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Custom Wine Cellar Photo Tour

May 27th, 2010 2 comments

Sometimes, even the best-chosen words fall short.  When you’re talking about some of the incredible wine cellars that Vintage Cellars has designed in the past, the pictures really are worth a thousand words.  Today, rather than waxing philosophical about wine tasting or discussing at length the benefits of wines from a particular climate, let’s take a pictorial tour of some of Vintage Cellars’ past projects.

I love the interesting shapes of the shelving in this wine cellar.  The curves and angles make the room so much more than racks of bottles.  And the tracked lighting does a great job of highlighting different parts of the room, showcasing the myriad different lines and textures hidden in a wine room.

I think that the cabinet really makes this wine room: its the delicate yet rustic design breaks up the racking, and the placement gives the eye a focal point, setting off, rather than distracting from, the wine around it.  And I love the display racks here, that store bottles vertically with the topmost bottle angled up, giving the wine connoisseur the ability to easily see what’s in each column.

The simple, almost Asian-style racking in this room gives it a clean, modern feel.  But my favorite detail of this room is the strong, minimalist ceiling archway.  It breaks the room up and makes it visually interesting, something that is really challenging to do in this kind of space, which, if you think about it, is really just a storage place for hundreds of bottles.

Wow.  This room is just magnificent.  There’s a lot of you could say about it, but I’ll limit myself to my three favorite things: 1. The small tasting table worked into the wall creates an intimate space in this gigantic wine room.  2. The stair-style shelving in the middle makes the wine seem to be spilling into the room from the ceiling–it just says opulence and luxury to me.  3. The special place for wooden wine crates.  They add a warm, textural feel to the room.

I love the display of decanters in this one.  They add such flowy, artistic shapes to a room of angles.

These Spanish-style doors are just gorgeous.  And how cool is it to have glass doors leading into your wine cellar? To be sure, the Vintage Cellars team has to work hard to ensure that these delicate glass and wrought iron doors seal just as effectively as heavy glass ones, but isn’t the beauty worth the effort?

This is a perfect example of a small space used well.  The different dimensions created by the shelving really make it visually interesting: it’s a corner rich with wines from around the world, which have traveled from hand to hand and place to place to come together here.

Curves are always a great addition to a wine cellar, because they help break up the visual monotony of racks upon racks.  But this sweeping staircase goes far beyond.  It truly gives the room a dramatic, elegant flair.  And small details like the wicker-covered wine jug in the foreground really add a personal touch.  These are stairs you could linger on, pondering your wine selection, for hours.

How to Choose a Great Rosé

May 25th, 2010 1 comment

Summer is so close that you can practically taste it!  Well, in my case, the tasting is more literal than figurative, because right now, I’m enjoying a chilled glass of rosé and dreaming about the beach.  Rosé is the quintessential summer wine: it’s light and refreshing, meant to be enjoyed chilled, and goes perfectly with summer foods like grilled chicken and fresh salads.

“But what’s up with that color?” you might ask (especially if you’re of the male persuasion).  Yes, rosé is pink.  But don’t let this deter you!  Remember that rosé is pink by necessity, not design.  Rosé attains is color, which can vary from a pale orange to a vivid purple, because at the beginning stages of winemaking, red-skinned grapes are crushed and allowed to remain in contact with the wine for about two or three days.  The skins are then discarded, but they were in the mixture long enough to impart their color–and flavor–to the finished product.  The skins give rosé its appealing tart, flavorful quality, setting it apart from the generally lighter white wines.

In the 1970s, the style was for rosés to be of the medium-sweet variety.  This has perhaps contributed to a negative public perception of rosé: many think of it as a pink, sweet wine that isn’t taken seriously by true wine connoisseurs.  But what’s stylish and cool in the wine world is constantly changing, and as a result, drier, bolder rosés are now all the rage.  Rosé is being produced in new and different ways that are resulting in unique and complex wines: many rosés are now made from grapes from the Rhone region such as Syrah and Grenache.  And in France, arguably the wine capital of the world, sales of rosé have now surpassed the sales of white wine.

So how do you pick a good one?

The number one characteristic of a good rosé is crispness.  “Crisp,” in wine terms, conveys that a wine has a tart, acidic quality–one that’s not overbearing, but is rather pleasing and refreshing.  Taste a couple of rosés, and you’ll probably find yourself especially enjoying those that are highly crisp.

