Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A tapas party and two Spanish wines

Making tapas is an easy but festive way to throw a summer party

For all of us, tapas are small plates of tasty appetizer-sized food served with beer, wine, or sherry, but literally, tapa means cover in Spanish. The word has different interesting etymologies that explain how the concept of tapas was born. One, commonly used, is that bartenders used to place flat items like saucers, cards or even bread on top of glasses of wine to protect them from flies. Eventually they topped these covers with snacks to attract more customers. A slightly different story says that bartenders, discovering that mature cheese could cover the taste of bad wines, decided to offer free slices of cheese with cheap wine.

Today, it is fortunately rare to have tapas with cheap, bad wine. My first great tapas experience occurred some years ago at my sister in law's wedding near Badajoz, Spain. Following the local custom, the wedding dinner started with an abundance of sliced Serrano ham, Manchego cheese, and olives, served with the traditional glass of Manzanilla. Sherry is an acquired taste and I have to confess that until that night, I didn't like this unusually yeasty, slightly salty, dry wine. But this wedding made me a convert.

More recently, we organized a little tapas party with some friends of mine and I was asked to bring the wine. This time, I did not dare bringing any sherry, as I was not sure whether any of my friends would like it. Instead, I chose a crisp white wine from the cool and wet Galicia on the Atlantic coast, and a Grenache-based red wine from the hot Priorat region on the Mediterranean coast, just south of Barcelona.

The 2004 Condes de Albarei Albariño was, without doubt, our favorite. It had a bright stray color with a light green hue, with attractive white flower and peach aromas on the nose. On the palate, the wine was mouthfilling with a bite of acidity on the finish, which made it the perfect complement to our gambas al ajillo (garlic prawns) and abuelita querida (goat cheese and chorizo rolls) dishes.

The 2001 Giné Giné Priorat had a deep garnet color with a nose of blackberries and distinctive notes of mint and eucalyptus. On the palate, it had a medium intensity with good acidity on the finish. The wine worked well with the traditional tortilla de patatas (Spanish omelet), as well as our carne con tomato dish (pork cubes in tomato sauce).

But next time, for sure, I'll also bring a bottle of my favorite Manzanilla, the Hidalgo La Gitana and I'll start converting my friends to the distinctive flavors of sherry.

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