I recently enrolled in an advanced food and wine pairing course at a local university. The one-day course consisted of a full day of pairing food and wines – many of which you would never expect (our first pair was Cava and potato chips – don’t knock it till you try it!). Throughout the day we stressed over our final exam – to create a six-course menu with paired food and wines. We were to present in front of the class and explain our rationale behind our choices. Almost immediately, my mind drifted towards creating an incredible Spanish menu. Six hours later, Vuelta a España (Tour of Spain) was a reality. If faced with the challenge of creating a Spanish menu, what would you create? I wanted to create a traditional, yet unique, Spanish menu. Following is my menu (recipes for the first four courses can be found at www.bodegaspanishwine.com) with recommended wines. (Flickr photo by Lula Mae Photography)
First Course: Appetizer
I cannot imagine a more traditional, all-around Spanish appetizer than Tortilla Española. I recommend serving this egg, potato, and onion “omelet” on top of a piece of crusty bread, much in the manner of a Basque “pintxo” I cannot imagine a more appropriate wine to begin our meal with than a glass of Cava (from the D.O. of the same name). Salty and savory dishes pair incredibly well with Cava, and the Tortilla Española is just that. The texture and taste will make you want to keep eating and drinking more of the same, but wait! We still have five more courses to go.
Second Course: Soup
I hate to be a creature of habit, but for the soup course I could not pass up an incredible bowl of chilled Gazpacho (cold tomato soup) from Andalucia. I would recommend topping the gazpacho with some crispy Jamón Serrano as well. Ideally, the perfect wine pairing would enhance the multitude of flavors of the gazpacho. Fortunately, Spain delivers again with an Albariño from D.O. Rias Baixas. It is important not to have a wine too high in acidity as it could clash with the acidity of the tomatoes. Albariño wines do not possess an extremely high acidity as do many white wines and provides a great deal of body.
Third Course: Seafood
One could certainly find any number of dishes for this course of the menu – gambas al ajillo (shrimp with garlic), bacalao croquetas (codfish croquettes), and mejillones (mussels) all make my mouth water; but I opted for my one of my all-time favorite (and incredibly traditional) Spanish dishes: Paella (native of Valencia). I would recommend serving this as a tapas portion so you have room for the rest of the meal! Many shy away from making paella as they fear it is a daunting undertaking. Not true. Paella is actually a very easy dish to make – it just takes a little patience as you create your masterpiece. For wine pairing this is a very versatile dish. You could choose a white, rosé, or red wine. I opted to choose a hearty white wine – Garnacha Blanca from D.O.C.q Priorat. The spice and flavor of the paella is enhanced by the body and light spice of the Garnacha Blanca (I’m partial to those of Cataluña). (photo by jlastras)
Fourth Course: Meat
Again, there is no shortage of excellent meat dishes in Spain – pork, lamb, and beef all provide for incredible choices. I opted for fowl – specifically, the blue-footed pollo (chicken) of Cataluña. Of course, we cannot get blue-footed chickens (or any other color for that matter) in the U.S., so the whole supermarket chicken will have to suffice. Chicken with Prunes and Pine Nuts is a rustic and hearty dish from the hillsides and towns of Cataluña. Garlic, onions, and rosemary complement the chicken, dried prunes, and dried apricots as they slowly cook to perfection. When I prepared this dish in Spain last year we paired a Garnacha (from D.O. Montsant) with this dish and it was absolutely heavenly! The earthiness and inherent spice evident in Garnacha pair perfectly with this dish. Incidentally, it would pair well with any other meat dishes one might choose for this course.
Fifth Course: Cheese
Now, I am a huge fan of Spanish cheese; but I did not want to choose cheeses that would be too “light” to follow the previous course. So, I opted for a plate of two Spanish blue cheeses: Cabrales and Valdeón. Serve these strong, yet creamy and delicate, cheeses on a crostini along with a Tinta de Toro (Tempranillo) from D.O. Toro. Toro wines are characteristically higher in alcohol with a long finish and serve these blue cheeses extremely well.
Sixth Course: Dessert
By now you are probably wondering who has room for dessert? Point taken! For those who still have a little space in their tummy get ready for the most wonderfully sweet and creamy of all Spanish desserts: Crema Catalana. I like to think that Créme Brulée is just France’s attempt at creating something close to Crema Catalana; but who knows. I’m not willing to take on that argument right now! The custard topped with caramelized sugar pairs nicely with a Moscato (sweet wine) from D.O. Málaga. Sipping the Moscato while gently breaking the crispy top to reach the warm and sweet custard beneath makes my mouth water! The two are perfect together.
Honestly, if one were to attempt to eat the entire menu presented above I might recommend you make sure your guest room is ready to occupancy. Otherwise, serving tapas-sized portions of each of the above will allow your guests the opportunity to take a vuelta a España without leaving the comfort of your home.