The best way to pick a good rosé is by region.  And since rosé is so popular in France, it is France that produces the highest-quality rosés.  Look for the region on the bottle to get a better idea of what’s inside.  Rosés from Bandol and Cassis are very high quality.  They are usually dry and well-balanced.  But since these are the best rosés, they are usually also the most expensive.  If you’re looking for something a little more budget-friendly, look for rosés from the French regions of Tavel and Lirac (which produce dark, rich rosés more like red wine than white), and Coteaux du Languedoc (which produces a wide variety of rosés that are usually of good quality and inexpensive).

So give summer a warm welcome this year: next time you get the urge to cook on the grill and eat outside, pick up a delicious, refreshing rosé to complement your summer mood.

Categories: Varietals & Profiles Tags:

Tongue Maps Are A Myth: How Taste Really Works

May 21st, 2010 No comments

Last week, we talked about Claus Riedel’s obsession with designing the perfect wine glass.  One of his objectives was to direct the wine to the “correct” part of the mouth so that the right taste buds would make first contact.  Well, that seems logical–we all remember those “tongue maps” like the one below from elementary school science class, right?  But here’s the catch: your tongue doesn’t work like that.  And what’s more, researchers have known it for at least 30 years.

tongue map diagram showing supposed tasting areas

The myth: 1. Bitter 2. Sour 3. Salty 4. Sweet

Riedel‘s advancements in glass design have made a huge impact on the wine industry.  Many experts, we at Vintage Cellars among them, agree that enjoying your wine from the correct glass can make a huge difference in the aroma and flavor of your wine.  Check out our post on the subject to learn more.  But please don’t believe any glassware’s claims to direct the wine to the “right” area on your tongue, because there isn’t one.

Want to know how your sense of taste really works?  Here’s a little science:

You know all those tiny bumps covering the surface of your tongue?  Those aren’t your taste buds.  They are called papillae, and your taste buds sit on some of them.  When you take a sip of wine, it mixes with your saliva and enters small openings on your tongue to come in contact with your taste receptors.   (You have many different kinds of receptors; they are what help you sense heat, noise, light, and everything else in the world around you.)  The taste receptor cells send information through your seventh, ninth, and tenth cranial nerves to the areas of the brain that process and interpret taste.

diagram of taste bud

Schematic drawing of a taste bud

You have between 2,000 and 8,000 taste buds that can sense at least five tastes: sweet, salty, biter, sour, and umami (or savory).  Although there is some variation, all of your taste buds detect the five tastes more or less equally, regardless of their location on the tongue.

So then how did the myth get started?

In 1901, a German research paper on taste by a scientist named D.P. Hanig was mistranslated by a Harvard academic.  Hanig had simply concluded that sensitivity to various tastes seems to vary between different tongue locations.  From this paper arose the infamous tongue map.  No one challenged this interpretation until 1974, when a scientist named Virginia Collins re-examined Hanig’s paper and found that all five tastes can be detected anywhere there are taste buds.  Put a little sugar on the back of your tongue.  Even though according to the tongue map, it’s the front part that perceives “sweet,” you’ll find that you can taste it no matter where it’s placed.

Collins’ conclusion: there are indeed variations in how receptors in different parts of the tongue detect tastes.  But the variations are so small that they are insignificant.  Unfortunately, wine glass makers have chosen to promote the first part, prolonging the myth, and ignore the second part.

So by all means, go out and shop for the best wine glasses for your favorite wine, whether it’s Chardonnay or Cab.  The correct shape and size can do wonders to improve the flavors of your favorite wine.  But shop wisely: any claims a company makes involving your “tongue map” are simply ludicrous.

The Right Wine Glass

May 19th, 2010 No comments

There are a lot of wine accessories and contraptions out there.  It can be tough to tell which ones are just a waste of money, and which can really enhance your wine-drinking experience.  One thing that’s not a gimmick?  The idea that different wines should have different glasses.

Now, there is certainly nothing wrong with having just the standard four varieties of glasses: red wine, white wine, port and champagne.  But having specific glasses for different grape varieties, styles, and even ages of wines can really make a difference in your tasting experience.  The right glass can bring out nuances of flavor and aroma that your standard tasting glass wouldn’t.

Claus Riedel was the first person to was the first wine glass designer to recognize that the size and shape of the glass can affect the tasting experience.  He began designing wine glasses specifically engineered to help get the most aroma and flavor out of different types of wine.  Riedel (pronounced “Rhee-dell”) is widely regarded as the world’s premiere wine glass producer.  Tests have been done, and the majority of experts and amateurs alike agree that using the “right” glass for the wine is well worth it.

