Pairs Well With Barnacles

Boats in a harbor
Photo courtesy of Julia Volk

Casual Combos with Vanessa Price

We’ve really utilized the whole we-know-a-sommelier thing to our advantage lately. Would basically call ourselves borderline masters at this point, but we wouldn’t know a fraction of it without our friend Vanessa Price. Sommelier and author—she knows what she’s talking about when it comes to wine and food. And particularly how to pair the two. But not necessarily all the fancy-schmancy foods you would expect a wine-enthusiast to spend her time tasting. Instead, things like fast food and the casual meals people actually end up drinking wine with. Hence the title of her book Big Macs and Burgundy: Wine Pairings for the Real World. 

We had Vanessa pair some nice Albariños from our friends at Rías Baixas with a few more casual, yet maybe unexpected dishes that you might be more likely to come across than the Michelin star meal you usually see suggested to complement a white wine. And as it turns out, wine can pair elegantly with pretty much everything. Even barnacles.

La Val Albariño Rías Baixas + Fried Fish Tacos

La Val Albarino Wine on a table set with glasses, plates of fruit and bread

A white wine that has (what’s called in wine-speak) a “saline driven character,” was made for fried food. Less fancifully said, it means the wine has a salty aftertaste. That’s something that might sound weird, but if you think about it, salt is one of the core elements that bring out the flavor in food, and it does the same in wine. Since fried anything is the definition of salty, this is as straightforward as a food and wine pairing can get. The bright acidity in the wine also contends with the oiliness from the batter while the lighter body won’t overpower the flaky white fish inside. The grape also has a signature lemon zest, grapefruit and grassy profile—a combo stylishly suited for the classic tangy slaw that garnishes our favorite crisply battered cod wrapped in corn (or flour!) goodness.

Abadía de San Campio Albariño Rías Baixas + Onion Rings

Abadia De San Campio Wine in a bucket of ice

Albariño is a white wine made from a white grape by the same name. Hailing from the North Atlantic coast of Spain in a region known as Rías Baixas (Ree-ahs Buy-shas), the wines are vibrant and crisp with lemon and grapefruit citrus and a hallmark salinity. A classic way to pair a wine like this is to take the congruent approach. This is when you identify the shared characteristics in the food and wine and use these to create a pairing in which the tastes and smells run right alongside one another, enhancing their shared flavors. The sensory elements of both are amplified and balanced by their similarity. This is the basis of one of my favorite adages: “like with like.” In this case, those same-same elements are the brine in the wine and a twist on an old classic—onion rings. When you brine the onions before their deep fry, you transform them from sharp and bitter to something zesty and slightly sweet. Once coated with the classic deep-fried batter, they are an irresistible combo. You have the crunch in the batter that matches the crisp in the wine, a citrus tang for the pickled onion and of course everyone’s favorite, salty on salty.

Granbazán ‘Etiqueta Verde’ Albariño Rías Baixas + Barnacles

Granbazan Etiqueta Verde Wine on a wood dock with boats floating in the background

Barnacles look like a witch’s hand poking out to grab you. Yet people risk their lives to harvest these repulsive creatures from the rocks of Galicia in Spain. The first time I tried one I had to practice meditational breathing. But then I immediately tried ten more. Texturally, they’re like the best jumbo crab you’ve ever had, with the brininess of gourmet salt and vinegar potato chips. Such is the beauty of these little beasts that you forget about their looks entirely. Albariño, being a light-bodied white from the cold and rainy valleys of Rías Baixas in northern Spain, is the liquid version of this potato chip of the deep—garnished with lemon. The iteration from Granbazán is exactly what you want, dry and floral upfront, crisp on the palate and a salty finish that’s a perfect match for the briny beasts.

An excerpt from Big Macs & Burgundy, Wine Pairings for the Real World