Authentic Tapas in Spain’s Rioja Wine Region

GET TO KNOW RIOJA

If ever a place embodied the spirit of Spain’s tapas tradition, it’s sleepy Logroño, in the Rioja wine region. Here, a Spanish-style bar crawl to experience the city’s authentic charms.

Standing along the brass rail of a crowded storefront bar in the Casco Viejo neighborhood of Logroño not long ago, surrounded by an arc of friends I hadn’t known an hour before, I was eating a half-sandwich of freshly grilled sardines with tangy guindilla peppers and drinking a wine I probably would have passed up if it had rolled by on an airplane cart. My glass of 2003 Solagüen Crianza, a soft, translucent red that cost all of $1.65, seemed to shine in the dim light. It tasted tart yet viscous, like a Table Talk cherry pie. I’d spent the day sampling decades-old Riojas, fascinating wines that offered up glimpses of truth like a Lorca poem. I could discuss each of those for an hour, consider their attributes, chart their progress. This wine I didn’t want to talk about, just drink. At that moment, in that place, it felt exactly right.

The Rioja is Spain’s most celebrated wine region. In some areas of the country, its name actually serves as a synonym for wine: the way to request a glass of generic red is to shout “un Rioja!” at the barman. Despite all of its $100 bottles and spectacular new wineries, it also remains a bastion of unpretentiousness in an increasingly urbane nation, an area renowned for an elemental way of life that’s rooted in the land and the livestock, and in the farmers and viticulturists who work them. Yet for such a central and evident place, an amorphous stain near the top of Iberia, it can be maddeningly difficult to access. Eating and drinking there at El Soldado de Tudelilla, acting out the useful Spanish verb potear—which connotes a Spanish version of a pub crawl, only with better nutrition—I remembered a doctor I know and his wife, bright and resourceful people, who’d called upon their return from a recent trip to complain that they’d traveled right through the Rioja and yet somehow missed it. They’d had in mind a Spanish version of Burgundy or Tuscany, but instead of gentle slopes and leafy trees and enchanting villages with picturesque cellars, they’d encountered a craggy brown landscape that reminded them of Wyoming. They saw faceless apartment blocks ringing Logroño and charmless wineries along the highway that look like giant warehouses.

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Authentic Tapas in Spain’s Rioja Wine Region

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One factor that makes Rioja a world class wine is its ability to be aged for a long time, and the fact that the winery ages the wines before release. In fact, Rioja has long set the standard for extended aging, having defined the requirements.

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European Cellars/ Eric Solomon Selections
Europvin
Evaton
Fine Estates From Spain
Folio Fine Wine Partners
Frederick Wildman & Sons
Grupo Bodegas Faustino
Marques de Riscal
Ole Imports
Opici Wines
Osborne USA
Palm Bay International
Quintessential
Shaw-Ross International Importers
Ste. Michelle Wine Estates
Terlato
The Artisan Collection
The Drink Collective
Vinamericas Selections LLC
Vineyard Brands, Inc.
W.J. Deutsch & Sons, Ltd.
Winebow
Winebow (MundoVino, a member of The Winebow Group)
Zamora Americas
220 Imports
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ARAEX/Spanish Fine Wines
Arborway Imports
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Bodega Classica/Vintae
Bodegas Castillo de Mendoza
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Bodegas Riojanas
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Boutique Wine Collection
Bronco Wine Company
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Carolina Wine Brands USA
Casa Ventura Imports, Inc.
Cerda y Llanos
Chartrand Imports
Chateau Armand
Classic Wines
Classical Wines from Spain
Cognac One, LLC
Coleccion International Del Vino USA (CIV USA)
Constellation Wines
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David Bowler Wine
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DFV Wines
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Dreyfus Ashby & Co
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Elite Wines
Emporium Nostrum
ENYE Imports Group
Familia Martinez Bujanda
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Folio Wine Partners
Francisco Selections, Inc.
Freixenet USA
Frontier Wine Imports
Garnacha Inc
GECO Global Group USA
Golden State Wine Co.
Gonzalez-Byass
Grapes of Spain
Grupo Bodegas Olarra
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H.A.B. North America
HGC Imports Inc.
Hidalgo Imports
HP Selections
International Wine & Spirits
Janet Kafka
Kysela Pere et Fils, Ltd.
La Rioja Alta
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Lionstone International
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Luneau USA, Inc
Maisons Marques & Domaines
Marfa Group
Marques de Murrieta
Michael Skurnik Wines
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Monsieur Touton Selection Ltd.
Murphy Distribution
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Noble House Wines
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RM Distributors
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Spain Wine Collection
Spanish Vines Imports, Inc.
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Steve Miles Selection
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Tempranillo Inc
Terra Nostra Vinos
Terroir
Testa Wines of the World Ltd.
The House of Burgundy, Inc.
The Marchetti Co./Scoperta Importing Co.
The Spanish Wine Imports
Think Global Wines LLC
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Tradewinds Specialty Imports
Transatlantic
Tri Vin Imports
United Cellars
United Wineries/MHW
USA Wine West
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Vinole Wines
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Well Oiled Company
Wine Associates, Inc.
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