Food & Drink » Anthony Gismondi on Wine

Time to party — Spanish style

Tapas and wines from the New Spain will be popular for a long time

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Spain is the current darling of the international food and wine stage and as the anti-globalization forces gather strength to oppose the massive conglomerates that dominate world wine markets the country with culinary diversity to spare could be in for a long run as a preferred producer of both food and wine.

Anyone who has spent time travelling the back roads of the Iberian peninsula can’t help but be amazed by Spain’s ability to reinvent itself every few kilometres. It seems no matter what direction you head the food and wine changes as you travel from region to region and sometimes even from town to town.

There is perhaps no better illustration of this versatility than in the ever-changing Spanish tapa. We have only recently come to know small plates in British Columbia, albeit well ahead of most of the continent, but Spain has been making the tiny delectable taste treats for centuries.

The tradition began when Spanish bartenders placed pieces of bread atop their customers’ drinks to thwart the fruit flies. It wasn’t long before they were "spicing up" the bread with jamon and queso and the tapa (literally translated as the lid) was born.

Every corner of Spain has its specialties but it’s the local ingredients that shine. Olives, cheese, ham, tomatoes, red peppers, prawns, pork, lamb and much more.

Locals sip and bite most days in towns like Logrono, the capital of Rioja, where you can wander the old city all night jumping from one tapas bar to the next. Interestingly each boasts an ancient sign out front with a simple drawing of a prawn or a mushroom touting the flagship tapa of the bar.

Now that I have your interest, why not consider getting some friends together and holding your own tapas party. If you are too busy to prepare the tapas simply have your guests bring some suitable ingredients and let everyone build their own.

Once you’ve sorted out the food you need only grab some Spanish wines to keep the party going long into the night, Spanish style. Fortunately, B.C. liquor stores have never had a better selection of Spanish wine to choose. What follows are some of the best value labels in the market.

We begin with a number of reds made from the classic tempranillo grape. If you’re not up on tempranillo, this grape is to Spain as merlot is to California. Its soft, dark berry fruit flavours come with a streak of earth and herbal notes, and while you’ll find some stand-alone solo varietal bottlings, often it is blended with garnacha, carignan and, more recently, cabernet sauvignon.

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