Rioja [ree OH hah]
Rioja is a tricky region, everybody has heard of it, even if not everybody can pronounce it properly, Del Boy isn’t the only person to get it wrong. So if one of the most well known wine regions in the world is mostly a mystery then I should try to shed a little light on the place, the grapes and the wines.
Whilst red Rioja will come in many shades of red from light brick through to the deep dark crimson of freshly spilt blood the wines of Rioja also come in white and rose. Even then it isn’t just as simple as one style of white and one style of rose there are still a whole range of styles available and so there is something for every palate.
Unaged white Rioja
These wines are very often made from 100% Viura and are youthful, clean, zesty and fresh.
Try. Cune Monopole Rioja Blanco 2014 was 9.99 now only 7.99
Barrel fermented white Rioja
Again viura will often be the predominant grape variety but there may be some Garnacha Blanca or Malvasia added to give the wine some extra weight and body or, in the case of Malvasia, some pleasant savoury notes. The more creamy, textured flavours of these wines are a perfect accompaniment to richer fish dishes.
Try. Valenciso Rioja Blanco 2013 17.99
The main grapes used to make rose Rioja are Tempranillo and Garnacha. Traditionally rose Rioja is a very dark shade of pink and has plenty of dark red fruit flavours. In the last few years a few producers have started making wines that are more akin to the classics of Provence in terms of colour and flavour. These very pale pink wines have a beautiful creamy texture with more subtle red fruit flavours and a slightly savoury finish. Much more my kind of thing.
Try. Vina Real Rioja Rosado 2014 was 9.99 now only 8.50
This is where things get a little more complex so in the words of MC Hammer we’ll ‘break it down’ a little.
The classic variety of Rioja and the grape that most people will be familiar with. Produces wines which are supple and fruity.
A warming, spicy, juicy flavour with old vines capable of producing fruit which is able to produce very refined wines.
Generally blended with Tempranillo to add colour and weight. It’s tannins help the wine to age gracefully.
For many years this grape was the black sheep in Rioja in fact it takes its name from its lack of popularity with winemakers, Graciano translates as ‘thank you, no’. It works well in giving wines a little extra acidity. Contino are one of only five producers to make a single variety Graciano and one of those producers is in Australia!
Tinto Joven or Guarantee of Origin
These are young fruity wines, very approachable and easy drinking.
Try. Vega Piedra Rioja 6.99
There should be some lovely creamy vanilla notes and a fresh, juicy fruitiness. The deliciously approachable nature of the style makes this a perfect partner to tapas.
Try. Cune Rioja Crianza 2011 was 10.99 now 7.99
For me this is where the magic happens. Aged for at least three years reservas should be more serious, more concentrated and just downright more Rioja. I personally believe that a really good Reserva Rioja is one of the best pound for pound value wines you can get. A lovely slow cooked shoulder of lamb and a bottle of Reserva makes me a very happy man.
Try. Contino Rioja Reserva 2008 was 21.50 now 14.99
With a minimum five years of ageing these want to be wines of intense complexity and the very best rank among the world’s finest wines. A great accompaniment to a rich oxtail stew.
Try. Imperial Rioja Gran Reserva 2008 was 42.00 now 36.00
It’s a common misconception that Gran Reserva wines are bigger and better than Reserva wines and that Reserva wines are better than Crianza wines but the names don’t relate to quality but to style. A Gran Reserva will very often have less oomph than a Reserva but much more finesse and complexity. A Crianza is a terrific wine to just relax and enjoy with simple food and great company whereas a Gran Reserva merits a little more pomp and ceremony. So it’s not about how old or how much you spend it’s important to find the wine that best suits the moment and in Rioja there is a wine for every occasion.
Rioja is divided in to three principal regions and each has its own distinct characteristics.
On the western edge of the region the vineyards here sit a little higher above sea level and the wines here and can produce wines that are full bodied.
Try. Vega del Rayo Rioja Reserva 2009 10.99
The highest elevation of the three regions and the wines from these vineyards are typically a little lighter in weight but they make up for this with a little more feminine complexity.
Try. Vina Real Rioja Gran Reserva 2007 was £24.99 now £17.99
Warmer and sunnier than Alta or Alavesa this is the work horse region of Rioja and the wines here tend to be more fruit forward with a darker richer colour.
Try. Artesa Rioja Tempranillo 2014 £7.50
Did the French help the Spanish?
Rioja has been a wine producing since Roman time but things changed for the region enormously in the 19th Century. As the pest Phylloxera devastated the vineyards of France the French went looking for other countries to source wine from. At the time the red wines of Rioja were mainly made using the Carbonic Maceration method (as used in Beaujolais today) this produced wines which were light, juicy and needed drinking whilst young. The French encouraged the use of traditional winemaking methods and the ageing of wines in oak barrels. These new wave wines were sold in France and England. So important was the English market that Cune produced a wine for the English which was sold in Imperial pint bottles and hence Cune Imperial Rioja was born. The French may well have had an influence on the wines of Rioja but today these wines are distinctly Spanish and definitely Rioja.
A perfectly good excuse to re-use my favourite Spanish themed recipe.
Chorizo and Potato Stew.
1 Chorizo (the dry sort that is sold as a horseshoe shaped sausage) sliced into pound coin size pieces
1 medium onion finely chopped
1 clove of garlic finely sliced
1 glass dry white wine
3 dry bay leaves
1kg of new potatoes, Charlottes are good, chopped roughly.
A kettle of boiling water
Set the oven to 220 or gas mark 7
Put a tablespoon of olive oil in the bottom of a large oven proof dish or casserole on the top of the stove and add the onion and garlic, soften on a medium heat.
Then add the chorizo and stir round for about 5 minutes to get plenty of colour and flavour out of it.
Add the glass of dry white wine and bring to a simmer.
Add the potatoes and stir round once or twice.
Add the boiling water until the potatoes are just about covered.
Add the bay leaves and season with salt and pepper.
Bring to the boil and then leave to simmer for 10 mins.
Taste and add more seasoning if required.
Put in the oven for 25 mins or longer if you think it needs to reduce a little more.
Serve with big chunks of crusty bread and a bottle of my current favourite Rioja,
Vina Real Rioja Reserva 2010 was 18.99 now only 14.99
Right then that’s it for now.