A world of flavour in Rioja

Chicken tagine with olives and preserved lemons
Chicken tagine with olives and preserved lemons.

Rioja is such a well-known, well-loved wine that it’s easy to take the kind of food you pair it with for granted – the assumption being that it will be red wine and that lamb will top the list.

Nothing wrong there, of course. No one who’s been to the region and feasted on those absolutely delectable, sweet, smoky lamb cutlets cooked over an open fire of vine cuttings would disagree. But there’s a lot more to Rioja than that. The fact that it comes in more than one colour, for a start.

Diverse reds

First, let’s dig a bit deeper into what you could pair with a red Rioja, depending on price and style. As you probably know, the classification system – crianza, reserva and gran reserva – is indicative of age. But these days that isn’t the whole story. Gran reservas are more vibrant and intense than they once were, so the recommendation to drink them with feathered game, for example, might seem misplaced. Mind you, Rioja does age well – so with older vintages that’s still good advice.

Many Riojas though, and not just the young ones, are made in a much bolder, more fruit-forward style that make them perhaps better suited to cuisines other than Spanish. Even more so when the dominant grape is Graciano rather than Tempranillo, which lends an exotic edge to a wine that I always think goes particularly well with Middle Eastern food.

I’ve also found that younger, more fruit-forward styles of red Rioja go really well with warmer curries such as a rogan josh or a lamb raan (marinated roast leg of lamb), or with a chilli or punchy Korean barbecue dishes. If that sounds improbable, think how many Spanish dishes contain the smoked red pepper seasoning pimento?n or spicy chorizo.

Any red Rioja you pair with pimento?n or ground red chilli will also work on the other side of Europe with dishes made from paprika – goulash, for example. Rioja is also a great partner for Middle Eastern and North African spices, including cumin, coriander and saffron. A reserva or crianza is a good wine to drink with a tagine – even, perhaps surprisingly, a chicken tagine with olives and preserved lemons.

Lamb rogan josh

Lamb rogan josh. Credit: Maja Smend

On the pulse

Pulses are another good avenue to explore – think of those hearty Spanish dishes of pork and beans or chickpeas such as fabada or cocido. If it works in Spain, why not with French food too? A young crianza would go just fine with a cassoulet or a hearty dish of Toulouse sausage and lentils.

In terms of veggies, both red and green peppers – and combinations of the two – pair particularly well with red Rioja. Especially in dishes that also include eggs. Indeed, wine columnist Victoria Moore even has a book on wine pairing called Fried Eggs and Rioja. If you feel robust enough to drink Rioja for brunch, it’s brilliant with the North African dish shakshuka: eggs cooked in a spicy tomato sauce with roasted red peppers.

What Tempranillo as a grape variety has going for it – and the characteristic that accounts for its popularity and versatility – is an appealing roundness and lack of angular tannins. This makes it a good companion for a cheese board. Manchego and other hard cheeses work especially well, but a reserva – and I particularly like a reserva with a cheese board – can handle most cheeses, including blues.

Tempranillo is also an easygoing companion for classic British pub dishes such as sausages and mash or steak pie. It’s great with gravy (a compliment in British terms) and also with that fashionable, intensely sticky dish of slow-cooked ox cheek.

You don’t need to buy expensive bottles to enjoy it, either. An inexpensive young Rioja is one of the easiest reds to enjoy on its own or with a simple tapa such as chorizo or mushrooms.

Versatile whites

Rioja’s white wines work well with a range of dishes and cuisine types, too. When it’s young, unoaked and crisp you can drink white Rioja with almost any kind of…

Source : https://www.decanter.com/wine/a-world-of-flavour-in-rioja-527373/