Christmas in Spain is a month-long affair, comprising several small celebrations each with their own traditions. Unlike in Anglo-Saxon countries, the 25th of December itself is a relatively laid-back day, with the main Christmas feast taking place on Christmas Eve or Nochebuena, and the exchange of gifts on the Epiphany or Día de los Reyes Magos on 6 January. The traditions also vary widely by region, with seafood understandably being more popular in coastal areas than in Madrid. In this post, we will take a quick look at some of the mainstays of the Spanish Christmas dinner table, and some of the wines that go best with them.
The Nochebuena dinner typically begins with a high-quality jamón and some cheeses. In fact, many Spanish organisations reward their employees each Christmas with a juicy ham to serve at the family table. The elevated salt and fat content of the cured meat calls for an acidic, tannic red; but preferably a fruity, light-bodied one with a hint of sweetness to avoid overpowering the subtle flavours of the ham. Sommelier Massimo Leonori recommends a young pinot noir, while jamón aficionado Oriol Balgaguer acknowledges that many reservas can also hold their own, the flavours of both delicacies elevating each other for a rich tasting experience.
Other traditional options include oysters (see previous post for pairings) and angulas, baby European eels that are very popular in Spain but highly scarce, a supply/demand ratio that has earned them a price tag of a whopping €1,000 per kilo: that’s more than a kilo of truffles and a kilo of caviar put together! Unsurprisingly, then, I’ve never actually tasted an angula, nor could I find a single site that would recommend a wine worthy of them; the best I could do was Maridaje y Vino‘s list of wines tagged ‘angulas‘, which consists of two 100% albariños from Rias Baixas: this one from Pepa A Loba, with sharp, citrusy notes underpinned by a mineral hint of seafoam, and this other one from Paco y Lola, which has a more savoury, herbaceous character with pear and apple aromas. Both of these are very affordable (€9-€12 RRP in Spain), which is just as well since you’ll just have emptied your bank account for the angulas themselves!
The course where Spain truly stands out, though, is in its desserts, the most classic of which is no doubt turrón. This mixture of almonds, honey and egg whites is similar to nougat, and Spain produces two versions: the smooth, chewy variety that originated in Jijona/Xixona, and its crunchier counterpart from Alicante. Both towns are located in the province of Alicante in the Comunitat Valenciana, a major almond-growing region. And while both turrones tend to be enjoyed alongside either cava or brandy, Cata del Vino suggests a unique alternative: fondillón, a sweet red wine produced exclusively in Alicante from mouvèdre grapes, or as they are known locally, monastrell. The grapes are left on the vine until over-ripe, then dried in the sun to concentrate the sugars and madeirised in oak casks exposed to sunlight to accelerate oxidation. Comer Sin Milongas is less enthusiastic about the pairing, saying it is inferior to the sum of its parts; but if you subscribe to the old sommelier motto, “If it grows together, it goes together”, you’ll have no choice but to pair turrón with fondillón and see for yourself!
ICYMI, I posted last week about wine pairings for a French Christmas dinner; and I’ll be back soon with a similar post focusing on Italy. ¡Hasta entonces!