Tapas and Sherry Wines go together like chocolate and brandy, or champagne and strawberries. Each brings out the nuances and flavours of the other, and both taste better for the complement - and with such hugely versatile wines, any tapa can be perfectly matched with a Sherry Wine.
When was the tapa invented?
As with most stories about the origins of food, myriad versions exist explaining the origins of tapas, or small plates of food. One version, concerning the custom of tapas, tells how when King Alfonso X The Wise was taken ill, under doctor’s orders, had to drink one or two glasses of sherry wine every day, and ate small pieces of food to accompany his “medicine” and avoid becoming inebriated. On his recovery, he commanded that a law be passed, obliging all inns of the land to provide food with each glass of wine they served.
According to another, the tapa came about when an innkeeper in Seville placed a piece of ham over the top of a glass of sherry, to stop dust and insects from getting in, as a makeshift lid. To cover in Spanish is tapar, so a lid is a tapa – hence the name. These were usually slices of ham, cheese, or bread, or dish of olives.
Now the term has become internationally used, to mean a small plate of any type of food, from olives to chorizo, small fried fish to bull’s tail stew. In some provinces of Andalucia, such as Granada and Almeria, you even get a free tapa with each drink, sometimes with a menu to choose from.
On 16 June World Tapas Day will be celebrated in a number of international cities, offering innovative dishes to introduce people to the idea of tapas as a social and gastronomic entity. They’re meant to be shared, so you get to try more tastes – what’s to lose?
Which tapas with which Sherry Wines?
Starting at the lighter end of the Sherry Wine scale, a perfect summer tapas pair is manzanilla. This pale, dry Sherry, aged under flor (a layer of yeast) is ideal with classic Andalucian hot weather dishes like Ajo Blanco (chilled almond soup, often served with grapes) or Salmorejo (thick chilled tomato soup, garnished with boiled egg and jamon).
A thick, nutritious soup such as this, along with a glass of salt-tangy manzanilla from the seaside town of Sanlucar de Barrameda, is a delicious light summer meal; you can also try it with prawns, another Sanlucar speciality, or fried fish. Such sea-borne tastes fit together beautifully.
A richer, more complex Sherry Wine is Amontillado, made from the same grape, but aged for longer. The colour is darker, and the wine pairs well with stronger flavours – bluefin tuna is a meaty yet tender fish, while vegetables like artichokes and asparagus also pair well.
Pork enjoys elevated a gastronomic status in Andalucia, and not just as jamon – hearty stews such as tripe, pigs’ cheeks and pigs’ trotters pair with an equally full-bodied wine – amber-toned Oloroso, which takes its dark colour from oxidation.
And tapas aren’t just about fish, meat and vegetables - with dessert, a glass of smooth, dark, raisiny Pedro Ximenez lends an indulgent note.
And obviously, as you order your tapas, so you order different glasses of Sherry Wine – a journey through all the varieties and tastes of these uniquely aged and blended wines from Southern Spain.
For recommendations of tapas specialities paired with Sherry Wines in restaurants in the three towns of the Sherry Triangle – Jerez, el Puerto de Santa María and Sanlúcar de Barrameda - see these 30 top pairing ideas chosen by local experts.