Two Rioja’s and Tuesday Dinner

I really enjoy making meals from scratch.  But, I have a full time job and other responsibilities, so weekday evenings are often leftovers or something easy.  Today, that takes the form of Trader Joe’s Chicken Serenada with an educational tasting of two Rioja’s.

Trader Joe’s entrees are easy and pretty flavorful.

Our wine dinner group will be exploring Tempranillo in a few weeks, and I really haven’t spent a lot of time to explore this grape.  So, over the next few weeks, I’ll be previewing wines that use Tempranillo as their primary grape.  One of the really fun parts of wine appreciation is that it is a hobby I can do every day.  Nice!

My wife, Julie, and I tend to go for classically made wines.  We prefer old world style restrained winemaking.  So, I decided to start with a couple of traditionally made Rioja’s.  Yesterday, I opened a bottle of R. Lopez de Heredia Vina Todonia Vina Cubillo 2004.  It’s a Crianza level Rioja, so it spends more time aging in oak, and then is held in bottle longer than a basic Rioja.  Even though it is a 2004, it is the “new” vintage of this wine.  The winery is well known as one of the key, classic traditional Rioja producers.  I had it with leftover flank steak from the other night; really nice.

Tonight, I picked up a basic Rioja at one of my favorite local wine shops, Pairings  in Minnetonka, MN.  The wine shop employee tried to steer me away from the Faustino VII; he described it as “chewy” and really old school.  I knew I had to try it!  The Faustino VII is a basic Rioja, which means it spends less time in oak and in bottle compared to the Crianza wine above.  The wine was a 2009 vintage.

Here are the two wines – not a win or lose, just a comparison tasting to learn the difference between a young Rioja and one with more care and aging.

Faustino VII and R Lopez de Heredia Vina Todonia Vina Cubillo (whew!)

Neither wine would ever be called “fruit forward”!  The Faustino aroma had a bit of fruit but was dominated by an herbal element, perhaps from American oak?  The R. Lopez de Heredia Vina Todonia aroma was leather and something organic, but not quite earth; intriguing.  Flavor-wise, the Faustino was clearly sour cherries first and some herbal notes from the oak.  The Vina Todonia was beautifully integrated and smooth.  There were some cherries in there and something that was almost vanilla, but subtle so you were just aware of it.  Honestly, you can’t compare a $12 Faustino vs. a $30 Lopez de Heredia Vina Todonia.  Both wines were nice, and the more expensive wine showed why you might spend a bit more.  The Lopez de Heredia Vina Todonia delivered a bit of violet aroma on day two, a wonderful little surprise!

I would be happy to have either of these wines at the table for dinner.  Tuesday night with Trader Joe’s was made much nicer with a nice wine companion.

Tuesday night dinner with two Rioja’s

I usually add some additional ingredients to fill out the standard entree.  Tonight, I chopped up some Shiitake and button mushrooms and some fresh cauliflower.  I threw them on the entree as it went into the oven.  Some pasta and fresh greens completed the meal.

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