FISH AND CHIPS

You ask anyone from Spain to name British dishes and first of all they will snigger directly in your face. Then when they have composed themselves they will almost always say ‘fish and chips’. No dish has become so entwined into the nation’s culinary heart than this one – it is Britain’s answer to the paella.

It can be, and often is, delightfully greasy Friday night takeaway food, but when cooked elegantly is perfection. A lightly battered and crispy flank of cod, plaice or haddock usually, accompanied with some chips, mushy peas and daubed liberally with malt vinegar and salt and perhaps a side of ketchup or tartare sauce. Heaven.

So what to pair with this fishy, salty, tangy, carby plate? I have chosen a crisply acidic and fairly full-bodied Godello from the region of Valdeorras. The big citrus fruit kick from the wine should sit nicely alongside the fish, whilst the acidity should help tackle the salty vinegary nature of the dish.

SHEPHERD’S PIE

The pie that isn’t really a pie. Shepherd’s Pie is a minced lamb combination of meat, peas, carrots, onions, garlic (and other bits) covered with a generous layer of fluffy mashed potato (at its best with mustard and cheese in it) and baked in the oven. The dish is at once light but also very filling with strong flavours of ‘meat’ and ‘potato’. A dish for a chilly winter evening.

So to pair with this boldly flavoured dish I have chosen a red wine that is noted both for its elegance and minerality as well as, depending on the producer or site, its spicy and fruity intensity of flavour. A bottle of red from Bierzo made from the Mencía grape. The body and power of the wine, though more restrained than some wines of Spain, should go toe to toe with this classic dish. Also works with the pork mince variation of the dish: Cottage Pie.

STEAK AND KIDNEY PIE

Another classic pie, steak and kidney; a sexy saucy thick gravy blend of chunks of beef, diced kidney, onions and spices wrapped up in a shortcrust pastry and popped into the oven. At once this dish is rich and spiced but also gentle and smooth. An intriguing blend of depth of flavour and delicateness.

To go with this dish I have chosen a fruit forward wine that can match the flavour intensity but won’t overpower it. Try it with a good quality bottle of Garnacha from the region of Campo de Borja. Pleasing red and berry fruit flavours with not too heavy body but with good acidity and a hefty level of alcohol. Should go perfectly with this staple of British cuisine.

SUNDAY ROAST

The Sunday Roast is perhaps the only dish to rival fish and chips for gastronomic fame. Roast beef or roast lamb are the two quintessential roasting meats. Not only are you going to have a big meaty flavour to deal with, but then you have the roast potatoes, parsnips, Yorkshire puddings, gravy, steamed vegetables, gravy and the accompanying condiments of spicy horseradish for beef and tangy mint sauce for lamb. It’s a busy and complex plate.

This therefore requires a complex and intense wine, but without lacking elegance. We are heading to Cataluña for a bottle of red Montsant: often Garnacha blends. These wines can take on a lot of depth and fruity darkness that should go well with the big, but almost sweet, flavours of the Sunday Roast.

HAGGIS

What wine to pair with a cooked stomach filled with offal, onions, oatmeal, suet, spices and stock? The eternal question facing the wine-loving Scot. Haggis is one of my most favourite dishes. It is an intensely spiced and meaty flavour that is often accompanied with mashed potatoes and turnips (‘neeps and tatties’) and perhaps a sensual whisky cream sauce. I love it with a cold beer or a dram of peaty whisky. But wine?

I have gone off piste for this one and chosen a heavy and alcoholic Oloroso sherry from Jerez. In Spain this fortified wine with its notes of spice, caramel, nuts and soft leather can go well with hearty stews and, more importantly, offal dishes like tripe, oxtail and pork cheeks. I think this wine with the Haggis will be the perfect Hispano-Scot pairing!

TOAD IN THE HOLE

Another stalwart classic of British cuisine with a ridiculous name, Toad in the Hole is a dish of pork sausages (of various flavours) cooked in the oven in a Yorkshire Pudding batter and served usually with onion gravy and vegetables. It is simple, hearty, but quite delicate and elegant in its flavours.

