It’s time to do a virtual visit to Spain. This next year, I’m looking forward to being a part of the new #WorldWineTravel group of writers. This first year we will be focusing on Spain. I thought I would get a little head start and make sure we included a Spanish wine in our 12 Days of Wine 2020 celebration. Where better to begin than Rioja?
This is undoubtedly the most famous region for red wines in Spain. Rioja is known for its outstanding Tempranillo based wines and produces almost 1 sixth of the countries DO level wine. They became Spain’s first designated DO region in 1925 and were the first region elevated to its Calificada status as a DOCa status in 1991.
The region is in north-central Spain in the Ebro River Valley. Most of the region is within the Province of La Rioja, but some vineyards cross over into the Provinces of Navarra and bits of the Basque Region.
Winemaking dates back 2000 years in Rioja, but it was not until the late nineteenth century when new techniques were introduced to the region and then the French came south trying to escape the grasp of phylloxera and the Bordeaux style of aging became prevalent in the area.
There are 3 regions in Rioja, Rioja Alta which is the furthest west and higher in elevation, Rioja Alavesa which sits north of Rioja Alta and mostly north of the Ebro river that runs through the entire region. Rioja Oriental (or Rioja Baja) sits to the east of the region in a much lower area.
Styles of Rioja
Yes, there is white and rosé made in the area. Viura being the primary white wine. But by far Tempranillo is the star of the area.
Spanish wines are broken into 3 quality levels by aging requirements. Rioja ups the ante on this:
Crianza: Minimum 12 months in barrel and 24 months total aging (up from 6 months in barrel for other Spanish red wines)
Reserva: 12 months in barrel and 36 months total aging (this is the same as other Spanish reds)
Gran Reserva: 24 months in barrel and an additional 36 months in bottle to total 60 months of aging before release. (This is up from the 18 months barrel time for other Spanish reds).
Most are aged in American Oak, although some producers are using French oak. French oak is noted for higher tannins while American oak imparts flavors of vanilla, coconut, and dill. American oak is denser also (a board can weigh twice as much as the same size French oak board)
Herederos del Marqués de Riscal
Perhaps you’ve seen photos of their City of Wine, the centerpiece of which is the spectacular building by Frank O. Gehry that swirls in pink and gold and silver in Elciego. The Spanish do love to dot their landscape with innovative eye-catching architecture and this building is spectacular.
The winery itself has been around since 1858 and is now found in over 110 countries. It is perhaps the most easily found Spanish brand of wine in the world.
This is a winery with a history of high-quality international award-winning wines. Those awards started rolling in, soon after its inception. You can read more about their history and see their spectacular City of Wine here.
In addition to their Rioja wines, they also produce wines from Rueda, Castilla y Leon, and Getariako Txakolina.
But, perhaps their most well-known wine is…
This is one of the most famous wines of Spain. It is still wrapped in its gold metallic mesh, the Malla originally added to prevent forgery. The cork could not be removed from the bottle without cutting the net.
This one wine can be found in over 100 countries. It has been praised over the years by such legends as Ernest Hemingway and Salvador Dalí.
Herederos del Marqués de Riscal El Ciego (Alava) Rioja 2014 Reserva
Our vintage of this Rioja was 2014. This year the blend was 90% Tempranillo, 7% Graciano, and 3% Mazuelo. Most of the Tempranillo is old-vine (over 50 years old). This wine spends about 2 years in American Oak and then another year rounding in the bottle before release.
Around 4.5 million bottles produced, 14.1% abv SRP $18.99
My wine notes
Medium garnet in color, the nose has a medium intensity with notes of warm berries, spice, pine resin, red plum, black pepper, carob, and light leather.
It is dry with medium tannins and body, with pronounced flavor and high acidity.
Flavors of black cherry, licorice, spice, cranberry, and pomegranate, and a long finish.
Suggested pairings include mild cheeses, ham, poultry, grilled red meat, and roasts. They caution not to pair with anything too spicy. We opted for…
Mojo braised pork tacos with red and white cabbage, pickled red onions, and salsa verde
I did leave out the chile flakes to keep the heat down for pairing with the wine.
The braised pork was cooked and then a marinade of orange & lime juice, olive oil, garlic, salt, onion, and cumin was added.
We served this with warm corn tortillas and topped it with pickled onions, cabbage, and salsa verde.
This paired great with lunch, pulling forward the fruit notes in the wine and accentuating all the flavors in the food.
Chocolate nests with chocolate branches
Okay, the full title is “Chocolate nests with chocolate branches. Pistachio soil, walnut cake soil, and chocolate, anise, cinnamon soil. With quenelles of black cherry ice cream, blackberries, and mint.”
I know, that’s a long title. It’s a bunch of stuff, compiled to make a composed (fancy-schmancy) dessert dish. If you have been following the 12 Days of Wine 2020 you will recognize parts of this dish. Yep, that the black cherry ice cream leftover from the black cherry ice cream sandwiches and the walnut cake soil is from the Hungarian Nut Cake that my mother so loved. Bottom line, I saw a photo on Pinterest and felt the need to recreate the feel of the dish. It was a tiny chocolate nest with a quenelle of ice cream. It was so pretty it looked as if you had just come upon it in the forest. So taking what I had available, I set out to create something similar.
I tempered chocolate (the easy way in the microwave this time), made some nests, piped some branches, and then assembled my dish.
It was delicious and many of the flavors in the dish crossed over to the wine.
Well, folks, there is just one day left in our 12 Days of Wine 2020 celebration. Join us tomorrow as we wrap things up and celebrate Christmas Eve!
Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.
When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.