Rioja is a large wine growing area in Spain covering over 120,000 acres and while there are some whites produced there, it’s an area best known for its reds.
Most reds can be a blend of any or all from Tempranillo, Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuelo grapes.
In terms of style, oak plays a major role, where the wine can age in barrels for a number of years before being bottled and released. The classification of Rioja is divided into three main categories, Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva, which spend increasing time in barrel and bottle respectively before being released to the market.
The following three are Reservas, which have spent three years ageing, of which at least one must be in oak.
1. Campo Viejo Reserva 2006 (around €13)
While there’s a move towards a bigger more international style of wine in parts of Rioja, this one is staunchly classic old world in style. Intense cherries and vanilla aromas, low tannins, high acidity and a silky texture. Very accessibly priced for anyone wishing to get a taste of what classic Rioja is all about.
With food? Duck, pasta, tapas, turkey, salmon
Available from: O’Brien’s and most supermarkets.
2. Campo Burgo Reserva 2001 (around €19)
Another Reserva sticking firmly to its classical roots rather than pander to the high point scoring modern fruit bombs. Founded in 1889, the last ten years have seen major investment in the quality of wine produced. So much so that this could easily bee seen as a benchmark in classic Rioja.
Precise, clean and almost austere, almost in a Bordeaux Haut Médoc style, but with an intensity of fruit which will reward those looking for that classic Rioja style.
With food? Meaty pasta dishes, chorizo, duck
Available from: The Corkscrew, Dublin, Kelly’s Clontarf, Egan’s Drogheda, and selected Londis & Spar stores nationwide
3. Baigorri Reserva 2003 (around €25)
Old vine Tempranillo grapes, carefully selected, spending longer time in contact with their skins (maceration) and aged 18 months in new French oak giving it far more concentration and potency than the two wines above. In addition to the usual Tempranillo flavours of cherry, there’s liquorice and pepper in the mix. Full bodied and rich . A Rioja for hedonists.
With food? Big ass BBQ
Available from: The Corkscrew, Wines on the Green, 64 Wines, Glasthule, online from spanishwines.ie and select independents.
While on the topic of Spain: Iberian wine tours
New gastrotour company Iberian wine tours have started up this year and offer tours to Ribera del Duero/Rueda, Priorat and Barcelona, Porto and the Douro, Santiago, Rias Baixas and Ribeira Sacra.
Two upcoming wine tours this autumn are to Ribera del Duero and Salamanca for 4 nights from Sept 29th and to Barcelona, Priorat and Cava country for 4 nights from October 25th. For more information visit www.iberianwinetours.com.
A version of this article first appeared in the Sunday Tribune, 4th July.