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Carnival in Europe – Five great Carnival Vacation ideas for wine lovers in 2014

Although most of us when mentioning the world carnival might instantly think of Sydney, Rio or New Orleans, Europe can still lay claim to the oldest and proudest Mardi Gras tradition. The historical importance of the religious celebrations preceding the start of Lent is marked by the diverse and colorful local festivals celebrated throughout European cities each year. From the famous masked balls in Venice, to the riotous and vibrant carnival in Tenerife, these occasions are a must see for wine lovers who enjoy glamor, excitement and the decadence of lavish celebrations.

veniceThe following five cities represent the best of Europe’s carnival tradition and welcome the spring season in impeccable style:

Venice Carnival 2014

Venice Carnival or Carnevale is the very epitome of extravagance, a masked ball that traditionally ended on Shrove Tuesday and began on December 26th, which is celebrated as St Stephen’s Day in Venice, as in Ireland. Today, however, the festivities continue into the middle of February, as visitors flock from far and wide to enjoy the most decadent fancy-dress party on earth. The carnival has a history that dates back many hundreds of years; Venetians have been celebrating Carnevale since the 15th century. The popularity of masked balls and carnivals rocketed during this period in Europe and became an integral part of any cultural event in Venice. The mask, as well as serving a decorative function could nicely conceal the identity of the wearer, which became highly popular in political circles, as well as for celebrations.

venice carnival 2012

Other European cities started to copy the Venice formula and order their own masks from the Venetian workshops. In Venice, private clubs would organize masked balls and street entertainment – the elite simply had to be seen at these events! Carnevale reached its heyday in the 18th century, as the Venetian Republic collapsed and social conventions and rules were relaxed. The event became increasingly hedonistic, with lavish displays of wealth, processions and festivals held in St Marks Square. Sadly, after Napoleon invaded in 1797 the carnival tradition fell into decline, the Italian ruler Mussolini subsequently banned the wearing of masks and so carnival was no more. That was until 1979, when the first event in several decades exploded into the Venetian scene and the city has not looked back since. Today, the undisputed highlight is the Gran Ballo delle Maschere or Doge’s Ball, which takes place in different locations across Venice, usually in a grand palace or residence.

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The costumes, masks and general extravagance on display is unrivaled. Prior the the Grand Masked Ball, the celebration begins with a masked procession through Piazza San Marco and around. The following weekend sees a multitude of wonderful musical and theatre performances in San Marco and other locations, with Sunday reserved for a stunning procession of gondolas carrying masked passengers down the Grand Canal. Of course, plenty of other events take place and are open to anyone who is prepared to pay. This year, visitors can enjoy the masked “Enchanted Palace” Ball, which takes place in an ancient palace on the Grand Canal. Expect cocktails, lavish costume, fine dining and partying aplenty. There is also the “Feast of the Gods Event”, which takes place in a sixteenth century palace under frescoes painted by Giovanni Bellini. Join in the celebrations as Bacchus, the god of wine and Mercury invite you to join their feasting, drinking and merry making. For more information on these and other events, go to www.venicecarnival-italy.com   Finally, don’t forget to secure your mask well in advance of the party! Book an appointment to have a mask made.


Venice Wine Country While in Venice, why not go exploring the Prosecco wine roads, the delicious sparkling wine made in the gentle hills around Conegliano Valdobbiadene. Great Prosecco houses include Bisol and Bortolomiol, two faves.

prosecco  5

Tenerife Carnaval 2014

Each year Tenerife holds one of Europe’s largest and most riotous carnivals, a three week extravaganza that attracts hundreds of thousand of visitors and culminates in a 24 hour party on Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras. It has been celebrated on the island for centuries and visitors to Tenerife such as Lope Antonio de la Guerra Pena in the 18th century spoke of dancing and conga music in the capital Santa Cruz. However, when Franco came to power he banned the festivities, which got back into their full swing after his death in 1975 upon his death. The carnival was subsequently a vehicle with which to lambast the Catholic Church and its relationship with the Fascists – today people often dress up to lampoon religious figures, naughty nuns being a popular costume!

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Tenerife is now twinned with Rio de Janeiro, and shares some of the vigor and debauchery of that world famous carnival in Brazil. Next year it runs from 26th February to 9th March, carnival season is officially opened with a gala for the election of the Carnival Queen and ends with the ceremonial burning of the sardine festival, an event totally unique to the island of Tenerife.The ‘sardine’ is in fact a collection of rags and cloths, paraded around Santa Cruz de Tenerife followed by hysterical mourners! It is quite a sight to behold! But the main attraction is most definitely the gala parade, a spectacular affair with stunning examples of fancy dress on display, elaborate floats, fireworks and much drinking and parting centered around the beautiful Plaza de España in Santa Cruz.


