Along the Camino with Spanish Rioja plus Pairings

Wine from Rioja with a selection of Spanish cheese and meat makes for a hearty happy hour or light dinner.

In April, the Wine Pairing Weekend crew are traveling along the Camino de Santiago in Navarra, Spain.  As we are hosting, a few weeks ago for the invitation post we wrote about two Navarra Garnacha, but the region has been on my mind once I started seriously considering walking the Camino.

So today I feature three wines from Rioja, another region along the Camino.

For pilgrims, the Camino starts the moment you leave the house: that’s when you begin on “The Way.” Some say “The Way” begins the moment you commit to it. There are several main routes as you can see from the map below, but the most popular route starts in France near the Pyrenees and the Spanish border in Navarra.  Over 300,000 pilgrims traveled the Camino in 2017.

From Navarra, pilgrims travel west through Rioja toward Galicia, home to Albarino and the shrine of the apostle Saint James the Great in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. in northwestern Spain, where it is said that the saint is buried. For pilgrims, walking the Camino is a meditation, a spiritual path toward healing and growth.

While winemaking in Rioja goes back to the 11th century BC with Ancient Romans planting many of the original vineyards, it took pilgrims during the Middle Ages from the fifth to the fifteenth century returning home with rave reviews of the regions wines to popularize them. However, it was the phylloxera epidemic in the late 19th century in France that provided an influx of both interest and investment.

The French also influenced what is now considered a common characteristic of Rioja: using French oak barrels providing a pronounced oak aspect with loads of vanilla. Because of costs, American oak barrels were made and used. Today, many winemakers refrain from the heavy American oak treatments of the past, seeking more balance of fruit and oak. Read more about this topic on the Catavino blog: “Oak in Riojan Wine: Fundamental or a style choice.”

For full appreciation of the Tempranillo grape, the wines should be cellared for a while as this grape gets better and better with age. Firmer cheeses are usually a good choice when serving wine from Rioja. Lamb, pork and beef are all meats typically paired with these wines and so I tried all three! They were great with tapas cheeses and charcuterie from Spain, excellent with osso bucco on mashed potatoes, fabulous with lamb chops, but AWFUL with a smoked ham with a pineapple clove marinade.

So if you’re looking for an Easter pairing, if you’re going in the direction of leg of lamb or rack of lamb or a prime rib roast, a wine from Rioja like one of these would be a great choice but steer clear if you’re doing ham!

2014 – Hacienda – Lopez De Haro – Crianza – 13.5% alcohol SRP

A blend of Tempranillo, Garnacha and Graciano, the wines spent 18 months in French and American barrels.

Color: Nicely translucent, rusty plum

Nose: Sulphur notes jump out at you in the beginning, iron, as it opens up and you swirl it around in the glass, the wines tarts to deliver bits of cinnamon, cloves, carnations.

Palate: Tangy, mineral rich, rich tannins, and bright acidity. Finish stays in the front of the palate. Definitely more of a food wine than a cocktail party wine. Drink with rich, fatty, or spicy foods. Great with the meats on our tapas tray. Lamb chops with rosemary and garlic: excellent. With the spicy sausage, the wonderful, clove, cinnamon, carnation, even violet notes that were barely present on the nose comes out in the wine.

This is a basic table wine that shines best with food.

2013 – Vivanco – Crianza – 13.5% alcohol SRP $15

100% Tempranillo

Both Vivanco bottles have an interesting shape and really fun artistic labels. With Braille on the labels too!

We wondered if the labels feature modern Spanish Artists. Then we discovered from the description on the back that Joan Miro’s “le troubadour” from 1974 inspired the wine label. I really love this table with the corkscrew person at the center of the balancing act depicted — and that balance reflects the wine too!.

I would definitely buy this wine because I enjoy the outside and the inside so much!

Color: Medium density, reddish pink,

Nose: Plums, violets, red stone fruit. earthy, loamy soil, planting soil.

Palate: This again is another big wine that really says “pair me with Lamb Chops” written all over it. Nice minerals that roll across your tongue that present from front to back. It enjoys fatty cheeses and spicy meats Gwen liked this wine best with the Iberico but felt that it was much more of a meat wine than a cheese wine. The spice in the cured meat bring out the fruit in the wine. Went so well with our spanish chorizo. I’d be really wonderful w Gwen is going to remember this wine for her St. Patrick’s Day celebration for next year.

2011 – Vivanco – Reserva – 14% alcohol SRP $25

90% Tempranillo and 10% Graciano

Color: Rich plum, yet kind of muddy,– it’s showing it’s age!

Nose: Clay, and loam, really nice earthy quality that is super friendly.

The nose reminds us of taking a walk in the forest after the rain and everything smell fresh and nice.

Cranberry, tart fruit, with a bit of sweet carnation.

Palate: tart cherry, nice minerals, it is losing some of the tannic grip, although it is still rich in tannins.

As with the other two we tasted, they are so much more amazing with the foods, and this one stood out the most with the lamb and the osso bucco. It also went the nest with the brussels sprouts — surprisingly, all three went well with this as a roasted vegetable. It also tasted great after a few days which indicates to me the potential for longevity for this wine.

Red wine from Rioja pairs well with the rich complex flavors of osso bucco prepared in an instant pot.

Want to be a Master of Rioja? The North American Sommeliers Association is offering a course leading to Certification in LA on April 21 and in Napa Valley, Monday May 14th 2018 .

For $350 or $315 for NASA Members, you can learn more about how “Rioja has a wine culture dating back to the Phoenicians and Celtic tribes. Popular in the Middle Ages as a stop on The Way of Saint James pilgrimage route, Rioja’s reputation was solidified in the 19th century. Known traditionally for extended oak aging with a specific aroma and flavor profile, Rioja today is a diverse wine region where the classic and modern co-exist successfully. The beauty of these wines and the culture of the region is timeless and inspiring. This full-day course covers the grapes, wine styles, terroir, sub-regions, business models, gastronomy, and history.  The flavor and aroma profiles of Rioja as it ages and the modern and traditional wines will be covered in depth. Learn what makes Rioja unique among the world’s most respected global wine regions. Taste 20+ wines and develop your preferences for collecting and drinking.The course will be followed by an online exam of one hour, available one week after the course. The advanced certificate is issued by the Consejo Regulador to students who achieve a passing grade of 70 percent.”Instructor:  Nina Sventitsky, Certified Rioja Wine Educator, has gone through the inaugural program by the Consejo Regulador in Logroño, Rioja in 2016. She developed the Rioja Master specifically to train sommeliers, wine buyers and enthusiasts in advanced Rioja knowledge and tasting skills.

WHEN: Saturday, April 21st, 9:00 am to 4:00 pm (with 1-hour lunch break).
WHERE: Rita House, 5971 W. 3rd Street, Los Angeles (West Hollywood) 90036
EXAM: Scheduled individually, online

For more information and to register for LA, click here
Rioja Master in Napa Valley, Monday May 14th 2018: 
Register Here 

Lamb chops and rioja.., aha!

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