Those of you who have followed Señorita Vino for a while know that she is an avid fan of fútbol, or soccer, as it’s known this side of the Atlantic (and the Rio Grande). In case you were too busy watching NASCAR, last Sunday Spain secured its spot as a world class fútbol nation by slaughtering Italy 4-0 and winning the 2012 UEFA European Football Championship, known as Euro 2012. This of course follows their 2010 World Cup championship and their previous UEFA Euro victory in 2008.
In honor of España’s recent triumph on the soccer field, it’s my pleasure to wax poetic about one of the Iberian nation’s top wine producing regions, Rioja. I attended a trade tasting of Rioja wines a couple of months ago, and these are some of the highlights. So sit back, pour yourself a glass of Tempranillo and read on…
The Rioja region is located in north central Spain and lies between mountain ranges. The river Ebro runs through it, resulting in fertile soil on its banks. Divided into three sub-regions, Rioja Alta, Rioja Baja and Rioja Alavesa, the diversity of the terrain and climate makes the region ideal for growing the versatile Tempranillo grape.
Soils in the Rioja region are of three distinct types–chalky clay, alluvial (clay or silt carried by rivers and streams), or ferrous clay. ‘Ferrous’ comes from the Latin word for iron, and these soils are distinctive because of their reddish color from the high iron content. So why am I talking about dirt, when you came here to read about wine? Because the earth in which grapes are grown will have some influence on the flavor and style of the wine. This is one aspect of terroir, a word that comes from the French and is used in the wine world to describe the sense of place that typifies a wine. Climate, geology and farming techniques all play a role in the evolution of a wine.
One way you can identify a wine made from grapes grown in ferrous soil is a subtle metallic taste, not unlike the taste you get when you accidentally bite the inside of your cheek and taste a bit of blood. If I had one of those uber-cool product placement jobs, I would score points with wine geeks for placing a few bottles of Rioja in a future “Twilight” flick, maybe in a scene where Bella goes out for a drink with the girls after finally leaving pasty, high-maintenance Edward and his erratic mood swings.
Although Rioja is best known for red wines made primarily from Tempranillo, Garnacha, Graziano and Mazuelo grapes, there’s a little something for white wine lovers, as well. White grapes grown in Rioja include Viura, Malvasia, Garnacha Blanca and Tempranillo Blanca. Now comes the timeless question, which foods go with wines from Rioja?
My personal favorite is cheese and charcuterie. But Rioja wines pair beautifully with foods that won’t overwhelm their delicate flavors. More youthful Rioja wines, or those with the label “Crianza” or “Cosecha,” will complement a turkey dinner, pasta or roasted fish. Barrel fermented white Riojas pair well with fish, shellfish and salads. If you’re looking for something a little more robust in terms of wine and food, go with an older Rioja (look for “Reserva” or “Gran Reserva”), which will be an elegant fit for lamb, risotto, beef stews or game.
And speaking of game, that brings us back to where we started, and that was Spain’s glorious Euro 2012 victory. You’ll feel victorious yourself when you pick up a bottle or two of Spanish wine. If you remember anything at all from today’s post, it’s this: Spanish wines are an excellent value, and you won’t go broke adding a few bottles to your wine collection. You can get a quality bottle of Tempranillo for as little as $7 or $8. Of course, there are high-priced Spanish wines out there, and you trust fund babies may need to stock up.
So this weekend, my darlings, make it a point to raise a glass to España for its prowess on the pitch–and in the vineyard. ¡Salud!