Rioja wines and Tempranillo in general are characterized by their cherry, plum, dill, dusty earth, and leather notes. Rioja wines pair best with tender, fatty meats like lamb or chorizo, but goes great with many of the classic Spanish tapas like patas bravas and grilled octopus. For our Wine with Dinner virtual tasting, here are some of our favorites to pair with Rioja.
Personally, I love Rioja with grilled octopus best. I love the flavor, but I hate cooking it myself. Octopus needs a lot of work to clean and prep, and you have to be super careful with temperature and time. That is why I prefer to let someone else do that work for me (see our takeout suggestions below).
When I am in charge of the cooking, I think Rioja goes great with most of the classic Spanish dishes. Paella is always a favorite and classic and is easy to change the ingredients up to suit what you are drinking or who is eating. You can go all seafood or leave out the meat altogether, or go the other direction and bulk up the chicken and chorizo. I have had great luck with Alton Brown's recipe and technique tips, and riff on the ingredients based on my mood.
Another quick hack to bring out the best in Rioja is to make a sofrito and use it with almost any meat, melted cheese, or mushrooms. Sofrito is a basic tomato sauce made all over Spain. Tomatoes (canned or fresh, but sometimes a great canned tomato works best), finely chopped onions, garlic, green peppers, and olive oil are sautéed together. Sofrito can come out green or red depending on ingredients and there are dozens of regional versions. I prefer something more 60/40 tomato to peppers with my Rioja, but you will find green versions with no tomato at all. Try this to get you started:
- 2 cups chopped tomato
- 1 cup finely chopped green pepper or long pepper if you want some spice
- 1 cup finely chopped red pepper
- 1 large or 2 small yellow onions, chopped fine
- 4-6 garlic cloves, smash'em, chop'em
- up to 1/2 cup olive oil
Sauté veg with part of the oil starting with peppers for a minute, then onions for a minute, then the garlic for a minute, then add the tomatoes for a minute, then reduce the heat and simmer. The olive oil is an important part of the sauce, so you want a fair amount, but exactly how much depends on whether you want your sauce chunky (add a little), or you have a stick blender that you use in the sauté pan to blend it down (add a little more), or you take the whole cooked ingredients out and put it in a blender (add a lot). I like a chunky version over toast with melted Manchego cheese, or a lightly blended version over meats and fish.
Take Out Options
Or, if you are in the mood, do takeout! Several of our local favorites have great takeout options that will pair with Rioja.
Counter Culture – Octopus! Their wood grilled is some of my favorite. Their Crispy Patatas Bravas is also great, as is the Wood Grilled Butternut Squash, Wood Roasted Green Circle Brick Chicken, or Charcoal Grilled Wagyu Culotte
Haven – Octopus! They also have a great Coal Grilled Octopus. They may not do it take out unless you call and say “Please!”. From the charcuterie menu, a Paleta de Jamon Iberico or the Shaved Beef Taco.
Spain Restaurant – Octopus! I mean, Pulpo! Their Pulpo a la Gallega is a great match, as is Rollitos de Puerco, Croquetas de Serrano Ham, Paella Valenciana or really most of the things on the menu. It’s a Spanish restaurant, so it makes sense that most things will pair well. Just stay away from the white sauces and lemon butters, and look for sauces that are red, green, olive oil. Or get the Callos a la Gallega – don’t read the ingredients, just try it!