That said, the carnival involves far more than just one central parade and loads of stalls and events are set up in areas across the city. There are also competitions galore: murgas, rondallas, comparsas, all essentially dance competitions and a fancy dress competition for good measure. Make sure you don’t miss the grand gala for the election of 2014’s Carnival Queen, the day after there is a delightful musical concert in the Guimera theater. And don’t think that the fun ends on Ash Wednesday, as the weekend of La Piñata Chica follows shortly after with more partying in the Plaza de Principe. So head out on 9th of March for what will undoubtedly be the best street festival of your life. More info on Tenerife´s Carnival events this year.


Tenerife for Wine Lovers– While on this beautiful island, don´t miss tasting spectacular local wines from the  Crater bodega. Enjoy stellar food and wine in one of the most beautiful settings on earth at Terrazas del Sauzal, and El Burgado is also unmissable.

Terrazas-del-Sauzal-Nice Carnival 2014

Capital of the Cote d’Azur, Nice holds a suitably glamorous and elaborate carnival celebration each year across its splendid squares, parks and the famous Promenade des Anglais. Its temperate winter climate and fantastic setting makes it the perfect location for a carnival to remember. The celebration starts on 14th February in 2014 and ends on 4th March, over two weeks of non-stop partying. Nice Carnival has had a long and distinguished reign: history records that the event was established in the 13th century, by Charles Anjou, the Count of Provence. In 1294, the Count made references to “the joyous days of carnival” suggesting that Nice Carnival is in fact the original and oldest carnival celebration in existence. Each year the carnival’s organizers choose a different theme for the celebrations, 2014 is the year of the “King of Gastronomy” so expect cuisine to dominate the parade and events that entertain revellers who flock to the Promenade de Anglais each year.


However, Nice Carnival is most famous for the Bataille de Fleurs (Battle of Flowers) which takes place on various dates throughout the Carnival season (in 2014 the 15 19, 22, 26 February and 2 March) Members of the parade fiercely battle to outdo each other with spectacular floral displays on floats that line the Promende de Anglais. As the procession moves through Nice, flowers are thrown into the crowds, stalls selling delicious local delicacies fill the air with enticing smells and the city seems to literally buzz with excitement. The festivities officially start with the Carnival Procession, heralding the arrival of the Carnival King in the beautiful Place Massena. Local residents spend months designing over 20 elaborate floats, which will take the theme of the year.

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But perhaps the most eye-catching sight is the giant puppets marching through Nice, called Grosses Tetes, accompanied by hundreds of musicians, street artists and dancers that come from all over the world. The chosen King then takes the key to the city and declares a brief reign of excess! Highlights in 2014 include the unmissable Zuma party on February 16th and the awe-inspiring closing firework display over the Baie de Anges, officially ending the proceeding on 4 March. For more information on this unmissable carnival event, check out info on Nice Carnival here.

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Nice for wine lovers– Nice is the gateway to Provence. You are less than an hour away from dreamy hilltop villages where you can stay in gorgeous country properties tasting stellar rosé wines in situ. In Nice itself you have some fab little wine bars, we love La Part des Anges, La Cave de l’Origine and Cave de la Tour.

Cadiz Carnival 2014

Second only to Tenerife in the sheer scope and originality of its carnival tradition, Cadiz carnival is a riotous, ten day celebration that literally turn the city into one big party. It is the highlights of any self-respecting Gaditanos calender, indeed, preparations for the carnival begin almost as soon as one carnival finishes. Historically, Cadiz has laid on a boisterous carnival since the 16th century, when the city thrived as a major trading port for the Americas. Looking across to their Italian neighbors in Venice, the citizens of Cadiz decided to copy their tradition of marking the start of lent and started to organize what would become the liveliest and most elaborate carnival in mainland Spain. It was the one celebration that the Fascist dictator could not ban, due to the overwhelming protest and resistance for the local Gaditanos!

