Chicago appears to be the king of wine festivals this May. The 2015 Rioja Wine and Tapas Festival (Rioja), which showcases Spain’s most prominent food and wine is the most recent. Held on Saturday, May 2nd, at the historical Union Station on Canal Street, Rioja showcased special wine tastings, flights, food pairings, and discounts in restaurants and wine stores throughout the in the city. More than forty wineries of Spain and thirty chefs from around the United States participated in Rioja, which had its debut in Chicago. This festival was the opportunity for people to experience their love of Spanish wine, cheese, and tapas.
I was very excited about attending Rioja especially because of my own love of Spanish wine, and also because this was its first appearance in Chicagoland. Rioja is on a “ride” with stops all over the country.
As Rioja was being held in Chicago’s Union Station, I thought it was the perfect place to house a festival celebrating Spanish wine and tapas. With its sweeping ceiling and walls and columns, it was an ideal location. The back wall of the huge room was adorned with a large red flag showing the Rioja logo. We were greeted at the entrance staircase also with the logo as a light installation, which was very beautiful. Volunteers provided us with helpful brochures that listed every wine available to sample and which tables they were located at, including a map of the entire festival. Being among the vast crowds was more pleasant with a band that provided musical entertainment.
The venue was packed, and my friend and I found it difficult at first to navigate through the crowd to do our tastings. The longest line we saw was the line for the wonderful selection of Spanish cheeses offered to sample along with the wines. We waited a long while but it was well worth it. I sampled several delicious cheeses including soft cheddars, creamy, tangy goat cheese, and a fantastic blue cheese called La Caseria. All wines were divine with the cheeses-not only do the Spanish know their wine, but they also know cheese!
I sampled several red and white wines. Each sommelier that poured our samples was very educated and knowledgeable about the particular wine they were offering to us. They were able to recommend the best wines for pairing with cheeses and tapas. Out of all the wines I sampled, my absolute favorite was the Carlos Serres Gran Reserva, which consisted of 85% Tempranillo, 10% Graziano, and 5% Mazuelo. It was a deep, smooth, robust, and fruitful red wine, which was the result of extended aging in barrel and bottle. I smelled lovely aromas and tasted blackberries, vanilla, and cinnamon.
Besides the cheese and wine samples, guests were also able to sample various meats, desserts, and other tapas. My friend and I are vegetarian and of course, steered clear from the whole body roasted animals and heads. Somehow, we missed the desserts; we both deeply regretted this considering we both have a sweet tooth.
Overall, I was deeply impressed with the Rioja festival. However, my friend and I both agreed that besides the cheeses, there were not many vegetarian dishes to choose from. I felt that the festival focused heavily on meat, which is a specialty in Spain, in their tapas. Some chefs were able to alter their samples and accommodate us with meatless tapas, which was very much appreciated.
The Rioja Wine and Tapas Festival made a grand debut in the city of Chicago. I was very impressed by the wide range of selection of wines, tapas, and cheeses to choose from. I look forward to attend the festival in 2016!
To learn more about the 2015 Rioja Tapas and Wine Festival, as well as the 2014
New York version, please visit their website.
All photos by Jennifer Lunz unless otherwise noted.