Riedel worked with tasters to determine:

  • Which glass sizes emphasize the appropriate aromas in different wines
  • Which shapes and sizes exhibit the appropriate fruitiness levels
  • Which shapes and sizes exhibit the appropriate tannin levels
  • Which shapes direct wines to the “right” part of the tongue

The ability of any wine glass to obtain any of these qualities should be taken with a grain of salt.  For example, the idea of a “tongue map,” or that specific parts of the tongue taste specific flavors, isn’t supported by science (but we’ll save a discussion of this issue for a future post).  But the size and shape of the bowl, at least in the opinions of many experts, can definitely influence the way you perceive the flavor, aroma, and mouthfeel of the wine.

Riedel offers a huge variety of wine glasses, at all different price ranges and for all different wines.  Check out a small selection of their glasses below.  Their most popular series is the mid-price range “Vinum” glasses, which are made of over 24% lead crystal and retail for between $40 and $60 each.  Check out Riedel’s impressive “glass guide,” which allows you to see all their glass options for a particular varietal as well.  If you’re interested in purchasing Riedel glassware, check out the Vintage Cellars’ selection of Riedel glasses and decanters–most glasses are on sale for about 20% less than on the Riedel website.

For the average wine drinker, buying an entire collection of glasses–a set for each kind of wine–seems too overwhelming, let alone expensive.  But no fear–you can still match the appropriate glass to the wine without breaking the bank.  Here are some basic guidelines for matching glasses with wines that can help you get the most enjoyment out of your wine:

For white wines:

  • Use a glass with a narrower bowl.  This keeps the surface area, or the amount of wine exposed to the air, at a minimum, so that it stays chilled longer.  White wines taste best and have the most aromatic bouquets when chilled to the appropriate temperature.
  • The opening of the glass should also be narrower.  A narrow bowl keeps the subtler aromas of white wine more concentrated, so that when you waft them towards your nose, they don’t dissipate as much, and are detectable.
  • For lighter wines like Pinot Grigio and Riesling, use a glass with a narrower bowl and a narrower opening.  (These wines should have limited exposure to oxygen so that they maintain their subtle flavors.)
  • For more flavorful whites, such as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, use a glass with a slightly fuller bowl that narrows towards the opening.  (These wines benefit from the aeration provided by the fuller bowl–it helps bring out their flavors.  Both lighter and more flavorful whites need a narrow opening to help keep them chilled and aid in wafting.)

For red wines:

  • Use a glass with a wide bowl to let the wine breathe.  The exposure to oxygen will mellow the tannins and bring out the bold flavors of red wine.  A wide bowl also allows the aromas to collect, giving you the maximum opportunity to sense them.
  • Use a glass with a wider opening.  Besides allowing more air to come in, a wider opening allows room for your to dip your nose right inside the glass for a proper tasting.

Tips:

  • Always fill glasses one-third full.  This makes sure oxygen can get in, and leaves you room to swirl the wine, with helps it release aromas for you to enjoy.
  • It’s best to wash wine glasses with very hot water only–if you have to use detergent, limit yourself to a few drops.  Soap causes buildup in your glasses that interferes with the tastes of the wine.

Investing in a collection of wine glasses suited to many different types of wine is a big decision.  But it’s no gimmick: in wine tasting, size and shape really do matter.

Tips for Cooking with Wine

May 14th, 2010 5 comments

16th century wine press

I love to cook with wine.  But I admit it, sometimes, pouring a cup or a bottle of perfectly good wine into the cooking pot can seem a little sacrilegious.  Is using your good wine in your food worth it?

In a word, yes.  Wine imparts a richness and depth of flavor that is simply hard to come by any other way.  When making sauces, soups, or stews, many recipes call for you to deglaze the pan.  This takes place usually after some meat has been browned (cooked at high heat in some kind of fat until the skin is crispy).  The meat is removed, most of the fat is poured off, and the heat is turned up high.  A generous splash of wine is added, and as it boils, the cook swirls and scrapes with a wooden spoon or spatula, getting the little browned bits unstuck from the bottom of the pan and incorporating them into the dish.  Tons flavor resides in those little brown bits, and deglazing the pan incorporates their taste into the finished dish.  You can use stock or even water for deglazing, but wine adds a rich, unctuous flavor that can’t be replicated by anything else.

