Those of you who’ve read our March post will know about the pleasures of Spanish Verdejo – the ubiquitous white ‘vino de la casa’ of Spanish tapas bars (“!una copa de vino blanco por favor!”). The Verdejo was truly delicious, and the accompanying tapas mouth-wateringly good.
But what would any sampling of Spain’s viticultural delights be without a homage to that country’s most celebrated wine? So we here we hail the Rioja, King of Spanish wines.
Rioja actually refers to a region in northern Spain rather than a varietal; with Tempranillo the most prominent grape used in its making. This wine has a strong association with the Tempranillo grape and is its traditional home, however, Riojas typically blend Tempranillo with other varietals including Garnacha Tinta (red grenache), Graciano, Mazuelo and Maturana Tinta. Not surprisingly, most Riojas are reds, but there are a few whites as well including Viura, Malvasia, Garnacha Blanca (white grenache) and Tempranillo Blanca.
Our favourite Riojas from our Spanish adventure were Tempranillo-dominated reds (of course). Rioja is usually available in three guises: Crianza, Reserva or Gran Reserva. These are distinguished by their method of preparation and ageing: Crianza ages for the shortest period, with a minimum of one year in oak casks and a few months in the bottle, while Reserva and Gran Reserva spend progressively longer in cask and bottle. The oak plays an important role, lending aroma and flavour to the wine as the ageing process releases tannins from the wood. The end result is a delicious red, elegantly balanced between alcohol content, colour and acidity. The younger Riojas are fruitier, while the older Riojas take on a smooth, velvety nature with flavours such as black cherry and spicy vanilla oak.
But back to the lively tapas bars of our Spanish experience – we savoured several copas of Rioja Crianza (and a few Reservas and Gran Reservas) as we trawled through the bar-laden streets of Seville, San Sebastian and Madrid. The delectable morsels of bite-sized pintxos (bar snacks distinguished by a ‘spike’ or skewer) in San Sebastian and the sumptuous tapas in Madrid’s grand old bars were an absolute treat with our delicious Riojas!
The Crianzas were often no more than a couple of Euros per copa. The enjoyable Rioja moments were too many to count, but we’ll leave you with one of our favourites: a bar in Seville, packed with locals and lively conversation, run by friendly proprietors who moonlighted as rock musicians (they were given away by their guitars and paraphernalia hanging on the walls). A great selection of tapas was on offer – we ordered bite-sized montaditos (slices of baguette with tasty toppings) filled with spicy chorizo, and a delicious Crianza to match. The Crianza (El Buscador 2010) was 90% Tempranillo and 10% Grenache. Its velvety smooth flavor was a delicious combination with the spicy montaditos! We drank, munched and conversed into the night as the patrons around us filled the air with a raucous buzz of convivial merriment. We were savouring yet another memorable wine experience, immersed in the heart of Spain and seduced by the joys of Rioja.
What’s your memorable wine moment?