I spent 5 amazing days in Malaga, Spain last November, visiting a really good family friend. This guy is a bona fide wine connoisseur. Short of a Sommelier, he knows everything anyone ever needs to know about wine — any kind of wine. Though I was madly sick during my visit, I managed to muster enough energy to go out for a lunch date. He took me to this small town called La Rueda. Its population is nominal — about 4 thousand, if that. But his girlfriend was born and raised there, meaning she knows everyone and every little crevice of the Medi town. We ended up at a small restaurant during siesta. The owner commissioned his chefs for our lowly party of three. I think they mentioned I was traveling all the way from DC… and mentioned I was very sick. For them, a big lunch with beautiful wine was my remedy to getting better.
And so we did just that. We enjoyed a lovely lunch with typical food from the coastal South. And though I wasn’t drinking at the time, having walked away from wine altogether a year prior, I was lured into trying a bottle of Rioja. For starters, I’m not a big fan of vino tinto. It wasn’t always like that. At some piont in the last 6 years, my palette went completely white and in the last 6 months, I’ve settled exclusively on Champagne. But that red on that perfectly soliado day was so aromatic and so full I started toying with the idea of reintroducing my tastebuds to darker wines. I can’t remember the label, but it was so memorable I’m telling you about it!
That’s how it goes, right!?
In my slow reintroduction of wine in general and reds specifically, I’ve been more open to tasting when I embark on culinary travel. A few reds here and there have tickled me really well. It’s been a full year since I enjoyed that Rioja in La Rueda and nothing has really raised my eyebrow to memorable levels until a few weeks ago.
An 11-course dinner at an iconic Spanish restaurant in D.C. —Taberna del Alabarder— just two weeks ago re-opened my eyes to the lovely wines yielding from that country. When I did enjoy an occasional glass — mostly for client research — Rioja and Shiraz were my default choices. Riojas, however, seem to be so much more well-regarded globally and a preferred red among drinkers. At least when I’ve traveled both their respective native countries, the requests for Rioja always surpasses Shiraz. Non-empirical research can be telling.
As for that region’s wine production, the land and turf there makes for ideal table and fuller wines. It has cooler temps allowing the acidity of the grape to be tempered. Tempranillo is a one of the region’s most sought after varietals. A black grape used almost exclusively to produce Rioja wine, it early ripening process allows for the yield to be a bit tarter, hence its dryness. But that premature ripen also creates that attractive full body. Its dark, robust and mostly dry notes make it a great choice for lighter foods like a creamy mushroom risotto (some would opt for white, but I think a good Tempranillo works). Of course, a succulent lamb pairs just as wonderfully.
For Tempranillo Day tomorrow, November, 12th, I went all out and did some exploring. Mostly because I wanted to see if my love for Riojas was still alive and well. I started out with The Larchago Reserva from 2006. The aroma alone did me in. They say don’t judge a book by its cover, but never did they say its scent shouldn’t be used a measuring tool. It was extremely fruity and perfume-y, which deviates from the standard characteristics I’m familiar with. But true to its fermentation, it was very round and drier than it smelled. It has a really dark hue in my crystal wine glass but the rim had a nice ruby red.
The Castillo LaBastida was a bit sweeter and more in line with my existing palette. My distance from red wine has me needing a touch more of sweetness. I mean, my palette still recognizes the notes and experiences, but I need a bit more sipping practice. This one let me know it’s still there — just a few more bottles and I may end up balancing my bubbly.
I’m reserving the Conde Valdemar Reserva 2005 for next weekend when I pop a bottle to celebrate something big! More on that later, but the reviews on this one have me really excited. Stay tuned.
With all the reserved and concentrated food holidays, I’m thinking it’s a nice idea to join the social party and enjoy a bottle of Rioja tomorrow. And if tomorrow seems so far away, I’ve given you options here to enjoy today. After all it’s #WineWednesday. Technically you can kick it off tonight!
Please drink responsibly!