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Posted: Friday, 13 August 2010 15:17

Spain: Iconic Dishes on the Wine Roads

Traveling through Spain and eating regional dishes accompanied by great regional wines with Spanish wine people would make you firmly believe that the world’s great food and wine matches are actually food, wine, people and place matches, writes the Spanish food and wine expert Gerry Dawes who has traveled these roads for 30 years.

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I have been traveling, writing about and photographing Spanish wine subjects for more than 30 years.  Along the wine roads of Spain, I have encountered hundreds of Spain’s most iconic dishes.   And, because I have often eaten these dishes accompanied by great regional wines in exceptional country restaurants and even in spectacular al fresco settings with Spanish wine people and foodies as my dining companions, many of these experiences have reinforced my long held belief that the world’s great food and wine matches are actually food, wine, people and place matches.

To recount all these experiences would require a book, but until I do one this short food and wine journey around Spain will give my readers a good introduction to what awaits the intrepid wine and food traveler in Spain.

Rías Baixas

Do Ferreiro Albariño and crab

Beginning in the northwestern Spain, you will find few culinary and wine experiences more memorable than a shellfish luncheon in the Rías Baixas area along the spectacular rías (fjords) of maritime Galicia.  Here can be found some of the world’s best crustaceans—crabs, Dublin Bay prawns, camarones (small succulent shrimp), prawns and a divine small lobster-like creature called santiaguiños; fresh briny oysters; succulent mussels, both fresh and sublime tinned in paprika sauce; and the plump vieiras (scallops) that inspired coquille St. Jacques (from Santiago de Compostela) and addicting baby scallops called zamburiñas.  If you are lucky enough to be taken captive by the producers of such superlative fine dry Albariños as Do Ferreiro, Pazo de Señorans or Palacio de Fefiñanes, you may not surface for four to five hours, but you will have experienced one of not just Spain’s, but the world’s, greatest food and wine combinations.

Ribeiro

Bodega San Clodio Ribeiro

Not far inland from Rías Baixas is the rapidly emerging terroir-driven white wine region of Ribeiro, where I have passed many rewarding hours drinking the treixadura-based (usually blended with loureiro, albariño and/or godello) Sanclodio wines of film producer Jose Luis Cuerda, Viña Meín, Emilio Rojo and Manuel Formiga de la Fuente with cigalas (Dublin Bay prawns), buttery Galician cow’s milk cheeses and empanadas stuffed with tuna and onions or, if one is lucky, zamburiñas (baby scallops)

Traveling further east the lovely, fresh, mineral-laced, usually un-oaked mencia-based reds of magical Ribeira Sacra are perfect with grilled octopus, empanadas and great Galician steaks.  And in neighboring Valdeorras,  the compellingly delicious godello-based whites are a match made in heaven with shellfish, clams, seafood empanadas, steamed octopus and fish galega style (with paprika, olive oil and peas).  The larger scaled Mencias of highly regarded Bierzo, just to the east in Castilla y León, marry well with steaks, local roast lamb and octopus from the north coast.

Basque Country

Ranging further east, still on the Atlantic Coast, the green, rainy Basque Country has the increasingly well regarded Txacoli, a green, spritzy, high acid, low alcohol wine that begs comparisons with French muscadet and is a fine palate-cleansing match with anchovies house cured in olive oil, line-caught baby squid in its own ink, Idiazabal ewe’s milk cheese and the vast array of pintxos (tapas) available in the tascas of San Sebastián and the gastronomy rich region around it.  Most people don’t realize that the Basque Country also produces some of the finest red wines in Spain in La Rioja Alavesa, whose Marqués de Riscal, Rémirez de Ganuza, Contino and a number of other producers are regularly ranked among the best red wines in Spain.  I love to pair these wines with fire-grilled meats, lamb chops grilled over grape vine cuttings, excellent, local, rustic bean dishes such as alubias con almejas (white beans with clams) and spectacularly good, whole, wood-fire grilled rodaballo (turbot) in Getaria in legendary restaurants such as Elkano and Kaia  (Spaniards have long paired elegant, balanced Rioja reds with fish).   

La Rioja

La Rioja itself, a separate political region to the south, also produces some of the greatest red wines in Spain.  Among them are CUNE Imperial and Viña Real, Roda, Bodegas Riojanas Monte Real, Muga and many others, all of whom are known for their longevity and can be served with any great dish that might call for a Bordeaux or Burgundy.   I love to drink well-aged Rioja reservas and gran reservas with the rustic, exceptional country food of La Rioja:  patatas a la Riojana (potatoes cooked with chorizo), bean dishes with chorizo and morcilla and vine cutting-grilled lamb chops, for which these wines are particularly well suited. 

Navarra

Pochas con almejas

Neighboring is one of the most versatile wine regions in Spain, producing first-rate chardonnays, garnacha rosados (rosés), fine red wines and excellent moscatel-based dessert wines.  I particularly love pochas (plump beans with the shape and texture of cranberry beans) cooked with quail and chorizo, alubias de Tolosa (black-red beans(served with cabbage, morcilla and green piquant, guindilla peppers), truchas a la Navarra (trout with a slice of ham cooked in the belly) or piquillo peppers stuffed with meat, crab or brandade and served with a Navarra garnacha rosado.

Ribera del Duero

The region of Ribera del Duero, southwest of La Rioja and northwest of Madrid, is famous for rich red wines, which are a perfect match for the brick-oven roasted suckling lamb, baby lamb chops grilled over grape vine cuttings and the roast suckling lamb from Segovia, the Roman aqueduct town an hour to the southwest.  An invitation to have vine-grilled lamb chops with the Pérez Pascuas family at Viña Pedrosa in Pedrosa de Duero is a not-to-be-missed wine and food experiences.  

