Cheeseburger

Cheeseburgers are probably the first things that come to my mind when I think about American food. They are not my favourite, but I must confess I’ve succumbed to temptation on more than one occasion. It’s that perfect blend of meat and cheese that makes them irresistible. As much as people now want to complicate them, their preparation is very simple. It is a classic that can not be missed at any summer barbecue. In fact the numbers speak for themselves: 13 billion units were served in 2009 in the United States. Moreover, it is only the first step towards a world of infinite combinations with tomato, bacon, onion, pickles, lettuce, ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard… And so, to infinity and beyond.

My proposal is to combine this king of the kitchen with the king of wines in Spain. I would go with a red Rioja. Besides being an easy wine to find, I think the classiness of the wine contrasts with the irreverence of the cheeseburger.

Mac and Cheese

If you want to see an Italian writhe and squirm like a slug on a handful of salt just give him this recipe. It is a recipe that could not be further away from conservatism of the famous and sacred Italian pasta. But between you and me, who can resist the delicious combination of pasta and cheesy cream?

And what better to combine with the sweet flavour of this dish than a dry wine like Manzanilla. It’s one of those combinations that is, by its contrasts, really interesting, but tends to balance out both flavours. Sherry wines are recommended for combining with rice, seafood, white fish, soft cheeses and even ham, and now, why not, Mac and cheese.

Chicken casserole

This is probably one of my favorite dishes in American cuisine. I discovered it whilst diving mouth first into the world of Amish food. A lot of their recipes are based on these casseroles, all of them delicious, but especially this one with chicken. I’ve seen several variations on it that include peas, carrots and even corn. One of my dreams is to one day open a restaurant in Madrid where only Amish food is served.

In either case, my proposal is to pair this dish with an elegant wine from Rías Baixas; it would be the perfect companion. These wines are very versatile, they have a very balanced acidity and allow you to combine them with multiple dishes. The fruity hints of the wine will blend perfectly with the delicate flavours of the chicken casserole.

Hot dogs

Along with the burger, hot dogs are, by popular acclamation, one of the greatest dishes of American gastronomy. Popular all over the world, it is a very easy meal to eat while walking down the street, which explains why one of its most popular points of sale are those street kiosks. But let us bring the hot dog to a higher context, imagine that we are at home enjoying a movie or an interesting football game: it’s time to have a delicious hot dog.

Besides bread and sausage, the variety of seasonings and toppings that can be added is vast: ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard, pickles, fried onions, cheese… Everything seems to work well with that simple recipe of bread and sausage.

And if hot dogs are another star of American cuisine, I will propose to match them with one of the other kings of Spanish wines that I think works perfectly: Ribera del Duero. Two strong and different personalities that work perfectly together in your mouth.

Fried chicken

One of the most interesting contrasts that can be sampled in the world of Spanish wines is the one between bubbling cavas and especially greasy meals. It’s not surprising that one of the foods that better combines with this sparkling drink is the Iberian (Ibérico) ham. This is the reason why I have dared to pair fried chicken with this bubbly wine. Bring a bottle of Cava with you to your next picnic. The harmony is perfect between the fat-fried white meat of chicken and the acidity of the Cava. It does nothing but extol its flavours in perfect harmony.

Ribs

It’s time to get your hands dirty. And there is no better way than to eat delicious ribs painted with that sticky and scrumptious barbecue sauce, cooked as slowly as possible. In contrast with the rushed and fast-food image of burgers and hot dogs, it’s not easy to find an American recipe that requires so much time and pampering as the famous pork ribs.

The combination of seasoning and mustard and barbecue sauce requires a wine with character, so I opted for a wine from Toro, a big and elegant wine, linked to the soil and traditions, to empower the timeless flavour of the ribs. Try this combination: it has a powerful mouthfeel and is simply delicious.

Meat Loaf

Finally, to close our round of pairings, I propose the classic dish of meatloaf. I love recipes whose base is ground meat. A similar dish to this, more European, is the famous shepherd’s pie. Occasionally, I cook it with Luke, guided by his wise and very British advice. Undoubtedly, however, American meatloaf has much more temperament, and the result is, perhaps, far more powerful.

