Rioja’s three shades
Splashing out on a reserva is a great treat but there are budget varieties
Having a roast of lamb this weekend? Or turkey on Thanksgiving? Our favourite wine to go with celebratory dinners is Rioja, and not just any Rioja. In Ireland it must be a Rioja Reserva. However, they range in price from ¤ 9 to more than ¤ 50, so what should we buy?
It used to be simple. There were only three kinds of Rioja: crianza, which had been aged in oak barrels and then in bottle for a little while; reserva, which had gone though the same process but for a longer period; and gran reserva, which had spent a very long time in both barrel and bottle before being released. The theory was simple, too; Rioja came ready- aged, so there was no need to wait before drinking it. It was smooth, rounded and soft. And we loved it.
Things became more complicated as a generation of young Turks decided to make more modern, youthful international wines with plush, rich, dark fruits. Then, as those young Turks aged, a new generation came forward, making lighter, fresher wines, often made from single vineyards and frequently with low levels of sulphur. All of these producers simply put the word cosecha ( vintage) on the back label. It was confusing for some, and that may be why a great many Irish consumers stuck to buying reserva when they wanted something special. It has become our go- to wine when we want to splash out.
The term “reserva” simply means the wine has been aged for a minimum of one year in oak barrels, and at least 24 months in bottle. Start off with a great wine, age it quality oak, you should end up with a sublime, mature, smooth, complex wine. Poor- quality wine aged in poor- quality oak will only get worse.
Each of the multiples will have an inexpensive Rioja reserva. Aldi and Lidl both have one at ¤ 8.9, see right for the Lidl version, but both are perfectly drinkable. Tempting as cheap reservas are, at less than ¤ 15, I would go for a crianza instead; they tend to have a bit more fruit. At the moment the multiples seem to be promoting Cune crianza at ¤ 10-¤ 11 a bottle, which is good value, although it may have returned to ¤ 15 by the time you read this. The majority of the best- known Rioja reservas are grouped around the ¤ 22-¤ 25 mark, periodically marked down to about ¤ 15-¤ 18.
Rioja reserva is a great choice if you are looking for a wine to serve at a celebration. It is one of the food- friendliest wines, great with white and red meats. In Rioja, they love their lamb; chops grilled on a barbecue, cooked slowly with beans ( their version of Irish stew, I guess), lamb shanks or simply a roast.
Cepa Lebrel Rioja Reserva, 13.5%, ¤ 8.99 Light, smooth black cherry fruits overlaid with sweet vanilla. Stockist: Lidl.
Rafael López de Heredia, Viña Bosconia 2005 Rioja Reserva, 13.5%, ¤ 31 Magnificent wine – red cherries, strawberries, an earthiness and lovely mineral backbone. Stockists: World Wide Wines; Blackrock Cellars; Green Man Wines; 64 Wines.
Cune Rioja Crianza 2103, 13.5%, ¤ 10-¤ 11 Medium- bodied blackcurrant fruits, with spice and tobacco. Great value on promotion. Stockists: Tesco, SuperValu, Dunnes Stores and others.
Conde Valdemar Rioja Reserva 2010, 13.5%, ¤ 17.50 Enticing elegant smooth black cherry fruits with a spicy note. An award- winning Rioja reserva. Stockists: Widely available from independent off- licences.