Pairing Rioja Wine with Food : A Tasting at Jaleo Restaurant
Traditionally, wine was produced in Rioja as a beverage to accompany meals, and that tradition continues today.The dry minerality of Rioja’s whites and the complex earthiness of its reds beg to be combined with the traditional cuisine of Spain.Rioja wines also combine well with the modern dishes coming from the Rioja kitchen.The International Wine Review recently joined the management and staff of one of Washington’s premier Spanish restaurants, Jaleo, to match Rioja wines to Chef Ramon Martinez’ innovative cuisine. The tasting was conducted for the i-WineReview’s upcoming report on the Wines of Rioja which will be published on August 31, 2008.
The first dish of our tasting was a wonderful summer salad combining watermelon slices, with diced tomato, crumbled goat cheese and pistachios topped with fresh thyme and a PX reduction.We paired that dish with two rosados: a 2007 Conde Valdemar and a 2007 Coto Rosado.The consensus of the group was that the Conde Valdemar with its up front fruitiness was the better of the two wines for this dish.However, everyone liked the Coto Rosado for its salmon color, perfumed nose, and dry minerality. For our second dish, which consisted of raw thinly-sliced scallops (Vieras crudas) with almonds, oranges and thin shreds of green onion, we had the opportunity to assess which oftwo vintages of a Cune Monopole, a lovely white Viura, went best with the dish.After trying the 2006 and 2007 vintages, we again were in complete agreement that the most current vintage with its bright crispy character went best with the sweetness and acidity of this dish.But we also learned that a year of aging can bring out interesting flavors and richness in a Viura and, by itself, the 2006 was a more appealing wine.
We shifted our attention to red wines with the third dish, a magnificent monkfish with tomato,piquillo pepper, tomato confit, and black olive paste.This dish is an adaptation of the Catalan monkfish stew, a hearty winter dish, usually cooked for a long time in the oven.Our dish was a lighter version of the classic. The fish was very briefly cooked and even left a bit raw in the middle. The potato, a fingerling, was gently fried in oil. And the piquillo provided a wonderful touch of flavor, color and acidity.For this dish we tried two Tempranillo wines, a 2005 Cantos de Valpiedra and a 2004 Palacios Remondo La Montesa Crianza.Here again the group was unanimous in its verdict that the Cantos de Valpiedra worked best with the dish because of its light and fruity character.One taster felt that “the wine brought all the flavors of the dish together.”The fruit also combined well with the saltiness of the dish.The La Montesa is a wine of good balance and depthbut lacked the overt fruitiness required by the dish. . Our fourth dish was also fish, a spectacular and creative cod with smoked Idiazabal sauce, dried fruits and Pedro Ximenez reduction.Cooked briefly and combined with a cream of spinach, Idiazabal sauce, pine nuts and a PX reduction, this smooth and buttery dish was truly decadent.And so was the wonderful wine paired with it: a 2001 Montecillo Gran Reserva.The tasters couldn’t have been more surprised and elated at how well this humble Gran Reserva paired with the rich Bacalao.
Pairing Rioja wines with two meat dishes was our next challenge.We had three terrific Reservas to marry: a Cune 2001 Viña Real, a Lan 2004 Reserva and a Luis Cañas 2004 Hiru 3 Racimos.The first dish consisted of tender lamb chops with a wonderful cauliflower couscous (grated cauliflower lightly sautéed and like couscous in appearance) and rosemary sauce.The second was braised pork cheeks with oranges.The cheeks were cooked initially for 7 hours in orange juice with orange zest, chicken broth, rosemary, roast onion and leeks.They were then cooked for another 3 hours without the juice and ended up being simply spectacular—with melt in your mouth tenderness and rich flavor.Of the three wines we tasted, our tasters were essentially in agreement on the following:the Hiru 3 Racimos is a phenomenal wine, international in style with ripe fruit and expensive oak, served up in an elegant style.However, it was most impressive on its own, rather than as a food wine. The Lan Reserva with its pure ripe fruit and earthy qualities complemented both dishes the best, but the Cune Reserva with its soft very ripe sweet flavors and round mouth feel was a close second.
We concluded our tasting with a palate cleansing fresh Loriñon Rioja sorbet which hit the spot and prepared us for the final cheese course with a very special treat—a preview of the upcoming International Wine Review report on Sherry.For this course we combined two cheeses:a pungent Picon blue cheese and a soft nutty La Serena with an Alvear Pedro Ximenz “Solera 1927”Our tasters claimed this dark amber colored sherrywas “liquid raisins” with an outstanding nose of honey and sweet molasses and a viscous mouth feel perfectly balanced and a fitting conclusion to an extraordinary tasting!!!!
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