There are a handful of great classic wine regions in the world, and Rioja is one of them. For many, Riojan red wine from Spain is a point of reference, a vinous benchmark, of what a good glass of red should taste like. Although Rioja is mostly known for producing age-worthy red wines - and fear not, that won’t change - the region is starting to reveal its true and more diverse colors. Rioja is going back to the future as recent changes in the rules and regulations within the region brings updates to Spain’s oldest DOC (Denominación de Origen Calificada).
What is Rioja wine taste
Rioja is almost synonymous with red wine. In 2017, approximately 88% of harvested grapes were red - Tempranillo being number one, of course. Other varieties are starting to gain more traction, such as Garnacha, Graciano, and Mazuelo. In some circles, Riojan white wine is extremely popular, but it’s safe to say that the reds are stealing the show.
Wines of Rioja are known for their rigorous aging regime. However, the global trend against heavy use of oak is felt in Rioja as well. “Producers are dialing back the oak,” says Rocío Osborne, a brand ambassador of Bodegas Montecillo and the fifth generation of the prominent Osborne family. “People want to taste the fruit, not the tree. But this is Rioja, the presence of oak aging is also expected.” That doesn’t necessarily mean using less oak since the rules for the categories of Crianza, Reserva, and Gran Reserva demand a certain amount of oak aging. However, using different kinds of oak (mostly American vs. French oak), careful use of new oak and toasted barrels, all affect the outcome of the flavor profile.
Rioja wine offers
Rioja is not just about still wines anymore. A sparkling wine category Espumosos de Calidad de Rioja and the Gran Añada classification are bringing some much-deserved attention to Riojan bubbles.
Rioja is also focusing on site. With the new labeling regulations, producers can now mention zones (Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Oriental), municipality and even single vineyards (Viñedo Singular). This will definitely help showcase the incredible diversity of Rioja as a wine producing region.
But can you actually make a comeback if you never really left? I’m not sure, but I guess this is Rioja’s way of saying "we are still here with a couple of new tricks up our sleeves." Some might not like the new changes, I get it, but I’m glad to see a region move forward. Rioja is and has been a fan favorite for decades, and that is unlikely to change - with or without changes.
Here are a few red wines from Rioja Reserva and Rioja Gran Reserva for you to try.
- Montecillo Gran Reserva Selección Especial 2001
For Montecillo, the year 2001 goes down in history as an excellent vintage. This 100% Tempranillo is only made when the year is truly exceptional. It’s in a subtle yet beautifully matured stage at the moment. You can easily keep this for decade or two, but if you are as impatient as I am, I suggest you pour yourself a glass and enjoy it with a big smile on your face.
- CVNE Imperial Reserva 2012
The CVNE (Compañía Vinícola del Norte del España) is known for producing some of the best value for money reds in Rioja. This savory and surprisingly youthful wine is loaded with blackberry fruit, slightly sweet oak, plenty of texture and a peppery finish that will knock your socks off.
- Beronia Reserva 2013
This juicy and structured Rioja is packed with flavor. Imagine spicy strawberries and also ripe darker fruit; nice chewy tannins and bright underlying acidity. You definitely want to be near lamb chops or a classic steak when this bottle pops open.