Red Rioja Wines and Food

Food Pairing

Rioja wines are known for being very food friendly. Read on to find out what foods will pair well with the different styles of tinto, or red, Rioja wines.

Rioja tinto (red)
Joven (young) wines are exuberant reds with minimal (less than 12 months) oak aging or no oak aging at all. Increasingly, producers of ultra modern Rioja are opting out of classic age designations (Crianza, etc.) in favor of a generic Rioja seal. Typically sourced from old vineyard sites with highly specific terroir profiles, these wines tend to see all new French oak and hit the market as early as three years after harvest. Great as a sipping wine (in other words, what you drink while you’re cooking dinner) and a summer barbecue wine, also great for red sangria and marinades.

Pagos del Rey El Círculo Joven 2007
Bodegas Beronia Joven 2005

Ultra Modern:
Telmo Rodriguez Lanzaga 2004
Finca El Bosque 2004
Artadi Pagos Viejos 2004

The fruitiest red made in Rioja. Very summery aromas: strawberries and cherries. Highly extracted bruisers with lush mouthfeel, abundant tannins, super-concentrated red or black fruit, and complex aromas rich with chocolate, baking spices,
licorice, tar, fresh tobacco, and sweet flowers.


  • Beef or turkey chili
  • Chinese food
  • Vegetable curry
  • Try with a sweet cow’s milk blue cheese (Stilton, Fourme d’Ambert)
  • Roasted loin of venison with prunes
  • Grilled ribeye steak
  • Cassoulet
  • Beef bourguignon
  • Pasta Bolognese

Rioja tinto (red) Crianza
An easy drinking style, Crianzas tend to emphasize fresh fruit above all else and spend less time in bottle than Reservas. Aged for a minimum of two years, one of which must be in oak barrels. Crianza is Rioja’s everyday wine.

Marqués de Tomares Crianza, Campo Viejo Crianza, Bodegas LAN Crianza

Big aromas of strawberries, cherries, with varying degrees of toasty/vanilla flavors and aromas (from the oak) depending on the producer and the type of oak used; but in general fruity and clean on the palate, super quaffable.


  • Crianza is great with spicy food (think of how a chutney cools the mouth when you’re eating spicy Indian food)
  • Whole roasted fish
  • Lasagna
  • Crianzas’ fruity freshness also makes them a perfect foil for aged sheep’s milk cheeses like Manchego, acting almost like a schmear of fruit jam on top of a buttery, slightly piquant cheese.

Rioja tinto (Red) Reserva

Aged for a minimum of 12 months in oak and at least 24 in bottle before release, Rioja Reserva is the benchmark Rioja, the age category on which most bodegas stake their reputations.

Classic Examples:
Bodegas Bretón Loriñon Reserva, Bodegas Riojanas Monte Real Reserva, Bodegas Montecillo Reserva

Classic style Riojas are aged in American oak barrels, and for considerably longer than the D.O.Ca. requires; they tend to have more developed, eathier aromas with less noticeable fresh fruit but more complexity and finesse.

Modern Examples: Marqués de Riscal Baron de Chirel, Cosme Palacios y Hermanos Reserva Privada, Viñedos del Contino Reserva 2000

Modern styles of Reserva tend to have flavor profiles tending towards chocolate, sweet spices, and what the Spanish call sabores balsamicas – fennel, anise, licorice, etc.


  • Shellfish paella
  • Roasted leg of lamb
  • Wild mushroom risotto
  • Lamb tagine
  • Grilled chorizo
  • Barbecued beef brisket
  • Ratatouille

Rioja tinto (Red) Gran Reserva

Made only in the best years and aged for a minimum of five years (two years in oak and three years in bottle), although many bodegas choose to age them for much longer. Wines of superlative elegance and finesse, ready to drink upon release.

Marqués de Murrieta Castillo de Ygay Gran Reserva, Ramon Bilbao Gran Reserva, Marqués de Cáceres Gran Reserva, Campo Viejo Gran Reserva

A special occasion wine. A seductive and complex blend of subtle spice and soft fruit: blackberries, dried cherries, and cinnamon overlain with very developed, so-called tertiary flavors that are the hallmark of the Old World style: cigar box, leather, wet earth, mushrooms, truffles, and faded flowers. A wine to linger over and return to over the course of a meal, offering the patient drinker something different with each visit to the glass.


  • Excellent with fall and winter stews
  • Sautéed mushrooms
  • Duck confit
  • Roasted squab or pheasant
  • Chestnut soup

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