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Beginning on February 27 and ending on March 9 in 2014, Cadiz’s carnival is essentially one massive street party, with eleven days of elaborate costumes, theatre, processions, concerts and above all else, singing! The originality of Cadiz’s lent celebration is impressive, the driving force of the party is an emphasis on music and on the famously witty local inhabitants of Cadiz, whose love of comedy comes shining through in their imaginative displays of satire. These performers are known as Chirigotas: their music and satirical songs provide the central focus each year. In fact, the celebration really starts a month before the official opening day, as various musical groups compete in the “official contest” held at the beautiful Gran Teatro Falla. Over 200 groups will take part in this musical feast, with various categories of performers: Chirigotas, Choirs, Comparsas, Quarters and Romanceros. The Choirs will often also entertain people in the streets, as will the single act Romanceros. The Comparas tend to take the competition more seriously and sing classical songs with deep, romantic leanings. The competition is held 20 days before carnival and in four stages: preliminaries, quarter-finals, semi-finals, and the grand final. Listening to the various performers is a big highlight of the festival, the songs tend to be aimed at ‘debunking’ the cult of celebrity, politicians and the church are also fair game!


The finale is another main attraction of the carnival, held on the first Friday of the celebrations. Performers roam the streets singing their compositions and on the following Monday perform on a central stage for all the city to enjoy. The other key attraction during carnival time is the procession and street parties, as thousands upon thousand of people in elaborate costume party the night away in Cadiz’s old town. In addition, there are gastronomic stalls, various musical concerts and plenty of things to keep the little ones happy; including puppet shows, and the incredible closing fireworks display. Key dates for your Carnival calendar in 2014 are Friday 27, which is the Grand Finale of the singing contest, the main procession on the following Sunday (29) and the awe-inspiring fireworks display in La Caleta. Truly, this is a carnival you won’t want to miss.

Cadiz for wine lovers- you are in the Sherry heartland here and this is a supremely interesting spot for wine aficionados. Don´t miss the terrific bodegas of Jerez de la Frontera like Lustau, Fernando de Castilla, González Byass and Domecq. And Angle Leon´s Michelin starred seafood eatery Aponiente is a glamorous place to taste terrific local Sherries paired with unusual and magical fish pairings.

SHERRY pxSitges Carnival 2014

Spain’s delightfully avant-garde, unconventional seaside resort is merely a half-hour away from Barcelona by train, so there’s no excuse for not visiting the next time you set foot in the Catalan capital. Sitges has been a fashionable place for jet-setters and night-owls since the 1960s, and puts on one of Spain’s most outrageous carnivals. It’s a week long riot of the extrovert, the colorful and the exhibitionist, capped by a gay parade along the sea-front promenade. Sitges has been holding carnival celebrations for over a century, although the installation of Franco as Spain’s Fascist dictator in 1939 put a temporary stop to the fun. Today, it is regarded as Spain’s wildest party event and over 200,000 visitors, both Spanish and international, turn out for the carnival. A normally quiet village (in winter at least!) explodes into life with parades, endless parties, local gastronomy, numerous folk dances and outrageous displays – a feast for all the senses.


The party starts on 27 February in 2014 and ends March 5. The inaugural event is the opening Jueves Lardero (Fat Thursday) celebrations, with stalls offering a massive selection of local dishes; Sitges’ citizens seriously pig-out into the evening. It heralds the arrival of King Carnestoltes – the King of the Carnival – who arrives in a great flurry of color and activity. Let the mayhem begin! Sunday 2nd March sees the famous Rua de la Disbauxa, or the Debauchery Parade, an anything goes display of debauchery and outrageous costume, over forty floats usually participate in the fun, carrying up to 2,000 people at a time. However, even this spectacular event is outdone by the Rua de l’Extermini, or Extermination Parade, on the following Tuesday night. This parade marks the end of the festivities, although there is nothing mournful about the celebrations with more riotous displays of dress and kitsch.

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Carnival truly ends with the Burial of the Sardine on Ash Wednesday, the large effigy of a sardine buried in Sitges’s sandy beach. Around the same time as carnival, a more sedate but equally unmissable event is taking place – the Corpus Cristi celebrations. They are marked by the creation of floral ‘carpets’ in the streets of central Sites. These can be of incredible complexity and generally consist of geometric designs or religious depictions. They are simply stunningly beautiful so make sure to catch them before they are trampled over when the religious process passes through this delightful city.