I didn’t want anything to big to overpower the soft and almost sweet flavours of the batter, the pork or the gravy, so I have opted for a dry Spanish rosé from Navarra. Spanish rosé wines are almost always dry, so forget that Californian White Zinfandel nonsense, big on booze and colour and are great food wines. Rosés have characteristics of both white and red wines, so they are some of the best food pairing wines. Try it!

STICKY TOFFEE PUDDING

I personally believe that what Britain does better than the world is desserts, or ‘puddings’. A combination of hearty and gleefully unrestrained unhealthiness matched with a certain delicateness and finesse. For the most luxuriantly sweet of British desserts, I have chosen possibly the most lusciously sweet wine in the world: Pedro Ximénez (PX), also from Jerez, but whose grapes are usually grown in neighbouring Montilla-Moriles.

PX is the grape and is grown, picked, and then dried out on straw mats under the sun until they essentially become like raisins. This concentrates their flavours and their sugars and produces mind-blowingly sweet syrupy wines. This should pair well with the moist sponge cake covered in the signature toffee sauce – and with bonus custard and vanilla ice cream on top for good measure. Pure decadence.

Let no man say that Britain doesn’t have good dishes and let no other man say that all you have to go with it is beer or cider. Now you have Spanish wines at your disposal!

Salud!


If you come to Madrid, which of course, we hope you do. If you go into a modern or classic little Spanish tapas bar, which of course, we hope you do. And if you order a wine, which of course, you should, you’ll often have limited options. You ask for a vino tinto, and will almost always be given a Tempranillo from Rioja – although these days it is common to be offered a Ribera del Duero. Ask for a vino blanco, and you’ll be proffered a goblet of Verdejo from Rueda – though, again, sometimes Albariño from Rías Baixas makes an appearance.

Across most of Castille – both Castilla y León and La Mancha – and Madrid, Extremadura, and Andalucía the most common white wine is always Verdejo. Go most other places and that exotically named grape is still there, accompanied with her productive little region of Rueda. It’s the most well-known grape and region pairing that no-one has heard of!

So today it’s time to meet Verdejo: Spain’s quiet signature grape.

The Grape:

  • The juicy green gapes were brought to Spain probably sometime in the 11th century by the Mozarabs coming from the north of Africa.
  • The first vines were planted in the small but sensationally productive region of Rueda, 175km northwest of Madrid. There are fewer than 60 bodegas in the area, but the grape has become synonymous with the area. Pure terroir.
  • It seems to be the daughter of Savagnin and Castellana Blanca.
  • The name stems from the Spanish for green, verde. The viticultural version of ‘say what you see’ as they are famed for their green-blue bloom.
  • In 2010, Australia got a taste for the grape and started to plant it.
  • The grape is ideally suited to the poor soils and harsh environment present in Rueda; a region that can drop 25 degrees celsius at nighttime.
  • The climate of the meseta is also handy, because Verdejo has a high susceptibility to Powdery mildew fungal disease. The complete dryness doesn’t allow the humidity-loving growth of the fungus.
  • It’s only really in the last 40-odd years that Verdejo from Rueda has come into its own. For a long time it was used in Spain to produce a strong Sherry-like wine.
  • It wasn’t until 70s, with the Rioja giant Marqués de Riscal seeing its potential, that Verdejo began to be used to make fresh and crisp still wines.
  • It’s a fairly venerable Spanish denominación de origen, formed in 1980.
  • The grapes, like many in hot climates, are generally harvested at night. The cooler temperatures will protect the grapes and mean they won’t start to oxidise.
  • As per usual, Verdejo has myriad other names, though generally they are not common but they are wonderful to look at: boto de gall, botón de gallo blanco, cepa de madrigal, gouvelo, verdal del país, verdeja, verdeja blanca.

