Rioja has a bright new future producing easy drinking wines and more ‘boutique style’ wines...
IT once seemed that Rioja would get stuck in the mud of its own traditions. While other regions of Spain began to innovate, Rioja became a name which was associated with wine-making from an older world.
But the region now has a bright new future, producing both easydrinking wines for the supermarkets, more boutique-style wines, and of course, fine, aged wines for cellaring.
New rules mean individual vineyards can now be identified on labels as well as the names of villages. Labels can also state whether the wine is from the larger sub-regions of Alta, Alavesa etc.
There’s also more freedom for the makers of white Rioja; a wine which has become revitalised. Since 2007 wines can be made as single varietals using any from a long list of grapes: Viura and Malvasia, Garnacha Blanca, Maturana Blanca, Tempranillo Blanco, Turruntés, Verdejo, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. White Rioja is one of my personal favourites, particularly when oak is used and the right balance is struck between woodiness and freshness.
Campo Viejo Viura-Tempranillo Blanco 2016 (£8, Tesco, Ocado)
What little oak used here goes largely unnoticed on the palate apart from adding a little weight and rounding off the fruit. The aromas are floral with pear chiming in, both on the nose and palate.
The balance is good for flavoursome dishes such as the mushroom and black truffle potato ravioli made by Basque chef Xabi Bonilla at this week’s Casa Camp Viejo wine-matching dinner at
Luis Alegre Blanco Lias 2016 (£9.50, Oddbins)
From one of the new innovators of Rioja, this is a fresh approach for white Rioja made from Viura and Malvasia. There’s no oak but intense stirring of the lees gives this wine a very aromatic profile reminiscent of some of my favourite oaked Rioja.
There’s a hint of vanilla and plenty of floral notes about the nose with peachy fruit, a full-textured palate and decent acidity.
Navajas Blanco Crianza 2014 (£8.50 Wine Society)
If white Burgundy is a little out of your price range for a midweek wine then this could be the answer.
Although, of course, it’s made from an entirely different grape, Viura, oak still conveys a complexity here that puts the wine in the same context.
There’s a lovely coconut and vanilla coating about the nose with a palate that heads to a zippy lime finish before the buttery texture is able to take over.
Abel Mendoza Garnacha Blanco 2015 (£22.75 Wine Direct)
One of the finest, most interesting Rioja Blancos I have ever tasted.
It’s made by Abel Mendoza, from Garnacha Blanco, in Alavesa.
There’s a complexity and character which is quite rare in white Rioja with an indefinable edge to its hazelnut and vanilla nose.
The textured waxy palate gives way to zippy red apples and a mineral finish. I absolutely loved this wine.
Viña Albina 2016 (£8.99 Noble Wines, Harveys, The Vineyard, Harrods, Adnams Cellar & Kitchen)
Although some of this wine is obviously matured in oak barrels the effect of the American oak, so often very obtrusive, seems quite subtle.
So despite a slight nuttiness there is more of an accent on floral notes on the nose, pear-like fruit on the palate and a crisp citrus finish.
Abel Mendoza Rioja Blanco