Carles Tarrasó Wins the First Rioja Wine & Tapas International Competition

In November, culinary students from fifteen countries entered our Rioja Wine & Tapas International Competition to see who could best pair tapas with Rioja wines. Carles Tarrasó Oliver, a student from Valencia at the Basque Culinary Center, was victorious, taking home the €4,000 prize.

Carles Tarrasó wowed the judges with his ‘Del Cielo a la Tierra’ (‘From heaven to Earth’) – a bulgur wheat crisp, cream cheese and sloe berry tapa paired with the white barrel-fermented Rioja Conde de Valdemar Finca Alto Cantabria 2015.

The jury panel agonized over the decision. Ultimately, they went with Carles Tarrasó, saying, “A barrel-fermented white was perfect with the cheese and the crisps. The texture was very good, the presentation spectacular… In brief, he achieved absolutely everything. It was a great choice and it is evident that he had the advantage of knowing Rioja well.”

Carles Tarrasó explained to the jury the message he wanted to convey with his creation: “just like the Riojan monk Gonzalo de Berceo took the culture which until then had been concealed in the monasteries and brought it ‘from heaven to earth’ by writing the first verses in Spanish, the DOCa Rioja works every day inside and outside our borders to raise awareness of the culture of our wine, which is as much part of our identity as our language.” Regarding the choice of wine, he said: “With this dairy-vegetarian tapa, I wanted to show that the wine combined with any kind of food.”

The competition was organized by the DOCa Rioja in collaboration with the Basque Culinary Center, which provided its premises for the finals. Finalists had to make their tapa for 25 people plus the jury panel, comprised of food experts.

The call for entries was made last September for students in their final year of culinary school. The five finalists who made it to the finals were:

  • Germany’s Daniela Schram, Schram’s Cooking School. Tapa: Shredded beef meat in a banana basket. Wine: Florentino de Lecanda Tinto Reserva 2009.
  • Spain’s Carles Tarrasó Oliver, Basque Culinary Center. Tapa: From heaven to Earth, consisting of a bulgur wheat crisp, cream cheese and a sloe berry crisp. Wine: Conde Valdemar Finca Alto Cantabria 2015 Blanco Fermentado en Barrica.
  • The United States’ Timothy McLane, Midwest Culinary Institute. Duck breast, smoked apples, pickled fennel and vegetables in mustard. Wine: Señorío de San Vicente Tinto 2011.
  • Ireland’s Mary G Finnerty, Galway Mayo Institute of Technology. Tapa: Crispy figs filled with goat cheese with cured ham and caramelized onion jam. Wine: Campo Aldea Tempranillo Tinto 2014.
  • Mexico’s Michelle Aline Ogando Bautista, Cessa Universidad Mexico DF. Tapa: Iberian suckling pig airbags. Wine: Marqués de Cáceres Rosado 2014

As a celebration of the finals, the students enjoyed a three-day tour of the one of the world’s top wine regions, the D.O.Ca. Rioja, and one of the cities with the highest number of Michelin stars per square meter, San Sebastian.