Spanish 4 Course Wine Dinner Pairing Notes

Teaching Wine & Food Pairing is one of the most exciting parts of my job.  I love watching the “light bulb” go off when people finally grasp the concept and realize that there really is something real about the concept.  I spent 10 years in developing a visual method to teach the concepts of this fascinating topic. When our students “trust” the methodology behind this research they are usually fascinated by how well it works!

There are always lots of wine pairing options for every dish depending upon what you want to bring out in the food (or mask in the food) as well as how traditional or “modern” you want the pairing to be. In this case I have purposely mixed traditional (Spanish Wines with Spanish Food) and modern (wines from some other country paired with Spanish Food) together to create some fun surprises.

Lets start with the first course.

First Course – Tapas

  • Chef Sherrie’s Smoked Olives (with garlic and olive oil drizzle)
  • Stuffed Peppedew Peppers with Goat Cheese and Fromage Blanc
  • Cold Shrimp Kabobs with Romesco Sauce ( with artichoke hearts, spicy salumi, and grape tomatoes)
  • Almonds Roasted in Duck Fat & Rosemary (served warm)

From a wine pairing perspective each of the tapas is really a separate pairing. The challenge is this is not a single food pairing! There are 5 individual tapas in this dinner.  I needed to find one wine that would go with each part of the tapas plate, including each piece of food on the Shrimp Kabob as well as the Romesco Sauce.

tapas Course #1

Since this 4 course dinner’s general theme is Spanish, I decided to start the meal with a Fino Sherry. Dry Sherry’s are a classic pairing to tapas. However, the decision to pair a dry Sherry to this course happened after considering the pairing impacts of each part of the dish with the Sherry.

I wanted to break down each part of the tapas course into its’ pairing components since this was the most complex and difficult pairing of the meal,

Smoked Olives

The Sherry was a nice compliment to the smoked olives. It brought out a hint of smoke and the richness and the flavor of the olives.

Peppedew Peppers with Goat Cheese & Fromage Blanc

The Peppedew Peppers with Goat Cheese and Fromage Blanc is a single bite. Well, it could be more than one bite, but you get all three parts of this dish with each bite you take. This creates a more complex reaction with the Sherry bringing out the pickling acidity, then the richness of the two cheeses followed by a growing intensity of spiciness from the pepper. A fun flavor shift occurs across the palate with the wine where you can see the different parts of this tapas as a sequence on the palate.

Cold Shrimp Kabob with Romesco Sauce

Anytime you have a sauce with a dish it gives you a couple of options: pairing the wine to the food or pairing the wine to the sauce. The Cold Shrimp Kabob is really the opportunity to see eight different flavor profiles with wine: artichoke, artichoke +sauce, salumi, salumi + sauce, grape tomato, grape tomato + sauce, shrimp, shrimp + sauce.

There are three pairing possibilities. The first two options are to pair the wine to the food and/or the sauce. Then there is the third option: not pairing the wine to a part of the dish. All three of these options exist with the kabob.

Here in the US we talk about pairing wine to proteins. But there are really four components of a dish that wine may be paired to: the protein, the sauce or gravy, the herbs or spices and the cooking technique. In reality, many (European) wines created to pair to sauces.

So let’s start with the Romesco sauce. It is primarily tomato, peppers, spices, vinegar and nuts in a paste like texture. (See the recipe.) Broken down there is a slight sweetness and acidity (tomato and vinegar), slight spiciness (peppers), with oily richness (nuts). A Sherry will compliment the spiciness and roasted nut character and be a contrast to the acid. The tomato is too sweet for the wine. When you have a very dry wine even a little sugar can make it taste off.

The  Romesco Sauce adds to, or changes the pairing possibilities. Here is what we observed when eating each part of the Cold Shrimp Kabob.

  1. Artichoke hearts plus Romesco Sauce with Fino Sherry – the artichoke without the Romesco Sauce was not a good pairing. The wine began to fall apart or breakdown on the palate. There is a chemical component in artichokes that causes this to happen. With the Romesco Sauce this breakdown is hidden and you get the full impact of the sauce on the palate. The Fino Sherry complemented the Romesco Sauce.
  2. The tomatoes were bland with the wine in this pairing and acted as a palate break. So we felt that if you ate this bite alone you were better off not drinking the Sherry with just the bite of tomato. It was a different story if you put another ingredient on the kabob with the tomato in you mouth together. Then the Sherry worked!
  3. The Shrimp caused two different flavor profiles depending on how it was served.  The Shrimp without the sauce had a briny taste that complemented the wine. With the sauce you still got the brine but a richness happened to make it even more interesting and pleasing on the palate.
  4. The Salumi without the sauce is primarily oily and spicy on the palate. The wine complemented the oil and slows down the attack of the spice. When you add the sauce the pairing becomes richer on the palate.

