World Wine Guys: Add Some Spice to Your Albariño

JUNE 21, 2017

When temperatures rise, many of us find ourselves gravitating towards spicy food, and there is actually a scientific reason for this: Hot spices raise our metabolism and cause us to sweat, which in turn cools our bodies down. The best way to double up on this cooling effect is to enjoy a refreshing white wine paired with these well-seasoned summer foods. The tropical fruit flavors and aromatic notes of Albariño from Rías Baixas seem tailor-made for full-flavor cuisine that’s packing heat. Almost all of the spices we enjoy today are world travelers; for thousands of years these prized flavoring agents have been traded and shipped around the globe in order to simultaneously preserve food while making it more palatable.


Hailing from Galicia in northwest Spain, Albariño is a relative newcomer to the international culinary scene. While Albariño grapes have been grown and made into wine in Spain since the 12th century, it is only in recent years that wine lovers around the planet have had access to this refreshing, world-class wine. Winemakers in the Rías Baixas region produce Albariño in a wide array of styles, but the wines share many traits that make them ideal alongside heartily spiced food. Strong minerality, bright fruit flavors with soft floral notes, and aging in stainless steel (or just a light touch of oak) cleanse your palate for the next bite of food without overpowering or weighing down your taste buds. So this summer and always, if there’s spice on your plate, make sure there is a bottle of Albariño from Rías Baixas on the table.


Thai cuisine is typically flavored with lemongrass, cilantro, Thai basil, and nam prik sauce, which is both salty and hot. Albariño’s invigorating peach and lemon flavors will complement the green herbs on your plate, while its smooth texture and bracing acidity will wash the heat out of your mouth.


Indian foods made with coriander, cumin, fenugreek, and turmeric will have earthy notes in addition to the zesty flavors of freshly ground herbs. The creamy mouthfeel of a sobre lias style Albariño—wine that’s aged on the lees—is a perfect pairing for Indian dishes made with or topped with yogurt.


Greek style chicken or fish simply flavored with lemon juice, black pepper and oregano calls for the invigorating acidity of Albariño. If Greek salad is being served, the citrus flavors of Albariño will hold up nicely to tangy feta cheese and tomatoes.


Caribbean jerk spices include garlic, thyme, allspice, and chili pepper; jerk marinade also has lime juice or vinegar in it. The combination of earthiness, heat, and acidity are an impeccable match for a lightly oaked Albariño that brings on soft spice notes in addition to green apple flavor and a touch of brightness.


Mexican dishes made with jalapeños, cilantro and lime juice are perfect with a crisp Albariño. Flavors of pineapple and lemon refresh the palate, while the wine’s soothing texture is the foolproof antidote to the blistering heat of fresh peppers. The next time Mexican is on the menu, put down the beer and pick up a glass of Albariño.


About Mike and Jeff

MIKE DeSIMONE and JEFF JENSSEN, also known as the World Wine Guys, are wine, spirits, food, and travel writers, educators, and hosts. They have been featured guests on shows such as The TODAY Show and The Martha Stewart Show, are the Entertaining and Lifestyle Editors at Wine Enthusiast Magazine, and are regular travel and wine contributors for The Huffington Post.The World Wine Guys are all about visiting the places grapes are grown and wine is made, eating the food that goes along with that wine, and letting you know what we have found.  In a phrase…WE UNCORK YOUR WORLD.

Spanish Albariño Inspires the Palates of Chefs from Coast-to-Coast

David Ransom features Albariño wines in the Fall 2016 issue of The Clever Root magazine.

cleverrootsOne of the country’s most dynamic and engaging culinary couples, the husband-wife team of Katie Button and Felix Meana, owners of Asheville, North Carolina’s Cúrate, are masters of small-plate cuisine. Fitting, as they both learned the concept of tapas from two of the greatest ambassadors of Spain’s signature gastronomic style: Ferran Adrià and José Andrés.

For Chef Katie, a child of the South with a Master’s degree in chemistry and no formal culinary training, opening Cúrate in 2011 was the culmination of a lifelong love affair with food, which started during trips from her hometown of Conway, SC, to eat at Asheville’s many great restaurants. “I fell in love with the atmosphere here,” says Katie, who got her professional start in food working for Andrés at Café Atlántico in Washington, D.C., where she and Felix met. “So when we decided to open our own place, Asheville was the obvious choice, and small plates had to be the concept because I just love how they invite conversation at the table.”

