As the leaves change colour, the evenings get shorter and we are reaching for the woollies at the back of the cupboard, it’s time to get cosy in front of the fire – and to top it all off – a rich, warming bottle of Rioja! We are welcoming the onset of autumn with arms open wide, and armed with Spain’s finest offerings! This month we are bringing our fantastic range of Rioja red wines at discounted prices, with a selection of these open for tasting for you to explore and discover your favourite style for yourself.
Rioja is one of the world’s most loved wines, but what exactly does it refer to? Rioja is a wine-producing region in the north of Spain, on the plateaus surrounding the Ebro river and the smaller Rio Oja, thought to have given the region its name. It is a continental climate, protected from the Atlantic winds by the Cantabrian mountain range and at an average altitude of 460m, which cools the vineyards in the evenings providing the perfect conditions for growing grapes. When scanning the shelves look out for the acronym DOC following the term ‘Rioja’ – this means that the wine has met the strict rules and regulations to attain the quality and style required to be called Rioja, much like your Comber spuds or Stilton cheese.
Planted in vineyards across the region are the grape varieties of Garnacha and Mazuelo, which are used in smaller quantities in the final blend in crafting Rioja wine, however the top dog in this part of the world is Tempranillo – Spain’s flagship variety. It has fresh, red cherry fruit, it is medium in body, and has a good handful of tannins, which makes it perfect for ageing – one of the most important factors contributing to the style of wines produced in Rioja.
Winemakers are subject to a strict classification system regarding the ageing process and methods of their wines. This is designed to ensure consistency in style, making it easier for us drinkers to find what we enjoy and recognise it! The first rung on the classification system for red wines will be labelled simply as ‘Rioja’, occasionally followed by the word Tinto or Joven – the latter meaning young. And that’s exactly what it is; by law this wine has seen little or no oak or bottle ageing – up to one year is permitted, but generally speaking these wines retain their fresh fruit character. It mightn’t be big and bold and oaky, but in my opinion we all have room for this type of wine on our wine-racks – fresh, fun and perfect for a Friday night round the kitchen table with friends, enjoyed with some charcuterie or tapas.
These are a few examples of this style of wine that is on offer throughout October:
Next up on the scale we have ‘Crianza’, one of the most popular styles of Rioja as it strikes a good balance between fruit and oak. Crianza wines see at least one year ageing in oak and another year in bottle before it can be released. For example, a wine made from grapes picked in the harvest of 2013, will probably only land on our shores in 2016. It may seem strict but the winemakers have poured their hearts and souls into crafting these wines and want them to be enjoyed when they are perfectly mature and ready for drinking.
Made in good vintages but not necessarily every year, ‘Reserva’ wines are the next step up on the ageing classification, with one year spent in oak, and up to two resting in bottle. Time spent in oak has a big impact on the development of its flavour profile – over time the fruit factor in the wine will take a back seat, and the flavours from the oak will start to show through. From the oak you will detect toast, vanilla and even coconut notes, as well as more savoury, leathery notes as it develops. Resting in bottle will give these various component parts of the wine time to harmonise.
Phew! Quite a lot of information to take in! But what does it all mean, I just want to pick up a bottle and enjoy a nice glass at home?! Well we’ve established what to expect from each style, which words to look out for on the label. Trying and tasting is next – sigh! We will have a few contrasting styles open for you to taste in the shop on Saturdays throughout October, and these will also be discounted for the whole month. So you’ve no excuses – get your Rioja head on and find your fave!