The Wines:

  • Verdejo as a wine, especially when showing its full expression in Rueda, is famed for its slightly green-tinted straw colour and aromatic and almost herbaceous aroma.
  • It’s not dissimilar to Sauvignon Blanc or a big Pinot Gris. Some laurel, bitter almonds, lemons and citrus are all found on the nose. The palate is smooth and quite full and has sharp acidity.
  • Be aware Verdejo can be rather unappealing if not served chilled enough, sometimes too alcoholic and petrolly. But when chilled correctly is an utter delight.
  • Verdejo can take to ageing quite well, turning almost nutty. That being said, it is not overly common; many producers believing that you lose the intrinsic qualities that Verdejo is good for.
  • The grape, due to the similarity of the vines and name, is sometimes confused with Verdelho. They are not the same. And that’s that.
  • Verdejo is often mixed with Sauvignon Blanc or Macabeo.
  • Due to the acidity of the wines, Verdejo is almost the perfect food pairing white wine.
    • It goes very well with seafood and shellfish.
    • Salty or matured food like strong cheeses pair brilliantly.
    • Verdejo also can go toe to toe with ‘exotic’ food like Thai or Chinese and even spicy food – though, as stated prior, make sure it’s well-chilled!
  • The wines, to be called Rueda Verdejo must be 85% Verdejo. Usually, to show it off fully, producers are more likely to produce 100% wines.
  • Despite finding its spiritual home in Rueda, the largest planting of the grape is actually in Extremadura followed by Castilla La Mancha.

So, even though the boozing populace of Madrid may either a) be bored of Verdejo these days or b) take it for granted, there is no doubting or ignoring the fact that this little green juice bomb has been carrying Spain’s greatest cities, its most famous socialites, its hardy workers and its tiniest villages, into various states of inebriation for centuries.

Verdejo (and Rueda) are owed a debt of soused thanks from a lot of Spain. When all else fails and the cabinets and shelves are running dry, there’s always Verdejo, smiling down at you and saying ‘Hola, pop me in the fridge a while and then drink me!’


The world of wine is vast and all-consuming. There is a plethora of counties producing staggering amounts of wines from a bamboozling number of regions and areas. Safe to say, the wine world is both deliciously seductive and confusingly dense and far-reaching.

At the Spanish Wine Experience we have been thinking recently about how people tend to choose their wine as, quite naturally, in Spain it is different to my homeland of Britain. But it is not as different as you might think.

After quite a lot of research, here are the pros and cons of the Top 5 ways people choose wine these days.

The Label

If you know ‘nothing’ about wine – so nada about counties or regional differences or grapes etc – it is quite logical that you might just stroll around the aisles looking for something that stands out visually. An interesting label. As subjective as this may be, it’s a very common theme these days. Your average Joe isn’t a wine buff and just wants something to drink with a partner or friends. So…eyes speak, ironically, volumes. The label is often the first port of call for a general buyer in search of a drink that many people call wine.

Pros:

The advantages aren’t plentiful, but are, to some extent, there. There are a couple of schools of thought with regards to labels. Old School and Creative.

Old School labels contain landscape scenes or chateaus or bodegas and animals. They are rustic. The vibe is either natural or classical looking. Things that either remind the drinker of a) where it comes from or b) France and Italy. If people see land or big houses they tend to feel something nostalgic. It’s a sign of a trusted and venerable winemaker…sometimes.

Modern and fun(ky) labels can also be a good sign. Young, perhaps, and less fuddy duddy wineries that buck the trends and want to make their fantastic wines known. Often the creativity they put behind their wines can be a sign of joyous invention in the bottle.

Cons:

A label is, objectively, meaningless. A wine is either good or bad because the liquid in the bottle is either good or bad. You can make a bad wine and give it the coolest label and you can make an amazing wine and give it a bland one. People use their eyes, but knowing the wine or asking about it and/or trying it first will really let you know what you’re in for.

The Price

The old maxim – read myth – is as follows: the better the wine, the more expensive the wine.

