Over the past year, we've been working with Ibiza Restaurant in Hamden on several events. Each time without fail they've over delivered. Now I know that term "over delivered" gets used a lot and to the extent that the mere sound of the phrase can almost feel watered down with short expectations anytime someone uses it. We are assuring you that this is not the case with Ibiza in Hamden. On a recent winter night, our tasting group got together with special guest Juan Carlos from Bodegas Olarra. We had spoken about doing a vintage Rioja comparison for some time, but holiday timing proved to be a challenge. With a prefixed menu created by Juan Carlos and the culinary team at Ibiza we dined with a small group of ten. We went with a small group to encourage discussion of food and wine pairings along with vintage to vintage comparison discussion.
From 2004 to 2009, the line up consisted of side by side vintage comparisons to illustrate the tremendous aging potential of Rioja wines. When Bordeaux, Burgundy and Barolo command significantly more dollars in order to acquire something worthy of laying down for several years, Rioja strolls in and much live their Cava, says we can do the same while providing affordability. Even within the realm of aged Rioja you will find elements similar to those famous wine regions mentioned above.
A quick run down on Rioja D.O.Ca requirements.
Get to know Tempranillo! It's one of the main grapes of Rioja along with Garnacha, Graciano & Manzuelo. By RIoja DOCa regulations, those grapes are a must, so you Pinot Noir produces, we love ya but not in our Rioja.
READ THE LABEL! Look for the following key words which dictate aging: Joven, Crianza, Reserva & Gran Reserva.
Joven: Rioja used to be called “vin joven” which literally means “young wine.” Now when a wine is labeled Rioja you can assume it’s a base-model Tempranillo. These wines don’t have the tannin structure or oak flavors that are common in the higher end wines.
Crianza: A minimum of one year in casks and a few months in the bottle. For white wines, the minimum cask aging period is 6 months. They can always go more, but this is the minimum requirement for the "Crianza" designation.
Reserva: aged for a minimum of 3 years, with at least one year in casks. For white wines, the minimum aging period is 2 years, with at least 6 months in casks.
Gran Reserva: at least 2 years in oak casks and 3 years in the bottle. For white wines, the minimum aging period is 4 years, with at least one year in casks.
Now for the food...
We open up every event with some form of bubbles. When in Spain, we drink Cava. When it's Monday, we drink Cava. See where we're going with this?
The dish, fresh sardines dressed with a sherry vinegar over arugula salad. The Cava offsets the acidity and tartness of the dressing creating this melody that allows the sardines to shine through. Perfect start and we are now off and running.
Pulpo a la Gallega or grilled octopus served with Spanish paprika. Much like calamari, if you cook too long you end up with rubber bands. When done right you get this melt in your mouth piece of meat with just a bit of al dente. The wine pairing was the Ondarre 2004 & 2014 Reserva. The 2004 drank like aged French Burgundy, little earthy with some cherry notes. Considering that this wine was 15 years old and still had another 5 years of life, not so bad for an under $30 investment.
Arroz Cremosa con Vieras, creamy saffron rice with bay scallops & sweet peas. We paired this against the Cerro Anon 2006 Reserva.
One of the standout dishes of the lineup. The smell of the saffron coming off the rice created this Pavlovian effect where you couldn't grab your fork fast enough to dive in. Bay scallops were delicate.
I can't even begin to tell you how much we love this wine vintage after vintage. Best bargain Rioja Reserva under $30.
Lomo de Cerdo, marinated pork loin served with a sweet potato puree, roasted veggies in a fig port wine reduction. I need to learn how to make this port wine sauce and pour it over a toasted pound cake with vanilla bean ice cream. If i had a loaf of crusty bread I would have sopped up every last drop f this sauce with the bread, but I digress. The sauce and pork combo was a great compliment only second to the wine pairing with the Cerro Anon 2005 Gran Reserva. I'm trying hard not to make this a wine review as to give attention to the food that I take horrible notes during a wine dinner event. It's bad enough that we're snapping pictures during the event, now imagine taking notes.
Cordero, rack of lamb served with seasoned mashed potatoes, roasted veggies with a peppercorn sauce. I am in no way being paid to speak about this restaurant. I don't write restaurant reviews in hopes I get free food or massive likes on social media. Saving the best for last doesn't even give this dish the credit it so rightfully deserves. This was executed with perfection from the top sear crust to the tender center to the peppercorn sauce that complimented it. If I wasn't such a glutton to begin with and trying desperately to shave off the Christmas pounds then I would've paid extra for another helping of this lamb. Oh oh, yes the wine...served with the Summa 2006 Reserva. Great wine, but giving the lamb the spotlight here.
Finishing the night off with this delectable Tarta de Chocolate. I am opposed to serving dessert wines especially after a succession of food and wine. It's too filling and the thought of sweet paired with more sweet at this point of the night usually ends with a mouth full of TUMS. Mayor Ondarre 2009 Reserva was the perfect nightcap this dinner.
If you've been to one of the many events we've done at Ibiza then these pictures will only resonate the phenomenal dishes they are creating. The restaurant just celebrated it's one year anniversary under the new management and we hope to celebrate many more with them. For quality, creativity and value they are a hard act to beat with the numerous Mediterranean themed tapas establishments in the vicinity. This is worth checking out on your own or attend one of events with them. Stay tuned for more.
Ibiza Restaurant & Tapas
1832, 3105, Dixwell Ave, Hamden, CT 06514
Phone: (203) 691-7027