Spanish Wines Offer Eastern Promise Combined with Sushi
Spanish wines are not necessarily the first thing that springs to mind when one thinks of Asian food. But Spain now boasts a plethora of first-class sushi restaurants whose dishes are being combined to great effect with the country’s world-renowned array of labels.
by Guy Hedgecoe - @Hedgecoe
“There is a lot to choose from in Spain,” says Ramón Romero, the sommelier at Umiko, a Japanese fusion restaurant in Madrid which was founded in 2015. He points to Spain’s remarkably varied geography, which ranges from rain-swept mountains to sun-kissed plains and volcanic islands, with each area offering a unique type of wine.
“With sushi you generally speaking want white wines, with a fresh flavour and which go down easily and have plenty of acidity,” he adds. “Spanish wines often tend to have a good freshness and acidity and there’s a great variety.”
Albariño, a great choice for sushi lovers
In many areas in the north of the country, where the climate is colder, the grape matures less therefore creating a wine which has less body, more acidity and a fresher taste. Albariño is a go-to choice for Romero and a favourite for many sushi eaters. This wine hails from Galicia, the rainy Atlantic region of north-western Spain known for its seafood, and it combines beautifully with fish. Albariño has a relatively low alcohol level and its citrus flavour combines with a nutty tone. The 2014 Albariño from the Bodega Don Olegario is to be particularly recommended, along with the 2013 Do Ferreiro. A Pedreira is another extremely popular Albariño.
Similarly, wines from the Ribeira Sacra area, also in Galicia, are recommended. Staying in the north of the country, the dry and aromatic wines of the celebrated Rueda region on the Duero river are an excellent fit for sushi, the GN13 Rueda being a fine example.
For grilled fish, such as cod, salmon, or unagi freshwater eel, López de Heredia, from the small La Rioja region, further east, works superbly.
Romero suggests a white Albillo, from the drier Madrid region in the centre of the country, for dishes with tuna and salmon or with sauces. “With fattier fish you might look for a white with a bit more body,” he says. He also recommends the light, delicate flavours of Manzanilla and Fino, from the Jerez region in the deep south.
The warm climes and volcanic geology of the Canary Islands also offer some intriguing choices. Tajinaste Blanco Seco, from Tenerife, is highly recommended. As its name suggests, it is a dry white whose freshness and direct flavour work superbly with sushi and sashimi. Also from the Canary Islands, El Grifo Malvasia Seco is a wine from Lanzarote whose acidity and hints of tropical fruits combine extremely well with the fish and meat used in these dishes.
While white wines “that clean the palate and are fresh” are the obvious choice when eating fish-based sushi, according to Lucía López, the maitre of Ikigai restaurant in Madrid, she points out that Spain can also offer plenty of reds that will combine beautifully with meat-based Japanese dishes, if chosen carefully.
In particular, López says, it’s worth looking for “Bourgogne types”. In Spain, this can mean looking north-west again, to the Rias Baixas area of Galicia, where reds from the Brancellao grape, for example, are highly recommendable despite being relatively little known.
Garnacha and Cava, the red and fizzy companions
Similarly, Madrid and its surrounding area is fertile ground for red wines which can make a sushi or sashimi meal sing. López suggests Garnacha (or Grenache) wines from Madrid, including Alto de la Cruz and Comando G, a small winery based in the Gredos mountains west of the capital.
Meanwhile, Spain’s rich tradition of sparkling wine in the form of cava, which hails from Catalonia, in the north-east of the country, is also well suited to sushi. “Fizz always works,” says López, pointing to cavas such as Rimarts and Colet Gran Cuvée as ideal choices for fish-based dishes in particular. Another sparkling wine which combines well is Torelló Brut Nature.
And for those who enjoy rosé, look to Navarra, which borders France in the north. Chivite Las Fincas is a Garnacha-Tempranillo which works wonderfully well with seafood, and particularly sushi.
“In Spain we have a lot of different climates,” explains López. “So you can always find a wine from a particular climate that goes with this type of food.”