Pros:

A more expensive wine can denote positive things: that the wine is aged, and people often prefer older and more complex wine, so you´re perhaps getting something more matured. Or maybe the wine comes from a more exclusive, artisan or less known – smaller yield – winery. Something special.

Having said that, depending on which country you are in expensive can often simply be a question of tax and import rates. So, it might be a tasty classic Shiraz from somewhere in Australia but, because of tax, costs more than an affordable Rioja.

Cons:

Price is dependent on so many things: age, country, tax, yield of x or y grape, winery, year…so quite a lot. Price is almost as subjective as taste itself. Try not to choose wines by their price alone. You can sometimes miss great deals for great wines at affordable prices or, equally, by being hoodwinked by ‘fancier’ wines at higher prices which you don’t like as much. Choose a wine you want, not necessarily a price you think means is good.

The Age

Another old myth with wine is that the older the wine, the better the wine. This is a question we get asked a lot on the Spanish Wine Experience podcast. And, as with a lot of things in the wine world, it’s almost entirely exclusive.

Pros:

‘Old wine is good wine’ is a line quoted in a episode of the brilliant surreal comedy Black Books. Is this true? Well…certain grapes, regions and countries, tend to either age a lot or not at all. It depends on style, the physiology of the fruits, the history and traditions of the region. Many things. And when it all comes together, the results can be astonishing, an almost orgasmic and sensual experience. If we take for example Bordeaux, Rioja or Barolo as quintessential examples of old-aging regions, the resulting wines are, for good reasons, considered some of the world’s greats.

Age adds complexity and depth to wines. Adds tertiary flavours that excite the olfactory system and palate. A red grape can end up in a bottle smelling of tobacco and wet suede, prunes and sweet spices. Age adds depth. But it is better?

Cons:

Not necessarily. Just because you leave a wine in a bottle and barrel it doesn’t make it ‘better’. Sometimes they don’t respond as well and are in fact less tasty than the younger ones.

As a reversal. Some grapes and regions specialize in the reverse. Younger, more vibrant and lively and fruity wines. Fruit bombs full of acidity and plummy heft and colorful palates. The bon vivant in the face of the old fusty gent.

Our upcoming podcast features a 4 month oaked Monastrell from Jumilla. usually considered more balanced and flavorful than its 18 month counterpart.

Again. Choose what your palate likes. If you enjoy smoky, spicy complexity, go for it. If you like more approachable and fruity affairs, hit the younger side of things.

The Country

Many countries have their own wine regions. Europe especially is vast and varied in its selection. From the hot depths of Spain and the Med to the chillier climbs of northern France, England, Austria and Germany, wine is big and ever-changing internationally. And then we have South America and North America and Australia and Asia. Whole continents!

Pros:

Generally countries themselves will have styles of wines that ‘in general’ will mark their nation as different to others. Spain’s wines are different to Germany’s. This is because climate and weather and varietals will change a lot depending on where you go. Heat, soils, weather, local varieties. In the world, and I mean that word in a grandiose way, variety is the spice of life. I’m a bigger fan of countries with heat that can offer me heavy reds that burst with flavour, like Spain, Australia, USA, South Africa, Argentina.

Choosing helps you identify a global style of wine that suits your needs.

Cons:

Having said that, each country, especially in Europe – and also behemoths like Australia – has a fascinating selection of different wine regions that can help muddy and subvert the idea that a country has an identity.

If we take the world’s old stalwart, France, we get a scrumptious menagerie of types. Towards the north you have the cooler climates that offer zing and elegance to the whites and lighter reds of Champagne and Burgundy. But, go further south towards that exotic border with Iberia, and you bump into the Rhone and Bordeaux with their penchant for gummier, darker beasties.

To say ‘I like French wines’ is so general to almost be meaningless. Which French wines??

