It has been my good fortune to have been invited to so many wine producing regions across the globe, with the opportunity to sample not only the wines at source, but also the accompanying indigenous cuisine. Wine producers take great care in presenting traditional dishes that serve to enhance the embedded culture of their wines, inevitably providing an embarrassment of riches for the visitor.

In Europe I have found nowhere more exciting in which to taste a line-up of regional dishes, than the chaotic Tapas districts of Spain. A favourite, in the iconic region of La Rioja, is its capital, Logroño. On countless trips there I have been taken on tapeos, the equivalent of a lengthy pub-crawl here in Britain but without the associated rigours of truculence, blacking out or regurgitation.

Wandering Logroño’s streets late in the evening, (the Spanish sometimes eat their main meal at lunchtime, with tapas serving as their evening repast), and sampling the specialist offerings from bar to bar, is always a singular pleasure. Piquillo peppers, chorizo, morcilla, bacalao, banderillas, cabrales, tortilla, bunuelos; the list of dishes peppering the bars in tiny cazuelas is near endless. A big favourite there, and one later honed in our own kitchen, are Croquetas de Jamón.

I find the most reliable recipe for Croquetas de Jamòn to be from Claudia Roden’s The Food of Spain (2012)


75 g unsalted butter
½ large onion, peeled and finely chopped
200 g Jamón Serrano or other dry-cured ham, finely chopped
A pinch of fresh nutmeg
725 ml of fresh milk
150 g plain flour
100 g fine matzo meal or dried breadcrumbs
2 large eggs
Oil for deep frying

In a large pan, melt the butter and gently sauté the onion over a low heat until it is soft.
Add the ham and cook, stirring for a minute or so.
Stir in the nutmeg and about half the milk and bring to the boil.
Beat the flour with the remaining milk using an electric mixer until any lumps have disappeared.
Then pour into the pan, stirring vigorously and cook, continuing to stir for 8 to 10 minutes until the mixture has the consistency of a thick paste that comes away from the bottom of the pan.
Chill for at least 2 hours or overnight.
To make the croquetas, cover a large plate with plenty of fine matzo meal or breadcrumbs, similarly with flour.
Beat the eggs lightly in a soup plate.
Shape the croquetas into an oblong and dip into the flour, then roll in the beaten egg and then into the breadcrumbs.
Heat the oil until medium hot.
Fry the croquetas in the oil until lightly browned, turning them over once.
Lift out and drain on kitchen paper.
Best eaten right away.

Wine thoughts

The story of sherry is one of the most remarkable in the country’s history.

The world’s most neglected wine treasure” according to Jancis Robinson in her Wine Course (1995). God’s chosen beverage according to me. Misunderstood, often maligned and relatively inexpensive, sherry offers a range of wines like no other, from bone dry to sticky sweet; its ability to partner the wide purview of Spanish gastronomy is unrivalled and a tapeos is a fine place to start.

What Sherry to choose? To avoid the frequent failure of imagination, when visiting his Bodegas Rey Fernando de Castilla in Jerez, the owner Jan Pettersen  gave me the heads up – “If it swims drink Fino, if it flies drink Amontillado, if it runs drink Oloroso.”

So Oloroso it is. Good to get that cleared up.