The wine region of Rioja, Spain is undergoing an evolution from within. The famed wine style of long-aged wines built a reputation for Rioja; now the growers and winemakers are helping to re-shape the rules to focus the region on terroir and grape provenance…
Rioja Lesson with Educator Nina Sventitsky
I’ve had classes with Nina before and have always been impressed with her wealth of knowledge and ease in covering a given subject. Her understanding of the Rioja wine region of Spain was enlightening. I expected to learn a few new things, as the teaser above let us know that there were new rules afoot in this old world wine region, and reminded me of the few things I already knew:
- Rioja is located in North Central Spain, surrounded by two large mountain ranges and several smaller ranges. The Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean seas influence the area.
- Historically, Rioja wineries sourced grapes from all over the region to create blends.
- Until 2019 all Rioja wines were simply labeled Rioja DOCA, without any specific area designations. It was all one region and one appellation. As of this year, wineries may start to label with the source of the grapes – from vineyards, villages and local regions. Rioja has varied terrain, soils and climate; now the differences in grapes grown in varied conditions are allowed to be on the labels.
- Tempranillo is the indigenous grape of the region. Reds are “king” but they also produce whites and rose.
- Riojas were popularly exported mostly to Great Britain; over time China and the U.S. have enjoyed being the primary importers.
- While we may age our wines in cellar before drinking, all wines from Rioja have been aged (mainly) in American oak barrels and bottle before release, and are ready to drink upon release. Rioja wines may be aged for decades as well, but when you buy a bottle of Rioja, you won’t have to wait at all as the winery had done the initial work for you.
- Currently there are four Rioja classifications and Seals of Authenticity that appear on the back label of every Rioja wine: Generico (young with minimal aging), Crianza (wines with a year of oak aging), Reserva (Aged at least 3 years in oak and bottle) and Gran Reserva (red wines aged five plus years in oak and bottle).
- 2019 will be the first release of 2017 Sparkling Blanco and Rose wines, produced using the traditional method.
Menu by Chef Kenny Spost, Napa Valley Grille, and Wine Pairings
Chicken Liver Pate Toast – sourdough crostini, balsamic glaze, san andreas goat cheese, micro peppercress. This was a delightful dish, and I’m a huge pate fan. I finished it all before remembering I had to pace myself for three more dishes.
Wine: Deobriga Fermentado en Barrica Blanco 2016
Viura, Garnacha Blanca.
Bruised yellow apple, perfumy, stainless steel and oak on the nose followed by tartness, spice and some of that same bruised apple on the palate.
Wine: Beronia Rosado 2017
Fresh aromas of peach, metal, green apple and then flavors of ripe fruit, tart cherry and a long finish.
Mussels – house made chorizo, white wine, chix peas, cilantro. The entire table was all OOHS and AHHHS over this dish. The buttery tenderness of the mussels paired with the crispy saltiness of the chorizo, and then lightened again by chix peas sauce…was all quite remarkable.
Wine: Bodegas Hermanos Pecina 2016
Tempranillo, Graciano, Garnacha.
Spices, dark fruit, pepper on the nose, and then a tartness, followed by blueberry and grass one the palate.
Nicoise Salad – blackened albacore tuna, blackberry vinaigrette, sugar snap peas, sundried tomatoes, crispy shallots. This may have been my favorite dish. The tuna was perfect sushi grade, the peppered edge just right, that blackberry vinaigrette played off well with the wine and then finding the peas, tomatoes and shallots all added to the fun. Not your typical Nicoise salad by any means.
Vina Herminia Tempranillo 2016
Fresh bright red fruit, bark and creaminess all on the nose, then a palate that was bright, dry and balanced.
Lamb Merguez Sausage – white bean stew, Mire pox, parsley. Chef really outdid himself with this dish. I don’t think I’ve ever had a lamb sausage, so not sure what to expect, the flavors he added between the sausages themselves and the stew they nestled in it was all just lovely. I wished I had packed up my leftovers to dine on again.
Wine: Marques de Murrieta Reserva 2013
Tempranillo, Graciano, Mazuelo, Garnacha
Aromas of blackberry, blueberry, spice, crushed leaves and possibly sage; then came dark fruit, spice, mushroom and toasted oak in the mouth. This was my favorite wine in the lineup.
Wine: LAN Reserva 2010
Sugary plum and blackberry balanced with a nice amount of spice, then a mouthful of big, dark, dusty, dry and tannic.
Story in photos can be seen here.
Eve Bushman has a Level Two Intermediate Certification from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), a “certification in first globally-recognized course” as an American Wine Specialist ® from the North American Sommelier Association (NASA), Level 1 Sake Award from WSET, was the subject of a 60-minute Wine Immersion video (over 16k views), authored “Wine Etiquette for Everyone” and has served as a judge for the Long Beach Grand Cru and the Global Wine Awards. You can email Eve@EveWine101.com to ask a question about wine or spirits. You can also seek her marketing advice via Eve@EveBushmanConsulting.com