Wine isn’t just used for deglazing.  A splash of wine added to a reducing sauce gives it that same deep, rich flavor that we desire when we’re cooking and eating.  The next time you make tomato sauce, try adding a splash of wine (usually half a cup to a full cup) before letting the sauce simmer and reduce.  You’ll be amazed at the richness and flavor it adds.

Wine is also great for marinating meat.  A red wine marinade is a natural partner for beef, as the tannins in the red wine interact favorably with the meat’s fats.  The acid in wine really breaks down the connective tissue in meat.  This means that marinating a tougher cut of meat in wine can really tenderize it, as well as adding flavor to it.  One of my favorite cuts to use this technique with is flank steak.  Flank steak is a thin, tougher cut, but it packs a lot of flavor.  Best of all, it’s inexpensive, usually comes in pieces big enough to feed an army, and sliced thinly, the leftovers make great steak sandwiches.  Try seasoning a flank steak with salt and pepper, and throwing it in a large Ziploc bag with a few garlic cloves, a splash of olive oil, and enough wine to thoroughly soak it.  Let it hang out in the refrigerator for several hours, turning every once in a while to make sure the wine is evenly distributed.  Then simply grill and serve.  This steak is great paired with the same wine used in the marinade.

I don’t set much store by those chefs that advocate using only high-quality wine for cooking.  I think that the flavors are so diluted by the flavors added by the food, and changed by the chemical processes that occur during cooking, that spending a lot of money on wine that you’re just going to dump in the pot is kind of a waste.  You do want to use decent wine that you would drink—avoid those cooking wines sold in the grocery stores—they are highly acidic, and have tons of preservatives, which simply don’t taste good.  They are often also highly salty, which can alter the flavor of the food you’re cooking so much that you ruin the taste.

Cooking is a great way to use a good wine that’s been sitting around for a day or two.  Its optimal drinking window has passed, but that doesn’t meant that all those great flavors should go to waste.  Don’t use a wine that tastes vinegary or rancid, or your food will taste that way too.  But something a little past its prime should be fine.

Cooking with wine isn’t just for the experts.  There are lots of simple ways to incorporate it into your dishes.  And when you’ll do, you’ll find that wine adds so many wonderful, subtle flavors that you’ll never want your kitchen to be without it again.

White Wine Sangria

May 12th, 2010 No comments

As summer approaches, it’s time to start thinking about light, refreshing beverages that are ideal for sipping and savoring on a warm, sunny day.  White wine, rosé, and even some reds are wonderful wine choices, of course, and we’ll be highlighting some especially good choices in the posts to come.

But say you’re having a party, or just celebrating a special day with a friend or significant other.  You might want something a little more special and different than a regular glass of wine.  Wine cocktails are a really fun way to use wine in a unique way.

One of my all-time favorite wine cocktails is this White Wine Sangria.  I make it all the time for barbecues and beach parties, and my friends always request it.  It’s light and delicious, perfect for relaxing on those perfect warm days.

There are many, many ways to make Sangria, a drink that originated in Spain.  At its most basic, Sangria is wine with fruit added to it.  The fruit is allowed to soak in the wine for several hours or even several days.  This gives the wine a delicious, fresh fruity flavor.  It also gives the fruit an irresistibly rich, winey taste.

The recipe for Sangria that follows isn’t particularly traditional, but it is delicious.  It’s important to remember that this recipe is very adaptable.  Feel free to change it to suit your own tastes, whether that means making it a little sweeter, changing up the fruit used, or using a different brand of wine.  Make your own signature Sangria, and your friends will be requesting it at parties for years to come!

White Wine Sangria

This recipe serves a crowd, so make sure you start with a big enough container.  A large punch bowl is perfect.  Add to the container:

  • 2-3 bottles of white wine.  Use your favorite summery variety. Quality isn’t too important here, since you’re going to be adding so many other flavors to the drink, so don’t feel like you have to break the bank here.
  • Orange juice to taste.  Using freshly squeezed oranges really makes a difference here.  If you don’t want to take the time, use a high-quality 100% juice brand like Simply Orange. I find that juices from concentrate are too sweet for this recipe, but if you happen to love sweeter drinks, feel free to use them!  I’d start with half a bottle.  If you want to really taste the wine flavor, add less.  If you want to make more of a fruity cocktail, add more.  Remember you can always add more if you want it, but you can never take it out!
  • A variety of fruit, cut into bite-sized pieces.  Use plenty of fruit, as you’ll want each glass to have a generous amount.  You’ll want to lean towards whatever is seasonal and especially delicious (bonus: seasonal fruit is also the least expensive).  My favorite combination is oranges, green apples, and strawberries.  The oranges mirror and enhance the orangey flavor from the juice, the apples add a delicious tartness, and the sweet strawberries are the perfect foil for the wine, soaking up the alcohol and really bringing out its deep, rich nuances.  But let your imagination run wild!  It would be great to use tangerines instead of oranges, or try different types of berries, or even grapes. Play to your tastes!
  • Optional: rum to taste.  I love to use dark rum when I’m making this for a party.  It adds an interesting spicy flavor.  Feel free to use white rum if you prefer it.  Warning, this drink can sneak up on you: it’s fruity sweetness really masks the alcohol taste.  So add rum at your own discretion.

