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A Celebration of Rioja, 4 Top Picks

Stephen Barrett Stephen Barrett
3 minute read

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My top Rioja picks

With Rioja being a perfect partner to any celebration, I thought I would revisit this extraordinary wine region with a few words of history and certainly a few recommendations. 

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Where is Rioja?

Easily found by hopping on the excellent Brittany Ferries to Santander. Upon disembarking the ferry head east to Bilbao. From here head due south toward La Rioja, the smallest autonomous region in Spain.

This is a unique wine region with over 500 bodegas crafting their famous beverage. The main harvest is for red grapes – Tempranillo, Garnacha, Graciano, Mazuel – used to elaborate many different styles of wine.

Ageing Classifications

  • Joven – Young with no oak
  • Crianza – Wines need to be in wood and bottle for a minimum of 24 months.
  • Reserva – Wines need to be in wood and bottle for a minimum of 36 months
  • Gran Reserva – Wines need to be in wood and bottle for a minimum of 72 months
  • Vinedos Singular – site specific vineyards including tighter vinification rules.

Many of these will be familiar to lovers of Spanish wine but a closer look might offer a few interesting facts enabling the wine hunter info on what to purchase.

Joven is probably the most sipped style of tinto (red) but not so well-known in the UK. This juicy style of tinto is all over Spanish tapas bars, often served straight from the refrigerator! After all its simplicity of fruit and youthfulness is perfect at this temperature in a hot country!

Rioja Blanco has also come of age with availability nationwide – styles and grapes are enabling subtle nuances to be apparent as we embrace this versatile style.

Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva have been with us for many years, with aging and price points commensurate with their differences.

My Four Top Picks

I recently tasted four different styles that are readily available for current sipping or to keep for a celebration or special supper.

1. Blanco

Made from Viura and Tempranillo Blanco this is a thoroughly modern white with hints of apple, spice and citrus. No oak was used for this deliciously modern wine.

Bodegas Tarón Blanco 2022, Rioja

Bodegas Tarón Blanco 2022, Rioja

£14.00

This is a very crisp and fresh Rioja. In a break with Riojan tradition it has been entirely vinified in stainless steel and thus has...… read more

2. Joven

Noting the youthful vintage, this is an opportunity to purchase this juicy young style. You could even try chilling it a tad. It is rich in red fruits and spice and demands an accompaniment of casual tapas.

Altos de Bergasa Tempranillo Joven 2021, Rioja

Altos de Bergasa Tempranillo Joven 2021, Rioja

£9.99

A vibrant young red Rioja made from 100% Tempranillo grapes. Joven translates as "young" and this style of Rioja is a fruity, simple, pleasing and...… read more

3. Crianza

A star wine! With so much time in bottle (after 12 months in oak) something rather special has happened! It has become a deep-scented Tinto of great note. 

In short it being a ‘Seleccion’ has encouraged the Bodega to keep it for six years more allowing it to become dense and full-on! Rare and moreish, a must for Game dishes this autumn and winter. 

Hacienda el Ternero Seleccion Crianza 2016, Rioja

Hacienda el Ternero Seleccion Crianza 2016, Rioja

£22.50

Hacienda el Ternero is a privileged enclave in the heart of Rioja, this limited edition wine is made from 100% Tempranillo grapes. The "Selección" Crianza...… read more

4. Gran Reserva

Note the price! This is a rare and modern Gran Reserva showing a plethora of red fruits followed by ripe black fruits and a charming spirituous note indicating its aging process has offered a developed nose and taste. 

Top sipper, great value. Decant.

Señorío de La Eralta Gran Reserva 2016, Rioja

Señorío de La Eralta Gran Reserva 2016, Rioja

£15.50

This was scored as one of the top 100 wines in the recent "Best of Spain" tasting. It is cherry red and bright in colour...… read more

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