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La Rioja, a culinary mix
May 03, 2005

This month we're reviewing one of the most well known spanish regions: La Rioja. Famous for its wines, it also has a surprising gastronomy...

We've selected some wines from La Rioja for you to enjoy. Make sure you try them, and you'll find out why this small region is famous worldwide!

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Jordi Vallés

La Rioja, A Culinary Mix

La Rioja cuisine is simple and uses the top quality products found in the region. The popular agricultural tradition of the area provides the cuisine with a great variety of local vegetables and pulses: peppers, garlic, onions, artichokes, asparagus, lettuce, chard, borage... What visitor to La Rioja can resist tasting its great stews, made with fava beans or "caparrón" beans. These dishes are unique and use beans which have not been completely dried. As a result, the beans conserve their natural flavour and absorb the flavour of the quail or spicy sausage with which they are cooked. The pig, a symbol of Christian culture, has always lived side by side with the people of La Rioja, either as wild or as farm animals. The Muslim presence in mainland Spain has left its mark on this region, the Riojans having a great taste for lamb. Both types of meat are extremely popular, although the fish dishes put up a fierce competition. These are prepared using bonito, cod, hake, red bream and mackerel. Sweet black pudding and Riojan chorizo are just a couple of examples of the produce prepared in the mountains.

Land of golmajeria

This small Autonomous Region has influenced the rest of Spain. With the River Ebro acting as the main transmission channel, its delectable green sauce and "salsa fritada", which accompanies fried dishes, have earned popularity throughout the country and been incorporated into other national dishes. The Riojan-style potatoes, prepared with chorizo and at times spare ribs, have been the point of admiration of many gourmets, including Bocusse. Its lamb chops are a vital component of the suppers held in bodegas and companies and are ever-present in restaurants, where they are roasted on an open fire which gives them that special taste. Although La Rioja has no coastline, traditional fish dishes abound. Worth special mention are the Rioja-style cod, cooked with tomatoes and peppers, and the red bream in sauce, which is a typical dish served on Christmas Eve; the delectable river crab with fried fish, bonito and the famous hake in green sauce. The locals of La Rioja have always known how to make the most of the produce that nature has given them. They are experts in giving it that "special touch" which makes their dishes that little bit different: trout, crab, snails and wild mushrooms are carefully combined with other ingredients resulting in many dishes which have come to be considered delicacies.

Wines and restaurants

The quality of the wine is what has made La Rioja a household name. Its Denomination of Origin, famous world-wide, includes white and rosé wines but it is the excellent red wines which are most appreciated. These are aged in barrels called "barricas" to produce "crianzas" (matured for at least two years) and "reservas" (matured for at least three years) which, whether they are from Rioja Alta, Alavesa or Rioja Baja, obtain magnificent levels of quality. The traveller can taste wine and traditional Riojan food at the restaurant Echaurren, which has been awarded two suns by the CAMPSA Guide. A former sentry post which has been reformed and converted into the main point of reference when it comes to regional cuisine. Other very interesting places to visit are El Cachetero, Mesón Egües and the Riojan bodega Palacios, the restaurant at El Museo.

Recommended Wines from La Rioja

We've selected some of the finest Rioja wines for you to taste. Don't you miss them!

  • Marques de Caceres Tinto '01 : A very good Rioja red. Rich and smooth. This ripe red offers plum, raisin, coffee and toast flavors on a thick frame, with firm tannins and a spicy finish. A solid match for grilled or roasted meats.
  • Muga Rioja 2003 : This elegant Rioja white has a full oaky flavor that fans of Chardonnay would love. It has a fresh and citrusy complexity, lively. Wine Spectator: 88
  • Allende 2000 : The modern side of Rioja. Winemaker Miguel de Gregorio and his sister Mercedes produce this Rioja from 100 percent Tempranillo grown on the estate's 60 acres of terraced vineyards along the Ebro River. The wine is aged for 13 months in a combination of French and American oak prior to bottling. 3,000 cases imported.

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