Rioja isn’t a style of wine, there’s no such thing as ‘a’ Rioja, but rather it’s Spain’s flagship wine region, located along the River Ebro in the country’s north. It might be best known for its reds, but the region produces a diverse range of red, white and rosé wines. Rioja is a modern and forward looking region rooted in tradition and the classic Reserva and Gran Reserva styles, which spend time ageing in oak, rank among the world’s finest wines.
The region is also Spain’s gastronomic heartland, but while we can’t visit Rioja in person (it’s just a short drive south of Bilbao but, y’know, pandemic…) we can’t help ourselves but to slice some chorizo, plate up the Ibérico ham and olives and pour a glass of delicious Rioja wine.
For the rest of October, independent wine merchants around the country are celebrating Shop Rioja, a whole month dedicated to Spain’s flagship wine region. Expect Rioja mixed cases, discounts, tastings (via Zoom or Instagram Live!), and more. To learn more follow @RiojaWine on Instagram and find a shop near you, visit the Rioja Wine Directory.’
Here are some of our top Rioja wine picks…
CVNE Monopole Clásico Blanco 2016 – £24.95
Think you know Rioja for its full-bodied red wines? Think again. The region also produces crisp white wines and Brits can’t get enough, with sales of white Rioja more than doubling in the last few years.
This example made by winemaker María Larrea is a must-have. Notes of pear and apple on the nose, and flavours of dried fruit and spice.
Try it yourself… www.flagshipwines.co.uk
Bodegas Lacus Rioja Inédito Blanco 2016 – £22.99
This white wine comes from an area called Rioja Oriental, which typically experiences hotter climate than the rest of the Rioja region. We were blown away by the refreshing crispness of this wine.
On the nose there is chamomile, peach, and citrus fruit. It’s also been aged in oak for seven months so there is a lot of depth and body from first sip. Ticking all our boxes! This is also a very exclusive wine, the winemaker only releases 5,000 bottles each year, so get your hands on some quickly!
Try it yourself… www.oxfordwine.co.uk
Bodegas Muga Rosado 2019 – £13.99
The Rioja region also produces rosé wines, called Rosados in Spain. This wine is a pretty pale pink, reminiscent of a late summer sunset. A silky smooth wine from Muga, located in the town of Haro.
Made mainly from the Garnacha grape, this wine is intense and fruity with waves of mandarin peel, apricot and strawberries.
Try it yourself… www.martinez.co.uk
Hacienda Grimón Crianza 2016 – £14.95
Brother double-act Paco and Eliseo Oliván own Hacienda Grimón near the town of Logroño. They look after 25 hectares of organically farmed vines where the Tempranillo grape is king.
This Crianza (in Rioja, Crianza refers a wine which has been aged for at least 2 years) has been aged in French and American oak barrels and is a warming red with plenty of depth and aromas of cherry and ripe fruit.
Try it yourself: www.vindinista.com
Telmo Rodríguez Lanzaga LZ Rioja 2019 – £17
Telmo Rodríguez grew up with a family vineyard in Rioja which his parents bought just over 50 years ago. After studying in Bordeaux and travelling all over Spain learning and discovering about the different winemaking regions around the country, he returned to re-energise his family vineyard and his wine LZ is a reflection of his learnings over the years.
The wine combines the Tempranillo, Garnacha and Graciano grape varieties and the result is a fresh taste with spicy flavour.
Try it yourself: www.highburyvintners.co.uk
Hermanos Hernáiz Finca La Emperatriz Garnacha 2013– £25.49
A wine of noble origins! This Rioja estate was originally owned by an Empress of France who was married to Napoleon III. In the mid-19th century, the Empress used to show off her wines at international exhibitions. When the Hernáiz family took over the estate in the late 90’s, they wanted to continue on this legacy record of producing top quality wines from Rioja.
This wine is made from the Garnacha grape and shows aromas of raspberry, violet and white pepper. On the palate it is fresh with great length and complexity.
Try it yourself… www.flagshipwines.co.uk
Luis Cañas Reserva de la Familia – £28.95
Don’t be intimidated by terms like ‘Reserva’ or ‘Gran Reserva’ on a wine label as these terms simply refer to the amount of time Rioja wines spend ageing. In the case of a Reserva wine, it must age for at least three years in a combination of oak barrels and bottle.
This Luis Cañas Reserva has spent 20 months ageing in French and American oak. The result? A rich, dark garnet Rioja in colour, with a nose of ripe strawberries and plums. Silky smooth too…
Taste it yourself… www.vinotopiawine.co.uk
Izadi Reserva Rioja – £14.99
Founded in 1987, Izadi might be a young winery in Rioja but winemaker Ruth Rodriguez is at the top of her game making sophisticated wines mostly from the Tempranillo grape. Izadi was even chosen to present a wine at the crowning of the current King Felipe VI of Spain!
This Reserva wine has spent 22 months ageing in oak. It is full bodied with flavours of black and red fruits and hints of tobacco and liquorice that pair well with lamb or beef.
Try it yourself… www.luvians.com
Bodega Classica López de Haro Gran Reserva 2011, £19.95
For Gran Reservas, which in Rioja are wines which have spent at least 5 years ageing in the winery before being released, winemakers select their very best grapes and age the wines for as long as they think that wine needs.
This Gran Reserva from Bodega Classica is silky with hints of vanilla from the oak, as well as spice. Rioja wines pair well with all sorts of foods, we’re thinking deliciously charred meat on tacos.
Try it yourself: www.ampswinemerchants.co.uk
La Rioja Alta Viña Arana Gran Reserva 2012, £29.95
All you bona fide Rioja fans out there, look no further than this Gran Reserva. Founded in Haro in 1890, La Rioja Alta merged in 1904 with the Ardanza winery. This long-aged, full-bodied Gran Reserva is a masterpiece of savoury intensity. We know the Spanish tapas dining experience is all about small dish sharing fun, but we just want to enjoy this with a meaty steak, no sharing involved.
Try it yourself: www.slurp.co.uk