Ana Fabiano's 'The wine region of Rioja' - an exclusive online extract on pairing wine with Rioja

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'The wine region of Rioja', written by Ana Fabiano (published by Sterling publishing) is the most comprehensive book of Rioja wines to date. It's an exploration of the Spanish region where some of the world's best red wines are produced.
Fabiano provides a wealth of information from winemaker profiles, to food matches and recipes, plus advice on visiting bodegas.

Here is an exclusive online extract titled 'pairing food with rioja'.

Rioja wines are voluptuous; they are round and full and rich. They are not Audrey Hepburn; they are more Marilyn Monroe. For this reason, they pair with myriad foods, some of which are typical of most red wines and some of which would be paired with white wines in other books. The soft tannins in Rioja are strong enough to cleanse the palate, but then the fruit enters the picture and can calm even a high level of spice.

The traditional advice has been that you should drink wines from the same land that produced the food, but that is not a hard and fast rule. You should drink wines that make your food taste even better, and Rioja is one of those wines.
Admittedly, Rioja is not the wine for every dish. Shellfish, such as raw oysters, and fish or poultry cooked in cream sauce would not be compatible with Rioja. But those are the exceptions rather than the rule.

Here are some categories of foods that pair well with Rioja:

ANYTHING GRILLED. The fruit in the wine, especially the berry notes, balances the smoky nuances of food coming from the grill. This can be anything from slices of eggplant to a salmon steak, with all red meats included.
A classic Rioja, which often includes grape varieties other than Tempranillo, adds woodsy and earthy nuances; a modern classic Crianza is also a good choice

ANYTHING MADE WITH VIBRANT SPICES OR PEPPERS. Although delicate herbs such as tarragon and chervil might work well with a grassy Sauvignon Blanc, the panoply of spices used in Hispanic, Middle Eastern, and Indian food works wonderfully with Rioja. The image from tastespotting.comfruit in Rioja softens spices such as cumin, coriander, harissa, curry, cilantro, paprika, cinnamon, and turmeric. The bright berry fruit of a number of 100 percent Tempranillo roses today is a great, unique choice for many Mexican dishes. Middle Eastern foods would be celestial with a Maturana Tinta (a rare find that requires perseverance), but a great alternative would be a subzonal Crianza from Rioja Baja, where very often the Tempranillo fruit is riper than that of the other two subregions.

ASIAN FOOD. For the last few decades the com­mon wisdom among wine writers was that Asian food should be served with white wines, but that is hardly the only alternative, especially with meat dishes. Ingre­dients such as fresh ginger, toasted sesame oil, star anise and five-spice powder, hoisin sauce, and salty sauces such as soy sauce and fish sauce all work well with Rioja, which mellows and softens their savory profile.
A fruit-forward white is also a good choice, and many white Riojas containing Malvasia would work here.

•  ANYTHING IN A TOMATO SAUCE. This can be Italian, Spanish, or North American, but if it has a tomato sauce, it works with Rioja, whether poultry, meat, fish, or vegetarian. It can be spicy or mild, pasta sauce or pizza. Fruit goes with fruit, and tomato, as an acidic fruit, is balanced and sweetened by the berry nuances in Rioja. Depending on the dish, there is a wide range of options here, but based on aging levels, a Cosecha, Crianza, or Reserva is the way to

•  ROASTED POULTRY. There is nothing more perfect than a roast chicken seasoned with a mixture of herbs and garlic coming from the oven, and the lightness of Rioja works with the white meat, whereas the richness of the dark meat is enhanced by the soft tannins. Modern Classic single-vineyard or single­estate wines work well with poultry.

•  GAME BIRDS. In Spain’s mountainous terrain, small game thrives; there is very little space for cattle to graze. Duck, quail, partridge, and guinea hen all have a strong, gamy note to their flavor. These are the native foods of Rioja, and traditional and classic Riojas are perfect choices.

•  FINFISH DISHES. Delicate sole is enhanced by the subtle fruit of the Viura grape in a white Rioja, but any “meaty” fish, such as swordfish, salmon, or tuna, can stand up to a red Rioja. A modern classic Cosecha or Crianza would pair well.

•  ANY RED MEAT, REGARDLESS OF THE PREPA­RATION METHOD. This is the most obvious of the pairing profiles, which is why it is last on the list. Of course Rioja marries with all red meats, but this is where the degree of aging enters the picture. More vibrantly seasoned dishes can be served with younger wines, whereas a very simple dish such as a grilled steak or roasted leg of lamb will bring out the subtle nuances in a Reserva or Gran Reserva. High-expression Riojas pair well with the fattier meats, but in general a Reserva or Gran Reserva is compatible too.

A few wedges of cheese with some crusty bread or crackers can complement a tapas spread or start or end a meal; there are many Riojas that are great partners with cheese, and many of them are white.

All cheese is created when bacterial cultures—either found naturally in the animal’s milk or added if the milk has been pasteurized—produce acid and thus sour the milk. The resulting curd is salted, heated, and formed into its final shape. Cow, goat, and ewe milk all evolve differently.

When the acid in the maturing process creates a hard cheese with nutty, sharp, and salty flavors such as Manchego, Parmesan, or Comte, it goes well with all red wines, especially Rioja, because the soft tannins bring out the subtler flavors in the cheese. A high-expression Rioja would work well, as would a complexly layered Gran Reserva. A white Rioja has the acidity to cut through the creaminess of soft cheeses such as Brie, and the fruit in a rose highlights the sweetness of creamy cheeses. The degree of oak in the wine can influence the pairing, and advice from a helpful merchant may be welcome here.

Cheese and wine are similar foods because each changes significantly as it ages, but the aging process works in diametrically opposite ways. In the case of wine, aging creates complexity and nuance, whereas in the case of cheese, the evaporation of liquid hardens the texture as the work of bacteria intensifies the flavor.

A young cheese such as Havarti works well with a Crianza, whereas aged Gouda or aged cheddar is the cheese to serve with a Reserva or Gran Reserva. Avoid serving red wine with blue-veined cheeses such as Stilton and Gorgonzola, but the semidulce white Riojas are a great choice. Serve some dried fruit such as apricots or quince paste along with the cheeses to add more sweetness to the plate.

'The wine region of Rioja' by Ana Fabiano is available to buy from