Wine Imbiber » Time for Tempranillo
14 Feb


Time for Tempranillo  Print

Rivera LogoThis past December, Leah and I found ourselves in downtown LA for the evening. I never win contests, but Leah does. This time, she scored a pair of tickets from the Wave radio station to attend the Dave Koz Christmas Tour concert. It was a cold and very rainy night as we hiked from the parking lot to the Nokia Theater. The concert was great and a story in itself—Dave Koz and Candy Dulfer on sax, Jonathan Butler on guitar and Brian Culbertson on keyboard (a real master) and several other instruments. Great music for a great evening. But that isn’t what this story is about. Before the concert, we dined at Chef John Rivera Sedlar’s Rivera Restaurant on South Flower Street, just a couple of blocks from the Staples Center and the Nokia Theater. But that isn’t what this story is about either.

This story is about a wine, but it requires a bit of background on our dinner. Rivera can be a bit confusing the first time you visit, but our hostess, Chantal, led us through the concept. The configuration of the restaurant is long but not deep, extending along a stretch of South Flower Street. It is loosely divided into three areas–the Playa room, the Samba room and the Sangre room. As you enter the restaurant, you enter the Samba room, which has a sizeable bar on one side and a row of tables facing it across from the bar seating. Don’t worry if you aren’t the one facing the bar (I wasn’t) because the entire wall has a light box effect with a changing screen that is very soothing. Of course, I was looking at Leah the entire time. To the right (as you enter) is the Sangre room, which offers a more intimate dining experience. As you move from the Samba room to the Playa room, you pass a communal table and a length of dining bar seating. Rivera has seating styles to suit everyone.

La Rioja Alta 2003 Vina Alberdi Reserva RiojaThere is also a “Conexiones” dinner menu that is common to all rooms, but then each room has its own unique menu as well. So, you can visit many times and enjoy three different restaurants in one. The concept is Latin food using French cooking techniques with really interesting presentations. Just a few examples (the menu is extensive) include the Tamal (braised pork short rib, seasonal mushrooms and guajillo sauce), the Melon del Mar (olive oil poached lobster, compressed melon, chile verde gelée), the Parilla (rib–eye fillet, habanero chimichurri, yucca chips), the Flan de Elote (corn and black quinoa custard, squash blossom sauce), the Chile Guero Relleno (tempura chile, crab, corn, soy, ginger, scallion). I won’t bore you with what we chose, except to mention the Costa Rican Puerco (coffee-braised Kurobata pork tenderloin, natural sugar cane sauce). We were ordering wine by the glass and I had just finished a really nice white when I ordered this dish, so it was time to ask for another glass. I asked for a few recommendations and settled on a glass of 2003 Viña Alberdi Reserva Rioja. This wine is entirely Tempranillo, which is sometimes referred to as Spain’s answer to Cabernet Sauvignon. I was hoping it wouldn’t overpower the pork, as I’ve encountered a few pretty strong tempranillo–based wines over the years. It turned out to be a perfect pairing and destined to become a new favorite of mine.

Tempranillo is a Spanish wine varietal and the grape is grown throughout the country. Viña Alberdi Reserva Rioja is a product of Viña Alberdi, a member of the La Rioja Alta winemaking group established in 1890 and located in the Rioja Alta zone of Rioja, the leading wine region of Spain. The winery is situated in northeast Spain along the River Ebro at the winemaking town of Haro (a short drive from Pamplona) and the vineyards are protected by mountains from the rainy winds off the Atlantic. This particular Rioja blends tempranillo grapes from Briñas, Rodezno and Labastida, each a few kilometers away. Many Tempranillos are blended with Garnacha (Spanish for Grenache, another favorite of mine). Tempranillo is a black grape that ripens earlier than Garnacha (“temprano” is Spanish for “early”). In fact, earlier vintages of this wine were blended with some Garnacha, but not the 2003. Garnacha is often added to give the wine more body, but this Tempranillo has plenty of its own. Yet, it is what I would describe as “just this side of full”. It’s lighter than many California Cabs for sure and only slightly restrained in comparison to most Italian Brunellos and Chiantis, which are other favorites of mine. With the coffee–based sauce on the pork, the cherry and red berry flavors and earthy leather notes of this elegant, complex wine were just right.

So, I took note of the wine and subsequently picked up some more bottles at a local wine shop for just under $20 per bottle. I’ve tried it with other pork dishes and it still works its magic. It stands up, but doesn’t overpower. This past weekend, I cooked a five pound pork roast in a Dutch oven at 350° F for 2–1/2 hours after seasoning it with salt, pepper and a few tablespoons of sugar. Then, I used the sticky pan drippings to make a simple gravy to pour over the pork slices. The food was good by itself, but the wine really added a whole other dimension. I just picked up the last eight bottles my local wine shop had. I guess that says it all. If you aren’t already a fan, give some Tempranillos a try.

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