How to Handle That Wonderful Spanish Spice

Spice is sometimes thought of as an enemy of wine, but that’s largely a misnomer.

While extremely hot spices and sauces will mute the flavors of wine, rendering them almost undrinkable, less assertive spices can actually help bring out certain flavors in certain wines.

This is particularly noticeable in Spanish cooking which, unlike some Asian cuisine, uses spices to complement a dish rather than define it. Let’s take a look at a few aspects of Spanish cuisine, and suggest some food-friendly wines…

A standard Spanish soup, especially in and around Madrid, is sopa de ajo (garlic soup), made with water, oil, garlic, paprika, bread and cured ham. Even though there’s ham in the mix, garlic is the overriding flavor, which means either Syrah or, for those who prefer white wine, Sauvignon Blanc would make a good pairing partner.

Fish and seafood are prepared in countless ways in Spain, but the Basques and the Andalusians are particular masters of the art. The Basque country is known for txangurro (stuffed king crab) and, especially, bacalao al pil-pil (cod cooked in oil and garlic at a low temperature, generating a sauce of juice from the fish itself). Sauvignon Blanc is always a good choice with shellfish, and with the cod, a rich, buttery Chardonnay works wonders; it’s almost like you’re creating a rich sauce with the wine and garlic.

Spanish ham and sausage products are renowned, particularly those derived from the cerdo ibérico, a remarkable breed of free-range pig that produces jamón serrano (roughly translatable as “ham from the sierra or mountains”). With ham, try Gewurztraminer or Riesling, preferably with just a touch of residual sugar. With sausage, a rosé-style wine or Zinfandel (red, not “white”) is recommended.

Spain’s most sophisticated poultry dishes are prepared in the Catalan province of Girona. These include pollastre amb llangosta (chicken with lobster), gall dindi amb panses, pinyones, i botifarra (turkey stuffed with raisins, pine nuts and sausage), and oca (anec) amb naps (goose, or duck, with turnips).

White wines such as Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio and (dry) Riesling are recommended with these dishes.

Of course, the vast array of wines produced in Spain also should be on your radar, just as there’s something special about drinking Italian wine with Italian fare.

Posted in Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes
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