The Grape

A little like the regions, different countries have, often, their ‘own’ grapes that either are only grown there or, due to their nature and history, flourish there. Silvaner in the Franken region of Germany, Monastrell in Jumilla, Nebbiolo in the areas of Piemonte. But then we have many grapes that have left from their homes and spread to pastures new to expand their sensory horizons; most of them French: Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah etc. So…choose the grapes you know right?

Pros:

A grape, inherently, will have its own character; be it a light-skinned grape or thick, be it aromatic or neutral. Each grape will, by definition of it being it, have its own unique style and flavour palate. People who like big, heavy, fruit filled wunderkinds will like Cab Sav, Anglianico, Monastrell, Malbec, Touriga Nacional, Pinotage. Those who like more elegant and graceful reds will, in general prefer, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Mencia, Grenache. however, those grapes integral character will also warp and change depending on where it is grown.

Cons:

A Grenache from France, from the banks of the Rhone, is not really similar at all to its boozier, fruitier and berry-ier origins in Spain – Garnacha. A graceful and profoundly deep Syrah from France hasn’t much at all in common with its bustling and spicy cousin Shiraz in Australia. A delicate and soft Pinot Noir from Burgundy – grace incarnate – isn’t similar at all really with the jammier and fleshier ones from the USA.

Climate, soil and weather will dictate also a lot what happens with the grape itself. So ordering a smart and sexy Cab or Merlot from Bordeaux will give you a very different experience from that of California.

One might surmise from this article that all hope is lost. That nothing you choose or do matters because everything changes. But…don’t despair!! General rules still hold trues. Grapes are still grapes, regions still regions, age still age.

It’s a push to look for what you like. The more you drink – and we always encourage that – the more you’ll learn what you like. From country to country, region to region, grape to age to cost to label.

Wine is a sexy, fascinating, homely, elegant, flashy, humble, complicated and base pleasure to be enjoyed by everyone at every level.

Do a bit of research and have a think what you actually like. Then…go from there!


A couple of years ago I walked an elongated version of the Camino de Santiago. 51 days and about 1200km. The most famous route is from France in the little village of St-Jean-Pied-de-Port to the ancient holy city of Santiago de Compostela. I published a book about it called, quite originally, El Camino, and then essentially put it neatly behind me into my past. Now I recall my journey and think to myself, as well as the Camino de Santiago, it could quite easily be named the Camino de Vino. For there was a lot of wine. The Spanish have been at it, wine-making that is, since the Phoenicians and Romans.

If we focus, for the sake of brevity and sanity, on the principal and most famous route, the camino francés, we are talking about a 780km walk from east to west along a millennia-old pilgrim track. Spain has 70 denominaciones de origen (D.O.), demarcated wine regions, so statistically it makes sense that one would pass through at least a few of them.

Coming down tired and sore from the Pyrenees on day one, you enter the old kingdom of Navarra, which, handily, happens to be a D.O. It is an odd region that is as varied as it is attractive. From Swiss-style green peaks dotted with chalet toy towns with Basque names like Linzoain, Zubiri, Aurtiz, to ancient medieval cities like Pamplona, Estella and Puente la Reina, Navarra has long been the pilgrim gateway to Spain.

And, after a long walk, you want a glass of wine or five. As a region for red wine it is quite far behind a lot of the other great regions, though they are tasty, they are also rather unpolished and often a little unexciting and simple. But they do the job. Navarra’s magic lies in its rosés and is arguably the best region in Spain for reliable versions of the dark pink Spanish chilled wine.

Around the village of Cirauqui, trellised wines snake up to its little mount and at the old former Benedictine monastery of Irache there is a pilgrim wine fountain dispensing free red to walkers. Take your plastic bottle and fill it up. The tap wasn’t working when I passed by the morning of my walk so I would have to imagine how it tasted.

A few days later and the pilgrim hauls his tired frame into the old quartermaster of the Spanish wine world: La Rioja. It was rare to have a view that didn’t include kilometres and kilometres of vineyards. Spring had left the surrounding fields velvety and green with long grasses. It was almost a Spanish Tuscany without the Cyprus trees.

