Wine with Food: Tapas| Pairing Tips

Wine with Food: Tapas
By Paul Kalemkiarian Sr. |


A most refreshing custom of Spain is the serving of a tidbit every time wine is served. These wonderful appetizers are standard fare at all restaurants, wine bars, and gatherings.

In fact, it is automatic. Most establishments will place one piece of tapas on a small plate, and serve it along with your beverage order. You look at it in surprise, since you did not order it Sometimes, you wonder what it is, because you cannot identify it But invariably, you cannot resist and at just the right moment, you pop it in your mouth.

A good portion of the wine served in Spain is sherry, usually the dry style like “Fino”. The variety of tapas offered seem to complement the taste sensations of this and other wines served. A platform seems to develop as you munch, so that the sip tends to be less assertive and more harmonious. Now that’s an analysis for you, isn’t it?

What are these tapas and how can we adapt them to our wines?

Tapas are available everywhere in Spain. They may be nothing more than toasted almonds and olives. In most restaurants and wine bars a few additional prepared ones are always available, and some establishments offer an extraordinarily extensive array. In Madrid, where the custom is a specialty of many taverns, a variety of thirty or more can be ordered. They are all arranged behind glass cases, and patrons make their choices by inspecting them or ordering from a list. The hours between 8 and 10 pm is when all the good stuff is available.

Here is a consolidated listing of some of the varieties I saw in March:

Olives, prepared variously

Almonds, toasted, glazed, or fried

Pine nuts, toasted or fried

Hazelnuts, toasted

Potato omelettes called tortillas

Chicken pureed canapes

Tuna pureed canapes

Hake pureed canapes


Grilled prawns

Garlic shrimp

Pickled herring

Fried codsticks

Smoked salmon

Roast veal, ham

Sausage varieties

Potato salad

Mushroom salad

Pickled young eggplant

Fresh marinated anchovies from Malaga

Croquettes (chicken, ham, or fish)

Palitos (long toothpicks with variety of the above skewered)

Pinchos (broiled meats, mushrooms, onions, and peppers on a skewer)

Bunuelitos (small fritters of meats)

Empanadillas (small pastries with meat or other stuffing)

Tartaletas (open faced tarts of meat or fish)

All are ordered by the portion or half portion, and are served in small oval dishes at the counter or at your table.

You will notice the flavor direction of all the above. They are in the dry and not sweet range of taste sensations. They can be spicy, yet many are not They can be marinated and of tart nature. They can be nutty in flavor. What does all this say? They go best with sherry, and the Spanish styles of table wine, which tend to be more oaked and oxidized tasting. So the food of the land has adapted to the wine and created a harmony. When you sip the house sherry or montilla, and munch a few tapas, you will definitely recognize this. I enjoy having something to eat with my glass of wine. Being offered such a feast in cities like Cordoba, Jerez, Segovia, Toledo, Malaga, Sevilla. Granada, and Madrid suited me just fine.

Having something to eat with your wine is a good idea. It will add to the pleasure of taste sensations. It will set better with your digestive process. It will delay the onset of the slumber zone!

Here is a challenge. Develop a set of suitable tapas that complement the California wines and the American palate. Think about this. Tapas to go with our fruity Chenin Blancs, assertive Chardonnays, flowery Rieslings, bold Cabernets, young Beaujolais. Consider serving something different each time with your wine, and build a file of compatible hors d’oeuvres (that is what tapas are!) for each style of wine.

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