Rethink Rioja !

On Tuesday 17th of October, I was very fortunate to attend a masterclass held by John Wilson about the wines of Rioja. This tasting was organised in partnership with the regulatory board of Denominacion de Origen Rioja.

A lot has already been said about Rioja wines and it is one of the most familiar and popular red wine styles in Ireland. However, it is also worth remembering that Rioja also produces white and rose wines

In the past, red wines from Rioja were know for their smooth and savoury profile with plenty of American oak flavours. However, the region has gone through different stylistic fashion waves and today it is very difficult to define what exactly is Rioja’s style as there is not one but many expressions of the wines on the market : new French oak, carbonic maceration, terroir specific wines, single grape varietal wine, etc. All of these factors and winemaker’s choices make the understanding of Rioja overall a little more complicated than what it used to be but so much more exciting !

Below, you can find my favourite wines of the tasting :

Rioja White, Granja de Nuestra Senora de Remelluri, 2014 (86/100) – RRP€35

This wine is obtained by co-fermenting 9 different grape varieties : viura, malvasia, garnacha blanca, tempranillo blanco, maturana blanca, turruntes, chardonnay, Sauvignon blanc and verdejo. It is aged for 18 months in French Oak barrels.

The nose is clean, with some obvious oak influence (vanilla, dill and banana skin) and some apricot and melon aromas. The palate is dry, creamy, yet balanced by a very refreshing acidity. The mid-palate is very savoury with a beautiful saline core and quite a lot of oak spicing and stone fruits flavours. The alcohol is well integrated. This is a high quality wine with great balance and depth for someone who does not mind oak ageing flavours. It would need to be aerated at least 20 minutes before service. Serve at a temperature of 10-12 degrees.


Rioja Rose, Marques de Murrieta, Primer, 2016 (87/100) – RRP €38

This rose Rioja is made from 100% Mazuelo grape variety, fermented in stainless steel. There is no malolactic fermentation. The wine remains on its lees for 40 days.

Beautiful pale rose petal colour with some silver tinges. The nose is delicate and reveals some aromas of quince, redcurrant jam, grapefruit peel, as well as some herbal and white pepper nuances. The palate is dry, driven by a beautiful freshness. The mid-late is very elegant, delicate and perfumed punctuated by flavours of rose, pear skin and lemon peel. The finish is herbal and saline with a very mild tannic touch. This is one of the best rose wines I have tasted this year. Yes the price is on the high side for a rose but the quality is there to justify it.

Rioja Red, Bodegas y Vinedos Artuke 2016 (86/100) – Retail €16.00

This wine is a blend of 95% tempranillo and 5% Viura and it is an unoaked style.

Mid-purple colour with a very bright purple rim. The nose is very youthful and fruity, a little bit reductive. It reveals some carbonic maceration notes of violette, strawberry and some herbal hints. The palate is dry, with some crunchy, juicy red and dark fruit characters. The mid-palate as plenty of tension and purity. The tannins are firm and chewy. This is a style of Rioja that shows plenty of drinkability. I would suggest to carafe it 20/30 minutes in advance to minimize the reductive characters. Serve a little bit cooler than usual to preserve the purity of the fruit : 16 degrees.


Rioja Red, Rayos Uva, Olivier Riviere, 2016 (92/100) – Retail €18.00

This is a blend of Tempranillo, Graciano and Garnacha which are all hand-harvested. Partial whole-cluster fermentation in tank with natural yeasts. Ageing during 6 to 8 months in a mix of tank, concrete vats and foudres.

Deep purple colour. The nose is subtle, very pure and shy. It reveals some aromas of pomegranate, dark cherry, pebbly minerality , thyme and some very delicate spices. The palate is dry, full-bodied yet extremely suave, fresh and pure. The flavours are similar to the aromas on the nose with an emphasis on the dark cherry and a dark core minerality. The tannins are fine-grained yet chewy. The finish is savoury and herbal. This is a high quality wine with beautiful complexity and harmony and an incredible value for money.


Rioja Red, Compania de Vinos, Langaza, Telmo Rodriguez, 2010 (87/100) – Retail €32.50

Blend of Tempranillo, Graciano and Garnacha grown biodynamically. Fermentation in cement tank with indigenous and selected yeasts. Aged 14 months in oak cask and barrels.

Beautiful rubis colour. The nose is racy, develloped and complex with some notes of damp forest floor, mousseron mushrooms, dark chocolate, cooked red fruits. On the palate, the wine is dry, full-bodied, very smooth and voluptuous with a certain thickness in the texture. The mid palate is concentrated,  savoury, meaty with plenty of Balsamic notes. The finish is long with a twist of mint. This is a more international with plenty of concentration and a great potential for ageing. I would recommend to aerated it 30 minutes before service.


Rioja Red, La Rioja Alta, Vina Ardanza reserve, 2008 (89/100) – retail €32.99

Blend of 80% Tempranillo and 20% Garnacha fermented separately with native yeasts. The Tempranillo was aged for 36 months in fourth used American oak and the Grenache for 30 months and 2nd and 3rd used American oak.

Deep garnet. Pronounced, mature and complex nose showing plenty of balsamic characters, some creamy/toffee aromas, blond tobacco, earthiness, pickled strawberry, dark chocolate and a hint of banana skin. On the palate, the wine is dry balanced by a high level of zingy acidity. The mid palate is silky, elegant, very savoury dominated by flavours of compost, cooked vegetable, tobacco and sweet oak. Very long finish. Integrated alcohol.


Rioja Red, Vina Tondonia Reserva, Rafael Lopez de Heredia, 2015 (91/100) – Retail €37

Blend of 80% Tempranillo and 20% Garnacha. Fermentation in very old oak vat, some of them of over 100 years old with no temperature control. Aged during 6 years in oak before being rested in bottle.

Mid-garnet colour. The nose is mature, complex and expresses some aromas of compost, sundried tomatoes, blond tobacco, mushroom, dark cherry and tomato leaf. On the palate, the wine is dry, smooth, elegant with high energy. The mid palate is very savoury, silky with a superb pencil shaving like mineral core. The oak confers a touch of delicate sweetness but is very well integrated. Beautiful lingering finish on cured meat and iron flavours.


Thank you for reading and let’s keep on Tasting, Discovering and Sharing !

Harvest wooden baskets at Lopez de Heredia winery
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