Rioja is one of my favourite wine regions: apart from the inherent quality of the wines, the reason I always give is accessibility. Whether you want a young, fresh and fruity white or rose to enjoy in the warmer months, an intense and spicy red for everyday drinking, or a great wine to age, Rioja offers so many different styles of wine, outstanding quality, and underlying value. The culture of Rioja seems to permeate the wines: these are wines to enjoy with friends, to bring people together whether around a BBQ, a Sunday lunch or a special occasion. So even if you can’t be in the tapas streets of Logroño, or enjoying a hearty chuletón in San Sebastian, you can bring a little of this atmosphere to your own dining tables with a good bottle of Rioja.
Clearly Tempranillo is the star grape in the region and customers in the UK can’t seem to get enough of it but there is now more and more awareness of some of the other varieties that bring so much to the wines, both in single variety wines and blends. The freshness, elegance and raspberry character of Garnacha brings so much to some of the best blended wines in the region, while Graciano offers us some of the biggest, richest and boldest wines. In terms of white wines, we’ve always known that Viura can age (think the great, aged wines of López de Heredia) but more and more producers are finding the perfect balance of fruit and oak, showing off the full-bodied, food-friendly character of Riojan whites.
The great development in the region now is the focus on the vines, the jewels of Rioja. While the classification system (Reserva, Gran Reserva etc) allows us easily to navigate the level of oak and ageing in the various styles, new labelling laws now allow producers to explain more about the village or single vineyard origin of the wines. Some of the vines in Rioja are old, much older than in other European regions, and are situated in incredible sites which allow the grapes to reach their full potential. This is now the moment to expand our knowledge, not just of new producers and wines within the classic Reserva, Gran Reserva system, but also of the historical towns and vineyards dotted throughout this most beautiful of regions.
With everyone enjoying so much red wine from Rioja, it is easy to forget that some of the greatest white wines from Spain also come from this region. And as the nights close in and the weather gets colder, white Rioja can be a great choice for richer, heartier dishes. This 2015 white Reserva is just starting to come into its own: rich and full bodied but with fresh acidity that keeps the wine lively and morish. A special wine to consider for end of year celebrations.
This comes from grapes across the whole region of Rioja but also features a lot of the Manzanos brothers’ top vineyards in the most eastern part of Rioja – Rioja Oriental – and from altitudes over 500m. This is a classic Reserva: plenty of oak balanced with lots of fruit and spice, and fresh acidity. The wine shows off Tempranillo, the star of Rioja grapes, but is blended with a little Garnacha and Mazuelo to add complexity. The resulting wine offers the perfect accompaniment to those special weekend roasts or slow cooked winter meals with friends
Altos de Rioja is one of the most awarded producers in the region, and this wine comes from their most special vineyards at close to 700m altitude. This height gives the wine a beautiful freshness which combines with intensity of fruit and spice. A fantastic wine to impress over the coming festive months or to age for a few years.
People often talk about the great ageing potential of wines from Bordeaux, Burgundy and Northern Italy but older wines in Rioja are sometimes much fresher, fruitier and more enjoyable when old than some of these other famous regions…and better value. This 2010 classic Gran Reserva from the Bujanda family demonstrates this perfectly: soft and smooth with gentle caramel and coffee notes, and still a touch of red fruit. A great match for that carefully curated cheese plate at the end of a dinner party with friends.
Spanish Wine Buyer