My Auntie Eileen loved sardines. She would mix them with sour cream and onion soup mix, then serve the tiny fish with potato chips. As a child, I often enjoyed this dip with Auntie Eileen — it was our thing. She loved to cook, and I miss her. As an adult, it was no surprise that I came to love Caesar salads, with pungent anchovies as one of the dressing’s key ingredients.
You either love sardines and anchovies or you don’t, and I obviously fall into the former category. Fortunately, thanks to a recent renaissance, the stigma surrounding canned seafood has waned, and many people now consider conservas, or “tinned fish,” to be a gourmet delicacy.
Conservas can be separated into four main categories — sardines, anchovies, shellfish, and tuna. Not only are the tins portable and require no refrigeration, species such as herring, mackerel, and sardines are environmentally friendly and nutritious. With tender bones that are full of calcium, these savory fish are high in omega-3 and vitamin D.
“Tinned, canned, pouched, and jarred seafoods are amazing staples,” says sustainable seafood educator Jennifer Bushman. “Starring simply the fish or shellfish in their pure form, perhaps with olive oil or salt, they’re delicious and ready at a moment’s notice.”
With a name that means “to preserve” in Spanish, conservas have a long history in Spain and Portugal. The Spanish discovered them in 1840, when tins of preserved seafood were found aboard a shipwrecked French sailboat. Less than a year later, Spain had its own fish and shellfish canning operation. Portugal’s first commercial cannery (now the oldest in Europe), Ramirez, opened in 1853. Both countries are credited with elevating this tiny fish to gourmet status, and the tradition of canning and preserving seafood is booming, thanks to producers such as Spain’s Ortiz and Ramón Peña.
“Conservas from Spain are considered to be luxury foods that are typically served as tapas, along with some salty potato chips and a glass of wine or vermouth,” says blogger Julia Wilde of Julia Eats.
While still wines and vermouth can indeed match beautifully with these delightful morsels, I have discovered that sparkling wines are the perfect complement for the multitude of tinned seafood options. That’s because their acidity acts as a fantastic palate cleanser, and the wines’ effervescence can easily cut through oil-rich, heavy dishes.
Two of my favorite sparkling wines to pair with tinned fish are Cava and Crémant, both made in the traditional Champagne method. Fittingly, Cava hails from Spain and is typically blended from three main grape varieties, including Macabeo, Xarel-lo, and Parellada. Crémant comes from various regions in France (I like to call it baby Champagne), and the most popular versions are Crémant de Loire, Crémant d’Alsace, and Crémant de Bourgogne. Here are five mouthwatering ways to pair these sparkling wines with conservas:
Five Sparkling Wine and Tinned Fish Pairings to Try
Benedicte & Stephanie Tissot Crémant du Jura Rosé ($19)
With Ramón Peña Mussels in Pickled Sauce ($13.99)
Tissot is a sophisticated wine with soft bubbles and hints of red berries and brioche. This combination pairs surprisingly well with mussels from legendary producer Ramón Peña. The sweet, meaty mussels provide excellent balance for the wine’s creamy, berry flavors.
Cava Casa de Valor Brut ($17)
With Bela Lightly Smoked Sardines in Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil with Piri Piri ($4)
The spicy peppers of the piri piri are tamed by the fresh fruit notes in this three-grape Catalonian Cava. For a perfect bite, I combine the sardines with kettle potato chips, French butter, and parsley.
Domaine Jean Vullien Crémant de Savoie ($21)
With Trader Joe’s Anchovy Filets ($4)
This popular Crémant is a blend of 30 percent Chardonnay, 50 percent Jacquère, and 20 percent Altesse. The palate peaks with vivacious green apple and has a long creamy finish. I pair this duo with an anchovy pasta laden with lemon-caper butter and topped with a poached egg, because the richness of the butter and yolk break down the wine’s tart malic acid to form an ideal union. This is a must-do!
Mas Candí Segunyola Brut Nature Cava ($21)
With Serpis Olives Stuffed with Anchoviess ($4)
This blanc de blancs, made from 100 percent old vine Xarel-lo, has a lovely aroma of spice and yellow apples, with quince flavors on the palate. The saltiness of the olives is subdued by the intense sweet apple in the wine’s mid-palate. This is the ultimate movie snack.
Langlois-Chateau Crémant de Loire Brut ($27)
With Ortiz Bonito del Norte White Tuna in Olive Oil ($9)
This wine is captivating, with soft bubbles, a light straw color, and aromas of white peach and red grapefruit pith. It’s a wonderful pairing for an herbed white bean and tuna salad, because the wine’s acidity cuts through the heaviness of the beans and brightens the tuna’s flavor.