Felix, who runs the service and wine program for their burgeoning Heirloom Hospitality empire—they also own another Asheville hotspot, Nightbell, which focuses on regional Appalachian small-plates cuisine—actually hails from Roses, the tiny Catalan village that was home to Adrià and partner Juli Soler’s El Bulli, arguably the world’s most important restaurant while open (it shuttered in 2011).

cleverroots2After meeting Chef Andrés through Adrià and being offered a job in Washington with Andrés’ ThinkFoodGroup, Felix started a bicontinental life that included working for both chefs before he eventually moved stateside full-time to help implement Andrés’s growing stable of restaurants. During this time, he met and fell in love with Katie and suggested she accompany him back to El Bulli to stage (restaurant industry terminology for interning), which she did.

Their experience working for both Adrià and Andrés helped build a foundation of excellence that carries over to both Cúrate and Nightbell. Their exposure to Spanish wine also helped cement the concept for Cúrate’s 100 percent Spanish wine list, which features 40 wines by the glass. While their collective wine lists have a global focus, when Katie and Felix sat down with The Clever Root to talk about which menu items work best with which wines, they interestingly picked a Spanish white wine, not red (which Spain produces much more of), to pair with their chosen dishes. The region? Spain’s verdant northwest corner of Galicia, home to the winemaking region of Rías Baixas. The varietal? Albariño. The reason? “Its incredible versatility,” says Felix.

When you have a chef and a sommelier, what else do you want to know other than, “Which wines pair best with which dish?” We challenged Katie and Felix to select some of their favorite soul-restoring menu items from Cúrate (the name is Spanish for “cure yourself”) and how they pair with this delightful and adaptable wine:


cleverroots3Pimientos de Padron

Flash-fried peppers with olive oil and seasalt, topped with “dancing” bonito flakes.

Think (Spanish) local: Pa
drón peppers, and this dish, actually come from around the city of Padrón, which lies in Rías Baixas. So Albariño is a perfect fit.

KATIE’S THOUGHTS: “The bonito flakes bring a uniqueumami to the traditional concept of the dish.”

FELIX’S PAIRING: Veiga Naúm 2015 Albariño from the Val do Salnés coastal sub-region, home to the largest production volume of the five growing areas of Rías Baixas. “Fruit forward tropical notes, banana, slight funkiness, herbaceous and peppery notes match well with the Padrón peppers.”


Escalivada con Anchoascleverroot9

Roasted eggplant, red pepper, onion, 30-year old sherry vinaigrette and Spanish anchovies.

Think (Spanish) local: Anchovies are a classic Spanish tapa, known for their delicate flavor.

KATIE’S THOUGHTS: “This dish has a wonderful saltiness that is rounded out by the sweet, fruity notes of the roasted vegetables.”

FELIX’S PAIRINGS: “Altos de Torona 2016 Rosal [a blend of Albariño, Loureiro and Caiño Blanco] has nice acidity that cuts the saltiness and creaminess of the roasted vegetables. Morgadío 2015 Albariño whose stone fruit aroma is perfect for this dish, is balanced by the acidity and slight effervescence, which cuts through the saltiness of the fish.”


cleverroot8Mariscos en Escabeche

Mussels, scallops and clams, served with a roasted tomato and garlic vinaigrette with pickled seaweed.

CLASSIC SPAIN: The most obvious and natural pairing for Albariño from Rías Baixas is seafood, which is celebrated on the Atlantic coastline of Galicia, where people have matched the bright salinity of the wines with the bounty of the sea for centuries.

KATIE’S INTERPRETATION: “This dish is all about the flavors of fresh seafood: iodine from the pickled seaweed, ocean, acidity and salt.”

FELIX’S PAIRING: La Val 2014 Albariño, from the Condado do Tea sub-region. “The dryness and minerality of this wine pairs nicely with the fresh seafood.”


Pulpo a la Gallegacleverroots4

Galician-style octopus served warm with sea salt, olive oil, Spanish paprika and a Yukon Gold

potato purée.

CLASSIC SPAIN: The pairing of octopus and potato is a staple across Spain.

KATIE SAYS: “The octopus is super creamy and buttery, plus you get a nice pop of smokiness from the pimentón (Spanish smoked paprika) and fresh green flavor from the olive oil.”

