On Saturday afternoon, May 2, 2015, I attended the 2015 Rioja Wine and Tapas Festival with Tom Welsh, co-founder and general manager of the soon-to-open Tapastrie restaurant in South Bend.
The event was held at Union Station in Chicago. Rioja (Ree-oh-ha) wines are produced in northern Spain in the province of La Rioja and a few adjacent areas. Rioja is Spain’s oldest and most prominent wine region.
This was a big event. They haven’t released final attendance figures yet, but original estimates were close to 1,500 people. I can tell you the lines were long to get samples of the wine and food.
There was a 30- to 45-minute wait in line to get to the cheese tables for samples of some wonderful looking cheese. I noticed that people were overfilling their plates once they got to the tables.
RELATED: Tapastrie will open ‘as soon as possible’ pending renovations, liquor license, March 25, 2015
There were 31 wine tables representing more than 60 producers and 100-plus wines. There were 28 chefs from around the country there representing their various restaurants, all preparing many types of tapas.
For those of us who don’t know the true definition of the word (that would include me), tapas is a Spanish word defining a wide variety of appetizers or snacks in Spanish cuisine. These are also at times referred to as small plates.
I would say the most prevalent tapas item featured at the festival was morcilla, or Spanish blood sausage. Blood sausage is made of pork blood and fat with rice or onions. Sometimes it is also made with pine nuts or almonds. I would say that more than half of the food stations featured morcilla in some fashion.
There were ample samples of pork, beef and lamb, as well. Some of the tapas were really creative and very tasty.
Chef Ashlee Aubin, owner of the Chicago restaurant Salero, located at 621 West Randolph (312-466-1000), prepared a rillettes (ri-lets) chorizo (sho-ri-zo) with octopus potato salad.
I am not a big octopus fan, but I do like potato salad, so I was eager to give his tapas a try and it did provide a variety of flavors. In chatting with the chef, he encouraged me to try his restaurant and sample the large wine list of Spanish wines. Sounds interesting, although I don’t think Mrs. Tiedemann would be a fan of blood sausage.
There were many wines represented at the festival. Tom and I didn’t taste them all, but of the ones I tasted, here are some of the better ones. You might want to look for them the next time you are in your favorite wine shop:
- Bodegas Riojanas Viña Albina Reserva 2007 (Tempranillo, Mazuelo, Graciano), $24.99
- Bodegas Riojanas Monte Real Reserva 2006 (Tempranillo), price unknown
- Bodegas Riojanas Viña Albina Gran Reserva 2006 (Tempranillo, Mazuelo, Graciano), $44.99
- Marqués de Vargas Reserva 2009 (Tempranillo, Mazuelo, Garnacha), $26.99
- Bodegas Montecillo Crianza 2010 (Tempranillo), $9.99
- Bodegas Montecillo Reserva 2009 (Tempranillo), $13.99
- Bodegas Ontañón Vetiver Blanco 2012 (Viura), $12.99
- Compañía Bodeguera Valenciso Reserva 2008 (Tempranillo), $36.99
Overall, this was a good event. It was pretty crowed and noisy, as these types of events usually are. However, I tasted some good Spanish wines and had a good time comparing tasting notes with Tom. I have even been contacted by Bodegas Riojanas Wines about being their Indiana distributor.
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One of my pet peeves (as I think I have mentioned before) about wine tastings, especially very crowded ones like this festival, is that people will get in front of the table, get their sample of wine and then stand in front of the table to taste and talk to a companion, not thinking about the 15 people who are standing behind them waiting. You end up sticking your glass under their arm or over their shoulder to get your own glass filled.
All in all, I got to experience Spanish culture up close. I gained more knowledge on Spanish wines and food pairings, had a good time with friend Tom Welsh and, best of all, the proceeds from the event went to the James Beard Foundation for culinary scholarships.
For the admission price of $65, it wasn’t a bad afternoon. In the future, I’ll try and share information on these types of events and the dates they are going to be held with you. You might want to try some of them out.
As they say in Spain, salud!
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Until next week,