I selected Rioja for this week, as we head into Memorial Day weekend, and the barbeque season officially begins for the summer! Rioja is one of a few wines that pairs great with steaks, ribs, brisket, pulled pork, and sausages. Rioja is a region in north central Spain. The wines produced in this region are predominantly red, about 90%, and the remaining portion is a mix of whites and rosés. The red grape variety mainly grown in this region is Tempranillo, but also includes smaller amounts of Ganarcha (Grenache), Carignan, and Graciano. When shopping for wine, if it is a red wine from the Rioja region, it will consist of at least 95% Tempranillo with the other grapes making up the remainder of the blend. Tempranillo is a dry, medium bodied red grape that maintains a lower level of acidity and is well structured (a wine term for having moderate to higher levels of tannin). The acid allows it to pair well with fattier types of meat as the acid cuts through the perceived fat on the palate. It typically has flavors of cherries and plums.
Rioja wines are categorized based on how long they have been aged. By law, those categories are: Joven for unoaked (or very minimal oak aging), young and ready to drink, Crianza for 6 months of oak aging and minimum 2 years of age, Reserva for 1 year in oak and minimum 3 years of age, and lastly Gran Reserva for 18 months in oak (commonly longer) and 5 years of age. The oak aging allows Rioja wines to be the perfect accompaniment for smoked meats. Wines from this region can be up to 18% alcohol though, so it is best to limit the spice (heat) level of the foods because spicier food can make the alcohol feel more overwhelming in hotter (higher alcohol content) wines.
One of the main tenets for food and wine pairing is ‘What grows together, goes together’. So, when in doubt about what wine to serve on any occasion, think about the food you are serving and it’s origins. If the origins are known for wine production, your pairing task just got a lot easier! Today, I am pairing some ribs and brisket (thanks to the best local BBQ restaurant) with a bottle of 2012 Coto De Imaz Gran Reserva (again, a hidden gem from Costco). This Texas style BBQ is perfect because, guess what red wine grape is the second in acres grown and tonnage in Texas? Tempranillo of course, only behind Cabernet Sauvignon according to 2019 reports from the USDA. When I tasted this medium ruby wine, it tasted of dried cherries, prunes, black cherries, tobacco, and vanilla. The smoky notes from the meat (especially the bark on the ribs) and the earthy tobacco notes combine for a symphony in my mouth. The fruit notes soften the black pepper. While I can tell the wine is high in alcohol (a paltry 14.5% is listed on the label…), the meat seems to tame it slightly. (One thing to be mindful with this pairing is if you are a barbecue sauce person, many are heavy on vinegar, sugar, or mustard. All of these flavor components with drastically alter the pairing!) The wine is even wonderful with the side of pepper dotted mac n cheese. I hope you enjoy your Memorial Day celebration and say a toast to those it is in honor of!
As we come to the end of five months of posts, I have really come to love creating the posts each week. Sure, I planned the entire year of wines before it all started but that just narrows my focus each week. Then I have to pick the bottle (or sometimes bottles). Before, or sometimes after that, I brainstorm food pairing ideas to feature. This week happened to be extra simple because I planned it when I wrote the original schedule, while freezing my buns off in December. Once those aspects are covered, then I get to read up on each wine, winery, grape, etc. and sometimes learning much more than I planned on! To date, this has been a wonderful experience, and while I share this info with you, it is also helping me study for a certification I am working towards at the end of the year. Thank you to those that have gone on this journey with me and those that have tasted wines along with me! The only problem I’ve had so far is sometimes the pairings are so beautiful, I don’t want to stop eating and drinking!