Rediscover Rioja

Why, you may ask, am I writing about Spanish wine here when my column is supposed to be about Portuguese wine? Well, I do my best to find something interesting to write about each week, but last weekend I visited Seville and, ahead of my visit, decided to do a bit of research into what is happening these days in the world of Rioja.

Over recent years, whenever in Spain, I have been on the lookout for the new style of Riojas, wines from the higher altitude “Rioja Alta” in particular, but in general high-quality reds that go against the grain of the traditional style Rioja.

This all has very little to do with Portugal, even though the main red grape used in Rioja, Tempranillo, is widely grown here in Portugal and known as Tinta Roriz up north and Aragonez down south. But wines made from this grape have very little in common with those that the Rioja is famous for.

In the Rioja region, there are four categories for red wine; Rioja, Crianza, Reserva and Grande Reserva, classified as such depending on how long they have spent in oak and in the cellar before being released.

Not so long ago, wines that did not make at least the Crianza classification (needing at least one year in oak and one-year cellaring in the bottle) tended to be cheap plonk. But much has changed and last weekend I discovered The Invisible Man, a wine from Rioja Alta that rates and costs as much as a decent Reserva but does not spend enough time in oak even to be considered a Crianza.

I found it in the gourmet department of El Corte Inglés in Seville, costing around €18. The bottle I tried is a 2015, extremely young for a quality Rioja, but this is not a wine designed for long ageing.

There is an explosion of fruit on the nose with just a touch of oak, a great freshness in the mouth and a very long, slightly sweet finish. A really interesting and totally different wine, and an excellent example of the changing face of Spain’s most famous wine region.

By Patrick Stuart
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