Tapas & Wine - Spain’s Delectable Little Dishes

Northeast Magazine - June 2004


Tapas must surely be one of the most sociable of cuisines. Tapas are small dishes of food - just a bite - similar to hors d’oeurves. In Spain tapas bars are found everywhere and are frequented before, or even in place of having dinner.  It’s all about picking at small dishes of tasty finger food and washing it down with a local wine. Each bar specializes in it’s own tapas. The basic tapas can be as simple as a piece of bread with a slice of Serrano ham, or Manchego cheese. Tapas means “to cover.” To make socializing easier, the small plates of tapas are carried on top of the wine glass. There’s a myth that the tapas is really there to keep the flies out of the wine!

Usually tapas are ordered one at a time and the waiter or bartender finalizes the bill by counting the number of small empty dishes at the end of the evening. Every area of Spain has its different versions of tapas.  It would take a month of Sundays to describe the tapas of every region but on a recent trip to northern Spain the regional characteristics of food and wine reflect the land, the weather and the availability of local ingredients. Recently tapas has evolved. Contemporary tapas bars reflect some of the most innovative food to be found in Spain and the United States. Spanish cuisine is breaking out with many younger chefs, while never denying their Spanish roots, exploring and creating new variants on the tapas theme. Like their traditional counterparts these new dishes ooze enticing flavors and tempting textures.

Even with the unpredictable New England weather, spring and early summer are great times to host a tapas party A tapas party is a ‘stand up move around and socialize’ affair so if it starts to rain cover your wine with your tapas plate and move inside! Tapas range from cold, to hot, marinated to deep-fried. Some of these small dishes can be as simple as plates of almonds, black olives, spicy chorizo sausage and Spanish cheese. We’ve chosen a number of simple traditional and contemporary tapas dishes and Spanish wines to get you started. All you need are lots of very small dishes, toothpicks, and friends of course.

Wines from Spain’s northwest and northeast

In northwest Spain’s region of Gallicia the landscape is lush and verdant. It gets a ton of rain. It abuts the Atlantic Ocean and off its crenulated shore there’s some of the best fishing in the world. Schools of cuttlefish, octopi, snapper and codfish make for a smorgasbord of seafood tapas.

We’ve found Spanish white wines from here to be a remarkable find. Albariño is the outstanding white grape here, along with other indigenous varieties like Verdejo, Treixadu, Godello, and Dona Blanca. The cool damp climate - realize that  this area has at least 50 inches of rain a year - and late ripening conditions demand thick-skinned, rot resistant grapes. The ancient vineyards use stone posted pergolas made from the local grey granite. The structures festoon the hills and valleys and hold the vines up to 10 feet off the ground to aid air circulation and prevent rot. Albariño is delicate and seductive, with floral and rich citrus aromas with grapefruit and warm green apple flavors, and lingering acidity that’s similar to South America’s Torrentes, Portugals Vino Verdhe and top-flight Reislings. In fact there’s a theory that Albariño was introduced by German Catholic pilgrims visiting the religious shrine at Santiago de Compostela. And the complex aromas, flavors and long aftertaste of Godello is perhaps the most exciting grape we’ve discovered recently. These whites go so well with the classic tapas made from Gallicia’s abundant seafood. It’s also refreshing, to move away from the usual Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

More indigenous grape varieties are found in northeast Spain. The Penedes region of Catalan grows Macabeo, Xarel-lo and Parellada. These are the varieties used for the production of Cava, the Spanish sparkling wine. But the deeply perfumed, lightly spicy and slightly creamy tropical fruit overtones of Xarel-lo (pronounced Charelo), a low yielding variety, makes excellent still wine on its own too. When it comes to red wine, Tempranillo is king. But old stands of the great Rhone grape Grenache, called Garnarcha in Spain, and Carignan are being resurrected to produce extremely rich, poetic, and expensive wines from the regions of Priorat. The neighboring area of Montsant offers similar better deals. New plantings of Cabernet and Merlot are being introduced too. They are often blended with the indigenous varieties but quite honestly we prefer the Spanish character found in traditional reds. They are personified by delicately perfumed aromas combined with oodles of ripe black cherry and spicy plum fruit flavors sprinkled with bright spice leathery overtones with well-integrated tannins.

