A Surprising Wine Pairing

Stephen-CSW-Header(TORONTO, ON) – Espuña’s background dates back to 1947 when Esteve Espuña began producing sausages, using traditional recipes, in his farmhouse near Olot, Spain. Espuña Tapas Essentials cured meats are now available in Canada.

The term tapas originated in Spain meaning cover or lid of bread or meat to keep your wine glass free of dust from the original dirt roads.

Espuña offers some 17 primarily cured meat tapas with several non-cured meat tapas requiring a minute in the microwave before being served. The Espuña booklet provided to me gives a product description, ingredients, serving suggestions, and nutritional information.

Unfortunately there are no serving suggestions as to what wine or beer might best suit the tapas although I do see a glass of beer and what appears to be a glass of cava in one of the pictures.

A great gift for the foodie in the family or the wine and beer expert who you rely on to tell you what to drink with these tapas.

Espuña Tapas Essentials cured meats, from Olot, Spain, are now available in Canada.Photo courtesy of Espuña Cured Meats.

Espuña Tapas Essentials cured meats, from Olot, Spain, are now available in Canada.
Photo courtesy of Espuña Cured Meats.

The tapas were originally released in 2015 and are currently available in Longo’s, Freshco, Metro, and some Loblaw’s stores. Prices are set by the retailers and generally range from $3-$7.

For more about Espuña check the website.

Cured meats and wine. Red or white? Traditionally one pairs based on colour and weight.

As most cured meats are red or brown one theoretically should match with a red wine. However, as many cured meats have fatty contents, one might consider a wine with some acidic content to cut through the fat.

Generally speaking, white wines are more acidic than red wines, so they might be a better match than reds, however the tannins in red wine can equally cut through and soften the proteins in meat. I rather marvelled a few years ago how some Umbrian Chardonnay was a perfect match for Italian cured meat.

Espuña Tapas Essentials cured meats, from Olot, Spain, are now available in Canada.Photo courtesy of Espuña Cured Meats.

Espuña Tapas Essentials cured meats, from Olot, Spain, are now available in Canada.
Photo courtesy of Espuña Cured Meats.

Perhaps a first step is to crack open a Rueda white from Spain and take it on its own and pair it with some Espuña. The Beronia Rueda is medium gold in colour and, on the nose, full of apple, pear, pineapple, upside down cake, and lemon, with a dash of nutmeg.

On the palate, subtle but noticeable acids. Citrus, marmalade, and bacon notes. It has the acids to cut through fat.

Medium finish and a rather good match for foods that need the acid. (Beronia 2015 Rueda Verdejo, D.O.C., 750 mL, 13%, LCBO #461327, $14.95, Square Media Group Rating 89 /100)

Ordinarily, I’d say a great match with lightly prepared chicken dishes or spicy whitefish. But with cured meats? With the Espuña Barcelona Salami does it work?

The salami is both fatty and meaty with a slight hotness, but it’s more smooth than fiery. Earthy and generally smooth, the Rueda compliments the salami. A beautiful match and rather against the rules. A white with a dark meat. It creates almost a banana like match with the salami.

Again we try the Espuña original Olot Salami with its obvious high fat content with the Rueda.

The salami is very slick and smooth and very fatty with a slight spicy burn. The Rueda stands up very well and ends up with a rather peachy flavour. Not off at all.

White wine with fatty sausage. Bring it on. Breaking the rules.

One more try of the Rueda with the Espuña Original Salami, which has a yeasty and oaky taste with a little bite. I am thinking Zinfandel/Primitivo with this. The Rueda is a bit off here, leading to a bitter and grapefruit finish. Can we say the simpler and fattier the meat the better a Rueda is?

The Espuña Serrano Ham is nutty in flavour and, while I am thinking Pinot Noir, the Rueda compliments it beautifully. Nothing is out of synch here. A perfect match.

Espuña Tapas Essentials cured meats, from Olot, Spain, are now available in Canada.Photo courtesy of Espuña Cured Meats.

Espuña Tapas Essentials cured meats, from Olot, Spain, are now available in Canada.
Photo courtesy of Espuña Cured Meats.

Rioja’s are notoriously smooth. Can it stand up to the cured meats?

The Heredad de Baroja Gran Reserva 2002 has a black cherry colour. Supple and soft on the nose, bursting with creamy cassis and black cherry. A positively seductive nose.

