The Wines of Rioja

Posted on: 9th June, 2017

Category: The Wine Buff

Contributor: Tony Eklof

Tony Eklof, originally from New England, has settled in Clonakilty after a career as a librarian at University College Dublin. His knowledge and passion for wine has been inspired by frequent visits to the wine growing regions of the continent, particularly Italy and France.

Recently I watched two programmes which got me thinking about Spain and Spanish wine.

Neven Maguire visited the famous Cune Bodega in Rioja in one of the episodes of his ‘Neven’s Food Trails’. I was fascinated to hear that penicillin is grown over the bottles to protect them! Neven was able to taste Cune’s Gran Reserva, which was served at the King of Spain’s wedding!

Also the latest offering from the excellent duo Steve Coogan and Rob Bryan was called ‘the Trip to Spain’ following on from their hugely entertaining ‘Trip to Italy’.

Having never put a foot in Spain, I have been reluctant to write about Spanish wine. However keeping in mind the Irish love affair with Rioja in particular, I will try to put this right.

Perhaps later we will return to some of the exciting wines coming from lesser known regions such as the white wines coming from Galicia.

Rioja is an enormous wine area with over 4,000 growers so style and quality can be mixed. Most of us think highly oaked, aged and strong red when thinking of Rioja, but in fact over half of the production is of a younger, lighter un-oaked variety. The three districts of the region are Alta, the traditional area and home of the great Rioja names, Alvesa, lighter fruitier young wines from the Basque region, and Baja, the warmest, driest and largest section, and traditionally relying on the Ganarcha grape, as opposed to the traditional grape of Rioja, namely Tempranillo.

A recent article in the Independent, quoting a Spanish wine expert, recommended wines in the €12-13 range, simple young wines, as opposed to crianzas or reservas ‘because it’s not possible to have good quality properly oak aged wines at that price point.’

Some terminology which may help you when choosing Spanish wine:

• Tinto – red wine.

• Blanco – white wine.

• Rosada – rose wine.

• Cava – sparkling wine.

• Joven – young un-oaked wine

• Roble – lightly oaked.

• Crianza –  oaked, often with better grapes than Joven.

• Reserva – oaked for a longer period and capable of ageing.

• Gran Reserva – made from the best fruit, aged for an even longer time and only made during the best growing years.

   

Recommendation:
Cune Rioja. Gran Reserva 2010. On special at €15 in SuperValu at time of writing.

Handpicked Tempranillo grapes, aged in oak for 24 months and then further aged in the bottle. One of the finest vintages ever for Rioja!

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