Sitges for wine lovers- you are on the doorstep of the Mediterranean Penedes wine country. This is where Spain´s famed Cava, bubbly, is produced and great wines to seek out include Agusti Torello and Pares Balta. Don´t miss a meal at winemaker´s haunt Cal Xim where charming host Santi will take excellent care of you, and while in Sitges itself we love the easy going paella at beach front La Fragata.

agusti kripta 2

Wine Marketing Conference Rioja, Spain

This past month we were invited to speak at the annual wine marketing conference in the wine capital of Logroño, in the gorgeous Rioja wine region. The conference lasted for 2 days and the majority of the 300 and odd guests were local wineries looking for unique ideas for wine tourism and innovative strategies to face the global wine crisis. We gave a presentation on Wine Tourism and addressed topics such a: new wine tourism experiences (both in Rioja and abroad, such as our tours in Italy and Portugal); the profile of the winery visitor (demographics); what wine tourists are looking for when they visit; examples of top class wineries offering exclusive wine tourism experiences (we chose Badia Passignano in Tuscany and Esporão in Alentejo); what wineries need to do in order to cooperate with agencies specialized in wine tours; innovative ideas for small wineries to develop wine tourism initiatives (wine picnics,4X4 tours of the vines, tastings set amid the vineyards, etc) and trends in the wine tourism sector. The audience was enthusiastic and full of young professionals working in Rioja wineries. Amazingly everyone stayed awake throughout the presentation as by the time we spoke it was about 6PM on a Friday evening with a mid day wine tasting 🙂

Wine Marketing Conference Rioja Spain Wine Marketing Conference Rioja Spain

Wine Tourism in Rioja

The concept of wine tours and wine tourism in Spain overall is still in the infant stages. Far from established wine country tourist destinations like Napa Valley, Tuscany, Australia or Mendoza, many Spanish wine regions still can´t get their head around wine tourism -if they want it or not, if it will be mass tourism (big coaches) or exclusive tourism and the level of cooperation between wine estates to promote their regions and sub regions as a whole has not been strategic. The buzz word these days is- potential! We have been offering wine tours in Spain since 2003 and have overcome many barriers to getting wineries interested in receiving visitors and things are improving all the time. There is still a lot of work to be done to establish Rioja as a wine destination in the minds of international travelers.  However the wineries we work with in Spain and Rioja are true professionals, making great wines and creative with the style of visits they offer.

Wine Marketing Conference Rioja Spain Wine Marketing Conference Rioja Spain

Fellow Speakers at the Wine Marketing Conference in Logroño

What an amazing panel of speakers this conference had over the course of the 2 days! These included Alice Feiring (An American wine journalist with a huge following on her blog, who talked about the influence of the press and the wine gurus. Her book “The Battle for Wine and Love: or How I Saved the World from Parkerization” is a NY Times bestseller), Anna Riera (a bubbly Catalan journalist specialized in food and wine),  the mega dynamic and supremely entertaining Saúl Mallols (one of the business managers of Lavinia), Stephen Rannekleiv (the Vice President of Rabobank International who talked about the American fine wine consumption market and how the economic crisis is affecting it) and Paolo Battegazzore (one of the heads at  Folio Fine Wine Partners in Napa who gave a fascinating and straightforward presentation about the complex and intricate world of wine importing in the USA and his recommendations for Rioja wine producers.

We also had some interesting, live video conferences with professionals around the world such as Miguel Ángel Rivas (Director of  Marinter S.A., the most prestigious wine company in México), and Federico Vázquez de Novoa (Tourism Manager in Mendoza, Argentina- the most successful wine tourism destination in South America). The caliber of speakers was extremely high and we were honored to be included on the panel.

Half way through the day, a sensorial wine tasting was organized for us, consisting of some gorgeous wines such as Numanthia (!!!). My my my, were we ever pampered, have a look at the hard day´s work:

Wine Marketing Conference Rioja Spain Wine Marketing Conference Rioja Spain

Logroño– this small working wine town hosts a series of interesting wine events throughout the year. The “Catarsis” music and wine festival has just concluded, but you can catch it again next year (various wineries like Marqués de Vargas, Juan Alcorta, Franco Españolas, Darien, Ontañon and Ijalba host classic music evenings, fabulous! Another reason to come to Logroño are the tapas on the mythical calle Laurel. The idea is you have a pincho (small dish on a plate or brochette) and a glass of wine and wander down the street popping into bars as a way of having lunch or dinner. It´s fun and while here you could visit La Casita (get the brocheta de calamares y gambas), Bar El Cid (flagship pintxo is the grilled wild mushroom), Bar Donosti (get the Boletus con jamón de reserva), Bar Entremuros (stuffed red pepper), Taberna del Laurel (patatas bravas), and La Tasca del Pato (Atlantic crab). Other lovely places to wander around here include the Iglesia de Santiago, Plaza del Mercado, Calle Portales, and El Espolón.

