Archive for the 'Spanish cuisine' Category

American sommeliers and wine consumers are still mastering Rioja’s multiple styles and how they pair with food. With that objective, several wine professionals who are Rioja aficionados gathered at The Culinary Institute of America's Greystone campus in the Napa Valley to explore the topic together.

Tasting organizer Adrian Murcia is the author of a blog devoted to Rioja wine and food. To assist him in leading the tasting, he turned to Karen MacNeil, chair of wine studies at the Culinary Institute of America and author of the best-selling book, The Wine Bible. The other panelists included Skye LaTorre, sommelier of A16 restaurant in San Francisco; Paul Roberts, wine director for the French Laundry in Yountville; and Traci Dutton, a wine instructor at the Culinary Institute. Murcia assembled a broad range of Rioja wines, but left it up to CIA chefs to come up with food matches.

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On its home ground, Rioja wine has a rich supporting cast: the region’s raw materials include pasture-raised lamb, wild game, suckling pig, asparagus, wild mushrooms, glistening sweet peppers and eggplant. Vegetable farming thrives along the banks of the Ebro River, filling local markets with fresh-picked produce. Every year, the village of Logroño holds a Fiesta de la Verdura, or produce festival, drawing a throng that comes to celebrate the local harvest. Even the region’s best chefs, who cook for an international audience, love to showcase what comes from Rioja’s backyard.

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From the avant-garde restaurants of Ferran Adrià, Juan Mari Arzak and their disciples, where chefs are pioneering not just new dishes but whole new ways of cooking….to La Vieja Bodega in Casalarreina, whose deep, dim cellar holds Rioja’s history…to the boisterous men’s dining clubs of the Basque Country, where men gather regularly to cook for each other…… in all these places, Rioja wine is celebrated by people who treasure their time at the table.

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Today's winemakers are merging the proven techniques of the past with the latest in winemaking and vineyard technology.

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On every Rioja wine label, there are clues to what's inside. Watch this video to learn how to read a Rioja wine label.

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What is old-style Rioja? What is modern Rioja? The old labels may no longer apply.

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Some of the world's leading modernist architects have been leaving their stamp on Rioja.

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Every year, more than 12,000 wine lovers come to the tiny village of Badarán to visit the bodega of David Moreno. The grandson of a vintner, Moreno left Rioja as a young man, when his prospects looked bleak, but a fascination with wine pulled him back.

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Is it any wonder that families remain in this alluring place for centuries, passing vineyards and bodegas down through generations? For the American sommeliers visiting Rioja, the trip offered the chance to meet some of the region’s leading wine families, people passionate about carrying on the work of their fathers and grandfathers and fiercely proud of their heritage.

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Rioja's magnificent red wines tend to overshadow its whites, but the region's white wines appeal to many, especially sommeliers and collectors who admire the wines' astonishing ability to age. Made largely from the Viura grape, Rioja whites from traditional producers such as Lopez de Heredia receive oak aging and can improve in the bottle for 15 to 20 years. Other producers, such as Marques de Caceres, focus on preserving the grape's lively aromas and freshness through stainless steel fermentation.

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Peruvian by birth, the first Marqués de Murrieta spent three years studying winemaking in Bordeaux in the late 1840s and absorbed many French techniques before returning to Rioja to launch his own enterprise in 1852. His was the first Rioja bodega to age wine in oak barrels, a practice considered extravagant at the time. Today, his descendants operate Marqués de Murrieta with progressive ideas but with pride in the history on view in its cellar.

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The two sisters who run Lopez de Heredia are the fourth generation to manage this distinguished bodega, one of the most proudly traditional wineries in Rioja. Change happens slowly here; the sisters’ respect for their family’s past is profound. Visiting the Lopez de Heredia cellars and drinking a bottle of 40-year-old Viña Tondonia, the flagship wine, a visitor can almost sense the watchful presence of past generations.

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What is it that keeps Rioja’s sons and daughters rooted here and so committed to the dreams of their fathers? Perhaps that’s the price for growing up in a land synonymous with wine and with 2000 years of winemaking history.

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The History of Rioja

Certainly Rioja has a long history as a winemaking region, stretching back to Roman times. But its modern history has been uneven, the boom times alternating with periods of struggle. Victor Pascual, president of the Consejo Regulador, or regulatory council of Rioja, divides the past 150 years into three distinct phases. Fortunately, the progressive ideas sweeping Rioja today are a sign of a new, vigorous and prosperous phase underway.

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Many red Riojas include varieties beyond Tempranillo. Three other red grapes are permitted in wines that carry the DOCa designation. Garnachaknown in France as Grenachegives strength and warmth to blends. It thrives in Rioja Baja. Mazuelo, known elsewhere as Carignane, contributes tannin and acidity. Graciano, a variety that some winemakers believe could play a bigger role in the future, adds an appealing aroma, and its acidity and tannin help Rioja age majestically.

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Despite all the refinement in vineyard practices in recent years, one aspect hasn't changed. Rioja remains the kingdom of Tempranillo, the one place on earth where this noble variety expresses itself to the fullest.

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Rioja’s Sub-Regions

Because Rioja's rivers originate in its limestone-rich mountains, even the soils on the valley floor contain considerable limestone, or calcium carbonate. On the hillsides, the soils can change dramatically with modest changes in elevation, shifting from chalky limestone to soils rich in clay or iron. These diverse soils produce subtle differences in the wines a boon to the winemaker at blending time. With these differences in altitude, climate and soil in mind, let's look again at Rioja's sub-regions.

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Of course, Rioja's moderate weather is only one factor in grape quality. Soils matter, too, and Rioja's best winemakers have a sophisticated understanding of the region's exceedingly complex geology. From the fertile alluvial soils near the river to the limestone bedrock in the hills, Rioja offers a wide spectrum of soil types, challenging growers to match the right clones and grape varieties to their site.

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The Climate of Rioja

The mountains surrounding Rioja affect the wind and rainfall patterns and help to keep summer temperatures moderate. They also encourage the critical night-time temperature drops that preserve acidity in the ripening grapes. Thanks to the mountains, Rioja's footprint resembles an inverted V, with the widest part facing the Mediterranean. As a result, Rioja's vineyards are affected by three distinct climate zones: some vineyards are subject to cool, moist weather from the Atlantic; others, protected by the mountains, experience a more temperate Continental climate; and still others bask in Mediterranean warmth.

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Situated in north-central Spain, between Madrid and Bilbao, Rioja covers a territory about the size of Delaware. For most of its 60-mile length, it follows the contours of the Ebro River, with the Sierra de Cantabria mountains defining its northwest border, and a series of mountain ranges to the south. This dramatic landscape harbors a range of microclimates and soil types, with the northwest part subject to the cooling effects of the Atlantic Ocean and the eastern part more influenced by the warm Mediterranean.

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