Appellation: Modern-style Rioja Alavesa
Pairing: Patatas a la Riojana
Sommelier: Emily MacLean, Sommelier, Director of Operations, The Sommelier Factory

About the Sommelier: Emily MacLean is a Certified Sommelier based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. She is the Director of Operations at The Sommelier Factory; a wine training facility founded by Bruce Wallner, Master Sommelier. She also assumes the role of General Manager at Toronto’s Academie du Vin. When she is not in a classroom, you can find her selling wine on the floor at some of Toronto’s top restaurants


About the Pairing: While often thought of as a classic, traditional wine producing area, Rioja is not immune to change and modernization. Over the past few decades there has been a marked uptick in the number of producers veering away from traditional, oxidative winemaking styles that use extended ageing in American oak barrels. 

The modern style increasingly views later harvests, riper fruit, higher alcohol levels, and shorter ageing periods. Often welcoming the use of French oak in lieu of American oak, and employing slower, cooler fermentations and deeper colour extraction, results in wines with fresher fruit profiles and greater concentration. 

In an effort to continue its evolution and modernization, in 2017 the Rioja DOCa approved the Viñedos Singulares designation, where producers are able to register their single vineyards and use them on their labels.  The assessment process for achieving this is quite rigorous; grapes must be hand-harvested at small yields, vines must be at least 35 years old, the estate must prove that it has been working with the vineyard for at least 10 years, and the wine must pass a tasting panel. 

I chose to pair the wine with Patatas a la Riojana (‘Rioja-style potatoes’). The lesser- known sibling to Spain’s iconic Patatas Bravas, the dish is adored locally, even receiving rave reviews from venerated French chef Paul Bocuse on a trip to Rioja in 1979. Potatoes are slowly simmered alongside chorizo and onions in a paprika laden stew, resulting in a rich, smoky, and densely flavoured dish. The wine, much like the dish, is densely flavoured and complex while maintaining enough freshness to cut through the richness of the dish.


Patatas a la Riojana

6 Servings

2 lb yellow fleshed potatoes, peeled, roughly chopped
1 tbsp each salt, pepper, smoked paprika
Vegetable oil
1 Serrano pepper, seeds removed, minced
6 tbsp olive oil
3 Spanish-style chorizo sausages, sliced
2 cups spicy tomato sauce

Directions: Boil potatoes in salted water for 10 to 12 minutes, until tender. Drain, cool and pat dry.  Transfer to a bowl and season with salt, pepper and paprika. Place a deep sided pan over medium-high heat. Add enough oil to cover in bottom. Working in batches fry potatoes until golden brown. Add more oil as needed. Add the olive oil to the pan. Reduce heat to medium-low and sauté pepper for 30 seconds. Add the potatoes and chorizo to the pan and sauté until warm. Add the tomato sauce and warm through. Serve warm.

*Cru by CAPS & the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers would like to thank and acknowledge the Rioja DOCs and other funding partners for supporting the production of this content.