Wines from Spain's Rioja Pair Well with Thanksgiving Meals

By DeSIMONE, Dave | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, November 11, 2014 | Go to article overview

Wines from Spain's Rioja Pair Well with Thanksgiving Meals


DeSIMONE, Dave, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


In today's bustling world, purchasing wine for immediate consumption has become the norm. Most consumers have neither the patience nor the cellar to age wines.

So, like most wine producers, wineries in northern Spain's famed Rioja region must offer wines crafted for immediate enjoyment. But they do so with an important twist.

Rioja (pronounced ree-OH-ha) producers age the wines in barrel and in bottle at their wineries prior to release. Consequently, consumers can enjoy the best of both worlds with well-aged reds ready on the spot for tonight's dinner.

Rioja reds come in four classifications. The first, Rioja joven, designates wines aged less than a year in oak barrels and in bottle. Rioja crianza reds receive two years of aging prior to release with at least one year in oak barrels. For Rioja reserva designation, the wine ages at least three years prior to release with at least one year in barrels.

In especially good vintages, producers craft Rioja gran reservas. These marvelous reds age at least five years prior to release with a minimum of two years in barrels. In practice, producers typically lavish gran reservas with longer stays in barrels and bottle prior to release.

Rushing wines to market would do an injustice, in Rioja producers' minds, to the quality that provides the region's foundation and brand identity. The quality starts with unique terroir.

"Rioja has contrasting soils as well as diverse climates with a confluence of Atlantic, Continental and Mediterranean influences," says Ana Fabiano, author of "The Wine Region of Rioja" (2012). "In an otherwise primarily arid county, Rioja enjoys incredible bio- diversity."

Located in northern Spain inland from coastal cultural centers, the rugged, vividly beautiful Cantabrian Mountains shelter Rioja from cold sea winds. Soils rich in iron, limestone, clay and chalk scattered throughout the region promote fruity complexity. Cold nights follow warm, bright days, creating ideal grape-ripening conditions.

tempranillo, graciano, garnacha and mazuelo grape vines dress the region's rolling plains with striking seas of vineyards. Some Rioja reds incorporate each variety, while others focus primarily on tempranillo. Regardless of the grapes, the best Rioja reds embody complexity and elegance.

"Rioja wines have tremendous balance -- never too much alcohol or overly intense fruit or harsh tannins," Fabiano says. …

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