We wouldn’t have dreamed of ordering anything except the local wine in these towns – Navarrete, Nájera, Santo Domingo de la Calzada; all small church-filled places. But the crown was given to Logroño and its obscene number of bars. Tapas bar after tapas bar offering a full list of local producers and their wines; usually none more than a couple of euros a glass, and served with the famed speciality nibbles: potatoes cooked with peppers and chorizo, stuffed mushrooms, fried pig snouts, little sandwiches.

We rubbed our heads and in the morning blinked clear the hangovers as we approached the much-scorned yet bleak beauty and expanses of the meseta. The 200km long flat-as-a-pancake plateau. The topography had simmered down to nearly zero. There were a few soft rises and dips but not a vineyard in sight. We were walking west and shadowing another behemoth region: Ribera del Duero, which lay 85km to the south.

As compensation for this we continued to do what we did every day: get up early, walk between 20-40km, arrive at our destination, and open and drink an unhealthy amount of local wine. Fortunately, as we drifted from Burgos to Frómista, to Carrión de los Condes, to Castrojeriz, to Sahagún, this local wine happened to be those dark liquorice-filled yet smooth beasts of Ribera.

After the monument-filled and genteel old city of León, it was high time we walked through a D.O. again. This time was Bierzo, the floral wonderland of the far west part of Castilla y León. The land grow bouncy and hilly again, and then the mountains brought a new architecture; stone houses with distinctive grey slate roofs.

The vineyards of Bierzo showed off their drama as they slid over warm green slopes in the foreground as snow-tipped peaks danced in the back. Little ladies in round hats were pruning the vines around the postcard-perfect villages of Molinaseca, Villafranca del Bierzo, Valtuille de Arriba. In Bierzo, for red wines, the Mencía grape was king. It is a grape I have described before as the Pinot Noir of Spain. Elegant, floral and lighter than the bolstered Tempranillos, hot Garnachas and inky Monastrells of the rest of Spain. Here, with the moderate climate, retaining heat in summer but overall more mild in all seasons, red fruits, violets and a pleasing minerality fill these suave wines. Many fuzzy mornings were had.

Finally the world was drowned in green as I entered the mystical Celtic lands of Galicia. Here the temperatures drop and the humidity and rainfall increase. There are reds, good reds, to be had in this region, but the superstars are the whites.

At Portomarín we brushed the top of D.O. Ribeira Sacra, a fecund valley sliced in two by the Sil river; famous for its grand canyon. Here again Mencía was the dominant red. They had a different aspect to the darker wines of Bierzo, lacking the heavier fruit punch. They were dangerously drinkable, light and fruity but still had that classic minerality, poetically linked to the steep slate hillsides on which the Mencía grape grows.

And so to Santiago de Compostela I arrived. I had been lashed with rain and had sweated through shirts, been pummelled with hail storms and blown about by gales, often on the same day, but after 47 days I had finally arrived at that moss-covered religious relic where St James lay, dead as dust in his box.

However there was one more region to drink. Split into five sub-zones, D.O. Rías Baixas spreads itself out along the lower western fjord-like estuaries of Galicia. They share the space with cute Scandiweigian villages, broad sandy bays, eucalyptus forests and fishermen. They also make Spain’s best white wines using the Albariño grape.

The day after I arrived I headed north up to the shipwreck-riddled Costa da Morte, coast of death, on the vineyard-less Rías Altas, but for now, in Santiago, I could at least feel fairly close to some vineyards. There is a sub-zone – Ribera del Ulla – that creeps in land and leaves the fjords, and sits just 10km or so south of the city. So we drank our fill.

Albariño in its Galician homeland is a joy to drink; bracing acidity and fresh lemony flavours and melons and apricots too sometimes. They can be creamy if left on the lees or almost effervescently mimicking the Vinho Verdes of Portugal. And, when paired with seafood – the region’s speciality – it makes the drinker emit sounds that are best left to the privacy of one’s home.

