by Paullette Gaudet
Rioja is ready to rock! A featured star of this month’s shipment, Rioja wines hail from a Spanish region that is situated on the Camino de Santiago route, and has received the coveted DOCa (Denominación de Origen Calificada) classification. The exclusive use of Temperanillo grapes for Rioja wines leaves classification up to its oak-aging, with the broad assumption that higher quality equals more time spent in oak casks. Rioja (“vin joven” or young wine) wines retain a fresh fruitiness with very little tannin. Crianza class wines are aged a minimum of one year in oak casks, and are considered a high-quality daily wine, like a good Cabernet Sauvignon, or a Merlot with bite. Reserva level wines are serious, and have been aged for a minimum of three years. They dance between dominant flavors of fruit and oak, exhibiting both complexity and drinkability. Gran Reserva wines have spent at least two years in oak casks and three years in the bottle. They have the strongest tannin structure and exhibit the most aging potential; they can cellar up to 30 years, and are definitely Special Occasion Wines.
The Rioja region reflects its position as a traveler’s crossroads in its cuisine, which features simple, top-quality local produce such as peppers, artichokes, chard, fava beans, and pork combined with the Muslim-influence of lamb and the firm presence of fish such as bonito, cod, and mackerel. Riojan chorizo is also a staple, as well as sweet black pudding for dessert. Rioja is a center of flavor to be reckoned with, starting with its wine and ending with its food!