Falling in Love with Rioja: Wines & Local Food Pairings

From Saltwire
Published: May 13, 2022

Do you believe there is romanticism in wines? If you do, then you may just fall in love with the wines of Rioja – if you haven’t already.

Rioja, other than its wines, is a beautiful region in Northeastern Spain, situated along the meandering Ebro River, in the shadow of the Sierra de Cantabria Mountain range. In this majestic setting, ancient villages and towns sit between the vines, many of whom still feel as if they are from centuries past, while nearby there is hubbub from the nightlife of Logroño, Rioja’s capital. Logroño bustles with activity, not least of which is its remarkable street food culture. The Calle Laurel, a sort of mecca of tapas, is ideal for gastronomes and party goers alike.

While the region boasts a broadly similar climate, with vines planted at a range of elevations (300 – 800 metres), and in various soils, a new sense of terroir is emerging in Rioja.  There are close to 600 wineries in Rioja, offering a style for every wine lover – from fresh and juicy whites, to crisp rosés, to complex barrel- aged white and red wines.  These wines are famous throughout the world for their quality, complexity, elegance, and particularly for their excellent aging potential.

Although the most famous of Rioja’s wines are undoubtedly the elegant and classic reds of Tempranillo – often blended with smaller amounts of Garnacha, Graciano, and Mazuelo – this region is also known for its outstanding whites, of which the most classic are made with Viura grapes (called Macabeo in other regions of Spain). They also incorporate some Malvasia, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay as well.

Rosé and sparkling wines are made here too.

In fact, expect to see some Rioja sparkling wines in the not-too-distant future, as a new appellation will allow local producers to identify their sparkling wines (both Blanco and Rosado) as being from Rioja.

Though Rioja is across the ocean and lays inland in Spain, the food isn’t that different, at least in its soul, from home. There is a certain Atlantic Canadian-style familiarness to Rioja cuisine. Riojans love stews, beans, pork, lamb, potatoes, and have a wealth of vegetables – they are famous for their mushroom. As the Atlantic Ocean is only about an hour’s drive away, they also love seafood, especially bacalao, or as we know it cod.

Indeed, over the centuries, Atlantic Canadians and the Spanish have shared the seas, mostly amicably. The union of Atlantic Canada food and Rioja wine is an outwardly-unlikely marriage, but indeed one built on a mutual love of seafood, authenticity, and hominess.

Rioja has great food wines as they are elegantly fruity, well-balanced and structured with moderate alcohol. The wines possess the right levels of acidity and subtle flavour to enhance food, but never overpower it. So why not serve up some Rioja wines with tapas made with local ingredients?

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