For many people Spanish wine either means cava – their excellent local sparkling wine made by the same traditional method as the finest champagnes or Rioja, the famous red full of ripe fruit flavours and delicious creamy vanilla.
The name itself refers to wines grown in the Rioja region of North Eastern Spain which is near the River (or Rio) Oja, hence the name. Few other wines get the same exposure as the Riojas so it is easy to forget the number of other great Spanish wines that there are available, which is not surprising really as Spain has the highest acreage under vine in the world and consequently a number of very different and very interesting wine regions.
One of the main selling points of Rioja wines are their consistent high quality. It is probably a testament to the Rioja Regulatory Council that the quality control is generally so good that people know if they spend $ 13 or $ 14 on a bottle that they are pretty much guaranteed a good one.
Rioja wines are made from the Tempranillo grape, which is sometimes supplemented with Garnacha, Graciano, or Mazuelo and the actual wine is divided into four main categories based on whole long the wine is aged for.
After the most basic version of the wine, simply called Rioja, the categories are as follows :
Crianza : Spends at least one year in oak and several months in the bottle.
Reserva : These wines are aged for a minimum total of three years which includes at least one year in oak.
Gran Reserva : Aged for at least five years with a minimum of two years in oak and three in the bottle.
And despite these old classifications of the wine, Rioja is adapting to the impact and competition of New World wines from places such as Chile and Australia.
The vineyards are aware of the demands of the younger customer – newer wine drinkers who prefer more fruit driven wines with less oak anf higher levels of alcohol.
The other main competition to Rioja wines are from vineyards in other parts of Spain itself. Areas such as La Mancha, Toro and Jumilla are fast making reputations for themselves for wines in the Rioja style but without the price tag.
La Mancha however has a little bit of an image problem to address due to in the past churning out high volumes of lower quality wine which spoiled its reputation.
Nowadays however you can pick up some excellent Rioja quality wines from the region for under $ 13 and even blind taste tests cannot pick out the true Rioja from some of the newer Spanish vineyards.
One of the best qualities of Rioja wines is that they tend to taste just as good at home as they do when drunk in Spain in summertime with tapas on a terrace, so drinking often leads to pleasurable associations and memories.
Indeed Rioja goes brilliantly with all types of food, while also tasting just as good on its own as a treat in the early evening.
If you like your wine smooth and fruity with creamy vanilla oak flavours then Rioja could be the wine you are looking for. Give it a try instead of your usual wine this month you will not be disappointed.