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Aoife Car­rigy’s un­usual Span­ish reds

This week’s se­lec­tion of Span­ish wines homes in on the quar­tet of grapes – namely Tem­pranillo, Gar­nacha, Mazuelo and Graciano – most fa­mously blended in Ri­oja but which fea­ture in other Span­ish wine re­gions too.

Some­times they are blended with in­ter­na­tional grapes, as in Navarra’s Bordeaux-influenced pair­ing with Caber­net Sauvignon and Mer­lot. Else­where, as in Toro and Madrid DOs, mod­ern wine­mak­ers are ex­per­i­ment­ing with sin­gle-va­ri­etal expressions of the lo­cal soil and ter­roir. Tem­pranillo (or Tinta de Toro, Tinto de Madrid, Tinto Fino and var­i­ous other syn­onyms) is Spain’s lead­ing grape, the most widely planted red grape and in­te­gral to Spain’s most revered wines. Its sig­nif­i­cant tan­nins are of­ten soft­ened by oak, which en­cour­ages leather, to­bacco and spice notes, or by blend­ing with juicy Gar­nacha (Gre­nache) or in­ter­na­tional al­ter­na­tives.

An­other of Spain’s most widely planted reds, Gar­nacha’s ripe fruit flavours and low tan­nins lead it to be rel­e­gated to easy-drink­ing or blend­ing sta­tus. How­ever, its promi­nence in the fine wines of Pri­o­rat has helped to el­e­vate its rep­u­ta­tion. Graciano is more ob­scure, tend­ing to hide in Rio­jan blends, to which it brings fresh acid­ity and per­fume, al­though some wine­mak­ers are invit­ing it to take cen­tre stage. Fi­nally, Mazuelo (known as Car­iñena or Carig­nan out­side Ri­oja) is high in acid­ity, tan­nin and colour, and use­ful in blends with grapes lack­ing those char­ac­ter­is­tics.

If you love Ri­oja, isn’t it time to take a de­tour? It’ll al­ways be there for you to re­turn to.

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