This month at Cépage we're celebrating the Rioja region in its entirity, in collaboration with Rioja Wine UK. We wanted to display the beautiful cuisine of the region, paired with some exquisite bottles for you to drink alongside. Where there is joy in exploring a wine from a particular region, it is often coupled with the joy in discovering a local cuisine. Food and wine share an inextricable link. Indeed, we can appreciate both independently, but there are few things in this life more exhilarating than a perfectly crafted pairing...
Stuffed Piquillo Peppers
A great appetiser to start off a delicious gastronomic journey are stuffed Piquillo Peppers. It's not necessarily always about continually looking for the perfectly complimenting texture or flavour, sometimes its also about the occasion and timing of a certain pairing. I would choose nothing other than Champagne or another sparkling wine for a Canapé drinks reception, for instance, despite it not necessarily being what 'goes best'. For the peppers, a fresh, zesty and endearing Rioja Blanco.
At Cépage, we're so pleased to be able to offer the stunning wines of Bodegas Contador, whose eponymous grand vin is one of the most exquisite and expensive offerings in the Rioja region. However, the entry level wines are an endearing show of Benjamin Romeo's winemaking prowess. The Predicador Blanco or “Preacher,” is named after Clint Eastwood’s character in Pale Rider. The wine is a blend of Viura, Garnacha Blanca and Malvasia, sourced from 10 individual plots from within San Vicente and Briones in Rioja Alta, all vinified separately, then blended, creating a fresh, floral wine with subtle salinity and an incredible insight into Romeo's talent.
Cod and Riojan Tomato (Bacalao a la Riojana)
This dish is a personal favourite, capturing the sunshine of the Rioja region with a vibrant plate. I've cooked it a few times, and also paired a multitude of different wines to discover the perfect combination of flavour and texture. The Honorio Rubio Virua Macerado is the clear winner. Though this dish might naturally call for a lightly extracted red wine to compliment the tart and aromatic tomato, it's a surprisingly light, fresh and slightly salty dish, which for me, puts it in the realms of white wine. Though, this white has undergone a slight skin maceration, with vinification techniques taken from the clean and traditional orange wines found in Georgia, Slovakia and Greece.
A very short maceration between the white grape skins and the juice produces a beautifully intense golden hue, a more textured mouthfeel, subtle tannin and an inherent spiciness associated with skin contact, or orange wines. the limited edition bottling was inspired by the wine maker’s visit to a natural wine bar in London, Alberto Rubio-Villar sought to experiment with the traditional Viura varietal and make a limited edition run of wines (less than 1500 bottles produced every vintage) to demonstrate the potential of the grape whilst maintaining the ‘Rioja’ identity.
Patatas a la Riojana
It was not until the Napoleonic occupation of France, and the subsequent invasion of Spain that potatoes were eaten in the country, so this is a particularly 'modern' dish. A very simple potato stew, complete with bell peppers, chorizo and aromatic spices. The spiciness of the dish, and fattiness of the chorizo does well to calm the oak of conventional Rioja wines we are all so familiar with. There is a spice to traditional Rioja wines, which will add a second dimension to the pairing. A traditional Reserva or Gran Reserva, from Muga, Vina Tondonia or Macán will compliment a hearty, traditional recipe.
Cochinillo (suckling pig)
If you have a particular flare for the culinary arts, then a traditional Riojan suckling pig, called Cochinillo may well suit your ambition. Perfect for a gathering of friends or a special occasion. Traditionally, the pigs should weigh no more than 5kg, nor be more than 5weeks old. They will have also been fed on their mother's milk, only. So, what wine to pair with such an occasion?
We've compiled a Rioja Exploration Case, featuring wines suiting a variety of palates to explore over a prolonged dinner. Theoretically, higher acid red wines and well textured whites will do well against the fattiness of pork, but, it also depends on the side dishes made alongside. Whether you're planning a white bean stew, stuffed Piquillo Peppers or an array of vegetables, take into account the spices and textures of the side dishes in equal proportion to the Cochinillo.
We've also added a few pairings from outside the region, to go alongside some brilliant Riojan bottles...
Lentil Chips, Smoked Gouda with White Rioja Big Macs and Burgundy by Vanessa Price with Adam Laukhuf
TexMex Quesadilla with Red Rioja Big Macs and Burgundy by Vanessa Price with Adam Laukhuf
Cesar Salad and White Rioja Which Wine, When by Bert Blaize
Lamb Roasts and Tempranillo
Which Wine, When by Bert Blaize
Photo Credits: Rioja Wine UK & Ferran Ventura via Unsplash