October is Rioja month! As a single day to celebrate this delectable and historical wine region would not be long enough.
When one say the word ‘Rioja’, it primarily makes me think of their oakey reds, especially as we creep deeper into the colder winter months. However, once my mind then opens up to the warmth of Spain, then a paella… how could one forget their beautifully crafted white Riojas (made mostly with Viura) and even their crisp fruity rosés. Rioja, Spain’s flagship for wines located in the North, is home to 600 wineries and makes some of the world’s most diverse food friendly wines.
Rioja is one of the most historical wine regions in the world; archaeologists believe that inhabitants were creating and consuming wine here since 3000-4000BC! It was when the Romans moved in and brought with them simple technology (stone trough/lagares) that a style of winemaking would be born that would continue for centuries. Years later in the 1850’s ‘The Great Wine Blight’ (an outbreak of Phylloxera – lice that attacks vine roots) saw French winemakers flock to Rioja to produce wine after all of their crops, as well as most of Europe’s, were ruined. With their outside knowledge, techniques and experience, the French helped expand and modernise Rioja’s production of wines, making them into the wines that we now know and love today.
A young pair have recently joined our fabulous family of Riojas and their fellow Criana, Don Placero Tinto and Blanco from the family owned wine company Bodegas Navajas in Rioja Alta. However, do not let their age reflect on their quality…the Rioja Tinto (tempranillo with a touch of Mazueleo for acidity) packs a pleasant mouthful of plump wild berries and soft earthy spice (it would make a great partner to an array of meat dishes including roast chicken, pork, as well as chargrilled steak or lamb). The Blanco on the other hand, made from 25 year old Viura vines, burst with citruses lime zest and camomile which leads to a soft lemon finish. Perfect to partner any seafood dishes. Both great food wines and value for money at only £9 a bottle via our shop or our website.
Now for me, I like the smooth tannins and complex fruitiness of a Reserva, Grand Reserva and even some good Crianzas. And as I love food (and wine) more than life itself it would be wrong to pair my sumptuous Sunday half-leg of Lamb with anything less than a good Reserva – our Roda Rioja Reserva to be exact (now sold in a magnum and magnificent Methuselah 6L). From vines over 30 years old, yields are kept to a very low 1.5kg per vine that results in a concentration of intense aromas of crushed red cherries and savoury herbs and ripe, spicy, structured fruit on the palate with soft tannins and a long finish. The current 2013 vintage is made with 97% Tempranillo and 3% Gracinano. Aged for 14 month in a combination of 40% new and 60% old French oak, then cellared for 20 months following bottling creates a deep cherry colour. The nose is deep, fruity and delicately spiced whist the palate provides flavours of cherries and silky, fine grained tannins. An overall feeling of freshness, this wine oozes delicate elegance...just like my Lamb…(wink)
If you’re looking for a quick prep/leave alone in the oven for hours so you can sit back and enjoy your Sunday type roast, try this. It’s a one pot wonder! Preferably in a casserole style hob to oven dish (if not, I’m sure a large pan/deep tray and foil would do). Heat a glug of olive oil, season the leg with a good amount of salt, black pepper and herbs of your choice (I like a bit of Thyme, Rosemary and a sprinkle of mixed for good measure) sear the whole outside of the leg, throw in a couple crushed cloves of garlic and 300ml of any white wine (hmm why white you say? You. Just. Wait.) Use your utensil to help de-glaze all of that delicious char from all sides and edges, then throw in 1 red onion peeled and halved and 300ml beef stock (what beef stock AND white wine? Yes! AND yes!)… and a quick stir. Then last but not least, carrots peeled and whole, plop them right in. Another gentle shuffle and stir – they do not need to be covered by the liquid – then get that lid on (or transfer into a deep enough tray and cover with foil) put in the middle of your oven (pre-heated to 140C conventional or 130C fan) and cook for 4 hours flipping the leg half way through (or 120C/110C for 7 hours).
When the times up – remove/sift the leg (it will melt apart) and the incredibly soaked but not too soft carrots and cover – pop that remaining juice back on the hob on medium-high to reduce. Add a teaspoon of mint sauce and maybe a dash of hot kettle water if needed to dilute that super rich gravy and make enough for your gravy lovers. I’d serve mine with roasted new potatoes, fine green beans, petit pois – and a lovingly large glass of Rioja Reserva! The two will dance in your mouth superbly and you will do nothing but ‘mmm’ for the entire duration of your feast.