With summer finally here, it’s time to pack a picnic basket or invite everyone over for a backyard bash.
By Lou Campoli
With summer finally here, it’s time to pack a picnic basket or invite everyone over for a backyard bash. Outdoor dining is always fun because there are so many dishes that fit the bill, but often a challenge when you’re trying to find a wine to match all that variety. Two popular choices are sauvignon blanc and shiraz, but then you have to decide if you want one from the United States, France, or wherever.
An easier choice is Rioja, a red wine from north-central Spain. Most are familiar with the red version, but there are also white and rosé styles. Any or all of these wines will pair well with whatever you serve outdoors, especially grilled meats and vegetables.
Rioja tinto (red) is made predominantly from the tempranillo grape, with smaller amounts of garnacha (grenache) tinta, graciano, and mazuelo. Tempranillo provides the red berry flavors’ aging potential, garnacha tinta adds body and alcohol, and graciano and mazuelo provide complementary aromas. Red cherry and plum flavors abound, with hints of earth and spice on the finish. You can find red Riojas in many styles based on the amount of aging they have been given. With summer fare, stay with the younger versions as they are lighter and fruitier.
The tinto wines match well with all barbecued fare, especially spiced salmon, lamb, burgers, chicken, ribs, chorizo, tomatoes, and red bell peppers. And don’t forget paella, which is fabulous made outdoors.
The primary grape in Rioja blanco is viura (macabeo), with garnacha blanca and malvasia playing lesser roles. Viura supplies fruitiness and acidity, garnacha blanca adds body, and malvasia adds complementary aromas. These wines exhibit fresh citrus, peach, apricot, pear, and apple flavors.
Serve chilled blancos with grilled seafood, shellfish, calamari, white meats, poultry, vegetables, and mushrooms. They also pair well with goat cheese salads and paella.
Rioja rosado (rosé) is made entirely, or almost entirely, from garnacha tinta, with touches of tempranillo and viura. The pinkish color comes from allowing the juice to have minimal contact with the red grape skins during fermentation. Strawberry, raspberry, citrus, and floral flavors are very typical of rosados.
Rosados are best served with a bit of a chill. They are dry and fresh. Enjoy them with salads, paella, ham, grilled chicken, shrimp, and vegetables.
As Spanish wines become more and more popular in the United States, you can find a myriad of choices in your local retail shop, both in terms of style and price. Some particularly good producers you might want to consider serving with grilled summer fare are Muga, Lan, Sierra Cantabria, Marqués de Cáceres, and Marqués de Murrieta.