Posted by: tomciocco | August 28, 2012

WHAT’S WHITE, SPEAKS BASQUE, AND COMES FROM OYON? RIOJA?!

Yup, it’s Rioja. While it’s not exactly a secret that Spain’s most famous wine can be, and indeed is also a white wine, for most drinkers, the name conjures complex, elegant, and very long-lived  red wines.  What comes as a surprise to almost everyone is that any of Rioja coincides with the Basque Country. Well, it does, albeit in a fairly thin sliver of land that is called Rioja Alavesa.

As the name clearly indicates, this small Rioja sub-zone (one of several) is in Euskadi’s Alava region (pronounced AH-la-va), or Araba as it is known in Basque, which is an area that has little to nothing to do with the cool, green, and wet seaside and northern Basque regions like Vizcaya or Guipuzkoa. This is the southwesternmost corner of Euskadi that frankly looks and feels far more like the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, than coastal Washington, it being much dryer and sunnier, and higher in elevation than any place like Getaria. This obviously sounds like pretty favorable land for making red wine, and it is, but white wines do almost as well. 

This one is a pretty sleek, modern style, unoaked white wine made with 85% of the local Viura (none other than Cava’s Macabeo), 10% Chardonnay, and 5% Moscatel (a Spanish name for one member of the huge Muscat family of grapes) that speaks more with the voice of its producer than the place from which it comes, but it’s a clear voice with a lot to say, and with that charming, forward-thinking Basque accent too…

So to stay with the sort of “nueva cocina” feel of this wine, I served it with a contemporary style pintxo of pearl onions caramelized with sherry an chunks of Ossau-Iraty sheep cheese, and then dusted with Piment d’Espelette. The main course was a riff on the Basque classic Pollo a la Vasca,  but to better match with the white wine, yellow and green peppers, and white wine. Lots of floury-crusted Iberian-style sourdough bread from Newark…

Zuazo Gaston Rioja Blanco 2011

Very pale gold color with the barest copper cast. Very clean nose of green apples, lime, white flowers, crushed pine nuts, white pepper, and sliced raw fennel. The medium weight body is tightly coiled and solid, with a slick, smooth, slightly oily texture that is nicely balanced by a tart and piercing chalky acidity surrounded by flavors of yellow cherry, cinnamon, fresh herbs, lemon zest infused butter, and sweet, Bartlett pear. Steely, salty, lip-smacking finish.

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