Torta del Cásar
The region of Ribera del Duero, midway between the Cantabrian coast and Madrid on the great northern plateau of Castilla y Leon, is famous for rich red wines with a great aging capacity. Equally famous from the Duero River valley are whole, tender, young lamb (lechazo) and from nearby Segovia suckling pig (cochinillo), roasted in wood-fired ovens until the meat can be cut with the edge of a plate. The wine and the meats are, needless to say, a perfect match.
West and south of the Ribera del Duero, wines from western Spain like Rueda whites, Cigales rosados, or stout Toro reds, marry well with a variety of dishes such as hearty hot cazuelas (small clay casserole) served as tapas, zarajos (roasted lamb tripe), for instance, or savory meatballs in a saffron sauce; but they also go well with grilled fish, game, roast lamb, steaks, and 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.
Alchachofas con jamon
It may come as a surprise to most people, but the high-altitude vineyards of he province of Madrid, surrounding the capital, produces some excellent red wines and rosados, primarily from tempranillo and garnacha grapes, often blended with foreign varieties. Chinchón, a storybook, romantic, Cervantes-era village southeast of Madrid, and surrounding villages such as Colmenar de la Oreja, are regions for red wines that go very well with local dishes such as patatas estrellados (potatoes with fried eggs “broken” over them); hearty ollas and cocidos, made with beans, meats, and spicy sausages; and alcachofas con jamón (young artichoke hearts braised with ham). (Spaniards don’t balk at drinking red wines with artichokes or green asparagus. There are many popular artichoke and asparagus dishes in the red wine regions of southern Navarra and southeastern Rioja, and the green asparagus in Tudela de Duero, a red wine town near Valladolid, may be the best in Spain.)
In La Mancha, south of Madrid, the white wine grape Airen occupies more acreage than any other wine grape in the world, but in the past decade La Mancha has also produced gutsy, oak-aged red wines, good matches for the region’s world famous Manchego ewe’s milk cheese, as well as for local favorites, wood-oven roasted lamb and perdiz en escabeche (vinegar pickled partridge).Arros con Conejo y Caracoles
In the Levante—Valencia, Alicante and Murcia—the fine wines of Alicante and Jumilla (Murcia), based on the monastrell grape, are good matches with arros con conejo y caracoles (a thin layer of paella with wild rabbit and snails) as well as with Murcia al vino, the local goat cheese cured with red wine(sometimes sold in America as “drunken goat”). Sweetly luscious Valencian moscateles and off-dry Alicante Fondillones are memorable companions with the great almond confection, turron de Jijona, and fine chocolates of maestro chocolatero Paco Torreblanca.
Tarragona’s Priorat is a region of big, even spectacular red wines imbued with the flinty slate soil of the district. They make a spectacular pairing with simple, traditional Catalan dishes like grilled rabbit with all-i-oli, the all-purpose garlic mayonnaise of the region, and irresistible calçots con romesco (young green, onion shoots, grilled and served with romesco, Cataluña’s legendary hazelnut-dried-pepper-garlic sauce. Even pizzas, and designer pizzas at that, are excellent with a glass of rich, mineral-laced Priorat vi negre (red wine, literally black wine) or a sometimes more slightly more subdued red from adjacent Montsant to wash them down.
In Barcelona, scores of creative, often unique, tradition-based dishes by Catalan cooks working in the legendary bars of the Boqueria market—Pinotxo, Quím de la Boquería and Bar Central—are culinary attractions. Most customers, even at nine o’clock in the morning, will step up to these superb dishes—beans with braised squid, fried artichokes, cockles and grilled mushrooms—along with a flute of chilled Catalan cava (Spain’s Champagne; high quality, , sparkling methode champenoise wines made from parellada, macabeu, xarel-lo, chardonnay and sometime newly approved pinot noir). And in La Barceloneta’s portside and beach front restaurants, light fresh Catalan whites from Penedes and Alella made from chardonnay or pansa blanca (native xarel-lo) are dream matches with the excellent seafood and rice dishes that are Barcelona traditions.
Langostinos and Manzanilla sherry
Of all of Spain’s food and wine experiences, for more than 30 years my favorite has been a series of unique, Andalucian seafood tapas and dishes--steamed langostinos (succulent prawns), 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, the little port town where the great Guadalquivir River empties into the sea. These dishes, accompanied by green-gold manzanilla sherry—even better as a spectacular sunset spreads over the farther shore—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.