Rioja wine is produced in many different styles, but the region is best known for its red wines. Red Rioja wines are usually a blend of a number of different grapes, primarily Tempranillo and often supported by Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuelo. This blend creates a wine that’s great with a meal. Yet there are a few things to consider when making a rioja food pairing.
Remember Woodiness When Making Rioja Food Pairings
The red wines of Rioja are distinctive for the use of oak in their winemaking and aging, imparting many secondary aromas and flavour characteristics, particularly of vanilla. The wines of the region are classified in a number of categories according to the length and conditions of their aging. Wines labelled simply “Rioja” (or perhaps “Joven”, meaning “young”) will have had with little to no aging, while at the other extreme is Rioja Gran Reserva, which must be aged for at least two years in oak and a further three years in bottle.
Somewhere in the middle of these two extremes, you will find Rioja Reserva. These wines must be aged for a minimum of 12 months in oak and a further 24 months in bottle. Rioja Reserva is considered to be the hallmark style of the region, and many top wineries consider their Reserva to be their flagship wine. The additional aging beyond the Crianza level has a maturing effect on the wine, and the primary red fruit flavours of cherry and raspberry begin to give way to darker fruit and secondary characteristics such as vanilla, chocolate, coffee and earthy aromas. The oak gives structure and tannin, making these wines ideal for food pairing.
Read more about Rioja here.
Gordon Ramsay & the wine writer Matt Skinner speaking about food and wine matching
Will Matt Skinner be able to identify wines in a blind tasting?
5 Great Food Pairing for Rioja:
Food and wine pairing is a tricky business for many people, and is often made needlessly complicated. Everyone has different tastes, and so a great pairing for you may be awful for me, and vice versa. Wine should be fun, and so often the best way to discover new pairings is through experimentation. Take the following suggestions as a starting point, and see where you can go from there!
1 – Lamb
Lamb, in just about any form, is a match made in heaven for Rioja Reserva. Simply roasted lamb and juicy lamb chops or cutlets will complement the aged Rioja very well. The delicacy of the meat and the smoothness of the wine are a fine match. For those that are feeling adventurous, more complex dishes such as Lamb Rogan Josh can stand up to the structure of the wine and provide an interesting and pleasing counterpoint. With the latter, try Finca Torrea. It’s use of Graciano in the blend means it has the tannin needed for the meat, as well as the body to match the dish. It’s also a Crianza Rioja, which tends to be a fruitier style.
** Our recommendation: Finca Torrea 2010
Alcohol content: 14%Serve between 12ºC and 16ºCWe recommend to decant the wine 1 hour before serving
2 – Pork
They say that “what grows together, goes together”. Basically, the wines of a particular region tend to pair well with the food of that region. Pork, particularly Spanish-style Jamon, Chorizo, Iberico and other cured forms, is perfect for robust Reserva Rioja. The smoky fattiness of these meats pairs exceptionally with the structure and tannin of the wine. A great Reserve Rioja to match a platter of chorizo with is Sierra Cantabria Reserva, which has excellent oakiness from 18 months spent in American and French casks.
** Our recommendation: Sierra Cantabria Reserva
Alcohol content: 13,5%Serve between 14ºC and 18ºCOptimal consumption period: 2010-2021We recommend to decant the wine 1 hour before serving
3 – Cheese
The mellower and more mature aromas and flavours of the Reserva partner well with many aged cheeses. Secondary aromas and earthiness in the wine don’t overpower the wine in the same way that a younger – or indeed older – wine may. Put together a mixed cheese board of hard or semi-hard cheeses such as Cheddar, Manchego, Parmesan or Port Salut, and see for yourself the nearly endless flavour combinations. A magnificently perfumed wine for this combination is Viña Ardanza Reserva.
** Our recommendation: Viña Ardanza Reserva
Alcohol content: 13,5%Serve between 14ºC and 18ºCOptimal consumption period: 2007-2018We recommend to decant the wine 1 hour before serving
4 – Beef
Beef, particularly in a Sunday roast, meatloaf or barbeque style, pairs particularly well with Rioja Reserva. Beef and Rioja Reserva is usually a safe bet in general terms, and all the better for fattier cuts of beef. Here, the tannin in the wine effectively cuts through the fat of the meat and naturally cleanses the palate with each sip. For this combination, give Remelluri Reserva a go. It has great, ripe tannins, and a very long finish that perfectly match a T-Bone steak with all the trimmings.
** Our recommendation: Remelluri Reserva
Alcohol content: 13%Serve between 14ºC and 18ºCOptimal consumption period: 2009-2020We recommend to decant the wine 1 hour before serving
5 – Barbecue
The boldness of the wine allows it to stand up to the smoky, chargrilled nature of just about any barbecued food. Red meat, chicken, vegetables and even fish, when done on the barbecue, all take on additional flavours and characters that really emphasise the depth of the Rioja Reserva. In fact, barbecue really demands a Gran Reserva like Faustino I. All that extra ageing will have given the wine the toasty notes that perfectly compliment charcoal cooked food. (Is Fautino I the world’s greatest Rioja Gran Reserva?)
** Our recommendation: Faustino I
Alcohol content: 13%Serve between 14ºC and 18ºCOptimal consumption period: 2006-2027We recommend to decant the wine 1 hour before serving
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