Culinary schools in fifteen countries participated in this competition of tapas paired with Rioja wines.

Carles Tarrasó Oliver, a student from Valencia at the Basque Culinary Center, was the winner of the Rioja Wine & Tapas International Competition with his ‘Del Cielo a la Tierra’ (‘From heaven to Earth’) consisting of a bulgur wheat crisp, cream cheese and a sloe berry crisp harmonising with the white barrel fermented Rioja Conde de Valdemar Finca Alto Cantabria 2015.


The competition was organised by the D.O.Ca. Rioja with the collaboration of the Basque Culinary Center, which provided its premises for the finals of the five representatives from culinary schools in the United States, Mexico, Ireland, Germany and Spain. The finalists had to make their tapa for 25 people plus the jury panel, comprised of food experts. The winner received a prize of 4000 euros in cash and an intensive, week-long course at the Basque Culinary Center.

The jury panel highlighted the high level of the participants and how difficult it was to choose the winner among them. Ultimately, what they valued most was  “the concept of the tapa itself. The creator had a clear idea that he wanted to represent ‘heaven and earth’ and which ingredients to use, which are also typical of Rioja.” “The harmonising was also very successful. 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,” concluded the jury panel in their assessment.

Carles Tarrasó leveraged that knowledge in the presentation of his tapa to the jury, to whom he explained the message that he had 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 D.O.Ca. 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.” And 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.” 

Extensive participation:

Culinary schools in fifteen countries participated in the first Rioja Wine & Tapas International Competition. The call for entries was made last September for students in their last year at culinary schools and faculties. The five finalists from each participating country who came to the finals were:

Germany: Daniela Schram, Schram’s Cooking School. Tapa: Shredded beef meat in a banana basket. Wine: Florentino de Lecanda Tinto Reserva 2009.

Spain: 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.

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: Mary G Finnerty, Galway Mayo Institute of Technology. Tapa: Crispy figs filled with goat cheese with cured ham and caramelised onion jam. Wine: Campo Aldea Tempranillo Tinto 2014.

Mexico: Michelle Aline Ogando Bautista, Cessa Universidad Mexico DF.  Tapa: Iberian suckling pig airbags. Wine: Marqués de Cáceres Rosado 2014

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