If you’re a Dining Traveler, it is more than likely that you enjoy your meal with a thoughtful wine pairing. The more I travel, the more I become exposed to different wines. I don’t know about you, but I feel that the more I learn about wine, the less I know. There are so many regions, grapes, and varietals! That being said, I defer to the experts for wine pairing advice. Jordi Paronella, the sommelier of Chef Jose Andres’ ThinkFoodGroup’s Jaleo properties shares his views on Rioja wine pairings with us.

Rioja Wine Pairings
A Pour of Rioja at Jaleo Crystal City

A bit about Jordi:  he joined ThinkFoodGroup in 2013. Prior to working with ThinkFoodGroup, Jordi worked with restaurants including CAL XIM as well as Michelin-starred Restaurant MOO, the first Roca brothers project outside of Girona. At MOO, Jordi served as Head Sommelier, working alongside Josep Roca, one of the most talented sommeliers in Europe. For Jordi, wine pairing is one of the most important parts of being a sommelier as it shows a guest that wine and food always go together and brings their dining experience to another level.

1. What makes wines from Rioja special? 

Rioja was the first D.O.Cualificada in Spain, and it exemplifies a lot of wine tradition and culture. There are also different styles, 3 different climates and subregions, and again history. As a sommelier, we value the identity a lot, so when there’s a classic Rioja in the blend, it’s easy to recognize. It’s a style where the wine stays in an American old barrel and then 1-3 years in bottle depending on the style. The wines have more tertiary aromas, tobacco, coconut, cedar, mushrooms, with delicate texture and long finish. The perfect icon is Lopez Heredia.
Rioja Wine Pairings. A Map of the Rioja Region of Spain
A Map of the Rioja Region of Spain Photo credit: Rioja Wine Board

2. How do you decide on your wine selections? 

I wanted different styles, and wines that are really versatile with food. Rioja is mostly known for red wines. But whites and rose are growing in the region. I always say that with reds there is a traditional Rioja and modern style, where the aging process is determined by the winemaker.Normally French barrels are used, different volumes and less aging time in bottle, more fruit forward and fresher.Ganko is the perfect example, it uses a different blend of Garnacha and Graciano. I wouldn’t say it’s a Rioja, to me it’s more Burgundy Pinot Noir driven.

Rioja Wine Pairing at Jaleo
Dining at Jaleo Crystal City

3. There’s a perception that wines from Rioja are mostly red. Can you share some of your picks for rosé and white wines from the region?

As far as whites, I recently and the opportunity to taste Honorio Rubio (the Añadas and Lias Finas) in New York and fell in love. Of course there’s also Tondonia Reserva or Gran Reserva, Placet from Palacios Remondo,  Remirez de Ganuza, Remelluri.For rosé, the Clarete from Ontañon, the Bandol from Rioja is a classic style blending white and red grapes.

4. What are your favorite wine pairings at Jaleo? 

I always say that bubbles and sherry are the most versatile wines for tapas, you can have an entire meal at Jaleo with these two styles of wine. But these are the pairings that I absolutely love:
  • Manzanilla Pasada Pastrana with fried egg with caviar
  • Torta pascualete with Amontillado Lustau Almacenista Puerto de Obregon
  • Arroz negro with De Nit from Raventos i Blanc 2014
  • Arroz de iberico with Agustí Torelló Barrica Gran Reserva 2008
  • Pulpo a la Gallega, mencia, Ultreia St Saques 2015 from Raúl Pérez
  • Bacalao amb samfaina, Dido Universal 2014 predominant Garnacha.
I also love to showcase that you can pair red wines perfectly with fish dishes!
Riojas Wine Pairings from the Jaleo Crystal City Wine Shop
Riojas from the Jaleo Crystal City Wine Shop

5. Jaleo at Crystal City has a wine shop for guests to take their favorite wines at home. What are your top recommendations?

Well this depends on everyone’s taste. I’m more of a bubbles, sherry and white wine drinker. I love Galician wines. Most people think there’s just Albariño in Galicia, but there’s a lot of diversity of whites grapes and regions, (Treixadura, Godello, Doña Blanca). The reds for me are the new Burgundy from Spain. I recommend visiting Ribeira Sacra it’s gorgeous and you can taste all the Mencias from this region.
It’s always good to have a bottle of Fino or Manzanilla and cava at home. Perfect as a aperitif.
But we have a huge variety of wines. If you’re a Napa Fan we have wines from Toro, and Priorat, that fits perfectly that style. For Pinot Noir drinkers, for sure Mencia and Grancha grapes.
  • Kavita

    Really interesting to learn a little more about Rioja wines and also how one could best pair them. As you mention, I would say I had a stronger idea about the reds than any rose or white wines from the area, so I think I will look out for those to expand my experience!

    • Same here! That is why I asked the question. I may have to search for those wines!

  • The brand sounds new to me. I will definitely try them out when they hit the shelves here in Bangalore. The pairings mentioned sounds interesting, I will mention them during discussions with friends and create an impression. 😉 🙂

  • Gokul Raj

    Love tasting wines. I wish they are available in India. The suggestions on the pairings seems interesting.

    • I bet with the increased interest in wine in India you can find a hotel/restaurant that will be carrying Rioja

  • We aren’t wine drinkers and rarely drink when travelling, if at all. But this is such a detailed and intriguing explanation of rioja wine pairings that it interested even me. What an immersive post.

  • Karla Ramos

    Wine pairings really change your wine experience. It’s good to know which food goes with what. Rioja is lovely

  • Glimpses of The World

    Some of those pairings really sound delicious. Would love to learn more about wine pairings, and this region seems like just perfect for it! 🙂

  • I’m a bubbles girl, myself, so I knew pretty much NOTHING about the Rioja region wines, but this has made me want to try some of the other varieties, especially with some of the suggested foods!! Because what’s good wine without good food?!?!

  • Wine is something, which I still haven’t discovered much, be it in terms of taste or pairings. But some of the pairings you listed, look amazing and would definitely love to try them out.

    • Great thing about wine is that there are not set rules so you can have fun eating and drinking!

  • Such an informative post! I’m not a massive fan of wine to be honest. However, this gives me an idea and appreciate it more. thanks for sharing! Cheers!x

  • megan_claire

    Interesting interview – I was also under the perception that wines from Rioja are mostly red, so it’s nice to hear that whites are growing in the region. I’m quite partial to Rose, so I’ll have to see if I can find Clarete from Ontañon. I also usually leave the wine pairing to the experts and when I’m dining in another part of the world am happy to go with what they recommend since they know their region and cuisine 🙂 Thanks for the article!