Tapas and Wine: Kick Off Your Summer!

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Tapas! Just saying the word conjures smiles, laughter and a room full of happy wine lovers with flamenco guitar strumming in the background. Tapas make a great late lunch or easy evening meal; from a hosting viewpoint, tapas-themed fiestas are suitable for intimate, casual or professional occasions. Although “tapa” (top-pa) beautifully originates from Spain and means “the lid,” it refers to the covering that is placed over your beverage to protect it from bugs or to indicate that you’re returning shortly after you make that phone call. Today we generally use a napkin for this, but traditionally it’s a small plate that is set atop the glass. The bartenders and servers soon figured out that if they placed a small savory item on the plate, the guest would continue to be thirsty and keep ordering libations. Thus tapas were born and we all benefit from flavorful and festive ambiance in our neighborhoods.

Spanish Wine + Food = Tapas
Menus featuring tapas generally have a Spanish flair in preparation, seasoning and style. Pleasing vegetarians, vegans and meat lovers is easily accomplished with Mediterranean components of dried fruits, nuts, vegetables, compotes, cured meats, seafood and my favorite, cheeses. All these ingredients come together as a work of art on a beautiful platter.

If this is sounding a bit familiar, isn’t this good old-fashioned hors d’oeuvres, appetizers, nosh, or small bites that we see in restaurants designed to whet the appetite while we order wine and ease into the evening? That would be correct! Tapas also honors a culture and lifestyle of enjoying conversation and music, passing time with friends and family while enjoying delicate portions of savory items, toasted breads and wine. As such, tapas are unpretentious and very easy to create; the various dishes can be as gourmet as you like, including pâté, anchovies, sardines, langoustines and aged prosciutto. One of the best ways to enjoy tapas is with toasted bread, hearty enough to support the flavor, sliced thin enough to enjoy without feeling overfull. Crackers that are savory with olive oil and herbs are also a good pairing.

Cheese is one of the most important aspects of tapas and the Spanish diet as a whole. We talk about wine regions of the world and how they impact the aging and taste of wine. The same is true for cheeses of Spain. Whether consumed for breakfast, dessert or tapas, Spanish cheeses have specific flavors unique to each of the 23 officially classified types of cheese, naturally pairing well with Spanish wines.

Traditionally used to celebrate anything big or small, Cava is a classic sparkling wine that can be white or rosé. Only sparkling wine that is made in the French tradition can be officially labeled as Cava.

A refreshing aroma of apricot and stone fruit exudes from Albariño as a tasty white wine that is light and fresh without being sweet.

If you’re looking to try something new, Grenache (or Garnacha) is one of the most planted varietals in the world. Originating in France, it often is blended with Tempranillo, yet it is lovely enough to stand on its own, with lower acid levels and elevated sugars that make you think of warm summer evenings. The royal grape of Spain, Tempranillo is a mild, even-tempered pairing for your tapas menu, providing a balance of light oak, tobacco and plum flavors.

One of my favorite ways to enjoy new trends with Spanish wine and food is through Tempranillo Advocates, Producers and Amigos Society (TAPAS), a non-profit organization hosting workshops, winemaker talks and wine tastings in various cities every year that include recipes, newly released wines and wine ratings.

If you have a penchant for Pinot Noir or Zinfandel, by all means enjoy them with tapas as their flavor profiles are also well matched for the savory aromas that exude from a Mediterranean menu.

Try searching tapas restaurants in your area for convenience in experiencing this cultural treat, but whether you seek out a tapas restaurant or take turns at the office, now you and your guests are tapas-trained and set to enjoy the music, food and company you’ve brought together to kick off a great summer! HLM

Sources: Cheesefromspain.com, spanishwinelover.com and tapasociety.org.


Tapas in Style: Tips for Hosting a Tapas and Wine Party

• Small plates (3- or 4-inch)
• Wine glasses (3-inch opening)
• Platters of cheeses: Manchego, Roncal,
Mato, Zamorano
• Peppers and relishes: spicy, sweet, marinated
• Nuts: roasted and/or spiced walnuts,
Marcona almonds
• Figs, dried apricots, sundried tomatoes
• Olives, tapenades, breads or crackers

In the middle of the table, as a display, pre-arrange a small plate of savory items atop a wine glass with a few ounces of wine inside. This will serve as a festive centerpiece and perfect example for your guests. The small plates will encourage guests to try new tapas arrangements on their plates. This scenario, with a little coordination and balance, permits guests to use one hand to talk and nibble comfortably.