Read about our site inspection of Rioja wineries here.

Check out other wine marketing and wine tourism conferences in Cape Town (July 2009) and Bordeaux (November).

Chocolate and Wine Tasting Pairing Event in Madrid

Posted by gen On March - 1 - 2009

Wine and Chocolate Tasting in Madrid, SpainWine and Chocolate Tasting in Madrid, SpainWine and Chocolate Tasting in Madrid, Spain

On Valentine´s Day this month, we were delighted to attend a phenomenal chocolate and wine tasting event in Madrid organized by Cristina Alonso of Vintage Spain. They offer these scheduled events regularly so check out their calendar. What a great night!

The venue– a private room at El Coso restaurant, where we had a superb dinner afterwards. Highly recommended for Madrileños or travelers visiting Madrid looking for a good value gourmet experience.

The concept – the theme was wine and chocolate pairing, and it was fascinating. Chocolate is traditionally paired with sweet wines, and in Spain it is also served with sparkling “Cava” during the holidays (a major wine crime actually as the bubbly tastes insipid when mixed with mouth coating chocolate). The purpose of this wine and chocolate tasting was to see how chocolate could hold up next to dry wines (although we did have one sweetie, more on that below), and the golden rules of pairing bitter with sweet.

Wine and Chocolate Tasting in Madrid, Spain

The “Maridaje”– the pairing is called a “Marriage”  in Spanish, and our marriage of wines and chocolates included:

CHOCOLATES- the line we tried was from the producer Valrhona

Jivara 40% cacao (milk chocolate)
Extra Bitter 61% cacao
Coeur de Guanaja 80% cacao

WINES- we tried the chocolates next to dry Spanish wines (white and red)

Finca Los Nevados Viognier- one of our favorite Spanish whites at the moment.
Vallegarcia Viognier de Pago
Alidis Crianza – Ribera del Duero, Tempranillo
Lara O – Ribera del Duero,Tempranillo- outstanding wine, too!!
Alvear PX- Montilla Moriles, Pedro Ximenez

The Best Match– we personally enjoyed the Alvear PX with the 80% cacao chocolate the most. Surprisingly, the white Finca los Nevados Viognier with the milk chocolate was also gorgeous.

The Worst Match– the Alidis from Ribera del Duero was absolutely awful with the bitter chocolates.

Wine and Chocolate Tasting in Madrid, Spain

The golden rules of chocolate and wine pairing we learned include-

– Pair the chocolates to wines with a similar “weight”, so heavy flavored chocolates with heavy wines; more delicately flavored chocolates with lighter wines.

– Match chocolates to wines with similar flavors (for example almonds, hazelnuts, cedar, spice, berries and forest fruits, creaminess, etc)

– Your tastebuds are your own! Virtually everyone at this tasting disagreed about the matches, and we had fun doing it!


Sommeliers traditionally recommend the following sweet or off dry wine and choco matches:

WHITE CHOCOLATE- Muscats, Late Harvest wines, Ice wine.

MILK CHOCOLATE- Hungarian Tokaji, Tawny Port, Muscats, Amontillados, Palo Cortados

BITTER CHOCOLATE- Banyuls, LBV Port, Vintage Port, Amarone, Pedro Ximenez


Spanish Chocolate Makers–  Spain is full of some fabulous chocolatiers. Established and reliable companies include Chocolates Valor and Chocovic. Enric Rovira is an artisan master choco maker who also does some cross merchandising of wine and chocolate with the Priorat Odysseus winery. At the top of our list though, of favorite Spanish companies is Cacao Sampaka (with ultra trendy choco shops in Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao, Berlin, Valencia, Tokyo, Lisbon and Málaga).

Wine and Chocolate Tasting in Madrid, Spain

Madrid Fusion-Top Chef Awards 2009

Posted by gen On January - 24 - 2009

Madrid Fusion Top Chefs Awards 2009

This past week here in Madrid, the annual Madrid Fusión gastronomic event took place.  The mood was slightly different than in the last few years (boom years in Spain), with much talking and debating about “High end cuisine for the economic crisis” and brainstorming on how to flourish in tough financial times. Presentations on this theme included “Haute poor cuisine-  Imagination in crisis times by Paco Ron and Peter Nilsson”. However it certainly wasn´t all glum, and as always was an opportunity for top chefs from around the world to exchange ideas and to receive their kudos.

