While travelling abroad remains uncertain, oenophiles can be transported to scenic, temperate lands via a bottle of something special. Located in Northern Spain, along the banks of the River Ebro, the Rioja region is a glorious place to visit, with dramatic, other-worldly landscapes, historic architecture and vibrant cities – as well as a wealth of wineries to explore.
It is these that lie at the very heart of the region, with more than 65,000 hectares of lush vineyards producing over 267 million litres of wine each year. Every wine produced comes with a guarantee of authenticity, combining traditional artisanship and modern-day expertise, a winning formula that can be tasted in each divine drop. Although full-bodied reds are the best-known style from this unique region, there is a vast array to explore, from crisp, young whites to vibrant rosés and sparkling varieties.
Finding the perfect Rioja for your summer sipping
With such a diverse range of wines to choose from, Tatler has pulled together a selection taken from retailers featured on the Rioja Wine Directory, an online resource that makes purchasing this failsafe wine even more effortless. The directory highlights restaurants with great Rioja wines on their lists, alongside retailers that stock a range of Rioja wines that can be delivered straight to your door.
There is so much more to Rioja than red wine; the region also produces a dizzying array of top quality whites, the UK sales of which increased by almost 20 per cent from 2019 to 2020. There are nine white Rioja grape varieties, and the most popular is the indigenous Viura grape, which forms the basis of the Finca Allende Blanco 2015, a classic oaked white Rioja with undertones of spice and dried flowers that makes for an intriguing, sophisticated flavour. For those who prefer a streak of refreshing minerality, Tentenublo Rioja Blanco 2019 is a beautifully bright yet intense option that’s characteristically Spanish and perfect served cold as an aperitif. Another delicious choice is López de Heredia Viña Gravonia 2011; an iconic wine that is barrel-aged for four years before it’s bottled, this wine is well-suited to lovers of rich, complex, dry whites.
Rosé (or rosado in Spanish) is always the perfect choice for a summer’s day and Rioja’s fresh, flavourful creations hit all the right notes. UK Rioja rose sales also enjoyed huge growth in 2020, and it’s easy to see why: they tend to be dry with ripe berry flavours, produced primarily from Tempranillo and Garnacha grape varieties, striking an irresistible balance. Within its beautiful bottle, Muga’s Flor de Muga immediately calls to mind sun-drenched picnics and languid afternoons. And the content is just as good – creamy in texture with flavours of peach, orange peel, cinnamon and a touch of citrus and vanilla. Equally exquisite are Ramón Bilbao’s Lalomba Rosado 2019 – a bone dry celebration of blush pear, bay and electric acidity – and XF’s Rosado Sierra Cantabria 2020, a delicious blend of red berry and pomegranate flavours topped off with aniseed and dark fruits.
The key to understanding the reds of this timeless region is Rioja’s distinctive classification system, which labels wines according to how long they have been aged in the winery prior to being released. The classifications are: Generic, referring to wines that tend to be fruit-driven and in their first or second year of ageing; Crianza, which have been aged for at least two years; Reserva, aged for a minimum of three years with at least one year in oak barrels; and Gran Reserva, aged for a minimum of five years with at least two years in oak barrels. This simple classification system makes a useful guide for buying Rioja across the spectrum, ensuring that any bottle you buy is aged to perfection and ready to drink.
The classic Tempranillo grape is the main grape variety used for red Rioja but other varietals, including Garnacha and Graciano, are also grown in the region and can be blended or used to make single variety wines. Tempranillo’s flavour profile is generally characterised as plummy, with underlying notes of spice and sometimes tobacco leaf. One unmissable selection is Altos de la Guardia Crianza Rioja 2018, a medium- to full-bodied red with notes of tangy cherry, dark chocolate and silky tannins and a subtle edge of violet cream. For a special occasion, try Viña Real, a label created by iconic Rioja pioneers, CVNE. The Gran Reserva 2014 has won various awards for its mature, complex flavour, which blends aromas of ripe red fruit with roasted tobacco and a touch of toffee. Finally, Ontañon Rioja Reserva 2010 makes the perfect match for big, hearty meals with notes of deep, dark fruit combined with structured minerality and earthy notes.
As well as taking the crown of the country’s premier wine-producing region, Rioja makes a strong case for being Spain’s gastronomic heartland, with an abundance of delicious local produce, including white asparagus, chorizo and piquillo peppers. And just as there is a wide variety of wines on offer, Rioja goes well with an impressive array of dishes, from classic pairings like easy-drinking Tempranillo with roasted meat or aged cheese, to more unexpected combinations, such as Rioja Blanco with fresh Cornish seafood or a picnic in the park.
However it is enjoyed, Rioja is the ideal choice for any summer occasion (even if that occasion is merely the end of a long, hard day).
Visit Rioja Wine Directory, the essential guide to buying Rioja online, in store and at restaurants. For more information on the Rioja Wine region, visit Rioja Wine and look out for Rioja Wine Month in October, which will see retailers and restaurants across the UK celebrate the Rioja wine region with events, tastings and offers.