Tem­pranillo, a per­fect pair­ing

Los Angeles Times - - FOOD & DINING - By S. Irene Vir­bila irene.vir­bila@la­times.com

In Spain, eat­ing lamb, and es­pe­cially milk-fed and suck­ling lamb, is prac­ti­cally a reli­gion. Usu­ally it’s quar­tered and roasted in a big terra cotta cazuela in a dome­shaped, wood-burning oven, emerg­ing so ten­der you can cut the meat with a spoon. That’s the way I had it last fall at Res­tau­rante Man­nix in Rib­era del Duero, where some of Spain’s best reds are made from the Tem­pranillo grape. Com­pared with Tem­pranillo strong­hold Rioja, where many of the his­toric cel­lars date from the 19th cen­tury, Rib­era del Duero is a rel­a­tive new­comer. But in both wine re­gions, lamb and Tem­pranillo rule the ta­ble.

You could spend a week in that part of the world and eat lamb ev­ery day. Here, lamb isn’t such an ev­ery­day dish. And a roast leg of lamb is usu­ally re­served for spe­cial oc­ca­sions. You can drink a Pinot Noir or Syrah with lamb, but those Spa­niards from Rioja and Rib­era del Duero know that Tem­pranillo is an es­pe­cially pleas­ing match. The lush, full-bod­ied red does a lovely two-step with the sweet, ten­der meat. That’s ex­actly what’s meant by a syn­ergy be­tween the wine and the food of a spe­cific cor­ner of the world.

2005 La Rioja Alta Viña Ar­danza Reserva Rioja ($30 to $40)

This old-school Rioja from the La Rioja Alta, an es­tate that dates to 1890, is con­sis­tently worth seek­ing out for its qual­ity-to-price ra­tio. The lat­est re­lease is the 2005, and it has ev­ery­thing go­ing for it: gor­geous fruit, en­tic­ing aro­mas of red fruit, sweet spices and tobacco, and a long, smooth fin­ish. Tan­nins are soft and round, the ef­fect el­e­gant. A blend of Tem­pranillo with 20% Gar­nacha (Grenache), the 2005 Viña Ar­danza is lay­ered with com­plex fla­vors yet still fresh at 10 years of age. You keep go­ing back to the glass to see how the wine evolves through the meal. Dis­trib­uted by Golden State Wine Co. (818) 908-9509.

2006 Lopez de Here­dia Rioja Viña Cu­billo Cri­anza Rioja ($25 to $29)

Hard to be­lieve that you can get an or­ganic Rioja from the 2006 vin­tage — al­most 9 years old — for $25. But then Lopez de Here­dia’s Viña Cu­billo has al­ways been a bar­gain. A blend of Tem­pranillo and Gar­nacha, with a lit­tle Mazuelo and Gra­ciano, the deep red wine is bot­tled un­fil­tered. You want char­ac­ter? This tra­di­tional Rioja has strong red fruit, with notes of pep­per and spice. It may not be Lopez de Here­dia’s top Rioja, but it’s one you can wel­come to the ta­ble of­ten. Im­ported by Vi­enna Wine Co. (510) 848-6879.

2011 Pago de Car­raove­jas Cri­anza Rib­era del Duero ($45 to $54)

The 2011 Cri­anza from Pago de Car­raove­jas in Rib­era del Duero tastes rich and bur­nished, and yet it has some­thing wild and un­tamed in its char­ac­ter. It’s 93% Tem­pranillo with just a touch of Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon and Mer­lot. Drink­ing this im­pres­sive Tem­pranillo takes you back some­how to a old tav­erna in the coun­try­side, where, of course, you’d be feast­ing on roast lamb cooked in the fire­place. It’s the most ex­pen­sive bot­tle in this group­ing, and worth it. You might want to open it an hour or so be­fore serv­ing. Im­ported by Au­then­tic Wine Se­lec­tions. (510) 4868347.

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