FELIX’S PAIRING: Pazo de Señorans 2015 Albariño, also from Val do Salnés, or Lagar de Besada 2013 Baladiña Albariño. “The structure of this wine [Pazo de Señorans] and the fact that it is a fuller bodied Albariño pairs nicely with the creaminess and richness of the octopus. The green herbal notes go well with the freshness of the olive oil. This is a great pairing.”


cleverroots5Almejas al Albarino

Steamed clams with Rías Baixas Albariño, parsley, garlic and a little butter.

ALBARIÑO IN ACTION: Cooking with Albariño from Rías Baixas is another way Katie likes to infuse authentic Spanish flavors into her dishes–even if this one’s not on the menu at Cúrate!

KATIE SAYS: “This dish is cooked with Albariño, so it naturally pairs well, plus the herbal notes of the parsley mimic those found in Albariño and the salinity of the clams is rounded out by the butter.”

FELIX’S PAIRING: “Martín Códax 2014 Albariño. Seafood is a classic pairing with this wine. The acidity will cut through the butter in the dish, while the stone fruit balances out the salinity.”


cleverroots6Cerdo Ibérico

Grilled Ibérico de Bellota pork with rosemary and thyme.

CLASSIC SPAIN: The Iberian pig is the traditional breed of the domestic pig native to Spain, but it is the Ibérico de Bellota, or acorn-fed, that’s known as one of the jewels of Spanish cuisine.

KATIE’S INTERPRETATION: “We picked this dish to pair with the Albariño because it reminded us of the classic pairing of Austrian Grüner Veltliner with pork. Grüner and Albariño have similarities, and they both pair well with the pepper and fattiness of the pork.”

FELIX’S PAIRINGS: “Paco & Lola 2014 Albariño cuts through the fattiness of the pork, with slight pepperiness that matches the pork prepared simply with salt and black pepper or Santiago Ruiz 2015 Albariño for the same reasons, and also because the herbal notes of the wine pair nicely with the rosemary and thyme in the pork.”


cleverroot10Esparragos Blancos

White asparagus tossed in a lemon vinaigrette and served with a house-made “light as air” mayonnaise with fresh tarragon.

Think (Spanish) local: Both green and white varieties of asparagus are grown in Andalucia, but white asparagus especially flourishes in the region of Navarra.

KATIE’S INTERPRETATION: “The herbaceousness of the tarragon combines nicely with the citrusy vinaigrette and the creaminess of the mayonnaise.”

FELIX’S PAIRING: Pazo San Mauro 2015 Albariño “is a great pairing because this wine is grassy, with nice minerality and acidity. It is also more rounded, which matches nicely with the butteriness of the mayonnaise and the citrus of the lemon vinaigrette.”


What’s in Season

Galicia is famed for its fresh and abundant seafood being caught in the rías (the deep wide inlets of water or estuaries). Shellfish like mussels, clams, oysters, shrimp, crab, and lobster abound along with fresh fish like hake, tuna, monkfish, turbot, sea bass, sole, and sardines. The region is also known for their scallops as it is one of the most important symbols of the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. They are most commonly baked and eaten in their shells. Another regional delicacy is the barnacle called percebes, an unusually tall and black barnacle that is collected at great risk by the divers on the Costa da Morte (the coast of death). Percebes are expensive but a favorite treat in the local bars in restaurants.

Galicia’s Cuisine is as World-Class as its Wines

Other than seafood, you can also find pimientos de Padrón which are small, dark green peppers that are flash fried whole and served with coarse salt. Twenty peppers are served in one portion and at least one of those will be spicy. There are also regional soft cheeses like Ulloa, San Simón and O Cebreiro and Tetilla. These are traditionally served with the highly regarded Galician breads, especially rye!

Albariño with Takeout?

Albariño Wines are Surprisingly Versatile
With the versatility to pair with a wide range of dishes, Rías Baixas Albariño is a great match with various cuisines. The classic pairing is with seafood, but Albariño can stand up to unexpected international fare. Spicy and flavorful cuisines like Chinese, Indian and Thai usually overpower wines, but Albariño’s low alcohol and ripe fruit flavors match beautifully with the fruity chili notes. Sushi presents a difficult pairing with the raw fish and a variety of other textures, but Albariño’s crisp, clean flavors compliment it perfectly. Other pairings that are surprisingly successful include hard-to-pair, popular take-out meals like cold sesame noodles, chicken tikka masala, pad thai, tacos and more.