Tinned Fish and Spanish Wine Pairings

Tinned Fish and Spanish Wine Pairings

Mar 30, 2023Dedalus Staff

The Iberian Peninsula is the land of tinned fish. In the tiny seaside towns dotting the Galician coast in Spain, or the bustling streets of Porto in Portugal, whole menus and shops are dedicated to conserva. Here, tinned fish has been a traditional cuisine for more than a century.

Conserva — known more popularly as tinned fish in the headlines of today’s trend cycle — might be preserved, but it’s some of the freshest fish you can get. In Spain, especially in Galicia, mollusks, octopi, squid, and fish are plucked from the ocean and cooked straight away. Sometimes, on a woodfired grill at the water’s edge. After they’re cooked to perfection, they’re bathed in traditional oils, sauces, or vinegars, then packed at the pinnacle of freshness in tidy little containers.

Alone, conserva is an incredible treat. But paired with a Galician wine, from grapes grown a stones throw from where some of these tins are made, it’s transcendent. There’s something incredibly fulfilling about popping the lid off a tin of perfectly cooked mussels, tearing a chunk off a fresh baguette, and pouring yourself a glass of Albariño. Or diving into a can of lusciously inky squid with a glass of Mencia at your side. Without taking a single step, you’ve arrived at the Iberian Peninsula.

We’ve put together a list of our favorite Spanish conserva and wine pairings so you can get the most out of your precious tins. We’ve also included explainers for why these pairings work.

Squid in Ink with Mencia

One of the most distinctive, and classic, Galician conserva is calamares en su tinta (squid in its ink). Tiny pieces of tender octopus or squid are cooked and packed up tight in a glossy jet-black bath of their own ink. 

Calamares en su tinta pairs incredibly well with Mencia, a grape native to Galicia. Mencia gives the bold fresh fruit flavors you find in Beaujolais, with the hint of greenery you might find in a Cab Franc, all combined with a unique dose of crushed stone drenched in red berries and pomegranate to provide a luscious backbone that enlivens the inky squid.

One of our favorite uses for calamares en su tinta is Nero di Seppia, a Sicilian pasta dish.

Why This Pairing Works

Structure. The aromatic, fruit-forward, structured Mencia has the perfect backbone to pair with the rich squid ink pasta. 

What grows together goes together. Regional cuisine and local wines tend to complement each other, no matter where you are in the world.

    Mussels and Albariño

    Galician tinned mussels aren’t your average grocery aisle mollusk. Packed in a light escabeche sauce, olive oil, or salsa brava, they’re the perfectly balanced bite. Pair with Albariño, a grape native to the Iberian coastal region. 

    Albariño comes from Rias Baixas, the coastal estuary where rivers meander from the Atlantic into the lush green interior of Galicia. Pairing with these mussels is a hyper-local move — one that fully embraces the axiom of “What grows together goes together.”

    Why This Pairing Works

    Contrast. The umami flavor of the mussels contrasts with the crispness of the Albarino.

    Acid + Acid. Acidic foods, like mussels packed in escabeche (a vinegar-based sauce), need wines with an equal or greater level of acidity.

    Fat + Acid. If the mussels are packed in oil, the mouthwatering acidity of the Albariño will cut through that richness and act as a palate cleanser.

      Razor Clams and Palomino

      Razor clams are one of the most prized mollusks. They have a firm texture, delicate ivory color, and a flavor that calls to mind salty breezes on windswept shores. Pop a can and serve as is, with a squeeze of lemon and fresh bread, or in a seafood pasta dish with a healthy dose of fresh chopped herbs.

      Whether they’re packed in their brine or olive oil, we eat them with wines that complement their coastal identity. Wines that add the rich warmth of a golden sunset to the beachy, saline flavor of razor clams. So we turn to slightly oxidative wines made with Palomino. 

      Why this Pairing Works

      Matching intensity or dominant flavors. This is one of the principles of pairing, that your food and wine should match each other’s intensity, in this case, saltiness matches saltiness.

        Sardines with Godello

        Sardines might have fallen off the radar in the U.S. (before the rise of hot girl tinned fish), but they never fell off menus or shelves in Galicia and the rest of the Iberian peninsula. And with their silvery sides tightly packed into rich oils and tomato sauces, how could they?

        Pair sardines with Godello. Generally, Godello is aromatic, citrusy, and slightly saline, but fuller-bodied than Albariño and with a healthy dose of minerality. If you happen to find a skin contact Godello, even better.

        Why this Pairing Works

        Contrast. The acidity and texture of Godello (especially a skin contact version) cuts through the mouth-coating effect of the fish, and its medium body ensures that the oiliness of the sardines won’t outweigh the wine.

        What grows together goes together. This is a typical regional pairing — in Spain, Godello is often served with meatier fish.

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