Some of the more interesting topics included “Natural Pantry of the Amazon Jungle: the last version of Peruvian cuisine” by Pedro Miguel Schiaffino (Peru, FYI, is a hot gastronomic destination this year and chef Pilar Latorre is leading an ultra luxury culinary tour there in the spring);  “Gastro Botanic Subtleties of the Desert Garden” by Rodrigo de la Calle and Santiago Orts, “The Chef Perfumist: Renaissance in the 21st Century” by Corrado Assenza; “Science and Cuisine Discussion: Does Molecular Cuisine Exist?” (THE hot topic!!!!) by  Ferran Adrià, Heston Blumenthal, Andoni Luis Aduriz, and Harold McGee; “The Mexican Avant-Garde: Conceptual Dishes with Roots” by Enrique Olvera; “Haute Creative Cuisine with Gorgonzola, Parmigiano Reggiano, and Provolone Valpadana” by Nacho Manzano, Jordi Vilà and Paco Roncero; “Plankton: Life’s Origin of the Sea, A New Dressing” by our beloved Ángel León;  “Color: Another Taste” by Elena Arzak; and “Jerez Vinegar in Haute Cuisine: An Acidity with Tradition” by Pepe Rodríguez Rey, Carles Abellan, and Kisko García.

Ferran Adria, photographed by PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP/Getty Images)

A quick summary of some of the highlights from Madrid Fusión 2009:


Gualtiero Marchesi– Italian

Ferran Adriá– Catalan (Spanish, inventor of molecular cuisine)

Juan Mari Arzak– Basque (Spanish)

Michel Bras– French

Heston Blumenthal– British

Alain Ducasse- French

Pierre Gagnaire- French

Pierre Hermé- French (called the Picasso of Patisserie)

Thomas Keller- American

Nobu Matsuhisa- Japanese

Charlie Trotter– American



Sponsor: Madrid Chamber of Commerce

Chef of the year: Paco Morales at Senzone restaurant in the stylish Hospes hotel in Madrid

Restaurant of the year: Casa José in the royal town of Aranjuez (chef Fernando del Cerro)

Maitre of the year: Eduardo Navarrina at the Madrid institution Dantxari

Sommelier of the year: Dani Poveda at star chef Sergi Arolo´s superb new Gastro restaurant in Madrid

Lifetime achievement award– Evaristo García of the 100 year old seafood restaurant Pescaderías Coruñesas




Restaurante Trigo (Valladolid. Victor Martín)

Restaurante Embat (Barcelona. Fidel Puig, Santi Rebés, Cristina Torrás)

R De La Calle (Aranjuez, Madrid. Rodrigo de la Calle)

Gastromium (Sevilla. Miguel Díaz, Ernesto Malasaña, José Carabias)

Narru (San Sebastian, Guipúzcoa. Iñigo Peña)

Gavara (Bocairent, Valencia. Silvia Gavara)

restaurante-trigo valladolid restaurante-trigo valladolid

How to Plan a Spanish Tapas and Wine Party

Posted by gen On January - 9 - 2009

How to plan a Spanish Tapas and Wine Party- Tips for the perfect food and wine fiesta

How to plan a Spanish tapas and wine party

Spanish tapas are fun, easy to prepare, and always a crowd pleaser. Here are some ideas on how to throw your own tapas and wine party for your (appreciative) friends:

FIRST OF ALL, WHAT ARE TAPAS?–  The word “tapa” means “lid” in Spanish, and it refers to the tradition in centuries past in hot and dusty Spanish inns and bars to place a plate over the customer´s drink (usually a glass of wine), to keep out the flies. Over time, innkeepers realized that if they placed savory and salty food on the plate, the clients would drink more- and voilà, the concept of tapas was born. Today in Spain, “tapas” refers to small portions (as opposed to “raciones” which are full plate portions) of savory, Spanish cuisine. You´ll find traditional tapas all over Spain based on cheeses, olives and various meat and veg dishes as well as elaborate tapas made with all kinds of gourmet ingredients including foie gras, duck confit, and sea urchins (particularly in Madrid, San Sebastian and Barcelona). Tapas are often placed on a slice of bread or in a little vol au vent (see photo above) and these ones on bread can be called called “Tostas” or “Pintxos” (an expression used often in Basque Country).

Now, to plan your party……

THE MUSIC– start the night with some mellow Paco de Lucia and Diego el Cigala´s flamenco jazz fusion album (Lágrimas Negras), follow with the exceptionally talented Carmen Paris, and carry on with the Flamenco pop band Ketama.

