Rioja has long been one of Ireland’s favourite red wines so I thought it was about time I took a look at the region and its wines.
Quite unlike the model followed in other regions, the DOC denomination (Spain’s highest quality grade) for Rioja is not attached to individual vineyards, but in fact covers the whole region, which itself is subdivided into three zones: Rioja Alta, Rioja Baja, and Rioja Alavesa. Each zone yields its own unique expression of wine, and most Rioja wines are made from a blend of all three.
In addition, there are four main categories of Rioja, each with its own distinct flavour profile related to its ageing programme in the winery: These are Joven, Crianza, Reserva, and Gran Reserva.
You can think of these as steps on a quality ladder with Joven wines generally being released within a year of the vintage and seeing little or no oak, whereas at the other end of the spectrum, Gran Reservas must be aged for at least two years in oak and three years in the bottle before release (In-practise many wineries far exceed these legal minimums).
The impact this oak-ageing has on the wines is, as you might expect, very significant and it allows the winemakers of the region to produce very distinct styles of wine; from light, juicy, fruity Joven wines right up to the richly-structured and seriously age-worthy Gran Reservas.
For me though, in terms of the price/quality ratio, the sweet spot on this spectrum has always sat at the Reserva level, these wines are aged for at least three years, at least one of which is in oak, meaning that although these are generally quite big wines, they will always be silky-smooth.
I have picked out a few of my favourite Reserva Riojas below, so why not get down to your local O’Briens store this weekend and pick up a bottle or two.
Campo Viejo has always been one of the most reliable Rioja houses. Everything you would expect from good Rioja is here, preserved strawberry fruit, vanilla and the smooth refined mouthfeel makes this great entry point into the world of Rioja Reserva.
Next up I have gone for La Cuna de la Poesia, which is a classic Rioja Reserva with lifted notes of black fruits, figs and vanilla on the nose which lead in to a palate that is packed with rich, ripe fruit flavours along with hints of spice and a smooth and long-lasting finish.
To finish my selection, I have chosen Viña Pomal Rioja Reserva. Made using 100% estate-grown Tempranillo from vineyards in the premium sub-region of Rioja Alta, and given Gran Reserva-like treatment in the winery, this is a seriously good Rioja!