Ribeiro del Duero red wine

West and south of the Ribera del Duero, wines like Rueda whites, Cigales rosados or stout Toro red wines marry well with a variety of dishes such as tapas, grilled fish, roast lamb, steaks and the cheeses—Torta de la Serena, Torta del Cásar and Zamorano ewes’ milk cheeses, Ibores and Montenebro goat cheeses--and hams from Jabugo, Dehesa de Extremadura and Guijuelo, all from the western Spanish provinces of  Valladolid, Zamora, Salamanca, Cáceres, Badajoz and Andalucia Huelva.  

Torta de la Serena cheese

Madrid Province

It may come as a surprise to most people, but the province of Madrid produces some excellent red wines and rosados from native tempranillo and garnacha grapes, often blended with foreign varieties.  Chinchón, a storybook, romantic, Cervantes-era village southeast of Madrid, and surrounding villages, especially Colmenar de la Oreja, produces red wines that go very well with alchachofas con jamón (artichokes with ham), patatas estrellados potatoes with fried eggs “broken” over them, bean dishes and fire-grilled meat at tables on the balconies of Chinchón restaurants such as La Balconada and Café de la Iberia. 

La Mancha

In La Mancha, south of Madrid, the white wine grape Airen occupies the most acreage of any wine grape in the world, but in the past decade La Mancha has opted to produce gutsy, oak-aged red wines, which are good matches for the region’s world famous Manchego ewe’s milk cheese, roast lamb and perdiz en escabeche (vinegar pickled patridge).   

Levante

In the Levante—Valencia, Alicante and Murcia—the fine Monastrell based wines of Alicante and Jumilla (Murcia) are fine matches with arros con conejo y caracoles (thin layer paella with wild rabbit and local snails) at Casa Elias in Xinorlet and Murcia al vino, goat cheeses cured with red wine and sweet, luscious Valencian moscateles and off-dry Alicante Fondillones are memorable companions with the great almond turrones de Jijona and the fine chocolates of world-class pastry maestro and chocolatero Paco Torreblanca.   

.

Paella with rabbit and snails-Casa Elias

María José San Román’s La Taberna del Gourmet in Alicante offers some of the modernized traditional tapas in Spain paired to a well-chosen selection of regional wines from around Spain.  At Ca Sento in Valencia, Chef Raúl Aleixandre’s unique blend of avant-garde creations alternating with inspired, pristine, best-of-market traditional seafood selections paired to Spain’s best white wines—from Cataluña, Navarra, Galicia and Rueda—are unforgettable combinations.   And at ambience-imbued Casa Montaña, an old Valencia tavern that dates to 1836, owner Emiliano García can introduce you to a wide variety of wines from Alicante, Utiel-Requena and Valencia to drink with a stellar lineup of tapas made with first-rate, personally selected regional products.

Priorat

Stunning matches from Tarragona’s Priorat, a region of big, spectacular, slate terroir-driven reds, include simple, remarkable grilled rabbit with all-i-oli; designer pizzas at Vi-Zerria en Falset; and irresistible calçots con romesco (young green, leek-like onions served with Cataluña’s legendary hazelnut-dried pepper-and garlic romesco sauce).

 

Barcelona, cava with seafood tapas in La Boquería

In Barcelona, scores of interesting, often unique creative, tradition-based dishes by Catalan cooks in the legendary market bars of the Boqueria market—Pinotxo, Quím Marqués’s Quím de la Boquería and Bar Central—are star culinary attractions and most people, even at nine o’clock in the morning often have these superb dishes—beans with squid, fried artichokes, cockles and grilled mushrooms—with a cold flute of sparkling Catalan cava.   And in La Barceloneta’s portside and beach front restaurants such as Can Majó and Suquet de L’Almirall, light fresh Catalan whites such as Jean León’s Petit Chardonnay and Marqués de Alella’s Pansa Blanca (native xarel-lo) are dream matches with the excellent seafood and seafood-bases rice dishes of these restaurants.

Andalucia

La Gitana Manzanilla and langostinos

Of all of Spain’s food and wine experiences, for more than 30 years my favorite of all has been a series of unique, Andalucian seafood tapas and dishes--steamed langostinos (succulent prawns), ethereal fried fish, skate with orange sauce and a casserole dish of monkfish and shrimp braised with olive oil and sherry and served bubbling with a fresh egg cracked on top--at Bar Bigote on Bajo Guía beach in Sanlúcar de Barrameda.  These dishes, accompanied by glasses of fresh green-gold manzanilla sherry—even better during the spectacular sunsets on the beach—are among the greatest and most indelible wine and food combinations in Spain, a country with a seemingly endless string of magical culinary and wine experiences to discover. 

Gerry Dawes

Gerry Dawes was awarded Spain's prestigious Premio Nacional de Gastronomía (National Gastronomy Award) in 2003. He writes and speaks frequently on Spanish wine and gastronomy and leads gastronomy, wine and cultural tours to Spain. He was a finalist for the 2001 James Beard Foundation's Journalism Award for Best Magazine Writing on Wine.

Mr. Dawes is currently working on a reality television series on wine, gastronomy, culture and travel in Spain.

Gerry Dawes can be reached at gerrydawes@aol.com Alternate e-mails (use only if your e-mail to AOL is rejected): gerrydawes@optonline.net  or gerrydawes@hotmail.com

       

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