All things Rioja!

Learn About Wine: Old World Wine |


As the leaves change colour, the evenings get shorter, it’s time to get cosy in front of the fire – and top it all off with a rich, warming bottle of Rioja!

We are welcoming the onset of autumn with arms open wide, and armed with Spain’s finest offerings!  From the 1st until the 30th November we are celebrating Rioja Month.

Rioja is one of the world’s most loved wines, but what exactly does it refer to? Rioja is a wine-producing region in the north of Spain, on the plateaus surrounding the Ebro river and the smaller Rio Oja, thought to have given the region its name.  When scanning the shelves look out for the acronym DOC following the term ‘Rioja’ – this means that the wine has met the strict rules and regulations to attain the quality and style required to be called Rioja, much like your Comber spuds or Stilton cheese.

Spain’s flagship variety; Tempranillo is the basis of most Rioja. It has fresh, red cherry fruit, it is medium in body, and has a good handful of tannins, which makes it perfect for hearty and comforting autumnal food pairings, think stews and casseroles.

Winemakers in Rioja are subject to a strict classification system regarding the ageing process and production methods of their wines.  This is designed to ensure consistency in style, making it easier for us drinkers to find what we enjoy and recognise it! The first rung on the classification system for red wines will be labelled simply as Rioja, occasionally followed by the word Tinto or Joven – the latter meaning ‘young.’ And that’s exactly what it is; by law this wine has seen little or no oak or bottle ageing – up to one year is permitted, but generally speaking these wines retain their fresh fruit filled character.

An example of this style of ’tinto’  is:

Familia Martínez Bujanda Joven 2022

 Next up on the scale we have ‘Crianza’, one of the most popular styles of Rioja as it strikes a good balance between fruit and oak. Crianza wines see at least one year ageing in oak and another year in bottle before it can be released.  For example, a wine made from grapes picked in the harvest of 2019, will probably only land on our shores in 2021. It may seem strict but the winemakers have poured their hearts and souls into crafting these wines and want them to be enjoyed when they are mature and ready for drinking.

An example of this style of ‘Crianza’  is:

Finca Valpeidra Cantos de Valpiedra 2019, 75cl

 Made in good vintages but not necessarily every year, ‘Reserva’ wines are the next step up on the ageing classification, with one year spent in oak, and up to two resting in bottle. Time spent in oak has a big impact on the development of its flavour profile – over time the fruit factor in the wine will take a back seat, and the flavours from the oak will start to show through.  From the oak you will detect toast, vanilla and even coconut notes, as well as more savoury, leathery notes as it develops. Resting in bottle will give these various component parts of the wine time to harmonise.  Reserva wines are rich and textural, a perfect accompaniment to hard cheeses and red meat dishes.

A bountiful display of ‘reserva’ rioja wine making are below:

Marqués de Murrieta Rioja Reserva 2018, 75cl

Familia Martínez Bujanda Vina Bujanda Reserva 2017, 75cl

At the top of the pyramid - Gran Reserva Rioja wines represent the pinnacle of winemaking in the Rioja region. Their commitment to aging, (5 years mimimum ageing: 2 years in oak and 3 years in bottle) the selection of the finest grapes, and the dedication to tradition create wines of remarkable depth and character. Whether you're enjoying a bottle now or laying one down in your cellar for the future, Gran Reserva Rioja wines are a testament to the enduring legacy of Spanish winemaking. These are wines to savour alongside hearty fayre: roasted red meats, mature cheeses, hearty stews and casseroles.  

Some examples of this splendour are:

Familia Martínez Bujanda Vina Bujanda Gran Reserva 2015

Marques De Murrieta Gran Reserva Tinto 2015

Phew! Quite a lot of information to take in! But what does it all mean, I just want to pick up a bottle and enjoy a nice glass at home?! Well we’ve established what to expect from each style, which words to look out for on the label. Trying and tasting is next!

We will have a few contrasting styles open for you to taste in the shop on the upcoming Saturdays throughout November.

So you’ve no excuses – get your Rioja head on and find your fave!


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