Rioja Wine and Tapas
Rioja wines go with a variety of foods, especially tapas. While preparing this report we stayed in Logroño and at the end of the day often headed down to the famed Calle del Laurel for tapas with the local wines. The street scene on Calle del Laurel (a small neighborhood in downtown Logroño) is frenetic. Nowhere in Spain, even Barcelona’s Ramblas, does one find so many people in the street and bars enjoying tapas. There are no less than 69 tapas bars and restaurants on Calle del Laurel with tempting servings of pinchos, croquetas and other enticing dishes. We went from one tapas bar to another, looking for the best each had to offer. To learn more see calledellaurel.org
Tapas What are tapas? Tapas aren’t a particular type of food, rather they represent a style of eating that is very Spanish but adaptable to most cultures. In Spain they are generally served in small portions or raciones that can be consumed in one or two bites. Tapas are part of a Spanish life style that involves meeting up with friends in bars and taverns to enjoy life and while away time eating and drinking, on foot or seated at a bar. Today, tapas are everywhere. Not all small dishes are necessarily authentic tapas, but the spread and diversity of tapas in different countries is a welcome development.
Washington DC Tapas bars are found in just about every major city in Spain and are now also the rage in many US cities and in Europe and Asia, particularly Hong Kong. In Washington DC, authentic tapas were introduced by the elegant Spanish restaurant Taberna del Alabardero over 25 years ago and were later popularized by the highly successful Jaleo tapas bar of famed Spanish chef, José Andrés. A recent addition to the Washington DC offerings is Boqueria, a restaurant named after the food market in Barcelona. Boqueria opened in New York in 2006 and now operates restaurants in Manhattan, Hong Kong and Washington DC. It offers a wide variety of tapas for lunch, Happy Hour and dinner.
We recently explored Boqueria’s extensive menu with a range of Rioja wines tasted for this report. The tapas included a rich variety of dishes like Jamon Serrano and Lomo Ibérico (Serrano ham, aged 18 months and dry cured, acorn-fed pork loin), Pan con Tomate (grilled bread rubbed with tomato, garlic and olive oil), Gambas al Ajillo (shrimp, garlic and guindilla peppers in olive oil), Txipirones (squid seared a la plancha with frisée), Croquetas Cremosas (creamy croquettes of mushroom and of Serrano ham with béchamel sauce), Carne a la Plancha (hanger steak with shishito peppers and mojo verde), Pintxos Morunos (seared Colorado lamb skewers, pickled shallots, salsa verde) and Cojonudo ( fried quail eggs and chorizo on toast).
We paired the tapas with a wide variety of wines of different styles and different grape blends like the Basilio Izquierdo 2010 B de Basilio (a wooded Garnacha Blanca with Viura), Luis Alegre Rosado 2013, Palacios Remondo 2010 La Montesa Crianza, Remelluri 2010 Lindes de Remelluri, Luis Caña 2008 Reserva Selección de la Familia, Baron de Ley 2008 Reserva, Roda I 2007 Reserva, Le Altanza 2008 Reserva Artistas Chinos, and La Rioja Alta 1998 Gran Reserva 890.
Which wine for which tapas? It is hard to beat the versatility of a Spanish Rosado with tapas. The Luis Alegre Rosado 2013 (a blend of Tempranillo and Viura) provided just enough fresh fruit and crisp acidity to enjoy with our Jamón Serrano, Gambas al Ajillo, Pan con Tomate, and Cojonudo. For the Lomo Iberico and the Txipirones, a dish with smoky aromas and sherry vinegar, we liked the medium-bodied, Garnacha-based Palacio Remondo 2010 La Montesa Crianza from Rioja Baja, the bolder Dinastia Vivanco 2010 4 Varietales and the Luis Cañas 2008 Reserva. With their smoke and spice profiles, the Pintxos Morunos and Carne a la Plancha called for big wines, and there were many fine choices. We especially enjoyed the Roda I, the Le Altanza 2008 Reserva, and Baron de Ley 2008 Reserva. Boqueria also has an impressive list of more than 50 Rioja wines organized by style.
For the rare reader who hasn’t already had authentic Spanish tapas, we wholeheartedly recommend you try them at a local wine bar or restaurant. You can also cook them at home, which we do often, for parties or just a casual meal. Your eating pleasure can be enhanced by serving tapas with a variety of fine Rioja wines like reviewed in the final section of this report. Buen Provecho!
Mike Potashnik and Don Winkler