Rioja – Red and White – Hot and Chilled!

I had the fortune to spend a couple of days in Rioja, Northern Spain during June 2022. Whilst the reds were as reliable as usual with their oak-origin textures of coconut and vanilla overlaying their dark fruit and spice flavours, the real revelation was that they still worked when served slightly chilled – the only way to approach them really in the Spanish heatwave! Maybe the way forward for us in the UK too after the summer we have just had.

I was also reminded that Rioja is one of the few wine regions where the producers only release their wines to market when they feel they are ready for drinking – unlike, say, Bordeaux or Burgundy, where, in contrast, we consumers are encouraged to buy as soon after the vintage as possible – even before they are bottled (en primeur) in Bordeaux’s case.  So with Rioja, you can rest assured that you won’t be opening a bottle when the wine is too young, meaning that the flavours, acidity and tannin should all be pretty much aligned – and with increasing intensity as you climb up through the Joven, Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva hierarchy. Try the reds from Luis Canas or Gomez Crusado, available through Vivino.

A further revelation was the wide disparity of white Rioja wines we sampled – with very different blends of grapes (Viura aka Macabeo, white Tempranillo, Malvasia, Garnacha Blanca) and very different exposures to oak during fermentation and/or maturation. The trick, at least for my palate, is not to let the oak dominate, so go for wines exposed to more French (subtle) than American (bold) oak, and where the wine has more than just Viura in the blend. Try the Muga Rioja Blanco available at Majestic.