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All You Ever Wanted To Know About Spanish Wine

May 7, 2008
The wines of Spain have gone through enormous changes the last few years. Spain's wines are deeply rooted in years of traditional ways, but have developed into some excellent and exciting contemporary wines. Part of his transition was due to the rediscovery of forgotten grapes and obscure wine regions to create powerful, distinctive wines that compete with the world's best, yet remain distinctively Spanish in character.

Spain's wine laws are similar to those of the French appellation system. Rioja is the most important region for red wines. However, Rioja bodegas (wineries) have traditionally used barrels made from American rather than French oak, so the resulting wines have a distinctive character all their own.

Traditionally, bodegas in Rioja (and elsewhere) offered reds in four quality levels, corresponding to the amount of aging (in wooden barrels or in bottle) the wines received before release. In order of increasing age (and price), they are: sin crianza, crianza, reserva and gran reserva.

Riojas typically emphasize balance and elegance. However, responding to international demand for rounder, fruitier wines, many bodegas have turned to new viticultural techniques, French oak and shorter barrel aging to make wines with more concentration. Often our second label at parties will be a good Spanish cava asany have the French small bubbles and are heady with yeast that I love. Sparkling wines, made by the classic Champagne method but using indigenous grapes, also provide good value. Called "cava," these come primarily from the Peneds region, near Barcelona.

Sherry from Spain is also excellent. This fortified wine from Andalusia has largely been forgotten, despite its centuries of fame, yet quality has never been higher, and in an age of increasing wine standardization, Sherries are like nothing else in a bottle. Their flavor spectrum is enormous. Manzanillas and Finos are pale, dry and delicate despite their 15 degrees of alcohol; drunk well-chilled, they are delicious aperitifs. Amontillados, a favorite of mine with more age and alcohol, can be redolent of walnuts and honey, and are made both sweet and dry. Finally, the best dessert Sherries, made largely from super sweet Pedro Ximenez grapes, resemble prune syrup transformed into nectar.

I always keep a full range of sherry in the cabinet both for sipping and cooking. Sherry has a way of embracing flavors, melding them together in a way no other wine can do. Especially seafood and chicken dishes are often sherry brought alive by the addition of sherry!

What is a perfect dish to serve with the wonderful wines of Spain?

Paella is tasty, filling, and easier to make than you might think. Heres an easy and simple Paella recipe.

Chicken and Seafood Paella

6 cups chicken stock
- 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
- 6 sprigs fresh rosemary
- Salt to taste
- 1 Cornish hen, or half of a 2 1/2- to 3-pound chicken
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1 green bell pepper, finely chopped
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 8 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
- 1/4 pound green beans (preferably broad, flat beans), trimmed and halved crosswise
- 1/4 pound sugar snap or snow peas, strings removed
- 1 14-ounce can artichoke hearts in water, drained and quartered
- 2 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, minced
- 1 teaspoon paprika, preferably smoked
- 3 cups short-grain rice
- 3/4 pound shrimp, shelled and deveined
- 1 dozen clams or mussels, scrubbed and debearded

1. Pour the stock into a large saucepan set over low heat. Add the saffron, crushing it between your fingers into the stock. Add the rosemary, and season with salt. Simmer gently for 20 minutes. Remove the rosemary, using a slotted spoon, and reserve the stock, keeping it warm over very low heat.

2. Meanwhile, remove the wing tips and wings from the Cornish hen. Separate the thighs from the drumsticks. Halve the breast, and cut the back into 2 pieces. Cut the rabbit into similar-size pieces. Sprinkle the Cornish hen and rabbit with salt.

3. Heat the oven to 400F. Heat the oil in a 17-inch-wide paella pan set over two burners. Add the Cornish hen to the pan, and brown it over high heat, without cooking it all the way through. Transfer to a platter. Do the same with the rabbit. Add the bell pepper, onion and garlic to the pan, and cook until the vegetables are soft. Add the tomatoes, beans, peas and artichoke hearts. Cook for 3 minutes.

4. Add the parsley, paprika and rice, and stir well. Pour in the hot stock, and bring to a boil. Return the Cornish hen and rabbit to the pan, and season. Bring to a boil, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the rice is no longer soupy but enough liquid remains to continue cooking the rice, about 5 minutes. Add the shrimp and mussels or clams and cook for another three to five minutes.

5. Transfer the pan to the oven. Cook, uncovered, until the rice is almost completely cooked through but still quite firm and the shellfish are cooked through (10 to 12 minutes in a gas oven; 15 to 20 minutes in an electric oven). Check the pan a few times while it cooks and add a bit more stock if necessary.

6. Move the pan to a warm spot, and cover with foil. Let stand 5 minutes.

7. To make the socarrat, set the pan over high heat just until a nice crust forms on the bottom of the pan without burning the rice.

Serves 6.

And of course Tapas are perfect small plates to accompany a Spanish wine tasting.
About the Author
Mary-Anne is a featured member and regular contributor at iFood.tv, a global food network featuring recipes from all over the world. For more Spanish Recipes, Mexican Recipes, and American Recipes check out ifood.tv.
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