Rosé wines (Rosados)
Among the most refreshing, delicious and versatile of all of Spain’s wines are its rosados, a beautiful collection of rosé wines that range in La Rioja from the ethereal, pale, onion-skin garnacha-and-viura blends in the southern part of Spain’s most famous wine region to fuller-bodied, tempranillo-based rosados from the north. Nearby Navarra also produces some fine rosés, especially those based on garnacha grapes, and they also make rosado blends that include merlot and cabernet sauvignon.
A Madrid D.O. rosado Other regions producing notable rosados include Cataluña, whose rosats, as rosados are called in Catalan, tend to be deeper and darker in color and consequently more intense in flavor and aroma; Valencia, which produces some unique rosados from the native bobal; and Castilla y León’s tinto del país (tempranillo) rosado zone, Cigales.
All these wines are delightful and, for the most part, quite dry. Although some rosado producers make market concessions by leaving residual sugar in their wines, most are excellent companions to a broad range of dishes from all over the world-- seafood, pork, Asian cuisines, American barbecue, Mexican and South American cuisines and of course, with a wide variety of Spanish dishes from patatas a la Riojana (potatoes with chorizo) to seafood and other paellas.
Spanish Red wines (tintos)
Spain is best known for its red wines, offering a range of options for food pairings. Reds run the gamut from Galicia’s lovely, lower alcohol Ribeira Sacra and Valdeorras, to medium-weight reds from Bierzo in the north of Castilla y León, all made from the mencía grape. Tempranillo-based wines from la Rioja range from lighter, well-aged reservas and gran reservas to the winemaker stars--dark, concentrated wines made from single vineyards or old vines. Depending on whether they come from the cooler up-river Duero Valley Ribera de Burgos area, or from the muy caliente downriver areas in Valladolid province, Ribera del Duero’s tinto fino (tempranillo based) wines have drawn rave reviews in the past decade and are staples on many American wine lists. Because of their balance, this variety of wines goes well with a wide array of foods, from by-the-glass tapas bar fare to the most sophisticated modern cuisines. They are great with just about anything that calls for glass of good red wine, including pizza, pasta, steaks, and game dishes.
A red wine from Jumilla
Big, powerful, voluptuous, extracted wines, are among the most highly rated wines in many popular wine publications, but often are not as food friendly as more restrained, better balanced wines. Such big wines come from Toro (west of Ribera del Duero) and its tinto de toro grapes; from Jumilla in the Mediterranean Levante where the monastrell grape is a revelation; from Castilla-La Mancha, where there are several high-powered notable estate reds; from Penedès in Catalonia, where a number of first-rate cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah blends and 100% varietal wines are made; and from Cataluña’s Tarragona province, where the quality of Priorat’s licorella slate soil adds unique nuances to its old vine garnacha- and carineña-based wines. Often blended with varying percentages of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah, the wines of Priorat are among the greatest red wines of the Mediterranean. Neighboring Montsant uses the same grapes, but has a wider variety of soils and offers a more affordable approximation to the wines of Priorat. And, surprisingly, the province of Madrid is producing some balanced, very promising reds from native and foreign varieties grown in high altitude vineyards. Because of the low acid, high alcohol, and wood component, a bottle of one of these big wines, is better shared among four people. They do well with pizza, steaks, and cheeses, and also work well with Mexican and southwestern American cuisine.
Except for dessert sherries, Spain has not been famous for dessert wines, but there are an incredible and unique range of sweet and off-dry styles, especially from the warmer, Mediterranean-influenced areas. Besides sweet sherries, Andalucía also has superb Pedro Ximénez-based wines from Montilla and late harvest moscatels from Málaga. The Levante—Valencia and Alicante—produces some luscious moscatels and the legendary monastrell-based fondillón, a rare and unique, off-dry to sweet wine that is on a par with a great tawny port. Always versatile Navarra turns out some stunning late-harvest moscatels; the volcanic soils of the Canary Islands create a superb malvasia; and the warm climate, Mediterranean areas of Cataluña produce some old-style garnacha, moscatel and malvasia-based wines that may date back to the Roman era. Try some of these wines with egg-based, nut-based and chocolate desserts.
These wines can be wonderful with desserts or just sipped by themselves after dinner. Cream sherries, for instance, marry well with espresso coffee and some like the Pedro Ximénez can be used as sauces with foie gras (for instance). Like all sherries, they can be revelations when sipped with cheeses.
As we have seen, Spain produces an exceptional array of wines, which offers an infinite multitude of possibilities for unique wine and food pairings.
(For some specific classic Spanish wine and food pairings, see Gerry Dawes’s article on iconic Spanish food and wine experiences.)
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