News and views | Matching wine and tapas

News and views

Matching wine and tapas

Lucy Bridgers selflessly devotes herself to finding the perfect pairing for tapas on a tapas crawl through some of London's leading tapas bars

"Finding a good wine match for tapas doesn’t sound that difficult. However, last week on a ‘Tapas Safari’ organised by Wines of Rioja, I was reminded just how tricky it can be to find drinks that suit such a broad range of flavours and textures. You need something sufficiently refreshing and versatile to handle all this.

Currently there is a burgeoning tapas scene in London, but unlike Spanish cities, you can’t stroll from bar to bar. We were ferried around in taxis to several exciting new venues and were only able to make it to three of the five on our itinerary. Nevertheless, it gave us a great opportunity to compare dishes and drinks and reach some interesting conclusions.

At our first port of call – Bar Esteban in Crouch End – a Decenio Rioja Crianza was an easy, juicy partner to ham and cheese croquetas and little tiny chorizos cooked in cider. I always find that pimenton augments the spiciness of Garnacha and Tempranillo and this was certainly the case here, giving the wine a zippy lift. One of the specialities of the bar, the Canarian potato dish, papas arrugadas, was another hit with the Rioja, with its peppery sauces, as was the romesco sauce served with grilled chicken.

Following owner Stephen Lironi’s advice, we also tasted a couple of sherries, Gonzales Byass’s 12 year old Palo Cortado Leonor and Fernando Castilla’s 30 year old dry Oloroso. Tangy and nutty, both worked brilliantly with the food and I particularly loved the Palo Cortado with the chicharrones (pork belly cooked with cumin, lemon and salt). The complex savoury Oloroso deftly cut through the rich fattiness of the jamon and chorizo. No wonder sherry is often seen as the default choice for tapas.

From Crouch End we moved the new branch of Camino’s in Blackfriars where we were ushered downstairs to their lively basement cava bar. Here we enjoyed Conde de Haro cava with some very spicy patatas bravas. The elegant refreshing fizz was ideal – very happy with the crunchy fried potatoes and spicy heat.

Back upstairs in the main restaurant, we had another stand out dish, Iberico pig burger with caramelised onions and Idiazabal cheese. This was partnered rather classily with Remelluri Rioja Reserva 2009. Compared with the crianzas we’d been drinking, the reserva had a more defined structure with fresher acidity that tapas cries out for.

Our final destination was the newly opened Bravas Tapas in St Katharine’s Dock. We were tiring by this point (ahem), but genial owner Bal Thind presented us with some distinctive modern tapas from chef Victor Garvey. Highlights here included morcillas de burgos sliders – deliciously charred and crunchy; crispy foie gras stuffed quail with Iberian pork belly and syrupy PX sauce in an egg for dunking; decadent foie gras ‘Crema Catalana’ topped with cherries and Belota ham; patatas brava with whipped-to-order alioli and, most memorably, gazpacho ‘truffles’ – encased in solidified olive oil with cocoa.

With this extravaganza, it was a shame we didn’t have more of the cava handy to keep the palate refreshed. Apparently at El Bulli, cava was often regarded as the safest option to see diners through an evening of Ferran Adrià’s creations.

My conclusions from this long and entertaining evening? If you’re with a group of friends, why not order a bottle of each colour and share them around? Crisp dry whites work well with fried and cheese-based tapas e.g. a personal favourite – the ever-versatile Torres Viña Sol. You won’t go far wrong with Albariño either.

Classic gutsy rosado is at ease with strong garlic, tomato and red pepper, as well as chorizo and prawns (maybe the colour comes into play here).

With reds, as we discovered during our ‘Safari’ Rioja reserva has a firmer, more defined presence than the easier drinking crianzas and is worth trading up to, particularly for grilled meat and smoky pimenton. Alternatively, follow the Spanish examples of sherry and cava.

You can try out different riojas with tapas yourself at the Tapas Fantasticas festival on London’s Southbank on the weekend of June 14th/15th. A number of London’s leading restaurants will also be offering a complimentary tapa with every glass of rioja purchased in the run-up to the festival* including Ametsa, Anise at Cinnamon Club, Bread Street Kitchen, Fino, Merchant’s Tavern, Oxo Tower and Sager & Wilde.

* until June 16th 2014

Lucy Bridgers is a regular contributor to and has her own blog Wine, Food & Other Pleasures. She visited Bar Esteban, Camino Restaurant and Bar and Bravas Tapas as a guest of Wines of Rioja.

Top image © pat_hastings -

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