The more intense the flavors are in a dish the more complex the wine pairing options become. This may seem like a simple kabob but it has an array of flavors, textures and spiciness.

Serving Hint: This is a dish in a wine pairing dinner. There is nothing wrong with explaining the pairing possibilities to your guests to help them enjoy the meal. It will create excitement and discussion about what each guest is experiencing.

 Almonds Roasted in Duck Fat & Rosemary

This is a classic pairing with Fino Sherry. It is really delicious if the almonds are still warm from the oven. The duck fat and almond character are complements to the nuttiness of the Sherry. Everyone we have served these nuts to has asked for the recipe!  They are irresistible!

The Wine:

Producer: Loustau

Growing Area: Jerez

The Wine: Fino Sherry

Brand Name: Peninsula

Vintage: non-vintaged

Serving Note: Sherry’s should be served chilled, at about 55F.

If this specific producer is not available at your favorite wine shop, any good Fino Sherry should work. Do not get one that is primarily used for cooking (say the $5 to $7 a bottle). To make the pairings work you need a better quality wine than a cooking Sherry.

Second Course

  • Warm Garbanzo & Spinach Salad

After the complexity of the tapas course, this is a rather straightforward salad course. It can be served warm or at room temperature.

The wine I chose to go with this course is Friulano from the Friuli region of Italy. Friulano is the name of the grape.

This wine worked as a complement to all parts of the dish and had enough flavor to stand up to the spinach, garlic and olive oil.

Warm Spinach & Garbanzo Salad #2

One of the key components of wine and food pairing is that the wine and the food need to have equal flavor intensity. This allows you to taste the food, taste the wine and notice the third set of flavors the two create in the mouth together. This usually creates a flavor profile that is better than the two were individually.

The Wine:

Producer: Livio Felluga

Growing Area: Friuli Colli Orientali (Italy)

Grape: Friulano (should be on the label)

Vintage year: 2011

 This wine makes a nice bridge between the Fino Sherry in the Tapas course and wine with the main course.

Serving Note: This wine should also be served slightly chilled, at about 55F.

Again, if this specific producer is not available, than any Friuli Colli Orientali Friulano may be used. Do not get one older than a 2010 vintage.

Service order idea: If you want to change the order of the courses in the meal you can serve this salad AFTER the main course as a palate break before dessert. If you make this service order change than you do not serve a wine with it.

This would change the order of service to:

  1. Tapas
  2. Smoked Prime Rib with Roasted Potatoes Stuffed with Manchego Cheese & Herbs
  3. Warm Spinach & Garbanzo Salad
  4. Citrus Olive Oil Cake with Marcona Almonds

 This organization, with the salad after the main dish, would be a European style of serving the meal.

Third Course (main course)

Smoked Prime Rib with Roasted Potatoes Stuffed with Manchego Cheese & Herbs

  • Smoked prime rib studded with garlic and then grilled to medium rare, with nice grill marks on the meat
  • Roasted russet potatoes stuffed with Manchego cheese, fresh parsley and rosemary

  The Chef’s have purposely given you two options of how to serve this dish

  • Sauce option #1: Sour cream and horseradish sauce (“traditional prime rib horseradish sauce”)
  • Sauce option #2” Shallot, golden raisin, garlic, sherry vinegar, sherry, and sweet paprika sauce (a non-traditional prime rib sauce, a classical Spanish sauce to go with meat

Wine is traditionally paired to the center of the plate which is the protein or vegetable entrée. In this case the mid-rare smoked prime rib with grill marks is the center of the plate. When I talk about having four things you can pair the wine to (protein, sauces, spices and cooking technique), I am talking about how to break down the center of the plate to decide an appropriate wine pairing.