Therefore I propose a wine that balances the powerful taste of the meatloaf, let’s try it with a red wine from Priorat. Sun-dried red and black plums, black cherry, and cassis will pair perfectly with those countless flavours exploding in your mouth.


Happy 2017 from Roque and Luke. To toast this new year we tackle another Spanish classic. A bottle of Ribera del Duero, from Condado de Oriza Crianza. As well as the classic wine chat the two swap presents and chat festive nonsense.

Check out our new episode!


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.


Rioja. A word everyone knows. A word that conjures the image of shining glasses full of deep red wine pulled from the sun-soaked fields of Spain. For many, for most, Spanish wine is Rioja. Depending on the shop, other words, other regions, have started to drip into the marketplace: Ribera del Duero, Albariño, Priorat. And of course everyone knows sherry and Cava. But what of the rest of Spain? There are sixty-nine official wine regions and where are they represented? Where are they championed?

Madrid is Spain. A big melting pot of peoples and cultures stretching back to its founding in the 9th century by the Moors, who attacked and ruled the Iberian peninsula for a few hundred years. They brought rice, sugar cane, lemons and oranges, almonds, spinach and aubergines. They also helped to refine the gastronomy. But what of wine?

The Romans started it, exporting rough amphorae-fulls back to Rome. The Moors gently forbade it for drinking, but continued to tax the production. Then the Reconquest happened and the ruling Christians reopened the country to international trade, introducing wine to the British market for the first time. Things were going well until the 19th century when an epidemical plague of phylloxera ravaged Europe’s vineyards, bringing production to the brink of extinction. After the vines recovered in the 1900s Spain quickly became one of Europe’s leading winemaking countries. Madrid has been making wine since the 1300s but only received a Denominación de Origen (protected status, like for Champagne or Barolo) in 1990. They are young guns. Pretenders to the throne.

They are usually dark, youthful and full of rustic flavour when red; there are of course whites and rosés too. They can come from any of three subzones. So, just to get technical for a minute:

Sub-zone 1: Arganda – home of cutesy village Chinchón and UNESCO town Aranjuez. Located south east of Madrid. Sedimentary limestone soil; extreme winter and summer temperatures.

Sub-zone 2: Navalcarnero – home of the pretty town of the same name. Located south west of Madrid. Flat, sedimentary, loose soils of farmland origin.

Sub-zone 3: San Martin de Valdeiglesias – home of the Gredos mountains. Located in the extreme west of Madrid. Rugged zone, warmer and more humid temperatures. Granite soils on slopes and foothills.

These Madrid wines can be hard to track down internationally – we’ll put a top 6 selection of humdingers at the bottom of this blog – but within Spain they are gaining traction. The whole joy of wine is tasting the variety. Nobody wants to be that person who sticks to two or three bottles their whole lives ‘because they like it and trust it’.

There are 44 wineries in Madrid alone, so there is no excuse to not try them when you visit. The bars are also slowly but surely getting behind the Madrid wine train and are stocking them with more regularity. A lot of them are small, family-run or cooperative ventures without a lot of money to export on a massive scale. But they’re getting there; and my goodness are they friendly and welcoming. Coupled with a recent drive to export to the U.S., you could be seeing bottles of Vino de Madrid on the shelves sooner than you think!

A few of our favourite bodegas to check out:

  1. Bodega Regajal – Las Retamas (Tempranillo)
  2. Bodega Marañones – Treintamil Maravedíes (Garnacha)
  3. Bodega Bernabeleva – Navaherreros (Garnacha)
  4. Bodega Señorio de Val Azul – Fabio (Syrah, Cab Sav, Merlot)
  5. Bodega Las Moradas de San Martín – Initio (Garnacha)
  6. Bodegas Andrés Díaz – d’Ório (Tempranillo/Garnacha/Cab Sav)

From us here at SWE, salud!!