The Extraordinary Wines of Rioja

Spain's oldest and most prominent wine region

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Last week we were very fortunate to have the opportunity to visit the Rioja Wine & Tapas Festival in LA celebrating the wine regions deeply rooted history and even more remarkable selection of wines. This famed wine region of Spain is nestled between mountains and numerous rivers delivering a dynamic range of grapes and flavors. Many may not be of aware of these wines as they haven’t received the same commercial success in the states as such other popular wine types, i.e. Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, etc. However, the D.O.Ca Rioja (Regulatory Board) would like to change that. With more than 30 wineries showcasing their superb blends and grape varietals, it was no wonder why the region is so eager to have others enjoy their exquisite selection.

Rioja is Spain’s oldest and most prominent wine region producing tremendous flavors along with great values. While it’s said the area has beautiful scenery, a welcoming culture, extraordinary architecture and great cuisine, it’s a bit unfortunate these wines are more prevalent in our local restaurants and stores. After a brief meeting with the representatives of from The Consejo Regulator of the D.O.Ca Rioja, it was on to the tastings!

Rioja Event-25

This years event was held at the timeless and gracious Union Station, something most of us probably don’t get to visit often enough. Entering underneath the newer and stunning glass domed roof, visitors must walk through the corridor of train and bus stations in which will lead to the original 1930s Union Station. The structure combines the styles of Art Deco, Mission Revival and Streamline Monerne with elements of Dutch Colonial Revival architecture. The giant arm chairs for waiting passengers help build the atmosphere giving off an impression of being in the romanticized era.

Event tables and tastings were set-up within the original ticketing lobby with food and further wine tastings taking place in one of the garden courtyards. This all added up to quite the event. If only there was away for myself to have this wine all the time!

Tapas in the Courtyard at Union Station
Tapas in the Courtyard at Union Station

Like many wines of certain regions, wines from Rioja require a DOCa seal to ensure it meets the strict qualifications required to be claimed an authentic Rioja wine. Each label describes the tastes exactly to what one should expect using a classification system based on aging in oak barrels and bottles and the types of varietals used.

Younger wines in their first or second year. The label is also used in a minority of wines which fall outside the below categories. Considered great sipping wines, they pair well with cheeses and simple pasta dishes.

Wines which are at least in their third year, having spent a minimum of 1 year in cask and several months in a bottle. For white wines, the minimum cask aging period is 6 months. Red Crianza wines are known as Rioja’s wine of choice on a daily basis. These contain a distinctive Tempranillo character of cherry and spice and pairs well with most foods.

Aged for a minikin of 3 years, with at least 1 year in cask, these wines are selected from the best vintages that have good aging potential. For white wines, the minimum aging period is 2 years with at least 6 months in cask. These wines are known best for their deep and complex flavors pairing well with braised dishes, grilled foods and game.

Gran Reserva
Selected wines from exceptional vintages, these wines are required to have spent at least 2 years in oak casks and 3 years ing a bottle. For white wines, the minus aging period is 4 years with at least 1 year in cask. Made only in exceptional vintages, these offer an intense depth of flavor with hints of cedar and wild berries.

I am no wine sommelier nor amateur, but rather a novice. While I know I had some superb wines that matched my pallet well, I wont be able to go through them all. Throughout the tasting room were some delectable cheeses and meets. Iberia Club provided their Jamon de Bellota, which is ham from free-range pigs that roam oak forests (called dehesas) along the border between Spain and Portugal, and eat only acorns during this last period. No words can describe this fatty delicacy.

Outside we were treated to a small variety of tapas or appetizers/snacks that pair perfectly to their complex wines. Needless to say, the event was lovely. The lines got a little long for food, however it was never a challenge getting wine. Now if the trains would just have a better weekend schedule for longer commutes, then we would be in business!

I am excited to get my hands on some more wines from the Rioja region and look forward to their ongoing success. Definitely keep an eye out for them with a personal suggestion for a Reserva with many strong tannins. These well-balanced tannins and spicy characteristics may surprise even the most soft pallets out there. Such flavor, such complexity and depth, gives a new benchmark for all other wines.

Enjoy some photos from the event!