Growing up in the midlands in the 1970s there was not a lot of wine consumed in our house except at Christmas or when the English cousins arrived in the summer — it was usually Blue Nun. However, my dad did occasionally buy red wine and that was almost always Rioja, a byword for quality then, as now.
Rioja 10X10 arrived in Dublin recently having been an annual feature of the London wine scene since 2015 where a panel of expert tasters blindtasted several hundred wines and whittled them down to 100 with ten in each category from oaked and unoaked whites to crianzas, reservas, and non-Tempranillo reds. There was also ten selected from women winemakers, a worthy initiative and some of the best wines at the tasting. Interestingly there were some white Tempranillo wines (a mutation of red Tempranillo) although I preferred the whites made with Garnacha Blanca and of course the always fascinating oaked versions such as Murrieta’s Capellania (€30 O’Briens).
Tasting the range of styles, from fully oaked to lightly oaked, was a good reminder of just how consistent the region is across the board although some producers do still rely a little too hard on oak for their flavours. I was invited to Rioja in mid-October by Ramón Bilbao, one of the largest and best producers in the region. As well as tasting wines, I took some time observing the last grapes being harvested in some of their older cooler vineyards — 2018 seems likely to be a solid to excellent vintage By coincidence a few weeks earlier, I had visited Ramón Bilbao’s estate in Rueda and was equally impressed by young winemaker Sara who was as passionate and focused as you could hope for — it showed in her wines. Besides the wines recommended below I also like its Rueda Sauvignon Blanc which has sweet apple and citrus flavours, its floral red fruit flavoured Rosado (€15, Donnybrook Fair, Joyces), and RB Gran Reserva 2010 (Martins €30) which has mature oak aromas and fine concentration. Mirto (€45) is one of RB’s showcase wines and worth splashing out on. Made from 80-90-year-old vines and aged in new French Oak barrels, it has gorgeous dark fruits lingering black cherry flavours.