While everyone is scrambling for the foolproof wine for Thanksgiving, the truth is that it’s been in front of us all the time. Rioja is the perfect wine for Thanksgiving, not just because it’s got the right flavor profile, and is super food-friendly, but also because there are so many variations of Rioja that it really can be paired with just about any Turkey Day celebration -- from the simplest classic to all the regional favorites.
So, why Rioja? Well, the character of Tempranillo plays a big role in choosing Rioja to pair with your Thanksgiving Day feast. You see, Tempranillo has an ideal combination of juicy acidity; soft, velvety tannins; and rich fruit flavors that make it the perfect complement to any turkey.
Rioja's robust reds, crisp whites and refreshing rosés go well with a wide variety of dishes for holiday parties. And Vibrant Rioja is giving you the chance to see how food-friendly Rioja is. Simply enter the competition to win a dinner for two, matched with Rioja wines, to taste for yourself and toast the holiday season.
Check out our easy pairing guide to help point you in the direction of the right Rioja for your celebration!
Before we dive into the specific pairing recommendations it’s worth taking a few seconds to familiarize yourself with the various classifications of Rioja. No matter which one you end up selecting, from the youngest, fruitiest Joven to the remarkably silky, complex and rich Gran Reservas, you can rest assured that you’re making a great choice. Tempranillo, Rioja’s flagship grape, and the dedication of the region’s producers are making sure of that.
Another reason to choose Rioja this Thanksgiving is because Rioja is always ready! That’s right, while many other wines promise greatness, Rioja wines are only released when they are ready to be enjoyed, so you’ll never have to wait on your wine. Now many Rioja wines, both white and reds, improve with bottle age, but all of them are always great on day one as well. It’s reassuring to know that no matter which Rioja wine you buy, or bring to a celebration, it’s ready to be enjoyed.
Joven or Guarantee of Origin
Let’s start with the basics. A simply roasted turkey and fresh vegetables, for example, would be an ideal accompaniment for a zippy Joven. Traditionally Joven has been used to by producer to indicate a fruit-driven style of Rioja with soft tannins and bright acidity supporting the classic raspberry fruit of Tempranillo. Usually medium-bodied, it’s the softest, fruitiest Rioja and its purity is perfect for a simply prepared turkey.
Recent changes to Rioja's regulations have allowed other wines to be included in this category, which is now called Guarantee of Origin. In essence, this is a catch-all denomination for Rioja wines that don't meet the guidelines for being labelled as Crianza, Reserva, or Gran Reserva. One trick to help you find these fresh, bright wines is to look for the most recent vintage, since some wines that are labelled with the green stamp of the Guarantee of Origin have spent a season or more in oak. For example, if you find a Rioja from 2009 already on the shelves you can be sure that you've found a fruit forward bottle of Rioja. Even many 2008s, particularly those that are notably affordable, are going to be in this bright fresh style.
The next Rioja classification is probably the one that we are most familiar with: Crianza. This entry-level Rioja sees more barrel-ageing than Roble or Barrica wine, but that doesn’t mean the wines are oakier. The extra ageing requirement is actually there to help soften the wines. The beauty of Crianza wines is the seamless integration of the lush fruit of youth with the subtle spice of barrel-ageing, all delivered in a silky smooth package. These are ideal wines for turkey dinners and would work superbly with dishes as diverse as fried turkey to turkey with oyster stuffing. Remember, Rioja is the wine for paella -- that classic combination of seafood, sausage, and rice -- so don’t shy away from Rioja just because you’re using some seafood in your Thanksgiving Day celebration!
While turkey is of course the classic centerpiece of the Thanksgiving table, smaller families sometimes require more modest birds. Many people have turned to duck or goose for the big day and these richer, more complex birds benefit by being paired with a richer, more complex wine.
With additional ageing, Rioja gains an even deeper velvety texture and the fruit begins to take on woodsy flavors, yet the wines remain bright and fresh. The wonderful freshness of Rioja is linked to its succulent acidity and it is this acidity paired with the complex array of flavors found in Rioja Reserva that makes it the perfect complement for more complex poultry preparations featuring duck, goose, or a combination of birds. Turducken, anyone? Make sure you serve Rioja Reserva alongside this Cajun specialty of chicken stuffed in a duck stuffed in a turkey!
Only one Rioja is left: the grandest of them all -- Gran Reserva, in fact. These are wines that combine almost immeasurable depth with layered complexity and a seamless, hedonistic texture. One of the great wines of the world, as well as one of the most affordable and easiest to find at that. Choose a Rioja Gran Reserva when you want the wine to shine! These are wines of supreme elegance and are best when matched with an equally elegant meal, but don’t let that stop you from pairing a Rioja Gran Reserva with your holiday bird.
What could be better? A wonderful feast, friends and family, and the great wines of Rioja. So, make sure you include Rioja wines in your planning this year. The wines will be the co-stars of the evening, and you’ll look like the wine expert that you are as everyone marvels at the perfect pairing: Rioja and Thanksgiving!