Are there any wine drinkers who don’t like Rioja? You’ll struggle to find one, and it’s easy to see why, given this northern Spanish region’s ability to produce rich, crowd-pleasing red wines that are drinkable when young but can also age for a very long time. They’re great with food and can be drunk on their own quite happily, and it’s this versatility that has made it a go-to red for so many people.
Tempranillo is the key grape in Rioja, with Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuelo (aka Carignan in France) all supporting partners in the blend. The result is a red that typically displays tempting notes of strawberries, spice and vanilla, with leather and tobacco becoming more apparent with age.
These older bottlings (Gran Reservas) used to represent the classic Rioja style, with extended ageing in American oak adding plenty of toasty vanilla, but the new wave of Rioja is a different beast. You’ll still find the traditional styles, but Rioja in 2020 is all about more velvety, fruit-focused wines, with French oak adding subtlety and elegance. Another burgeoning trend is for young (joven) Riojas, which don’t spend any time in oak, and are all about bright, juicy fruit.
Two IWSC award-winners worth trying are Bodegas Beronia’s Reserva 2015 and Don Jacobo’s Gran Reserva 2008, both Gold winners, and both from the Rioja Alta region, whose high-altitude vineyards help add freshness and acidity to balance out the oak.
You’ll find plenty more fantastic Riojas from the 2020 IWSC below.
Silky and satin in texture, very seducing. Delightful blueberry and plump cherries enlaced with cedar and exquisitely integrated sweet oak. With bracing acidity and superb balance, the finish is nothing less than elegant and enduring. 14.5% RRP £17.99 from Majestic
Gran Reserva 2008
Powerfully generous but elegant. It is packed with ripe fruit, wild strawberry and damson, with well-integrated oak and firm tannins. A savoury personality is also demonstrated with notes of leather. Mouthwatering and poised finish. 14% RRP £21 from Matthew Clark
Booths Gran Norte Reserva 2015
La Rioja Alta S.A.
A step back in time with this traditional style, allowing the American oak to bring out the complex typicity of coconut, toast and mature undergrowth. The harmony between oak, fruit and acidity makes a wine jam-packed with intensity and ripeness. 14.5% RRP £13.50 from Booths
Marqués de la Concordia
A quintessential food wine, showing off its elegance and complexity through its focus on traditional flavours of earth and undergrowth, intertwined with the modern feel of blackberry fruit and elegant use of oak. An understated classic, yet to peak. 14% RRP £12.99 from Majestic
Selección de Familia 2017
Plush aromas of Black Forest Gateaux on the nose. Harmoniously full-bodied on the palate with opulent flavours of chocolate and ripe blackberries that conclude with a big roving finish. Charmingly well-made; it would compliment any special meal. 14.5% RRP £25 from Slurp
Edición Limitada Tempranillo-Graciano Crianza 2017
A classic style and all the better for it! Laden with layers of spice, cocoa, figs, toffee and forest fruits, this is a monolithic style, but tempered by graphite minerality. With its fresh acidity, this one could run and run. 14% RRP £14 from Vineyards Direct
A brilliant composition of expressive blackcurrant liquor and blueberry, married with layers of spicy cedar and smokiness. Balanced and complex throughout, the oaky style is extracted, but not overly tannic, allowing the drinker to wallow in its long finish. 13.5% n/a in UK
Faustino I Gran Reserva 2009
Seductively ripe with damsons and complex notes of vanilla, chocolate and tobacco. Mouthwatering with firm tannins and lovely texture. Flavours extend into a long finish. 13.5% RRP £27 from Secret Bottle Shop
The Best Marques De Los Rios Rioja Gran Reserva 2013
Wild brambles and forest fruit on the nose, opening up to a broader palate with strawberries and sweet cherries. Creamy and expressive with coconut and mocha finish. 14% RRP £12 from Morrisons
Cepas Centenarias 2015
Well-presented and splendidly evolved nose with the alluring scent of cedar, oak and cigar boxes. Harmonious on the palate with a silky mouthfeel that lingers exquisitely. Should develop nicely. 13.5% RRP £23 from Ministry of Drinks
Bianai Gran Reserva 2013
Developed nose of ripe forest fruits, brambles and white truffle. Good typicity with punchy palate, good grip and refreshing acidity followed by an attractive lift on the finish. 14% n/a in UK
Cepa Lebrel Reserva 2014
Divinely fruity on the nose with delicate floral notes. Full-bodied and joyful on the palate with a gloriously plummy mouthfeel. Eminently drinkable with a long, indulgent finish. 13.5% RRP £5.49 from Lidl
Finest* in Partnership with Baron de Ley Gran Reserva 2013
Lifted aromas of leather, oak spices and pot pourri. Leads to a refined palate with bright acidity, juicy fruit and an attractive savoury pull on the finish. 14% RRP £10 from Tesco
Bodegas Consejo de la Alta
Plush and proper. Aromas of fresh damson fuse with warming and arousing cinnamon in an irresistibly ripe and approachable Crianza. Velvety tannins and refreshing acidity make for a luxurious finish. 13.6% n/a in UK
Gorgeous nose bursting with vanilla, tobacco and freshly churned soil. Succulent red fruits melt on the palate, while good old-fashioned chocolate and oak merrily await you at the finish. 13.5% n/a in UK
Marqués de Carrión
A complex and confident individual. Layers of liquorice, morello cherries and teasing tobacco interweave with sweet oak and irresistibly smooth chocolate. Modern and overt, yet elegant. 13.5% n/a in UK
Club Privado Reserva 2015
Baron de Ley
Classic essences of spice, coffee and undergrowth marry well with blue and black fruit to create a wine perfectly packaged within a moderate tannic structure. 13.5% RRP £12.99 from Waitrose & Partners
Edulis Reserva 2015
A well-made example, overflowing in ripe fruit with a citrus peel twist. Gentle spice compliments the chocolate and violet in the background. Soft tannins add to its moreish finish. 14% n/a in UK
Bodegas Finca Del Marquesado
A hedonistic, but nicely balanced wine, giving off aromas of vanilla, baked liquorice and dark berries. With richly textured sweet fruit, this will improve over time. 14% RRP £11 enquire at Fairley's Wines
Showy, well-executed style with a full-bodied palate of spicy pepper, rich chocolate and damson. Lovely finish of spice and herbs. 14% RRP £15 from Slurp
Gran Reserva 2012
Well-constructed style with an expressive nose of dried fruit and spice. Medium-bodied palate of black and red fruits with notes of chocolate caramel. Long and evocatively savoury finish. 13.5% RRP £26 from Matthew Clark