tradition emerged. For no extra charge, bar owners would place small plates of food on top of the drinks they delivered to thirsty patrons.

A good tapas party is all about leisurely snacking and lots of conversation:

  • Serve tapas on little plates–saucers will do nicely.
  • Use large, flat-bottomed Asian-style soup spoons to set out individual portions of seafood or other tidbits swimming in sauce
  • Bring out just a couple of choices at a time so your guests have a chance to experience the flavors
  • Many tapas can be prepared ahead of time, but make the fried dishes on the spot so you can enjoy them at their peak of crispy goodness. Break out the electric skillet or your deep fryer and turn the cooking into an event
  • Set out a big bowl of red and yellow bell peppers dotted with fresh flowers and greenery for an inexpensive but dramatic centerpiece using the colors of the Spanish flag

Paella: It’s All in the Pan
Paella is one of the world’s great one-pot meals, and makes a spectacular party dish. Your menu can be as simple as a salad (featuring oranges and Spanish onions), paella served in the pan, and something sweet to savor at the end.

Paella I

Photo by catherine.drew

Wine Pairings with Paella
There’s usually a lot of seafood in paella. Mussels, shrimp, clams, and lobster are terrific with a crisp cold Albariño from the cool-climate Spanish region of Rias Baixis. Of course, red wine also works perfectly well with paella, particularly with meatier versions. Try a reserva Rioja, a classic Spanish wine made primarily from Tempranillo grapes. If it’s a hot day, and you want to split the difference between red and white, pop open a bottle of superb Spanish rosé wine.

A Plan for Paella
Tips for great paella:

  • A genuine paella pan or wide, shallow skillet spreads out the rice to ensure even cooking
  • Use round-grained paella rice such as Bomba from Catalonia or risotto-style Arborio rice so it won’t get mushy
  • Make your own stock if possible and be sure it’s very hot when you add it to the pan
  • Yes, saffron threads are costly, but you need only a pinch to add authentic flavor and aroma to your dish. Don’t even bother with powdered saffron

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Music for a Spanish Feast
Set the mood for your Spanish feast with traditional and modern flamenco music or Spanish classical guitar. Some recommended discs:

  • Gypsy Kings–Gypsy Kings
  • Nouveau Flamenco; Barcelona Nights–Ottmar Liebert
  • Luzia–Paco de Lucia
  • Arte y Pasion–Paco Peña
  • The Segovia Collection, Vol. 3: My Favorite Works–Andrés Segovia

Tapas Trivia
“Tapa” means “cover” or “lid” in Spanish. Why cover the drinks? There are several explanations. The most popular is that a slice of bread draped across the glass’s rim prevented bar flies from dive-bombing the booze. A similar notion has it that a food lid was first used to prevent sand from slipping into the glass.

Others say the first tapas consisted of a good smelly cheese draped over glasses of wine to “cover” the smell of bad wine.

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