Spain isn’t all about Rioja but there’s no denying that it dominates the Spanish wine horizon. This means that wines like the ones I wrote about last week have to work extra hard to emerge from out of the shadows of Rioja. This could be seen as a bad thing but it’s actually good for you, the drinker, as it increases the quality of the wines coming out of these lesser known regions without the price tag of a more famous geographical title. So what I’m going to do here is talk about the wines of Rioja with a little more subtlety to try and level the playing field.
I went to Rioja once, it was lovely and sunny, a bit like Huddersfield today but with vines (that is obviously an exaggeration, I put it down to heat stroke). I learned a great deal of things about Rioja that I hadn’t known before but the most important one was that the whole Crianza, Reserva, Gran Reserva thing is to be viewed with care. How often do you see a Gran Reserva wine on offer at around the £10 mark and think “Wow! That’s great value, Gran Reserva wines are usually over £20”. The problem here is that the whole ageing system in Rioja is just that, a system which governs the amount of time a wine is aged in both barrel and bottle. It doesn’t govern the type of barrel, the age of the barrel or the quality of the fruit used in the first place, and as such it is open to abuse. So how do you ensure that you are buying a great wine from Rioja? Well it is the same as any for any other wine, ask me, or failing that find a producer you trust and stick with them.
Now that I’m down off of me soap box let’s have a look at one of those producers you can trust.
More commonly known as Cune (koo-nay) this is the Compania Vinicola del Norte de Espana and was established in 1879. It is made up of three wineries: Cune, Vina Real and Contino.
Based in Rioja Alta, this is also where CVNE has its headquarters. The cellars here were built in 1899 and were inspired by the legendary Gustave Eiffel. The wines of Cune are traditional but with a modern twist.
Cune Monopole Blanco 2012 £8.99
One of the oldest wine brands around yet this is such a modern, fresh and immediately approachable wine. 100% Viura, without any oak, which allows the delicate, vivacious, citrus fruits to really come to the fore.
Cune Rosado Rioja 2011 £9.99
A bright, strawberry red colour and a palate which is stacked with red summer fruits and a delightful creamy, fresh, finish.
Cune Monopole Rioja Tempranillo 2010 £8.99
100% Tempranillo, this is a fresh and vibrant red with wonderful purity of fruit.
Vina Lobera Rioja Crianza 2010 £9.99
A classic Rioja and a great introduction to the wines of Cune. Lovely touches of vanilla and a dash of spice from 12 months in American oak barrels. An elegant mouth feel and wonderful fruit intensity.
Cune Rioja Reserva 37.5cl 2008 £7.99
Two years in American oak has given this wine such silky smooth elegance and poise. Bramble, balsamic and vanilla combine wonderfully but never dominate that classic Rioja fruit.
Imperial was created in the 1920’s and produces only top quality Reserva and Gran Reserva wines.
Imperial Rioja Gran Reserva 2007 £28.99
A fine blend of Tempranillo, Graciano and Mazuelo this is a beautifully elegant Rioja. A superb wine and it’s no surprise that it was awarded a superb 93+ points from Robert parker.
Based in Rioja Alavesa, Vina Real produces wines in a very, very traditional Rioja style.
Vina Real Barrel Fermented Rioja Blanco 2012 £10.99
If it’s traditional white Rioja you are after then this is the one. A beautiful balance of floral and citrus aromas and elegant toasty oak. In its youth it has a textured, creamy palate still displaying grapefruit and citrus alongside subtle biscuit flavours and excellent length. Great ageing potential too.
Vina Real Rioja Reserva 2007 £16.99
This is the one for me. When it comes to Rioja, Reserva is where the real magic happens. This is a blend of Tempranillo, Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuelo and it just sings. Buy it, try it and fall in love.
Founded in 1973 in the style of a Bordeaux Chateau this was the first single estate Rioja.
Contino Rioja Reserva 2007 £24.99
A superbly complex wine which was aged for 2 years in both French and American barrels. It is full of wonderfully rich black fruit and spice with a tremendously generous palate. A genuine classic.