I finished the Camino de Santiago with firmed buttocks and calf muscles, the same belly, and, probably a liver that had packed up and died in the corner of the room. St. James might be shocked if he ever came back one day to realise that his Camino de Santiago is really the Camino de Vino.


Over here in Spain we have a lot of different grapes, both red and white, that we plant throughout our more than one million hectares of vineyards. That being said, if you ask anyone about Spanish wine they’ll probably say ‘Um…Rioja? Red wine?…Tempranillo?’ And they would be right on all three counts. Spain is mostly famous for those three things. Its reds are more famous and better-regarded in the market than its whites and Rioja is the most venerable and venerated region in the country. However, its time to zoom in on something else.

Today we meet Tempranillo: Spain’s superstar grape.

The Grape:

  • A classic Spanish thick-skinned beastie. This is the country’s answer to Cabernet Sauvignon, though according to wine kingpin Telmo Rodriguez it has the characteristic of Pinot Noir to show off terroir down to the village.
  • There is more than 30,000 hectares of it grown in Spain; and over 60% of that is in Rioja.
  • The name Tempranillo comes from the word temprano, ‘early’, because of the grape’s propensity to ripen early.
  • It’s been here in Spain for quite a long time indeed. It has been grown here since the Phoenicians arrived in 1100BC.
  • Its fairly short growing cycle means it can thrive in fairly harsh climates such as Rioja Baja, Ribera del Duero and Toro.
  • In Rioja it is often blended with Garnacha, Mazuelo, Graciano and Viura.
  • Just to be confusing, Tempranillo goes by many other names; so look out for:
    • Tinta de Toro
    • Tinto del País
    • Tinto Fino
    • Cencibel
    • Ull de Liebre
  • There are 500 variations in total. So that’s a lot of names and personalities.
  • Also grown in smaller quantities in Portugal (known as Roriz), USA, Argentina, South Africa, France and Australia.

The Wines:

Of course this is going to depend a lot on the region where it is grown, both in Spain and around the world. Everything from climate to soil; from regional grape variations to the quality and talent of the winemakers themselves. Here’s a quick breakdown of three distinct styles.

  • Rioja:
    • The climate is generally more moderate in the principal regions of Rioja Alta and Alavesa.
    • The resulting wines are the classic all rounders. Mr. Medium. Medium-body, medium-acidic, medium-tannin. Elegance and sometimes quite dainty flavours and aromas shimmer out from good Riojas.
    • The cooler temperatures bring out gentle touches of strawberry and other red fruits.
    • Famously spicy and leathery, smoothened with sweet spices and vanilla, when aged. Rioja just loves to age their wines!
  • Ribera del Duero:
    • A warmer climate with both brutal winters and summers. Swinging from -18C to 40C.
    • Also looking at medium-acidity and tannin, though a little more full-bodied than the Riojas.
    • The wines are darker here; inkier with plummy and blackberry fruits abounding. These are bigger and more masculine wines that yearn for cooked meats, yet still retain their suave style.
    • Also loves a bit of ageing in barrels à la Rioja.
  • Toro:
    • A very hot and stark region, whose climatological violence is represented in its wines.
    • The wines historically, and we are talking medieval fame here, were heavyweights. Without care and intense management the alcohol will shoot up to 16% and beyond when you’re not looking. The bull has been tamed in recent decades and an elegance is creeping in.
    • The heat punch is presented in both big booze, big body and big dark fruits like blackberries and sloes and rusticity.
    • Known for being the kind of wine that slaps you in the face and reminds you it means business, Toro wines are often blasted with American oak to soften them.
    • These hefty, jammy wines also follow the Rioja system of ageing and do take to it well.

All this being said, Spain as a country is so diverse geographically, climatically, and topographically, that trying to pen down one style of Tempranillo is almost impossible. It can be grown in both moderate temperature areas and screaming hot ones; from low gentle valleys to the highest mesetas a kilometre in the air. This noble grape’s genius has been its ability and willingness to let the country throw it about this way and that; to test its limits with some of the harshest winters and highest temperatures on the continent.

