Award-winning Spanish Wines Make a Splash in the Big Apple.
Last November, the Rioja wine region created a stir when Wine Spectator chose Cune Rioja Imperial Gran Reserva 2004 as the 2013 Wine of the Year. The magazine debuted its annual Top 100 list in 1988, and this is the first time in its 26 years that a Spanish wine topped the list. While the French and Italians were no doubt grumbling, Wine Spectator said the distinction reflects a revolution of style and character that redefined the Rioja region over the last 20 years.
Fresh off its big win, La Rioja is set to debut the first-ever Rioja Week in New York City from April 26 to May 3. Restaurants, bars and wine shops throughout NYC will host tastings, food pairings, raffles and special retail discounts, and a Grand Tasting for Trade & Media will host sommeliers, retailers and other wine industry affiliates at Studio 450 on Thursday, May 1. The week’s activities will culminate with the Rioja Wine & Tapas Festival on Saturday, May 3.
Serving as the main event, the Wine & Tapas Festival will feature more than 200 wines and 25 Spanish chefs offering a taste of the Rioja region. Attendees can stroll makeshift streets lined with tapas stands, enjoy Spanish cured ham at the jamon bar, go beyond manchego in the cheese cave and watch the paella-making process at the Paella Garden. The event will be held at the newly reopened Weylin B. Seymour’s, a 138-year-old Brooklyn landmark located at the foot of the Williamsburg Bridge. Proceeds from the festival will benefit the James Beard Foundation Scholarship Program, whose 2014 opportunities (applications due by May 15) include professional wine studies, sustainable farm cuisine and a “second chance” award for someone who experienced extreme hardship.
La Rioja, whose name comes from the Ebro River tributary Rio Oja, borders Basque Country in northern Spain and consists of three subregions: Alta, Baja and Alavesa. More than 80% of the grapes planted in Rioja are red, and Tempranillo is the main varietal, followed by Garnacha. The previously mentioned Imperial Gran Reserva is a blend made primarily with Tempranillo grapes from Rioja Alta.
“The tannin and structure of Rioja reds make them superbly agreeable,” said Alyssa Rapp, founder of the California-based Bottlenotes online community and producer of the Daily Sip newsletter. “The most recent 20-year-old Rioja I tried still had 20 years left in it. I find wines from Rioja to provide some of the best value in Europe today.”
In recent years, the region has actively promoted its wine with a Rioja Restaurant Week and by participating in annual events like Spain’s Great Match and Bottlenotes’ 80 Sips Around the World. While the inaugural Rioja Week will be the largest Rioja tasting to take place in the States, more events are on the way. Rioja Week is set to become an annual festival in NYC and will debut in other U.S. cities in 2015. The event organizers say sales of Rioja wines in the U.S. increased by nearly 20% in the last year alone, and the region clearly wants to capitalize on this momentum.
Luis Alberto Lecea, President of Rioja D.O.Ca., declares that Rioja wine and tapas are an integral part of Spain and that his country is “thrilled to share the flavor and lifestyle of our region during Rioja Week.”