Spanish Food 101: Bebidas (La Secunda Parte, Alcohol)

You can find the first part of bebidas here, or by scrolling on down. 

Sangria

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A frighteningly popular drink for BBs all over the world. I am yet to drink any in Spain. In fact I have only ever drunk it twice in my life: once in Slice, Manchester (good for Roman-style pizza, dates, catching up with friends, book readings, everything), and once another time I’m sure. When I worked in Nando’s one person once ordered a sangria and three of us haphazardly threw together a jug of something with alcohol, fruit and soda. There were no complaints.

It is quite easy to make, but, like Pimm’s, it requires that little bit of extra effort that makes it all to much of a hassle when beer, wine or continuing to live my life as normal are options.

If you did want to know what sangria is or how to make it, in short: wine, juice, soda, ice, sliced fruit, mint, mix. Put on your best hat and recline in a garden. We all live for the summer.

 

Tinto de Verano

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You may be thinking that this picture looks very much like the above picture, only taken from above. If Google Images is to be believed, you would be mistaken.

Tinto de Verano, or ‘lazy sangria’ as I like to think of it, is red wine topped with soda, lemonade, or other such carbonated drink. Plus a slice of lemon, and poured over ice. As you may gather from its translation (“red wine of summer”) is popular in summer – or March, which is when I first drank it.

I have since drunk it in summer and can attest that it is quite the red wine of summer. Though I would perhaps amend it to be “dulce tinto de verano“.

Forget sangria; to be really Spanish order up some tinto de verano. B your Vs. Th your Cs. Gesticulate. Speak loudly. Be fabulous. And so on and so forth.

 

Cava

Cava_(9382956111)

One of the most heated conversations of my stay was about Cava – the others were solely in Spanish and I have little to no idea what they were about.

“His family knows about seafood and chickens, but they do not know about Cava! He thinks he knows about Cava! Ha!”

“No, no, no, listen, no, listen to me, Cava is not different to Champagne except, except for conditions you cannot control.”

Then an extended debate in fiery Spanish, the eldest daughter invigilating by saying that only one of them should speak at a time, and some English about how French champagne is the best because they have historical knowledge, countered by technique can be easily learned and it is the soil and weather that is the difference.

Once upon a time I worked in the food department of a luxury department store and we had a tasting evening. To welcome people we sold glasses of a £5 Tesco Cava. Clientele for luxury department store swirled and smelt and gave tasting notes, enquiring which of our fine wines they were being served. Naturally, as soon as they found out its provenance, they “could tell” that it didn’t have the “depth” of a finer wine. Of course. Sip, enjoy. You get what you pay for.

Catalunya is Spain’s primary region for cava production, with 95 percent of it being produced in the Penedès area, though it is grown and made across Spain. It is made as either white or rosé (for a cheeky Friday with the girls!) and crosses the spectrum from dry to sweet.

‘Brut’, the family told me, is a sign of ‘better cava’, or more champagne-like cava. When it was first developed, they told me, cava was very sweet, often having sugar added to it. As Franco-era Spain fell and people were given more access to the luxury goods market, people started to get more of a taste (or ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ desire) for champagne. Drier was better, and cava producers made a more concerted effort to mimic the flavour profile of champagne. A handy article I have just come across highlights the main differences as being the grape type, bottle pressure (champagne having a higher pressure), it being uncommon to have vintage cavas, and fewer bottles of cava produced.

Both cava and champagne are defeated by Italy’s contender in the sparkling wine wars; in the UK I’ve certainly seen that Prosecco is popular for gifts, weekends, bad days, good days, and dine in for two for £10 deals. Well done, Italy, well done.

 

Vino

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For a pure wine – that is, a wine that has not been mixed with any other beverages a la sangria or tinto de verano – my experience has been that white wins out in popularity. As red is best served at room temperature and for at least three months of the year any drink drunk at room temperature is unpleasant, you have to make the decision of either drinking a red in a way that would greatly offend the French or accept that white is your year-round wine. It is not uncommon, I have heard, to take the option of offending the French by putting ice in a red or putting the red in the fried or freezer before serving. Sacrilege. What is this lawless place that I’ve found myself in?!

The wine that is most probably best known outside of Spain is Rioja, which is the country’s biggest wine-producing region. Other than Rioja, another high-yield wine production area, predominantly of reds, worth a try is the Ribera del Duero.