It’s best to make the recipe up to this point in advance.  A few hours in the refrigerator before party time gives the flavors the chance to mingle and develop.  The fruit really needs time to add its tastes to the drink, so give it a chance by making the drink ahead.  If you want to take some of the stress out of party planning, you can make the recipe  up to this point the night before, and refrigerate it overnight.

  • Right before you serve it, add a bottle of champagne to the drink.  The champagne gives it a light, refreshing quality and really turns it into a party cocktail.  I tend to go the dry champagne route, but use whatever you like.  As with the wine, quality isn’t that important, so don’t waste that nice bottle you’ve been saving on this recipe.  Important: DON’T stir the drink after you add the champagne, or you’ll ruin the bubbles!
  • Serve in a punch bowl or in a pitcher (you’ll need to keep refilling it).  Provide your guests with some kind of wide-brimmed glass to make room for the fruit.  A margarita glass is perfect, but red wine glass works too, and even a regular drinking glass is fine in a pinch.  Make sure you bring along a big spoon so that your guests can get some fruit into their glasses, and encourage them to eat the fruit, not throw it away—most people think it’s the best part!

Don’t forget that you can really change and adapt this recipe to suit your tastes.  Here’s one idea: Tropical Sangria perfect for a Luau.  Use the above recipe, substituting pineapple juice for the orange juice, and using tropical fruits like mango, kiwi, and pineapple.  Aloha!

Wine for Mother’s Day

If your mom is like mine, there’s nothing she’d rather do on Mother’s Day than have a chance to relax with her family, minus the laundry and dishes.  And what better way to help her get some me-time than wine?  Wine is a great way to celebrate with your mom, and you don’t need to plan an extravagant wine tasting or a fancy dinner to do it.

Whether you’re celebrating with brunch or dinner, Vintage Cellars has a great Mother’s Day idea for you.  Best of all, these ideas are man-friendly!  If you’re a dad or son trying to do something special for the mom in your life, look no further than these easy, fool-proof ideas.

For Brunch: Are you going the traditional breakfast-in-bed route?  Then make it extra special with a champagne cocktail.  It’s equally great accompanied by a fancy breakfast spread with all the trimmings or her toddler’s proud creation of soggy waffles and burnt toast.  There are tons of recipes for champagne cocktails out there, but if you want an easy recipe that will guarantee the smile on your mom’s face, try this one (hint: it’s especially good because it’s strawberry season, and they’re sweet and delicious right now).

Simple Strawberry Champagne Cocktail

  • Put a splash of strawberry-flavored liquor (Framboise is one) in a champagne flute.  (If you’re the measuring type, try half a shot.)
  • Top with your mom’s favorite champagne.  DON’T stir the cocktail or you’ll ruin the bubbles!
  • Garnish with a fresh strawberry (make a slice in the strawberry starting at the tip, but stop halfway to the top.  Stick the strawberry on the rim of the glass.)  Don’t skip the garnish–it’s what makes it special!
  • Present to mom with a card.  She’ll smile for the rest of the day!
  • Variations: rim the flute with sugar first (put sugar on a small plate, invert the glass, dip the top of the glass in water, and swirl it around in the sugar.)  If you don’t want to use the liquor, you could puree some strawberries in a blender or food processor and use that instead, following the same directions.

For Lunch or Dinner: Most women love cheeses, and Mother’s Day is a great time for your mom to indulge.  Setting up a wine and cheese platter for your mom couldn’t be simpler, but it has that personal touch that makes it special.  Visit your local cheese shop or grocery store and pick out a few cheeses and (this is essential) a crusty baguette or loaf of French bread.  If you don’t know what cheeses your mom will like, no stress–just mix and match.  Try some soft cheeses and some harder ones so your mom can have fun tasting the different kinds.  Slice the bread, add some fruit (don’t forget strawberries are great right now!), put on a big platter, and all you need is the wine.

