Rioja with food: perfect pairings

Rioja wines

Anyone who has spent time in the Rioja region will be familiar with its main speciality: grilled lamb cooked over an open fire made from vine cuttings. It’s extraordinarily good – the meat is young and tender and harmonises perfectly with the local Tempranillo-based wines.

But although the region’s food is traditionally quite simple, rustic and based on a wealth of good local ingredients, there’s more to it than meat (though the suckling pig is delicious and there is always jamo?n too). Fish from the coast finds its way into the markets and restaurants, particularly hake, tuna and salt cod – the basis for another trademark speciality, bacalao a la Riojana.

Vegetables and pulses are abundant, and in many cases preserved so you can eat them year-round. Artichokes, asparagus and cardoons are incorporated in a wonderful spring vegetable stew called menestra, often offered as a vegetarian option, although it generally includes ham – which the locals seem to reckon doesn’t count.

There is also a multitude of dried beans that form the basis of the region’s hearty stews or can be served as simple sides with fish such as hake (see recipe below). Although pork fat was traditionally the cooking medium (according to Claudia Roden’s The Food of Spain), olive oil is ubiquitous these days.

The cuisine is also spicier than you might guess from the simply seasoned lamb. Many dishes are flavoured with paprika (pimento?n) which comes in both sweet (dulce) and hot (piccante) versions and finds its way into the tasty local chorizo sausages. Riojanos also love to use garlic – there’s scarcely a recipe without it alongside the omnipresent tomato.

Tapas culture is strong here, and most bars offer tapas, including mushrooms (my favourite) – the only dish they serve in Bar Soriano in Logron?o (see recipe below).

Sheep’s cheese is the most widely available cheese, though there is a local goat’s cheese called Camerano that’s well worth looking out for if you are visiting the region. But the great thing is that you can easily eat like a Riojano at home. Give it a try!

Hake with garlic chips and white beans

Credit: Louise Haywood-Schiefer

Hake is Spain’s absolutely favourite fish, made extra delicious with a scattering of crisp garlic chips and creamy white beans. Perfect with an oaked white Rioja.

Serves 2

Preparation time 5 minutes

Cooking time 10 minutes


  • 3tbsp + 1tsp olive oil
  • 5 garlic cloves, peeled and finely sliced
  • 50ml oaked white Rioja
  • 50ml fish or vegetable stock
  • 1 handful flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped
  • good pinch dried chilli flakes
  • 2 x 175g hake fillets
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1?2 large jar (600g) Spanish white haricot beans
  • 1 sprig thyme


1. Drain the beans and put them in a saucepan with the thyme and 50ml of water.
2. Heat through, stirring until the water is mostly evaporated and the beans are creamy. Keep warm while you cook the fish.
3. Warm 3 tbsp of olive oil in a small frying pan over a moderate heat. Add the sliced garlic cloves and once they begin to colour turn the heat down and cook until golden and crispy, taking care not to burn them. Remove the garlic ‘chips’ from the pan with a slotted spoon and keep warm.
4. Pour the wine into the pan, let it bubble up and then add the stock, parsley, a pinch of sea salt and chilli flakes. Simmer for a couple of minutes then pour into a small bowl.
5. Wipe the pan with a paper towel and add 1 tsp of olive oil. Season the hake fillets lightly with salt and pepper and place each fillet skin side down in the pan. Fry for 3-4 minutes until the skin is crisp and the fish just over half cooked. Turn the fillets and cook on the other side for about 30 seconds to one minute.
6. Place the hake fillets on warm plates. Warm through the sauce and pour it over the hake then scatter with the fried garlic chips. Serve with the white beans.

The wines to pair

Hacienda Lo?pez de Haro, Blanco 2021

La Rioja Alta, The Society’s…

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Rioja with food: perfect pairings  
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