Irish Examiner - Weekend - - Food - Les­lie Wil­liams Con­tact Les­lie Wil­liams at [email protected]­am­

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.

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