Rioja

A glass of Rioja wine and Ratatouille are seen in the kitchen of columnist Carson Bodnarek. 

If previous columns weren’t enough to confirm I'm a fan of Disney, let this be your official notice. 

One of the recent Disney classics that has a soft spot in my heart is Ratatouille. It's the story of a rat from humble beginnings that finds inspiration and courage to cook in the great city of Paris.

Many had never tasted, or even heard of the classic French dish, Ratatouille, until it was made popular by the 2007 cartoon movie of the same name.

And it's a dish that deserves to be known.

Ratatouille is a delicious and aromatic assortment of squash, zucchini, tomato, and eggplant stewed with herbs such as thyme, chervil and Herbes de Provence, which typically consists of sage, oregano, thyme, lavender and marjoram. The famous dish was elevated and renamed “Confit Byaldi” by Thomas Keller, famous restaurateur and chef of The French Laundry in Yountville, California, and later used by Disney animators.

I wanted to try my hand at making Ratatouille. To pair with it, I chose the 2012 Marqués De Riscal Reserva Rioja wine from Spain ($20 at area grocers).

While I could’ve picked a classic French Rhone wine, which would've paired nicely with this stewed dish, I thought the highly perfume-like and aromatic presence in this Rioja wine would serve as a wonderful accompaniment to the aromatics of herbs used in the dish.

Rioja wine also goes nicely with tomato-based sauce dishes, chorizo or roast pork or chicken. This wine is elegant and it’s important to find dishes that have a richness to stand against the tannin structure in the wine for optimal pairings.

Rioja (pronounced ree-yo-ha) is one of Spain’s nine major wine regions and is located in the North Central portion of the country. This region produces mostly red wine and is traditionally known for its production of Tempranillo-based wines; however, it also produces grape varietals of Garnacha and Viura.

The grape, which thrives in the clay and alluvial soil found in the region, produces a wine known for its flavors of plum, vanilla (from American Oak usage, leather and herbaceous flavors such as dill.

Rioja wines have been part of the region and culture for hundreds of years, and very similar to the classifications throughout France and the rest of Europe, Rioja wines are classified and qualified into three categories: Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva, all of which indicate aging requirements when in a bottle and/or barrel and will be noted on the bottle you’re purchasing. Here are the requirements for each category:

  • Crianza: Requires two years of aging before release, one of which in oak barrels.
  • Reserva: Three years required before release and one year in oak barrels.
  • Gran Reserva: Two years in oak barrels required and three years in bottles

When I opened this Marqués de Riscal Reserva, I noticed the colors of dark ruby in the center and orange near the rim. The variation in color comes from the age of the wine. Given its age, I let the wine sit 5-10 minutes in my glass before smelling and tasting. Aromas of plum, cherry, rich leather, floral were all accented by subtle vegetal and herbaceous notes.

Flavors of plum and cherry followed through as well as violet and other dried purple flowers, which I found very interesting. It was this element that paired so wonderfully with the Ratatouille or Confit Byaldi.

The richness in flavor depth and high acidity also complemented the dish's piperade, a mixture of roasted bell pepper, garlic and sweet yellow onion that is placed under the medallions of vegetables. This gave the dish a richness, which allowed it to stand up to the tannin structure and alcohol in the wine.

This wine has a medium-to-long finish and is one that continues to dance on your palate even after you’ve finished your sip.

While I would have preferred to make this dish in the summertime after visiting the Freight House Farmers Market, there’s a certain homeyness to this dish, which even in the dead of winter, comes with vibrancy and warmth.

Spanish wines, while generally not top-billing on retail shelves, offer some truly unique wines that are unparalleled in complexity and flavors.

The 2012 Marqués De Riscal Reserva Rioja wine is certainly one to try, whether with a warm plate of Confit Byaldi or simply enjoyed with good company.

Carson Bodnarek, a self-proclaimed “cork dork”, is a certificate recipient from the Court of Master Sommeliers and is currently studying for his certified CMS exam. Always on the hunt for his next great bottle of wine for his collection, he is an avid jetsetter and devout foodie. After moving to Quad-Cities from Iowa City in 2013, Carson now resides in Bettendorf.

Contact Carson Bodnarek at 563-383-2299 or cbodnarek@qctimes.com.