Spanish tapas and wine party

THE TABLE SETTINGSpanish olive wood bowls are beautiful and very traditional; you can use them for salads, as a bread bowl, etc. Place the tapas on pretty, colorful ceramic plates. Bring out the hot tapas directly in the earthenware pottery you cooked them in. Serve the wines in typical Basque “chiquito” glasses, and bring out the paella right on the paella pan.

Spanish tapas party paella-pan

Pick tablecloths with bright colors like yellow and red, from the Spanish flag.  Decorate the room with atmospheric candles. There is a fabulous company in Madrid called “At Spain” that sells all of these products and ships all over the world, info here.

Spanish Tapas and Wine Party Spanish Tapas and Wine Party

THE WINES– Have various wine bottles open for guests to choose from. Keep the Finos, Cavas and White Wines on ice and the red wines and Amontillados at room temperature.

Finos/Manzanillas– La Gitana Manzanilla is a classic, as well as the Tio Pepe Fino, both easy to find. Serve on their own, or make a Manzanilla cocktail such as the “Rebujito”.

Spanish tapas and wine party

Cava– Spain´s classic sparkling wine, Cava, has a whole range of quality spectrums. Freixenet produces millions of bottles of cheap and cheerful cava, while upmarket cellars like Agusti Torellò make sublime cavas like “Kripta”, on a par with a fine champagne. Our favorite producers include: Torellò, Parés Baltà, and Raventos i Blanc. Codorniu, one of the main (and one of the oldest) producers also make a wonderful rosé cava, lovely in summer.

Kripta Cava

Vino Blanco- Our favorite white wines in Spain at the moment include:As Sortes(from Valdeorras, made with the trendy Godello grape), Conreria de Scala Dei´s “winter white” Les Brugueres (a 14% Garnacha blanca based, delicious weighty white), Belondrade y Lurton´s RuedaSuperior (made with the zippy Verdejo grape) and the spectacular Selección de Añada Albariño from the Pazo de Señorans estate.

Best Spanish white wine

Vino Tinto-A crime to have to only choose a few favorites, but to choose a few…. begin the tapas party with a juicy red from the Finca Loranque estate (La Mancha) accompanied by the (Bierzo) ever-popular Dominio de Tares old vines. Carry on with the (Ribera del Duero) Arzuaga Crianza and contine with the Roda Reserva (our absolute favorite Rioja at the moment). If you want to splash out on a fab red, go for the Clos de l´Obac from the chic region of Priorat.

Roda wine from Rioja

Other Sherries– We love sherries to accompany the cheeses and amontillado sherries in particular. Pick up a bottle of (dry and nutty) Amontillado from a good estate like Lustau and bring out with the cheeses. Learn more about Sherry here and discover the varied grapes of Spain here. Finally, see some top Spanish winery profiles here.

THE TAPAS- and on to the food! Some ideas for the tapas to choose:

Cheeses – Make  a Spanish cheese plate with cured Manchego, sultry Roncal, smoked Idiazabál, blue Cabrales, savory Ibores and creamy Garrotxa. If you can get your hands on a whole Torta del Casar cheese, this will probably be the party favorite! More info on Spanish Cheese.

Spanish tapas Party

Olives and nuts-some easy ideas for tapas:

– walnuts, panfried for five minutes with fresh rosemary and sea salt

– almonds, panfried (and moved constantly) with Spanish paprika (pimentón), sea salt and the smallest pinch of ground Cumin

– Spanish green (unpitted) olives marinated with garlic, olive oil, coriander seeds and fresh thyme

– Spanish black olives (unpitted) marinated with olive oil, lemon zest, cumin seeds, freshly chopped parsley

some tapas recipes here.



– Padrón peppers (Pimientos de Padrón) grilled with olive oil and sea salt

– Spanish red piquillo peppers (they come packed in jars), served on their own on a plate

– Green asparagus wrapped in Serrano ham and roast in the oven

Tortilla Española, the ultimate tapas party favorite


Meat based tapas

– Small chorizo sausages slow cooked in Asturian cider in earthenware pottery in the oven

– Spanish meatballs (albondigas), recipe here.

– plenty of thinly sliced Jamón, including Serrano ham and Bellota ham

– Spanish Paella!! There are countless recipes, and it is a colorful and striking addition to your tapas party

Spanish ham

Seafood based tapas

Gambas al ajillo (shrimp sauteed in garlic and olive oil)

– Calamares a la Romana (breaded Calamari), recipe here.