The simplest, most foolproof wine to pair with cheese is champagne.  Champagne goes well with almost any cheese (even the stinky or blue-veined kinds!).  It also acts as a palate cleanser, which means that your mom can taste different cheeses back-to-back without her taste buds getting tired.  If your mom isn’t partial to champagne or you’d like to try something different, visit our post on pairing wine and cheese.  It has some great tips for tasty pairings.  Sit back with your mom, eat and drink, and enjoy some bonding time (which all moms love).

Remember, the best gifts come from the heart, so think about what makes your mom happiest.  If she craves some time to relax with her family, try one of our ideas for a Mother’s Day that is special, but super-simple.

Wine Profile: Rioja

If you haven’t yet ventured into Spanish wines, it’s time you start.  Spain has more acres devoted to wine grapes than any other country in the world.  They don’t produce as much wine as some other countries because of their obsession with quality.  They don’t force plants to produce over their natural limits, and they don’t overcrowd their vines.  Spain has long been known as one of the world’s best wine producers, and its region of Rioja is particularly well-known.

Vineyards in Rioja, Spain

In 1635, the mayor of a town in Rioja passed a decree banning carriages from driving on the roads next to wine cellars, for fear that the vibration would disturb the aging process and harm the wine.  Rioja’s attention to detail hasn’t waned much since.  Rioja has three main wine-producing areas, each of which has a different environment and so contributes a unique style of Rioja wine.  Rioja Alta, with its high elevation, and resulting shorter growing season, produces wines in the “Old World” style.  Its wines are fruity and light.  Rioja Alavesa has a climate much like Rioja Alta, but much poorer soil quality which necessitates that the vines be planted far apart so that they won’t be competing for nutrients.  Wines from this region are more acidic and full-bodied than those from Rioja Alta.  The third region, Rioja Baja, has a warm and dry Mediterranean climate.  Wines from this area are characterized by intense colors and can often be very high in alcohol content.  These wines are most often used in blends.

Rioja wines can be red, rosé, or white.  Red Riojas are the most common, and for good reason: these wines are classic and bold.  They are usually blends primarily made up of Tempranillo, which is a dark red wine that has flavors of dark berry, plum, leather, and herbs.  Garnacha Tinta, Graciano, and Mazuelo are other grapes that are often incorporated into red Riojas.  Red Riojas age well, with time mellowing their tannins and bringing out their subtle fruity flavors.  Steak is a classic food to pair with red Rioja.

Rosé Riojas are made primarily of Garnacha grapes (called Grenache in the US), which are bold and spicy.  Rosé Riojas are bright pink in color, and make for a great summer wine that is both refreshing and flavorful.  Try rosé Riojas with grilled chicken or seafood.

White Riojas are very light in aroma and flavor.  They are similar to a Pinot Grigio, but with a slightly more tart, crisp quality.  White Riojas are very delicate and refreshing.  Try them with foods with subtle, delicate flavors that you don’t want to overwhelm.  Foods with citrusy flavors goes especially well with the tart characteristics of white Rioja.  Try a one with pasta with a lemony white wine sauce.

Of course, all three kinds of Rioja pair best with Spanish food.  Want a unique party idea?  Have a Spanish party!  Serve all three kinds of Rioja along with different tapas.  Tapas are often very simple: some common ones are shrimp grilled in garlic, skewered lamb, and bread with aioli.  Your guests will be able to chat and nibble and you won’t have the stress of preparing a sit-down dinner.  Best of all, comparing the different Riojas will give your guests something to talk about!

Riojas are always labelled for quality (wouldn’t it be nice if all wines were?)  The quality mark will often be on the back of the bottle.  The simple label “Rioja” signifies that the wine is the youngest available–it’s been an oak barrel less than a year.  “Crianza” means that the wine has been aged for at least two years, and spent at least one of those in oak.  “Rioja Reserva” signifies that the wine has been aged for at least three years, one of which in oak.  And the highest quality Riojas are labelled “Rioja Gran Reserva” and have been aged for a minimum of two in an oak barrel and at least three in the bottle.  The last two types of Rioja are only produced in good years.

Give Spain’s attention to quality a test for yourself!  All three kinds of Riojas are great, enjoyable wines that are easy to pair with lots of dishes.  Happy tasting!