In addition, either you ignore the side dish (roasted russet potatoes) or do something to the side dish to make it of equal texture and flavor intensity to the center of the plate. The Manchego cheese, baked with the potatoes, created a strong flavor intensity as well as a crunchy texture (when cooked) to give you a pairing point of equal intensity to the prime rib. The potato becomes a “delivery device” for the Manchego cheese like bread is a “delivery” device for great grass-fed butter!

Prime Rib Course #3

Traditional Prime Rib

This is not really a classic prime rib dish because it was smoked, then grilled. (It also is not a traditional Spanish dish.) The wine pairing must go with the texture and flavor intensity of the meat, it’s service temperature (mid-rare), the grill marks (slightly bitter) and the smokiness. In addition the wine must pair with the sour cream horseradish sauce. With the Ribera del Duero Crianza I chose to go with this dish you can observe the meat, grill marks, smoke and Manchego cheese. It also works well with the horseradish sauce.

OK, this “horsey” sauce isn’t classic either: it has been specifically created to have no more flavor intensity than the mid-rare prime rib. It is very easy to make “horsey” sauce that overpowers the entire dish. The 2 chefs have purposely created one that is better balanced so you can taste the meat, the sauce and the wine. Not to mention the potato with Manchego.

Try the “horsey” sauce with the potato and see how the sauce makes the potato work even better with the wine. This is because the wine has the same flavor intensity as the “horsey” sauce so the potato becomes a delivery device for “horsey” sauce. What I mean by this is that the flavor of the Potato itself doesn’t impact the pairing.

The wine:

Producer: Pesquera

Growing Area: Ribera del Duero (Spain)

Grape: Temprenillo (not on the label)

Style: Crianza

Vintage year: 2011

Wine Note: Make sure you get the Crianza style, it is the lightest of the Ribera del Duero styles and will complement the mid-rare (or rare) beef nicely. If you would rather have your beef medium, use the regular Ribera del Duero and if you like it mid-well to well done get a Ribera del Duero Riserva. These last two will overpower some parts of the dish and might need a slightly more powerful “horsey” sauce as well.

 Serving Note: Serve this wine at 60F. Serve the Ribera del Durero Riserva  at 65-67F.

Again, if this specific producer is not available, than any Ribera del Duero Crianza may be used. However do not get one older than a 2009 vintage. If you cannot find a Ribera del Duero, try a (red) Rioja Crianza.

Non-Traditional Smoked & Grilled Prime Rib

Changing the sauce completely changes the pairing. The Shallot sauce has a sweetness to it (onions and raisins) that shifts the pairing. The meat is the same, it’s the sauce that needs a different wine. In this case I have chosen a Dolcetto d’Alba from Italy. It shows more fruit (Dolcetto is the grape) than the Ribera del Duero and less oak. The wine brings out the fat in the meat and the sweetness of the sauce.

Try the Shallot sauce as well with the potato and see how the sauce makes the potato sweeter (particularly the Manchego) with the wine.

The wine:

Producer: Giuseppe and Figlio Mascarello

Growing Area: Dolcetto d’Alba

Grape: Dolcetto

Vintage year: 2012

Wine Note: Make sure you get a Dolcetto d’Alba OR a Dolcetto d’Asti will work. Other Dolcetto wines from the Piedmont will be too powerful for this dish.

Serving Note: Serve this wine at 60F.

 Again, if this specific producer is not available, than any Dolcetto d’Alba may be used.

Fourth Course (Dessert)

  • Citrus Olive Oil Cake with Marcona Almonds
  • Optional sauce: Lemoncello Glaze ( powered sugar drizzle with lemon juice, Lemoncello and lemon zest)

 Last, but not least is the dessert.

Dessert are very difficult pairings. Primarily because it is often hard to find dessert wines that can stand up to the sugar content of most American desserts. This almond cake is a classic Spanish or Italian style dessert. It is not high in sugar and really needs the wine to complete the flavor profile. It is also a semi-dry, somewhat dense cake in texture. It is not moist, light and fluffy like most American cakes.

Like the main course, I will give you two options for a dessert wine depending upon whether you want the Lemoncello Sauce drizzled on the cake or not. This is not usually a table side decision, unless you want to offer two dessert wines and let your guest try the cake both ways.

Without the Lemoncello Glaze

The cake is very dry, not as dry as Italian biscotti, but dry enough to be paired to a wine that you might use with biscotti. The Vin Santo chosen will bring out the almond character and be a nice complement to the cake.

