I’ve been a wine lover since I was in college. Like most, I started out with whatever I could get my hands on and moved around from there. I hear a lot of talk about how millennials are left out of the wine conversation in certain ways, and while I’m sure that’s true, I contend that it was more difficult for young people of my generation (I’m in my 40’s, so Gen X, if we must label) to ‘break into’ the wine world.
No constant internet access, no cell phone, very little in the way of wine writing that was easily consumable — shipping was administered from a catalog! It was hunting and gathering in the truest sense, no real planning ahead (at least for me, and most of my other young professional friends in Chicago).
But there is a bright side to that: it meant I was actually drinking wine to form an opinion and experience. The main filter was — and this is a big one, a hurdle I’m glad is going away — access.
For some reason, one of my earliest brushes with high-quality wines was a hit from Rioja. My husband and I both felt drawn to the flavors of Tempranillo from Spain. Delightful as a single varietal and yummy in blends, it checked many boxes for food-friendliness as well as a rich, tannic body. When we wanted a red wine with dinner, with tapas (one of our fave meals out) or by the fire (even as a young couple, we always chose an apartment with a fireplace) Rioja had an answer.
Winters are long in Chicago and we often relied on warming, rich reds. But as time went on, Rioja wines showed another side: they are killer with food from the grill.
Let me take a step back before we get to the grill. I don’t want to oversimplify Rioja — it’s a complex region and the oldest classified denomination in Spain. Situated in the North Central part of the country, the overarching denomination is divided in three ways: Rioja Baja, Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa. From a tourism perspective, these three lands are also segmented into wine routes.
Unlike most other wine areas around the world, the Rioja classification standard is based on age-time. Wines with more age-time, combined oak and bottle, obtain a higher style indicator. The control board has stated requirements for vine density, yields, trellis configurations, harvest parameters, vintage verification and aging standards.
“For a winery to be an aging winery, it must have a minimum of fifty 225-liter oak barrels and 22,500 liters of wine in stock,” according to the control board — this requirement makes Rioja home to the most wine barrels in the world.
According to Rioja Wine:
Wines in their first or second year, which keep their primary freshness and fruitiness are simply called Rioja.
Red wines: Aged for a total of two years, at least one year of which is in oak barrels.
White and rosado wines: Aged for a total of two years, at least six months of which are in barrels.
Red wines: Aged for a total of three years, at least one year of which is in oak barrels and at least six months of which in bottles.
Sparkling wines: Wines must be aged en tirage for at least 24 months. Hand harvest required for vintage wines.
White and rosado wines: Aged for a total of two years, at least six months of which is in barrels.
Red wines: Aged for a total of five years, at least two years of which are in oak barrels and two years are in bottles.
White and rosado wines: Aged for a total of five years, at least six months of which are in barrels.
Something new for sparkling wines:
Gran Añada Rioja: Wines must be aged en tirage for at least 36 months. Hand harvest required for vintage wines.
A new element to the classification system was recently announced, adding nuance and location reference (not unlike the wines of Burgundy, for example) — Rioja wines can now include village names on the front label.
Rioja and Grilled Food
One of my favorite recent indulgences is Rosado, the Spanish term for rosé, from Rioja.
Simply gorgeous in the glass, luminous with vibrant pink, it’s decidedly dry. (Nitpick: I meet so many people that have been told that dark rosé is always sweet! Even by wine pros at the shop! It’s not true, particularly when you get into rosé wines from around the world.)
Recently, in accordance with the new classification system, Rioja Rosado received some leeway in color: it can now be made in paler shades, which I think many consumers will find appealing, and perhaps remove some Rioja Rosado from the (unjustified) stigma of darker tones.
Rioja Rosado has a wonderful body and structure to pair very nicely with grilled food and we particularly enjoyed it paired with grilled chicken with chimichurri. The combination of fire-roasted poultry with super fresh and cool herbs simply sings with Rioja Rosado.
Wines to Try
CVNE Cune Rosado 2018 (100% Tempranillo | $13)
Marqués de Cáceres 2018 Rosé (96% Tempranillo, 4% Garnacha Tinta | ~$11)
Bodegas LAN D12 2015 (100% Tempranillo |~$15)
Wine Pairing Weekend
Our Wine Pairing Weekend group has a bunch of great ideas for pairing Rioja wines with grilled food.
Join our chat on Twitter on 13 July at 10am CDT. Just search for the hashtag #WinePW and then dive into this reading list:
- Deanna at Asian Test Kitchen shares “Vegan BBQ: 3 Ideas to Pair with Crianza Rioja”.
- Lori at Exploring the Wine Glass shares “A Father’s Passion is Passed Down to Daughter and Expressed in Bottle”
- David from Cooking Chat shares “Grilled Paprika Pork Chops with a Rioja”
- Jane at Always Ravenous shares “Grilled Sausage Feast Paired with Rioja Crianza”
- Lauren at The Swirling Dervish shares “Paella and Bodegas LAN: Perfect for Your Summer BBQ“
- Here at L’Occasion we share “On the Grill with Rioja Wine, Including Rosado”
- Jennifer at Vino Travels Italy shares “Oven Roasted Italian Sausage with Rioja Riserva“
- Martin at Enofylz Wine Blog shares “Grilled Garam Masala Lamb Chops paired with Bodega LAN Reserva“
- Linda at My Full Wine Glass shares “Keep your cool with grilled steak salad and Rioja”
- Camilla at Culinary Adventures with Camilla shares “Robatayaki and Rioja Wines, the Perfect Summertime Party”
- Pinny at Chinese Food & Wine Pairings shares “Bodegas LAN Rioja Crianza and Thick-Cut Sirloin Steak on the Grill”
- Wendy at A Day in the Life on the Farm shares “Our Favorite BBQ Ribs with LAN Rioja“
- Gwen at Wine Predator shares “An American Summer BBQ with a Red and a Rose from Rioja”
- Nicole at Somm’s Table shares “Cooking to the Wine: Bodegas LAN Rioja Reserva with Smoky Seared Octopus”
- Rupal at Syrah Queen shares “Bodegas LAN Rioja with Canjun Butter Steak”
- Jeff at Food Wine Click! shares “Smoking Low & Slow with Rioja Wines”