Ah, summer! Time for vacation! And whether you decamp for the beach or the lake or the mountains (or if you just stay at home) a common activity is grilling! And regardless of what (or where) you’re grilling, the wine to drink with grilled foods is Rioja. No question about it.
Riojas work with burgers & dogs, pork & lamb, poultry & game, beef, fish and vegetables. The versatility of the wines of Rioja is legendary. There’s a rioja to fit the mood and the food. Big, bold Rioja. Bright, lithe Rioja. Oaky, aged Rioja. Fresh young Rioja, Rioja Blanco. Rioja Rosado. But, really, red Rioja is where you want to be with foods off the grill.
Rioja reds are classified into four categories. The first, labeled Rioja or Jovan, is the youngest, spending less than a year in oak barrel. A crianza is wine aged for at least two years, at least one of which was in oak. Rioja Reserva is aged for at least three years, of which at least one year is in oak. Finally, Rioja Gran Reserva wines have been aged at least two years in oak and three years in bottle. These classifications help delineate the style and weight of the wine. Of course, within these categories, different producers offer their own style. Some producers seek the ripest grapes and release their lush, fruit-forward wines as early as legally possible, will others (traditionalists!) pick their crop sooner, and give the resulting wine addition time in barrel and bottle before release. These wines, because of additional aging, are silky smooth and seamless while the younger style is more viscous and dense.
A rule of thumb when pairing wine and food is to complement or contrast. And while that’s generally safe advice, contrasting with grilled foods is often a fool’s errand. I say, let the smoke and char lead the way and pour a wine that compliments. Jovan or Crianza for lighter, simpler foods and preparations; Reservas and Gran Reservas for bolder cuts and flavors. Well-aged traditional Rioja works best with fish, and smokey, vanilla scented, fruit driven styles are the best for spicy, heavily charred or fattier meats.
Rioja, of course, is also the traditional wine used in sangria. It that’s the plan, a Jovan will be less expensive and fresher tasting, which will yield a friendlier, fruitier sangria, regardless of your favorite sangria recipe. And sangria with food? Sure! After all, it’s summer.