Tapas, bite-size morsels of joy spanning an array of flavors, textures, and toppings, are the perfect food for the noncommittal. But while their popularity has grown well beyond the Iberian Peninsula, many diners still seem unsure of what to drink with them. Thankfully, we have experts to clear up any confusion.
Black Bull, a restaurant in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood, serves a savory selection of pintxos and Galician-inspired conservas to anchor its menu, as well as an ideal beverage to match each dish. The list of wines from owner and native Spaniard Daniel Alonso’s homeland ranges from sparkling cavas to dark-berried Riojas. The former are perfect with the pulpo and the Manchego, the latter with acorn-fattened Ibérico ham and bacon-wrapped dates. But it’s sherry that really gets Alonso’s wheels turning.
“With so many affordable, versatile styles, it’s excellent for pairing or on its own,” he says. “For pairing, I try to relate sherry to more traditional wines my guests drink: finos and manzanillas offer the same expression as a sparkling wine, an amontillado fills the space of a white wine, an oloroso fills the spot of a red wine, and a Pedro ximénez accompanies dessert like a port or Madeira.”
“There’s no better way to try sherry than with food,” adds Kimberly Milburn, sommelier at Ortzi, a Basque-inspired eatery in the lobby of Manhattan’s Luma Hotel Times Square. With its brininess and umami subtleties, fino — a paler, drier style of sherry — is a lovely complement to the oceanic ingredients typical of Northeastern Spain. Milburn recommends coupling it with Ortzi’s conservas: anchovies or sardines with peppers, cockles with potato purée, or tuna belly with caper remoulade.
Restaurants like New York’s Boqueria and Boston’s Barcelona take a different route, steering supper-goers toward their artful cocktails. Barcelona’s Henry’s Alibi — which combines the earthy notes of Fidencio Mezcal with an elegant, late-vintage port — subdues the heat in trademark piquillo peppers (served with garlic confit) and susses out the richness of traditionally spiced albondigas (Spanish for “meatballs”). Meanwhile, with its balance of acidity and sweetness, Boqueria’s crowd-pleasing Pineapple Sangría (included in the eatery’s new namesake cookbook, out in May) pairs perfectly with just about anything on its menu.
Tapas encourage adventurous eating, so don’t be afraid to gamble. Work within these parameters, and you’ll walk away a well-fed, sufficiently buzzed winner.
Shaun Cole, of the Los Angeles restaurant The Edmon, considers Palo Cortado the finest sherry for cocktails because of its rich flavor: chocolate and coffee notes with loads of fruit. For his Bamboo Cross, he mixes it with Pommeau de Normandie — apple cider and juice fortified with Calvados — and throws in some funky Smith & Cross rum, which “gives it a little punch,” he says. “Add a little Cocchi sweet vermouth, and you have one of my favorite low-alcohol cocktails.”
1 oz. Emilio Lustau Peninsula Palo Cortado Sherry
1 ¼ oz. Christian Drouin Pommeau de Normandie
¾ oz. Smith & Cross Jamaican Rum
¼ oz. Cocchi Storico Vermouth di Torino
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 lemon peel
Place the ingredients in a glass. Stir for roughly 20 seconds. Strain into a stemmed glass. Garnish with the oils of a lemon peel. Pair with steamed clams and mussels, nduja (a spreadable pork salumi), and a white wine reduction. The cocktail’s savory edge echoes the dish’s brininess and spiciness.