In the hands of great winemakers Tempranillo can take many forms, but it is and will always be the joyous ruby grandmaster of Spain and is unlikely to be toppled any time soon.


The act of pairing hopefully good food with hopefully good wine is one of the most important facets of the drink. In smarter restaurants sommeliers are there to aid the client in choosing the correct wine to go with whatever dish is ordered. At home you must rely on old adages and rules.

Red wine goes with red meats and heavier food.

White wine goes with white meats, fish and greenery.

Rosé wine is ignored.

Sparkling wine is for celebrations, right?

Sweet wines are for desserts.

Etc.

Now, these old tricks are based in logic, but of course, as with everything in life, nothing is that simple. Here at SWE, and indeed here in Spain, the most important thing is that you are drinking a wine you like and are having a good time. It’s no use drinking a bottle of red wine with your steak and chips if it cost you 1.50€ and is disgusting just because it’s red. Similarly the detail to which you could dive head first into the act of food/wine harmonies is as great as the range of food and wines themselves. Having a fairly spicy Indian curry? Have an off dry or semi-sweet chilled German Riesling. Having a sweet and spicy BBQ? Try a big Malbec.

Generally speaking there are tastebud sensations at work that will affect the perception of flavour of both the food and the wine when they hit your tongue.

ACIDIC FOOD: Best to pair with high acidity wines. E.g. Lemony grilled fish and shrimp with Albariño.

  • When food is acid, the perception of body, sweetness and fruitiness goes UP; but the perception of acidity goes DOWN.

BITTER FOOD: Best to pair with low or non-tannic wines, perhaps with salinity or a touch of sweetness. E.g. Almonds and olives with sweet, red vermouth.

  • When food if bitter, the bitterness in the wine goes UP.

SPICY FOOD: Tricky, but cold off-sweet or sweet wines will work here. If in doubt, have a beer. E.g. Indian curry with German Riesling.

  • When food is spicy, the perception of bitterness, acidity and alcohol burn goes UP; and the perception of body, richness, sweetness and fruitiness goes DOWN.

SWEET FOOD: Best to pair with sweet wines as it’ll make dry wines taste bitter. E.g. Sauternes with dessert. Anomaly? Port and strong blue cheese.

  • When food is sweet, the perception of bitterness, acidity and alcohol burn goes UP; but the perception of body, sweetness and fruitiness goes DOWN.

RICH FOOD: Fatty, heavy, salty and rich food are best paired with high-tannin or acidic wines. E.g. Steak and chips with Rioja.

  • When food is salty, the perception of body in the wine goes UP; but the perception of bitterness and acidity in the wine goes DOWN.

Generally speaking, the more complicated, aged, sweet, or structured the wine is, the more complicated it will be to pair. Younger, unoaked wines are always less stressful.

The other, less sciency way of looking at it is to think about generally what kinds of food generally pair well with wine types. Here is the SWE shortlist on what to pair your wine with. General consumers only. Don’t get angry at us sommeliers.

Reds

Red meat, cured meat, white meat, cheeses, spices

Though lighter, slightly chilled reds, like young Pinot Noir, Beaujolais, Garnacha, could pair with heavier fish.

Rosé

Cured meat, white meat, shellfish, fish, cheese, vegetables, spices

Rosé, though much lambasted incorrectly, is one of the great pairing wines when dry.

Whites

Cured meat, white meat, shellfish, fish, cheese, vegetables

Sparkling

Cured meat, white meat, shellfish, fish, cheeses, vegetables, spices, dessert

Another of the world’s great pairing wines. Young Champagnes and Cavas go with almost everything.

So, as you can see, there’s a lot of nuances and variations. But if there was one golden rule, just one, to help you navigate the world of food and wine pairing? Match like for like. Sweet with sweet; heavy with heavy; light with light; acidic with acidic etc.