After a week enjoying the glorious sunshine and delicious Spanish and Canarian cuisine of a sleepy fishing village in Gran Canaria, I was rather aptly invited to join Cambridge Wine Merchants at their new Bridge Street tasting room for an exploration of Spanish Rioja wines and complementary foods with Guardian wine columnist and food writer, Fiona Beckett. After recently being introduced to the joys of a chilled glass of sherry (and realising on holiday that I couldn't tell my Crianza from my Gran Reserva), an evening sampling eight fine examples from the most renowned wine region in Spain was perfectly timed.
With eight wines and many more food matches to get through, we got straight down to tasting - with such vigour on my part that I'm afraid taking photos took something of a backseat... apologies for the poor quality images I did manage to snap between sips and bites! Fiona guided us through white, rose and red Rioja wines. We learned why one should never overlook the lesser known white Rioja - the old oaked Lopez de Heredia Biano (1998) proving to be a fantastic, complex drop with lovely sherry notes and amazing with a strong flavoured rosemary and ewe's milk cheese; and a surprisingly crisp Faustino V Rosado (2012) pairing very well with Inder's Kitchen's fiery garlic and pepper prawns and spicy onion bhajis.
Moving onto the red wines, more familiar territory for many of us where Rioja is concerned, we began to make sense of the ageing criteria that goes into the labelling of a Spanish wine as Rioja. Tasting the Bodegas Navajas Rioja Crianza (2009), we heard how Crianza red wines must spend a minimum of two years at winery, at least one of which must be spent in oak casks, and we could attribute the fresh, juiciness and hint of spicy complexity to this classification. The result was one of the favourites of the evening, for drinking with or without food. My top match was this wine with Inder's Kitchen's lamb Rogan Josh; it dealt with the spice incredibly well and was a real bargain at just £9.50 a bottle. Lola Espana's chorizo and black pudding morcilla went down extremely well with the younger, fresh Las Orcas Decenio Joven Tinto (2011) too.
Onwards and upwards, we reached new, refined heights with the superior Reserva and Gran Reserva wines, served with the ultimate food matches: a Fitzbillies Wild Boar Terrine and the ever-so-delicate Tandoori Guinea Fowl from Inder's Kitchen (the next new addition to the menu, we hope). Gran Reserva identifies rare wines from exceptional vintages, made using the finest grapes and red Gran Reserva wines will have spent five years at the winery, of which at least two are spent in oak. The quality of the La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904 (2001) we sampled was exceptional indeed; smoother, silkier and tasting exquisite with the game dishes. Fiona was clearly a big fan of this wine, too, and noted that it probably should be good to drink with pretty much anything at the price of £36.95 a bottle! Even the light and fresh spiciness of the delicate guinea fowl by Inder's Kitchen shone through with the Gran Reserva, finished nicely with a fantastic 12 month cured Manchego Viejo cheese.
I may not have left Cambridge Wine Merchants an expert, but I've certainly added some good, reliable wines to my repetoire which rather handily match all of my favourite foods. Who knew Rioja was so versatile??
I attended this event as a guest of Cambridge Wine Merchants, who hold regular, well-priced wine tasting events at their tasting rooms at Bridge Street and Cherry Hinton Road branches ~ find out more here... Cambridge Wine Merchants Events.