I had dabbled in Spanish wine enough to know the country was a good source of wine values.Â But I hadn't gone too much beyond Rioja and an occasional Garnacha, and wanted to learn more.Â What better way to do so by hosting a Spanish wine tasting and tapas party?Â In addition to having many great wines to offer, Spanish wine is very food friendly, explaining the popularity of wine bars serving tapas throughout the country.Â A couple weeks ago about 15 friends convened at our home to help us with selfless "research" which I'll know share with the Gather community.
I'll focus on the wine lineup first (keep reading to the end for food and recipes!).Â I assembled an array of wines that would give a sense of the variety of wines Spain has to offer, and organized them in a tasting order--white then red, lighter wines then increasingly full bodied ones.Â I labeled each bottle with a number to facilitate people writing tasting notes.Â I tried to get clever, and assigned the bottles I bought in intervals of four, to allow room to integrate bottles guests might bring.Â This served to confuse people a bit, as they were concerned that in going from "8" to "10", for instance, they might be missing a taste!Â Next time I'll simply label initial bottles 1, 2, 3, etc. then add in bottles with "1.5" type numbering.
Spain has wine growing regions throughout the country.Â I had a map available at the party of the Spanish wine regions, which people seemed to like consulting to get a sense of where the various wines came from.Â The lineup below covered quite a bit of the country!Â I don't have prices for each bottle, but they were all under $20, most in the $10-$15 range.Â The wine summaries are presented in the order we tasted them.
2006 NaiaÂ Spain is certainly known as red wine country, but we sampled a few interesting whites before moving to reds.Â This one made from the verdejo grape from the Duero River region was the first one in our lineup and thus the only one for which I have my own tasting notes written down (after the first bottle opened, I was busy pour wine, prepping food, and of course sampling!).Â Herbal nose, grapefruit taste with moderate acidity.Â I personally gave it a slight edge over our other white and rose; our tasting jury was roughly divided between this and the albarino described next.
2006 Laxas Rias Baixas Albarino Albarino is the most well-known white grape varietal from Spain, typically produced in the Galicia region along the Atlantic coast.Â The consistent phrase to describe this one was "light" with frequent mention of smooth as well.Â A good pairing with the cheese, it would also match well with fish.
2006 Marques de Caceres Rioja Rose A rose seemed like it would fit well into the tasting line-up, as it is often suggested as a match for appetizers and other small bites.Â While the red Rioja from the same producer was a big hit, this one seemed to be one people were pleased to move passed to start trying the reds.
2003 Marques de Caceres Crianza RiojaÂ While opinions were pretty divided on the whites and the rose, this Rioja was the hands down favorite for the night.Â Proving you don't need to spend a lot of money for a great wine (I believe our guest who brought it said he paid around $12), this featured a taste of blackberry and a bit of spiciness.Â A good match for our meatballs!
The Marques provides a good opportunity to point a few things about Spanish wines.Â Rioja is a wine region, in the north central part of Spain.Â Red rioja is generally made with the tempranillo grape, producing a medium-bodied, food friendly wine.Â "Crianza" refers to how long the wine must age; typically 2 years of aging with at least one in oak being required for the crianza designation.Â And one more point of note--Spanish wine is typically aged in American oak, which imparts a stronger flavor than the more subtle flavors that French oak provides.Â French and American wines generally use French oak.
2005 Number One Berberana TempranilloÂ Billing itself as a New Age Spanish wine, our guests didn't rate this as high as the previous old-school rioja.Â A bit more fruit forward, with taste of raspberry, it was still an enjoyable taste and good match for the food.
2003 RivolaÂ Sardon De Duero This bottle from the up andÂ coming Duero region is a blend of tempranillo and cabernet.Â Â More of a new world taste, our guests favored the traditional rioja styles over this one.
2004 Crianza Borsao Campo de BorjaÂ I was chatting about our upcoming Spanish wine party with Bill Grant, owner of Paso Robles based Four Vines winery, as they are growing several Spanish grapes.Â He pointed me in the direction of grenaches from Campo de Borja; this was the only one I could find in my local wine shop.Â It was actually a blend of 50% garnacha (know as grenache elsewhere), 25% tempranillo, and 25% cabernet sauvignon.Â We had this later in our tasting, so I don't know if it got a lot of focus, but this was a big, full bodied wine I wouldn't mind trying again.
2004 Campo Viejo Crianza RiojaÂ A solid rioja, later in our tasting so the notes our less detailed.Â We had this with the chocolate cake that a guest brought for dessert; I was a bit skeptical about the combo but it worked pretty well.
Believe it or not, there were still a few more bottles sampled after any form of note taking ceased.Â This included a move west on the Iberian peninsula to sample some Portugese wine brought by a guest; but that is probably subject matter for another article!
Now, for a bit about the food.Â The first priority in organizing the party was the wine (hey, this is the Wine Chat column), but some tasty tapas orÂ "small bites" to accomany the wine tasting was important too.Â I assembled a menu loosely inspired by Spanish tapas as opposed to focusing on some of the more traditional tapas offerings--consult Richard's article for an example of a classic tapas menu.Â Only two of the dishes (the pork and meatballs) required much preparation, and even they weren'tÂ arduous--a good approachÂ when putting together a tapas party without sous chefs.Â Here's what I served:
Spanish cheese assortment with fig spread:Â I chose mahon, Campo de Montelban, and in the spirit of the wine tasting, a drunken goat cheese (steeped in red wine).Â I got the cheese and the accompanying fig spread (a nice contrast with the hearty cheeses) at Whole Foods.
Mixed olives:Â I picked up an olive mixture and tossed it early in the day with olive oil, a couple garlic cloves, some pepper and a bit of mint.
Crostini with goat cheese spread:Â I sliced two baguettes into thin rounds, sprayed with olive oil, and browned on the grill.Â Take a clove of garlic, rub it over the crostini, then spread goat cheese with a bit of chopped mint and parsley.
Crab cakes:Â I went the easy route here and picked up some frozen crab cakes at Whole Foods.Â While I like to make most of the things I offer at a party, having one prepared item helps make things a bit more doable!
Garlic spinach:Â Had to get some veggies in somehow!Â One of the first things I did in prepping for the party was to chop 2 heads of garlic, knowing it would come in handy for many things including this.Â Saute about a tbsp. of garlic in olive oil briefly, then gradually added 2 bunches of well-cleaned spinach--filling the pan with spinach letting it wilt a bit, then adding more.Â Serve when all the spinach is just wilted.
Albondigas (meatballs in garlic-tomato sauce):Â These meatballs from a Food Network recipeÂ were a huge hit; in fact, I'd anticipated having leftovers for some pasta the next day.Â Those plans were put aside when I discovered the serving bowl seemed to have been licked clean!Â And they make one thirsty for Rioja!
Pork with Pistachio Pesto:Â A few weeks before the party I'd made this Oriechiette with Pistachio Pesto, and it struck me that this zesty pesto would go well with pork.Â So I turned this Sicilian dish into a tapas offering by grilling 2 pork tenderloins, cutting them into bite sized pieces and serving along with pistachio pesto.
While the wine was the primary focus, the food went over pretty well too.Â All and all, the Spanish wine & tapas party was a hit and I'd encourage you to try it!Â
David Crowley, Gather Food Correspondent
David enjoys sharing good food and wine with family and friends.Â David writes about his wine explorations and discoveries in his column, "Wine Chat",Â a twice-monthly feature of Gather Essentials:Â Food.Â He has a new blog Just the Wine where you can search for wine recommendations to match foods you are making.Â ByÂ day, David is the President and Founder of Social Capital Inc.Â