10 Sep Please The Palate Pick of the Week: Dining at 71 Above in Downtown LA with La Rioja Alta Wines
Whenever friends come to town, I love taking them to 71 Above in Downtown LA. The views are spectacular and the food is an equal match. However, after not eating out much for the past few years, I had forgotten about how special 71 Above is. But this week I drove downtown to a wine dinner with the wines of La Rioja Alta from Spain. As I rode the elevator up 71 flights, the excitement built. And then I walked out of the elevator and it felt so familiar. As I looked out at the city of Los Angeles with a glass of wine in hand, I knew that Dining at 71 Above in Downtown LA with La Rioja Alta Wines was the Please The Palate pick of the week.
71 Above is located on the 71st floor atop the US Bank Tower, the tallest building on the West Coast. Once in the restaurant, you are 950 feet above the sidewalk in a circular restaurant. There is a different view of Los Angeles from every seat. There is not a bad seat in the house and we were in one of the private rooms that are on either side of the main dining room. I luckily took a seat looking out and was able to watch the sun set and the lights shine across the city.
I was attending a dinner with Guillermo de Aranzabal, President of La Rioja Alta, the world’s 4th most admired winery, according to Drinks International 2022. The company has four wineries in top regions in Spain – Rioja, Ribera del Duero, and Rías Baixas. Our dinner featured library wines of La Rioja Alta.
The dinner started with a fresh and textured glass of the 2020 Lagar de Cervera Albariño from Rías Baixas with passed appetizers. We then sat down to place settings with 12 glasses set in front. Three flights of four wines were being poured.
Guillermo is the 5th generation in his family to run the company. He joined the family business 35 years ago in 1987. The first flight started with a glass of the 1987 Viña Arana Reserva made with Tempranillo blended with Graciano and Manzuelo. This wine was from the same year that Guillermo started at the winery and was utterly beautiful to drink.
Executive Chef Javier Lopez prepared a delicious menu to pair with the wine. For the first course, we were served delicate agnolotti with mascarpone, smoked mozzarella, black truffle, and chives. This dish was paired with the 1987 Viña Arana Reserva, as well as the 2001, 2004, and 2015 Viña Ardanza Reserva. As beautiful as all the wines were, the 1987 Viña Arana Reserva stood out. With 35 years of age on it, this wine had notes of dry herbs, leather, and earth and it balanced with the creaminess of the mascarpone and smoked mozzarella.
The second course was a perfectly cooked Pork Belly served with creamy polenta, maitake mushroom, and black garlic jus. This dish was paired with 1997, 2001, 2005, and 2015 Gran Reserva 904. The Gran Reserva 904 is allocated from the best harvest of the oldest vines. For me, the standout was the 2005 which had aromas of red berries, spices, herbs, and earth and a lovely roundness on the palate that harmonized with the umami flavors of the dish.
The third course was Grilled Ribeye with charred broccolini, crispy shallot, date puree, garlic, and jus. The meat was so tender that it almost melted in the mouth. This dish was paired with 1995, 1998, 2001, and 2010 Gran Reserva 890. The Gran Reserva 890 is the most exclusive wine from La Rioja Alta. It is only made in exceptional vintages. The 890 wines have more body and more intensity than the 904 wines which are more about elegance. From this flight, it was the the 2001 Gran Reserva 890 that stood out and the bigger body of the wine was a match to the fattiness of the meat.
With all of the wines still in front of me, I was able to retaste as I finished the meal with a Cheese Plate with Sofia, Trillium, Ameribella and seasonal accompaniments.
The beautiful pairings of the wines of La Rioja Alta with the food of 71 Above, along with the extraordinary view, made this dining experience the highlight of my week.