On the palate, initially smooth as a baby’s bottom, but some tannin kicks in on the back palate. The tannins are soft, but good enough to hold the wine for another 5-7 years. On the palate you get what’s on the nose, but it’s a bit less assertive if not a bit dilute, so holding the wine is not going to improve it.

With some decanting the wine picks up a bit more power than it initially offered. I’d say drink it now.

This is not to say it won’t handle the cured meats. (Heredad de Baroja Gran Reserva 2002, Heredad de Baroja, Elvilar de Alava, Spain, 750 mL, 13.5%, LCBO #276113, Square Media Group Rating 88/100)

Aged in oak for 26 months and a further 42 months in the bottle.

Can this Rioja deal with another fatty Bilbao Style Salami from Espuña? This high quality salami is absolutely stunning, being smoky and meat centric. Unfortunately it throws off the Rioja and makes it tinny tasting.

What a shame as the Espuña Bilbao Salami is my absolute favourite.

Will the Rioja do any better with the Espuña Spanish Chorizo Salami? It is a bit less fatty than the Bilbao Style Salami, with a tad more spice to it. It is smooth with a bit of wood and nut to it.

Again the Rioja has difficulty standing up to the salami. It brings out a strong salami note overpowering the Rioja.

Now there are not a lot of Spanish whites available at the LCBO other than Verdejos, so let’s try the last two cured meats with a white from neighbouring Portugal; an Estopa Colheita Branco made with Rabigato and Gouveio.

It is pale golden in colour with a nose of orange peel, marmalade, honey, marzipan, and grapefruit.

On the palate, strong citrus notes with a touch of almonds and honey. Short finish. (Estopa Colheita Branco 2014, Douro D.O.C., Gesprove Gest. Prod., Portugal, 750 mL, 12.5%, only available through the Opimian Society, $28.67, Square Media Group Rating 92/100)

Now back to the meats.

Espuña Tapas Essentials cured meats, from Olot, Spain, are now available in Canada.Photo courtesy of Espuña Cured Meats.

Espuña Tapas Essentials cured meats, from Olot, Spain, are now available in Canada.
Photo courtesy of Espuña Cured Meats.

The Estopa compliments the Spanish Chorizo Salami, perhaps because they both have a slight degree of nuttiness to them. The same solid match with the Bilbao Style Salami. I detect a trend here that white wines are a better match for cured meats than reds.

The Berola Borsao D.O. Campo de Borja 2012 has a deep black cherry colour. Aromas of ripe strawberries, pomegranate, cherry liqueur, and almonds.

On the palate, a rather murky and sleepy black cherry, anise, and dark chocolate all in a very restrained and subtle fashion. A cloistered wine. But, a solid and thick strain of nuts, chocolate, licorice, and ouzo on the palate.

Chalky but moderate tannins predominate. A short finish.

This wine would seem to be waiting for something to kick into gear and I think that’s at least another five years of ageing. In short a shy Spaniard.

(Borsao Berola 2012, D.O. Campo de Borja, Bodegas Borsao, Borja, Spain, 750mL, 15%, $18.95, Square Media Group Rating 89 /100)

Mostly Grenache with a bit of Syrah and aged in French oak barrels for 14 months. My impression is that this wine has just hit a straight-away and is ready to accelerate. Osso Buco for this lad. It has trouble coping with the cured meats, leaving an unpleasant aftertaste.

Let’s crack open a bottle of old vines Monastrell with some skinny Spanish Cañitas from Espuña.

The Monastrell is dark black cherry in colour. A rich nose of black cherry, herbs, licorice, dark chocolate, and purple plums.

On the palate, big tannins with choco velvet, red cherry, and with a bit of crisp fig overtones. Big and bold and still youthful, but drinking awfully well.

An enchanting kick of sour cherry near the end acts as a perfect foil to the tannins. Good until 2023, if you have the patience. (Vinos Sin Ley Old Vine Monastrell 2011, D.O. Yecla, Vinos Del Atlantico, Madrid, España, 14%, LCBO #344226, 750 mL, $17, Square Media Group Rating 89 /100)

Espuña Tapas Essentials cured meats, from Olot, Spain, are now available in Canada.Photo courtesy of Espuña Cured Meats.

Espuña Tapas Essentials cured meats, from Olot, Spain, are now available in Canada.
Photo courtesy of Espuña Cured Meats.

With the Monastrell will the original Original Olot Cañitas lose their lightly spiced and smoky gentleness? Unfortunately, the red wine fails miserably, again leaving a bad taste in the mouth, however when a chomp of Montreal wood oven bagel is thrown in the mix, the harsh red wine dissipates. But, still not a pleasant mix.