Marinated Boquerones (anchovies)

Croquetas de Bacalao (cod croquettes)


And for Dessert– cheese! also Crema Catalana, and Flan

Follow dessert with “Chupitos” (shot glasses) of chilled Galician Orujo (we love the Martin Codax orujo de hierbas) to wash it all down.

We hope your Spanish tapas fiesta is a hit, tell us how it goes!

Spanish tapas party

Spain is a fantastic place to celebrate New year´s Eve, with its bustling cities like Madrid and Barcelona offering exciting fiestas and celebrations for “nochevieja” (“old night”). Here are a few of the most popular traditions:

“Las Uvas”

The most popular New Year´s Eve tradition is “las doce uvas de la buena suerte“ (the 12 grapes of good luck).  At 12 seconds to midnight the countdown begins and each time the bell rings in a new second, millions of Spaniards (sitting at home, at parties and in the streets watching the celebrations) have to eat a grape, for a total of twelve grapes.  The origin of this funny tradition supposed to bring good luck, apparently comes from some enterprising farmers with a surplus of grapes a century ago, so it is is not a tradition dating back to medieval times. It is however a tradition that EVERYONE in Spain celebrates. Enterprising Chinese street merchants even sell pre-bagged grapes in the plazas of all major Spanish cities on New Year´s Eve, to bemused tourists.  At the stroke of midnight the cork on the Cava bottle is popped, and people tell each other “Feliz año nuevo” and kiss each other on both cheeks.

las uvas

“Bragas Rojas”

In Spain, as in Italy, the tradition is to wear red underwear and lingerie on New Year´s eve….what more can we say?

Bragas Rojas

“El Brindis”

The toast of bubbly at midnight is made with Spanish Cava, most of which (and the best of which) is made in the wine region of Penedès south of Barcelona. Made by traditional method in the same way as champagne (with second fermentation in bottle), there are some fabulous examples of Cava. Our favorite is definitely Agustí Torelló´s stylish “Kripta” cava, which comes in an amphora shaped bottle. Other excellent producers include Parés Baltà, Albet i Noya, Gramona and Raventós i Blanc.

Agusti Torello Kripta cava

Wherever this nochevieja finds you in the world, we wish you a very, very happy new year and todo lo mejor for 2009!

Medieval Fair and Wine Battle in Rioja

Posted by gen On May - 31 - 2008

The wine region of La Rioja in Northern Spain is host to an array of folkloric and fun wine events in the upcoming month of June such as the Medieval Fair of Briones and the (in)famous Batalla de Vino (Wine Battle) in Haro.

June 14-15- Medieval Fair, Briones

The beautiful small wine hamlet of Briones located in La Rioja is home to a very picturesque medieval festival every year in June on the 3rd weekend. This year it will be held on 14-15 June. With less than 1000 inhabitants, this historic “aldea” is a treat for wine lovers to visit with as you have an incredible wine museum (Dinastia Vivanco), boutique wineries like Miguel Merino and darling restaurants like Los Calaos de Briones. Las Jornadas Medievales (Medieval Days) celebrate and remember the ancient customs and traditions of Briones. The streets are decked out in colorful flags, tapestries and coats of arms. The town is transformed into what it would have been like in medieval times including the local carpenters, aristocrats residences, tanners, weavers, shoemakers, tailors, even an Inquisition jail. This is a great time to come visit La Rioja, take in some wine tasting, dining and sightseeing in this delightful corner of Northern Spain..

More Info

Briones Wine Country Hamlet in Rioja

June 29- La Batalla de Vino, Haro

The Wine Battle, an annual wine event that takes place in Haro, in La Rioja is held on the 29th of June. Its origin is based on a historic land dispute and over time has evolved into a folkloric wine party. The event begins with a procession led by the mayor on horseback who leads attendees to a mass. The dress code is white shirt (all the better to get soaked with red wine after) and red scarves, and various containers with wine. After the mass the battle begins and people spray each other with wine, from their wineskins (botas), jugs and containers. Within a short time, the streets of Haro fill with red wine stained revelers. Following the wine battle, the crowd hit the bullring and do a small scale running of the bulls. A big Spanish lunch wraps up the day with local specialties like baby lamb chops roasted over grape vines, red Piquillo peppers and of course rich red wines from La Rioja.

More Info on the Wine Battle of Haro