Birthday Bash Wines


To celebrate my husband's most recent birthday, we invited my cousin and her man over to our place for exuberant bash for four. And by exuberant I mean that there was tons of food and wine and that I added chocolate chips to a cupcake recipe that didn't call for it for dessert. This post is the wine and food pairing story of that night.

The food (albeit the Oreo cupcakes) was mainly Thai and Vietnamese inspired, but cooked by a very Scandinavian-American girl -me. The wines were all Spanish. The dinner menu starred my version of the carrot, cucumber, bell-pepper and light fish-sauce salad often served atop cold Vietnamese rice noodle dishes. Also sharing the stage were lime, honey and chili marinated skewered shrimp, and grilled flank steak served over wide rice noodles in a spicey, kaffir lime, lemongrass Thai inspired coconut sauce.
I choose Spanish wines for this Birthday Bash for three reasons. One, they were reasonably priced and my excellent foresight told me that we'd consume from two to three bottles between us friends. Two, because I'm enamored with Spanish wines (especially the whites, sparklings and rosés) and was selfishly catering to my happiness even on my husband's birthday night. Three, I chose Spanish wines for the menu because they can be awesome matches for Vietnamese and Thai spices and flavors and seafood.

I popped our first wine while waiting for our guests. Our invitees claimed not to be huge fans of white wine, so I took it upon myself to thwart their past experiences by unleashing an Albarino. Albarinos are meant to charm. They're from the Galacian coast of Spain and classically paired with seafood at Spanish tapas bars. With their apple, peachy, lime and sometimes floral scents, they're instant pleaser's. Furthermore, they've got enough going on in the glass that they can handle a little spice. Each dish I prepared for the dinner had lime juice, zest, or leaf mixed in, which I thought would play up the lime streak and cozy up to crisp and stoney fruits in the wine. Worked well. We sipped this while I put the finishing touches on the salad and headed to the BBQ to cook the shrimp and flank steak. Then we opened the Super Wine of the night.

My only firm and fast wine rule for a celebration such as a birthday, anniversary, or Christmas, is that something sparkling must be included amongst the wine entourage. Birthdays just don't happen without bubbles. The bubbles don't have to be big, but they have to be present.

Such reasoning led to the second wine that we drank that night- a Txakolina Rose from Spain. This was my favorite. It was luscious, oh so pink, peachy and rasberry-ie and tart and slightly. Txakolina (shock-oh-lee-nah) is the name of a Basque, Spanish wine made traditionally with the Hondarribi Zuri and Hondarribi Beltza grapes. They're meant to drinken within a year or two after bottling, and will be, because you just can't help yourself. Most Txakolinas aren't Roses, but are just as enchanting as the pink bottle that we poured that night. Their pear, tart apple and lime flavors compete for attention with the tiny, spritzy bubbles that fill the glass. And bubbles go with almost anything, even egg breakfast sandwiches. They snuggled up to the coconut milk and spicy shrimp, and even handled the marbling in the rich flank steak. I looovvee this wine only slightly less than my man.

Towards the end of the night we slipped a light cheapy-but-goody Spanish Grenache on the table. Just in case someone wanted a little red with the flank steak. Spanish Grenaches (Garnachas) can be pretty dark and heady, but ours that night was a lighter style, with blackberry, stoney scents. And I didn't just serve it because it was also left over from our wedding wine, I served it because Garnachas are great red wines for spicy foods. They're spicy themselves, and the pepper streak in the grape can handle a chile or two.

Finally, we ended our night with a Birthday dessert request of cupcakes. Chocolate cupcakes with chocolate chips topped with cream cheese frosting and crushed Oreos. Muddlers are great Oreo crushers. It was a fantastic end for the night. My cousin and I ate two, and the guys ate three each. And I was just going to prepare a half dozen.

Kirstin Jackson Ellis works as a wine bar manager and wine and food consultant in the San Francisco Bay Area and writes about wine and food pairing at Vin de La Table, her luxurious and lighthearted blog.

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