We tend to think of Rioja as a source of cheap, fruity wine: a reliable bet for that glass of pub wine or something decent for under a tenner from the supermarket. Safe but unexciting.
Being prepared to pay a little bit more – but not anything like you’d typically pay for a fine wine from a premium area such as Bordeaux, North Rhone or the Napa Valley – earns you this complex and balanced Rioja. Spain’s strict ageing requirements encourage the release of wine that is usually ready to drink straightaway– happy days!– and this wine is no exception, but it will also evolve with further ageing.
Red wine from the region of Rioja is typically a Tempranillo dominated blend; Spain’s signature grape provides the backbone. Fruity Garnacha (Grenache) tends to feature in most blends, and often smaller amounts of Mazuelo (Carginan) – for colour and its high acidity – and Graciano (spicy black pepper notes) are also included.
Located in northern Spain, Rioja is taking steps to promote its diversity and prove that it’s not a strawberry and vanilla one-trick pony. Amazingly, current rules prohibit producers to include their village on the label – can you imagine if Burgundy operated under this regime! As such, it’s easy to pigeonhole Rioja into a one-dimensional region – hot, arid and quite mountainous – producing one-dimensional, fruity and oaky wine without appreciating the varied micro-climates and terrains. There are, in fact, three distinct sub-regions, with combinations of continental, Mediterranean and Atlantic-influenced climates. The highest, Rioja Alta, is in the west and contains the town of Haro, home to many of Rioja’s traditional top wineries (Bodegas) such as Muga. Rioja Alavesa is in the Basque Country and tends to have a relatively more Atlantic climate, whereas Rioja Baja is to the south east and, consequently, warmer, suiting the Grenache grape.
So to the wine: this Rioja has a lovely perfumed nose with ripe red fruit and a dash of neroli. Brimming with concentrated fruit on the first taste there’s plump cherries, blackberries and bilberries: there is that tang of sweet strawberries, but it’s more about darker berries than typical supermarket Rioja. Then there’s that archetypal vanilla – but it’s not overkill – mingling with toasty coconut and a rasp of liquorice. The tannins add a really nice complexity with a bit of spice – nutmeg maybe.
Food wise – this wine is not super full-bodied, nor does it have powerful tannins, so you don’t need to pair it with your heartiest dish. However it does benefit from something reasonably chunky – we matched it with Leek & Romesco Sauce Quinoa.
At a glance
- Style? Full bodied red wine
- Where is it from? Rioja, Spain
- What’s the grape? 70% Tempranillo, 20% Garnacha, 7% Mazuelo and 3% Graciano.
- Tastes of? Brambles, Ripe bramble fruit, vanilla, touch of liquorice
- What food would complement it? A tomato based grain salad, spelt works well, or risotto