Citrus Olive Oil Cake

The wine:


Growing Area: Chianti Classico (Italy)

The Wine: Vin Santo della Chianti Classico

Vintage year:

Wine Note: You can use any Vin Santo with this dish, make sure it is made from a white wine and not a Vin Santo Rosso or Vin Santo Occhio de Pernice (both red Vin Santos).

Cooking Option: When you take the cake from the oven, immediately punch holes in it (a bamboo skewer works well for this) and then pour one-quarter to one-third cup of the Vin Santo over the cake. It will infuse into the cake, making it moister, and creating a marriage between the Vin Santo in the glass and in the cake. It makes the kitchen smell great too.

 Serving Note: Serve this wine at 48F. We purchased this in a 375 ml (half-bottle). You only need to serve an ounce or two, don’t over pour, the wine is rich, heavy and alcoholic.

 Again, if this specific producer is not available, than any Vin Santo may be used, even from another region of Italy.

With the Lemoncello Glaze

Adding the Lemoncello Glaze changes the pairing, now you need a wine to stand up to the sweetness of the powdered sugar (with a hint of bitterness as well) and the cake becomes a delivery device for the Lemoncello Glaze.   That is, much of the flavor of the cake is lost to the more powerful flavor of the glaze.

In this case we did something very different, an Australian “sticky.” This is a rich, nutty wine that is sweeter than the Vin Santo.

The wine:


Growing Area:

The Wine:

Vintage year:

Serving Note: Serve this wine at 48F. We also purchased this in a 375 ml (half-bottle). You only need to serve an ounce or two, don’t over pour, the wine is also rich, heavy and alcoholic.

The focus of this blog is to educate you about Wine and Food Pairing. We would love some feed back from you.  Were these pairing notes helpful?  Do you think you would try the pairing? Is there something we could do to make this information more understandable or usefull to you?

All the recipes for this 4 Course Spanish Dinner will be posted over the next week if you would like to try them and try the wines we have suggested.

2 thoughts on “Spanish 4 Course Wine Dinner Pairing Notes

  1. Just read Teresa Farney’s column in the Gazette. I belong to a wine group (4 couples) and am interested in seeing if we can have one of your wine pairing dinners but can’t find details like cost, future dates, etc. Could you e-mail me with some info and see if we could plan something with you? Also we live in CS so am wondering if you do the in the Springs are only in Denver.


    • Kathryn,
      I have to ask a question! Are you a member of La Dames?
      Your name sounds familiar to me!

      If 2chefsandawineguy were to do a dinner for your group we would need to discuss several things.

      1. When were you thinking about having this dinner?
      2. What kind of theme would you like to have the food revolve around? For instance the next 4-course dinner we are doing next week is a complete “Thai” dinner. We could repeat any of the dinners that are currently posted on the bog if you would like.
      3. Does anyone in your group have an dietary restrictions, like gluten-free, dairy-free, etc.
      4. Would we be cooking this dinner in someone’s home?
      5. Do you want the “wine guy” to sit down with the guests for dinner and lead the discussion on the food/wine pairing points? If so, your table would have to seat 9 people. We could make this dinner into one of our monthly post’s in which case the “wineguy” would be have to sit with the guests. We would need everyone’s approval for photo’s to be taken of them and the dinner.
      6. Do you have a budget for this dinner? Our dinner’s including food/wine usually run between $125-$150 per person depending on how complicated and labor intensive the food preparation is and whether you choose for the main protein to be non-gmo, no-antibotics, no-hormones, etc, or wild caught seafood.
      7. If we did this dinner soon, fresh truffles are here from umbria!
      8. I am presuming at the very least that your group is a group of foodies! What about wine? Are they fairly knowledgeable or are new to the wine scene?

      As a side note, themes can be anything! We have done an all spanish dinner with a flight of sherrie’s for instance. It was super interesting and most people had not had every style of Sherry.

      Or, it could be as simple as a farm-to-table experience since we are beginning to be in the height of the growing season here in Colorado. So the theme could be all Colorado food but wine paired from around the world!

      Thanks for your interest. We do appreciate it and are looking for new followers to our blog.

      Let me know if we can be of further assistance in helping you plan a dinner or theme.

      Chef, Sherrie Robbins


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