A dozen Spanish wines we’d recommend with tapas

Rene Barbier Mediterranean Red - $6

Castelo de Medina 2002 Verdejo, Reuda - $8

Mont Ferrant Cava Rosé - $12

Segura Viudas Cava Aria Brut - $12

Robalino 2003 Albariño, Rias Baixas - $14

Abadia Da Cova 2002 Godello, Ribera Sacra - $15

Vionta Albariño 2002 Rias Baixas - $16.50

Terra Do Gargalo 2002 Monterrei - $18

Abadia Da Cova 2002 Albariño, Ribera Sacra - $19

De Muller 1999 Crianza Priorat - $21

L’Alleu 2001 Montsant - $24

Morlanda 2001 Crianza Priorat - $49

Marinated Tuna Cubes

Recipe by Carlos Abellen, chef of Comerç24, Barcelona, from New Tapas by Fiona Dunlop, published by Laurel Glen, 2002

1/4 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup sunflower oil

5 1/2 oz. fresh tuna, cut into 1 1/4” cubes

2 tablespoons sesame seeds

Soy oil

Prepare the marinade by mixing the soy sauce and sunflower oil together. Add the tuna and leave it to marinate for at least 12 hours. Thread the tuna cubes onto thick skewers. Sprinkle each cube with a few sesame seeds and drizzle with a little soy oil. Serve promptly.

Chicken in Garlic Sauce

By Penelope Casas, from Tapas: The Little Dishes of Spain, published by Knopf, 1993

8 chicken wings

4 tablespoons olive oil

8 large cloves garlic, peeled

1 tablespoon brandy or Cognac

1/2 teaspoon flour

2 tablespoons dry white wine

2 tablespoons chicken broth


1 tablespoon minced parsley

Few strands saffron

3 peppercorns.

Discard the wing tips and split the rest of the wing into tow parts. Heat the oil in a skillet, add the wings and garlic cloves, and sauté until the t garlic is golden (remove the garlic as it is done and reserve in a mortar) and the chicken is brown on all sides. Add the brandy and, standing well away, ignite, then sprinkle in the flour and stir in the wine, broth, and salt. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.

In the mortar, make a paste of the garlic with the parsley, saffron, peppercorns, and salt. Stir this mixture into the chicken, cover and continue cooking for another 15 minutes.

Garlic Shrimp

By Richard Tapper, from Tapas, published by Periplus, 2001

Adapted by Prudence Sloane

8 cloves garlic, finely chopped

4 red chili peppers, seeded and chopped

Olive oil as needed

2 pounds shrimp, peeled

Coarse salt

In a large sauté pan over high heat add enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan. Add the garlic and shrimp and sauté for 1-2 minutes or until shrimp is pink and curled. Add the chili and toss. Divide the shrimp among 8 ramekins and olive oil to almost cover the shrimp. Sprinkle with coarse salt and serve immediately. Serve with plenty of crusty bread.

(Side Bar)

Authentic Spanish ingredients can be purchased at Cost del Sol restaurant in Hartford

List of Spanish Restaurants in Connecticut serving traditional and Contemporary Tapas.

Costa Del Sol

901 Wethersfield

Hartford, CT

860 296-1714


10 Wall Street

Norwalk, CT. 06850



39 High St.

New Haven, CT.

203 865-1933


63-65 N. Main St.

S. Norwalk, CT. 06854



1479 Barnum Ave.

Stratford, CT. 06614

203 378-6702


300 Kent Rd.

New Milford, CT.

860 355-4466