The Espuña Salami Cañitas have a true salami taste with an earthy kick. For some reason, the salami is a much better match with the Monastrell. It stands up to it, but I can’t say it really compliments it.

The Espuña Chorizo Cañitas have a nice smoky taste with a tiny bit of smoked paprika and spice on the finish. Yet again, the red wine leaves a bad taste. Delicious Cañitas, but this Monastrell red wine just can’t offer any helping hands.

So the red wine leaves its head hanging in shame being over powered by the Cañitas. Can the Spanish white Verdejo cure these ills?

Indeed it does, taming the Chorizo Cañita with aplomb, complimenting it instead of leaving a raw and unpleasant taste, as the Monastrell did. Same result with the Salami Cañitas. Again, I’ll attribute this to the higher acids.

The Verdejo is a 2014 Azumbrre D.O. Rueda from Spain, offered by the Opimian Society in months past, and clocks in at a 12.5% alcohol rating.

Being a glutton for punishment, I crack open a Portia Crianza 2012 Ribera del Duero D.O.C., available months ago through the Opimian Society.  It is from Tempranillo grapes, with at least 14 months in French oak.

The wine has aromatics of black cherry, ham, and figs.

On the palate a mid-weight wine with moderate tannins and loads of black cherry. It might be the rather light weight tannins that create a good match for the fatty cured meats. Could it be the more the tannins in a red wine the less it suits cured meats?

Could it be that Canadian reds, with lesser than Spanish reds, match Spanish cured meats better than the more tannic Spanish red wines?

This is whole different discourse and further tasting is required to validate this possible assumption.

The Spanish Chorizo Salami goes down very well with just a touch of spice and a meaty, if not fatty, centre. Wow. The wine holds its own. No bad aftertaste.

Strangely, the bad red wine aftertaste kicks in with the Serrano Ham. I am baffled. Why does the red wine works so well with the Chorizo Salami and fails so miserably with the Serrano Ham? Could it be that the more fatty salami stands up to the acids but fails to counter the leaner Serrano?

As an aside, perhaps a move to beer and sparkling whites is warranted.

We snap open a can of Estrella Damm from Barcelona, made with rice and malt. It’s lightly fizzy and not terribly adventuresome, but a step up from Budweiser.

With the ultra-rich Bilbao Salami there is no clash in tastes, however there is nothing in the beer that compliments this tasty salami. The spicier Chorizo Salami clashes with the beer, leaving a slightly bitter taste.

A heartier brew is required to stand up to the Chorizo salami.

Espuña Tapas Essentials cured meats, from Olot, Spain, are now available in Canada.Photo courtesy of Espuña Cured Meats.

Espuña Tapas Essentials cured meats, from Olot, Spain, are now available in Canada.
Photo courtesy of Espuña Cured Meats.

Spain is well known for its sparkling white wine, made exactly the same way champagne is, but using different grapes.

The Cavas Hill Cuvée 1887 is austere with aromas of apple, pineapple, and pear on the nose.

Pineapple and guava on the palate, with a short and crisp finish. Great with the Bilbao Salami, giving it a bit of nuttiness.

(Cava Cavas Hill Cuvée 1887 Brut, Cavas J. Hill, Moja, Spain, 11.5%, LCBO #370866, $13.95, Square Media Group Rating 86/100)

In short, I’d stay if you are having the Espuña cured meats you are going to enjoy them with Spanish white wine, such as a Rueda, Verdejo, or a Cava. Reds are not so well suited, but a further expansive test would be required to verify this statement.

Beer can match, but the spicier the cured meat the more powerful the beer must be, which might suggest an Ontario craft beer with higher alcohol content than the 4.7% Estrella Damm.

Matching food with wine is a difficult task, but that’s the fun of it. We might be also very able to test Spanish brandies with cured meats.

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About the Author

Robert Stephen (CSW)
Robert K Stephen writes about food and drink, travel, and lifestyle issues. He is one of the few non-national writers to be certified as a wine specialist by the Society of Wine Educators, in Washington, DC. Robert was the first associate member of the Wine Writers’ Circle of Canada. He also holds a Mindfulness Certification from the University of Leiden. Be it Spanish cured meat, dried fruit, BBQ, or recycled bamboo place mats, Robert endeavours to escape the mundane, which is why he loves The Square. His motto is, "Have Story, Will Write." Email Robert Stephen