Affordable old-world wine that only gets better with time
IT’S a wine that can be difficult to pronounce and challenging to find in local bottle shops, but the Spanish Red Rioja (pronounced ree-oh-hah) is an old-world wine that you can buy even if you don’t have the bank balance of a real estate tycoon.
In northern Spain on the banks of the Oja River, sits the ancient and beautiful region of Rioja. It’s a district which encapsulates the La Rioja, Navarre and Alava Provences and has been producing their namesake red blend for what is believed to be well over a thousand years.
Being situated in the middle of Spain, the locality is rather dry and continental in climate. The winds are notoriously gale force at times but fortunately for Rioja, the Calabrian Mountains to the north provide a protective barrier for the vines.
And it’s Tempranillo that thrives in the Rioja district at its 400–500 metres of elevation. Although the weighting of the Rioja blend will vary from wine to wine and year to year, typically, the DOC classified wine will be a blend of Tempranillo, Graciano, Mazuelo, Garnacha and Maturana Tinta and usually, from a range of different vineyards across the district. But you could be forgiven for thinking that you’re drinking a Tempranillo as it generally dominates the blend and accounts for typically 60–90% of the bottle.
I recently found a delightful Rioja while crafting the wine list for Mooloolaba’s funkiest new tapas bar and restaurant (opening October 12), The Back Lane. Their list is going to include a well-priced Rioja, the Conde Valdemar Rioja 2012, which shows savoury tobacco and red current nuances on the nose in a typical Tempranillo kind of way. Garnacho adds depth and fruit throughout the middle and provides a generosity of mouth feel that belies its modest alcohol content. It is made in a style of wine that will only get better with time as the tannic backbone tends to assert itself strongly when the leather and blueberry characters develop across the mid-palate and linger through a cherry-edged conclusion.
The Conde Valdemar Rioja is at the Crianza level, which means it has had at least a year on oak and spent a minimum one year in the bottle, but comes without the higher price tag of the Riserva or Gran Riserva labels.
But for me, the beauty of Rioja is its value proposition – it’s an old-world wine with the potential to cellar for 20–30 years, yet sells at a price point that is a fraction of that asked by its old-world Bordeuax and Burgundian brethren.
It’s perfectly suited to pair with beef short ribs or smoked kangaroo tartar – both of which, I’m told, will feature on The Back Lane menu.
Tempranillo thrives in the Rioja district.