The Spanish love Spanish wine. In supermarkets you will find shelves upon shelves of wine from their homeland, and then a cursory corner for wines from the rest of the world. In one supermarket the only non-Spanish wines on sale were five or six Italian wines which were part of an Italian food display. My host in Andalusia lamented this as, paraphrasing his words, “there isn’t much difference between Spanish wines and I prefer French wines, but the Spanish aren’t sophisticated enough to appreciate a French wine.”

As part of a day trip to a home depot store, Andalusian host made a stop-off with his hodgepodge group of workers, myself included at an independent wine merchant and deli. We tasted the wine from the barrels then spent over €100 on about 30 litres of wine, all of which was decanted from the barrel into plastic bottles. This, friends, is how to make nice wine look incredibly awful very quickly. And it’s hard to say whether our tasting was askew or the plastic affected the wine, but one of the bottles had spoiled by the time it was drunk. Prior to our purchase, a few of the group started helping themselves to extra sips of wine and maybe asked for one too many samples and ended up being shouted at by the sixty-year-old owner whose patience was full tried, though smiled a sweet smile as we handed our money over. Women: can never tell what their next move is going to be.

A Catalunyan white wine had a very poetic label written in Catalan. Evoking images of, I am told, where the mountains meet the sea, the intensity of the wind, the ruggedness of the land, the river gushing down the mountainside, this rugged landscape is what gives the wine its flavour. It was a nice, light white, quite in contrast to the image evoked on the label. As we all know, advertising is illusion.

 

Cerveza

cerveza

In addition to wine, the Spanish drink beer. Bears shit in the woods. The Pope is Catholic. And the sky is blue. Both hosts that I have stayed with have drunk beer every day. Beer is perilously cheap, even when you’re getting ripped off on the beach. Beers on the beach. Ah, beers on the beach. One of my fondest memories of Barcelona, even if it did take me back to being a teenager again.

The extent to which I enjoy Spanish beers makes me realise that it is unlikely that I will ever be a beer connoisseur. The beers of choice for the family are Mahou Cinco Estrellas and Cruzcampo. Estrella Damm was drunk on the beach. They are all lagers, all quite light, and all (save maybe three, when I drank at restaurants and was given draught in a glass) were served from cans; cans in Spain are 330ml, which feels more refined (for a can) than our British 500ml. I have known people who have an app to track which craft beers they drink, and add tasting notes to said app. I will never be that person. I am a simple soul who enjoys the humble lager. Light, refreshing lager. Ice cold beer. Here, here, for ice-cold beer.

“In Spain, we consider warm beer a castigo, a punishment.”

When I disembarked from my flight I had resigned myself for a month of not drinking, as being an au pair I expected to have to exhibit some kind of temperance. Not in Spain. Beer with dinner every night. A shared beer with the mother at lunch a couple of times a week. Wine. Un mojito, dos mojitos. Something something something bonito (Shakira).

Three cheers for a life with beers.

 

Clara con Limón

clara

Spanish shandy. They served it with Fanta limon as an aperitif before having wine with a main course. Fanta limon is preferable to regular lemonade, and I expect homemade lemonade might be another winner. British lemonade isn’t sharp enough to cut through the beer and take it on a different journey in a shandy. Or the shandies I have drunk, at least. A clara is refreshing and sharp for summer; a shandy is a choice for a designated driver.

Several years ago I was at a boyfriend’s grandparents’ house for a pre-Christmas dinner. The grandparents offered me a sherry, which I confused with shandy and so accepted the offer. A much more harsh (tasting), drunk dinner than I had anticipated ensued. And, I expect, more enjoyable than a shandy dinner.

 

Vermut

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A restaurant on an industrial estate was full at 1pm on a Saturday. While there is outdoor seating, there was no view from the restaurant, unless you enjoy views of industrial estates; and besides, everywhere has outdoor seating in Spain. Nor was there convenient parking, and it wasn’t close to anything else of interest.

“Why you think is so busy?”

“Good food?”

“No. Well, yes, it is good food there. But it is the vermut. Catalonians take vermut very seriously. They love it. And here they do very good.”

There you have it. Vermouth. And if you’re in the area, the restaurant/bar/grocery story for you is Espinaler in Vilassar de Mar.

 

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