On Saturday, May 2nd, I had the pleasure of attending the Rioja Wine & Tapas Festival, held within the Great Hall of Union Station. The 4-hour event – devoted exclusively to the Rioja wines of Spain – was attended by more than 80 producers, each serving generous tastings of the four different classifications of Rioja wines. During the event, I not only had the opportunity to discover some amazing wines, all offered at remarkably reasonable price points, and taste some delicious tapas created by chefs from top restaurants across the country, but also to speak directly to the winemakers and representatives of Rioja to learn more about this historic wine region of Spain.
Located in north central Spain, Rioja is Spain’s oldest and most prominent wine region. In addition to producing wonderful wines of incredible diversity and surprising value, the region has much to offer, including scenic beauty, welcoming people, extraordinary architecture, and great cuisine. Welcoming people, wonderful wines and great cuisine were definitely all on display during Saturday’s Rioja Wine & Tapas Festival.
In my discussions with José Luis Lapuente Sánchez, the Consejo Regulador, or General Manager of Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOCa) Rioja, I learned that the first Rioja Wine & Tapas Festival was held last year in New York City in order to spread knowledge of Rioja wines in a memorable social setting. The festival was moved to Chicago this year because of the quality of the food scene and the interest from the general public in learning more about Rioja wines. José is hopeful that the festival will return again next year.
José further explained to me that Rioja wines are incredibly popular because they are easy to drink and, thanks to the four different classifications of Rioja wines, every wine drinker can find a Rioja to love. Rioja wines are clearly marked with a DOCa seal after meeting the strict qualifications required to be an authentic Rioja wine. Each label also described exactly what a wine drinker can expect to taste, using the classification system based upon aging in oak barrels and bottles.
All Rioja wines are made from the Tempranillo grape. What sets them apart is the quality of the grape, the aging process, and whether they have been combined with any other grapes, such as Graciano. Cosechas are young wines that maintain their primary freshness and fruitiness. They are great sipping wines that pair well with simple pasta dishes and cheeses. Crianzas are at least in their third year, having spent a minimum of 1 year in cask and several months in bottle. Red Crianza wines are typically a Riojan’s wine of choice on a daily basis, and are usually made with 100% Tempranillo grapes. Reservas are aged for a minimum of 3 years, with at least 1 year in cask. These wines are selected from the best vintages with excellent aging potential. Reservas are exceptional when paired with braised dishes, grilled foods, and game. Gran Reservas are fine wines that have spent at least 2 years in oak casks and 3 years in bottle. Made only in exceptional vintages, Gran Reserva wines offer an exquisite and intense depth of flavor, offering hints of cedar and wild berries.
I learned from José that Rioja is known as the Land of 1,000 Wines, as a wine can be found for any occasion. All are elegant and very affordable, and are ready to drink when purchased. 8 out of 10 bottles of wine sold in restaurant in Spain are Rioja wines, and of those, 90% are red wines, 5% are rosé, and 5% are white wines.
Additionally, thanks to the DOCa regulations, consumers can trust that what they are drinking is authentic. The grapes, vineyards, and quality of wines are all checked through a complex process, including the taking of over 7,500 samples per year to ensure authenticity and qualification. José explained that the DOCa certification process supports the wineries and helps each succeed by promoting the Rioja name, protecting its reputation, and avoiding misuse. Therefore, the consumer confidence can be maintained.
Overall, I learned that Rioja wines are steeped in tradition and that the winemakers take the Rioja name very seriously. Rioja wines are approachable, affordable, food friendly, and evoke the culture and tradition of Spain.
Stay tuned for more from the Rioja Wine & Tapas Event this week! To learn more about Rioja wines, visit riojawine.com.
Sponsored post. Thank you for supporting the companies that support Chritiques.