Whether you’re vegan or not, picking out a decent wine from a restaurant menu is never easy. Unless you really know your wine, or are dining somewhere with a qualified sommelier, choosing a bottle tends to come down to picking a wine style you know you like, and hoping that your company will like it too.
That’s why it was doubly exciting to find the vegan-friendly deAlto Amo Rioja Corsecha 2016 on the menu at Koh-I-Noor, a Indian restaurant in Birmingham.
The beautiful thing about Rioja is that everyone likes it. Fruit, spice, lots of character without being too heavy, it’s a super versatile wine that’s born to be shared over a meal.
Rioja is always high on my list of choices when it comes to red. The wines are gorgeous when drunk alone, or paired with food, and tend to be bold, fruity and spicy, with medium tannins – which is good, because a lot of high-tannic reds (Barolo, Malbec, etc) are designed to be eaten with rich, meaty food, or cheese. Not exactly handy for vegans!
What many people don’t know is that Rioja is actually not a grape. It’s a wine classification- just like Champagne, a wine can only be called a Rioja if it is made from grapes grown in the Rioja region in Spain. It can be red (tinto), white (blanco) or rosé (rosado), with red being the one most people associate with Rioja. So, it’s still fine for someone to say, “I like Cabernet Sauvignon and Rioja”, but this statement actually means two very different things.
For red Rioja, the most well known and oft-used grape is Tempranillo. Often referred to as “Spain’s Noble Grape”, this quick-ripening grape produces wines that can be blended superbly, and show a lot of character when aged in oak barrels for a number of years.
This is a blend of Tempranillo, Graciano, and Garnacha (Spain’s other favourite grapes for Riojas) and, for thirsty vegans trying to find wines at a restaurant, it’s a very good choice. Nicely balanced, with lots of ripe fruit, it’s a reliable choice, especially when choosing wine for a group with mixed tastes.
To learn a little more about it, you need only look at the back of the bottle. “Fusing centuries old traditions with contemporary wisdom, deAlto amo is a modern interpretation of Rioja”. This is a nod to the winemakers choice to use the favourite grapes of Rioja wines, as well as their minimal intervention policy during the growing process. The result is a wine that has been allowed to grow its own personality; at 13.5%, it’s on the lighter end of red, but still has lots of character. Whilst it doesn’t offer all that much when you smell it, it certainly delivers on flavour.
How It Tastes:
As with many Tinto Riojas, and Spanish red wines in general, deAlto has lots of ripe red fruit – think luscious berries, red cherry, plum – which are nicely balanced with some cassis (blackcurrant) and spice. The bottle describes it as “woodspice”, which is just a fancy marketing term. What it’s getting at is warm, comforting spice; earthy, sweetened a little with cinnamon, but not so much that it tastes like a pumpkin spice latte. There’s some vanilla in there, too, and mocha. It was a little closer to dark chocolate for me, but either way, it’s a very nice element, and one that’s found in a lot of Riojas.
My bottle was enjoyed whilst dining out, but it is also available to buy. You can find it on many online wine merchants for approximately £8. Paul Roberts Wines offer a case of 3 for £22.50.
Food pairings for Rioja:
Spanish reds have a lot of energy, and a lot of personality, which makes them very enjoyable on their own, and also a nice match for a lot of different food, because it’s not too delicate, but not too overpowering, either. So I was overjoyed to find out that the Rioja on the menu at the Indian restaurant was vegan! I think the other option on the cards was a Pinot Grigio, which would have been okay, but would’ve affected the food choices. As it was, I could order my spinach curry and chickpea dal with gusto.
As a rule, the sweeter, fruitier, zingy character of Rioja pairs nicely with medium spicy curries, meaty pastas, and rich meat with a sweet fruit element, like duck in plum sauce, pork and and apple. That’s not immediately useful to us, of course, but there’s plenty of vegan curries that are delicious and very easy to make, or find. There’s also a lot of really, really good meat substitutes out there at the moment, including fake duck, and meaty mushroom varieties would lay the groundwork for a truly stunning food and wine pairing.
For Birmingham vegans, I’d highly recommend Koh-I-Noor for eating out. The food was delicious, and the staff kindly didn’t comment on the weirdo in the corner taking photos of her wine bottle, which is always a plus.
I’d love to hear about your experiences with Rioja, and whether you’ve tried deAlto Amo, so leave me a comment down below. Happy drinking, everyone!