Wine: Reliable Rioja

For dependable, drinkable reds there’s no wine region to compare in the whole of Spain

Rioja retains the title of Spain’s most reliable red wine region, in my mind. Its neighbour Navarra and rival Ribera del Duero pale under the might of Rioja’s size (50,000 hectares) and its ability to produce consistently good quality wine across the board.

At our tasting last week, highlighting the diversity of Rioja with old and new styles pitched against each other, almost every red from Crianza, Reserva to Gran Reserva hit the spot for sheer drinkability. We sampled the best of the old traditional styles from Bodegas Lopez de Heredia, La Rioja Alta, Muga and Marques de Murrieta through to classic family bodegas which straddle both new and old, such as Luis Canas or Remelluri – as well as the best of the new wave from Baron de Ley, Allende and Roda.

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With 250 Rioja bodegas, there is plenty to choose from, although recent vintages such as 2006, 2007 and 2008 have been challenging for all. The best reds on the shelves are from 2005, 2004, 2001, 1999 and 1998.

White rioja makes up only 7 per cent of the region’s production, but it is still underperforming.

We also compared traditional styles matured in American oak with modern styles matured in French oak or unoaked and our tasters preferred the crisper, fruitier, vibrant, modernist style. Whites lack polish compared to other Spanish regions (such as Rias Baixas or Rueda), but they are slowly improved now with a little chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and verdejo permitted to liven up the rather dull viura grape.