Facing a new section of your local wine store can be daunting. Today, we'll help you get to know some major Spanish wine regions and grapes so you can confidently choose a few bottles to try.
'Spain' on Serious Eats
You might be familiar with Mexican horchata, but do you know the Spanish version made with tiger nuts? Here's how you can make this creamy and rich nonalcoholic drink at home.
I pay careful attention to the wine that disappears first at a party. When you have a mess of bottles open and one of them is emptied well in advance of the others, you know people liked it.
The long zippy finish and playful nature of Albariño make it a natural flirt with food, happy to sidle up alongside a wide range of dishes.
Basque locals traditionally drink the stuff out of a bulbous, pointy spouted, awesomely crowd-friendly pitcher called a porrón held high above one's head.
When you visit the Spanish Basque Country, walk into any pintxo bar in San Sebastián or Bilbao and you'll see an entire wall of green bottles. What's in them? A bright, slightly fizzy wine called txakoli. There are three regions that make this wine, and I recent visited them all to learn about the differences in the wines they produce.
For most people, a glass of sherry sounds like the kind of tipple that is to be sipped in a Victorian-era British parlor by a bunch of old codgers, but in reality the fortified wine from Spain is on the rise again. A new generation of restaurant sommeliers and shop owners have re- discovered the virtues of sherry for its wide breadth of styles and flavors, and its ability to go with all sorts of crazy dishes from a pungent curry to the stinkiest cheese.
When traveling abroad, exploring local drinking habits usually ranks third on my list of priorities. The first two are stamping my passport and finding a clean bed. And while the architecture, the museums, and even shopping are all important aspects of exploring a new culture, I feel that the true spirit of any great city begins at the bar and ends at the dinner table.
Faced with two of Valencia's oldest horchaterias conveniently located within spitting distance of each other, I tried both to see if one was better.
Món Orxata is an Alboraya-based company that makes fresh horchata every morning from organically and locally grown tiger nuts and sells it at carts around Valencia, bringing back the tradition of selling horchata from carts in the early 1900s. Check out how they make horchata at their factory in this slideshow.
The first time I really noticed—really tasted—Tempranillo was at the tapas restaurant Tía Pol in New York. We'd ordered a super flavorful squid dish, which was served in its own, concentrated ink. The smokiness and earthiness of the Bodegas Muga Reserva Rioja wine we drank alongside it was just too delicious a complement to ignore. I was forced out of passively drinking the wine by this splendid combination. And I've been pretty into Tempranillo ever since.
When preparing for this tasting, some of us had to factor in the juice cleanse (no alcohol allowed, even if it's hiding in a juice) so we popped open a few bottles before embarking on that, and popped a few more after that ended (partly to celebrate the end of the cleanse!). Many of these cavas would actually taste pretty good in a glass of fresh-squeezed OJ or pineapple-mint juice as a brunch cocktail. Others, we preferred sipping on their own.
It's easy to think, there's nothing to celebrate on this any-ole-Tuesday night, what's the occasion for bubbles? Save the special stuff for little Joey's college graduation or Mildred and Bobby's wedding. If you only associate bubbles with a pricey bottle of Krug, then that's a natural approach. It's hard to get a decent bottle of Champers for less than $25, whereas there are plenty of sub-$25 (in some cases, quite sub) sparklers that'd make for a fun, refreshing anynight bottle.
Before I left for Spain a couple weeks ago on a trip sponsored by Freixenet (pronounced fresh-eh-net*), which runs the largest sparkling wine facility in the world and exports 80% of Spain's cava, I asked Drinks editor Maggie what burning questions she thought Serious Eaters might have about cava. "Tell us how they get the bubbles in there!" she said. Bubbles, on it.
After you pass all the Jamón Ibérico hanging (and stare, drool, study the butcher slicing away at one of the legs), the second thing you'll probably notice at La Boqueria, the bustling market hall in Barcelona, are the zumos. The bright, fresh juices are all lined up on crushed ice at the various fruit stalls.
I've never thought, oh this horchata could sure use some lemon, but upon trying leche merengada while in Spain last week, I wasn't opposed to the bright, citrus-y kick at the end. It's not quite horchata plus lemon—it's actually whole milk (not rice or almond milk) mixed with sugar, cinnamon, usually egg whites, and a hearty squeeze of lemon.
Rustic, musty and tart, Spanish cider (or sidra) is one of the great treasures of the cider world. Sidras tend to have a dominant wild yeast character and a dry, tannic finish. These ciders are fermented naturally, without any added sugars or sweeteners, and are usually still, not sparkling. Both Asturian and Basque ciders exhibit acidic, complex, and musty flavors perfect for fans of traditional Belgian Lambics.
The Canary Islands boast a stunning array of microclimates, elevations, and mineral-rich volcanic soils that are capable of producing a wide range of fascinating wines.
When I head to the store for summer wines, I keep "GRPS" (grapes without the vowels) in mind. It stands for Grenache, Rosé, Portugal/Spain, and Sauvignon Blanc, and these wine categories open up a world of tasty new options for summer get-togethers.