Showing posts with label Rioja. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Rioja. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

SuperValu Christmas Wines. Six of the Best!


SuperValu Christmas Wines
Six of the Best!


SuperValu’s wine expert Kevin O’Callaghan has brought together a great collection of wines for Christmas and the New Year. Wines from all over the world (though the six we’ve tried are from France mainly and Spain), including some Premium wines at unmissable prices. 

Kevin: “Those looking for gorgeous gift offerings won't be disappointed with our selection of market leading case deals from magnums of red wine to 6 bottle cases from Bordeaux and an organic from Spain.” There are discounts galore until the end of the year.

Pagos de Labarca AEX Rioja (DOC) 2014, 13.5%, €22.99 (€18.00 until 31/12/17) 

It won’t be all turkey over the Christmas. There’ll be beef and some good hard cheese and then you’ll be glad you have a bottle of this Rioja on hand. Maybe a bit too much for Ireland’s favourite bird but its rich fruit and spice guarantees it a welcome on the festive table. This limited edition, just over 6,000 bottles, is a big wine for a big occasion. AEX by the way stands for the Spanish Alta Expression, highest expression.

Colour is a mid to deep purple. Rich concentrated dark fruit aromas and maybe even more intense on the palate. Warm, rounded and spicy, juicy too, with excellent persistence. Quite a treat and Very Highly Recommended. I've heard Kevin O’Callaghan describe this as a blockbuster and it certainly lives up to the billing.
Rioja vineyards seen through the glass of Bai Gorri Winery

Lunatico Monastrell Jumilla (DOP) 2015, 14%, €18.99 (€14.00 until 31/12/17)

This young red wine is part of SuperValu’s Specially Sourced Signature Range and has spent 12 months in French oak. It is 100% Monastrell (probably better known to many by its French name Mourvedre). Jumilla is one of the better areas for this grape.

Kevin O'Callaghan says this is “the new favourite wine of the moment”. He also has an eye for a good label and says this the art on this one is only surpassed by the art inside, “dark and rich with no rough edges”.

Colour is medium purple with the legs slow to clear. Black berries feature in the aromas. On the palate, the rich berry flavours are enhanced by the sweet oak spice. It is rich and smooth overall with a long and pleasant finish. Highly Recommended.

Keep an eye out too for other wines from Casa de la Ermita, especially the Idílico and the Crianza.

Chateau Tour Baladoz Saint Emilion Grand Cru (AOC) 2005, 13.5%, €44.99 (€25.00 until 31/12/17)

The Bordeaux vintage of 2005 is legendary and this rich, plummy wine is just gorgeous. Merlot is the main grape here with both Cabernets also in the mix, Franc at 20%, Sauvignon at 10%.

Colour is purple and the aromas are concentrated, ripe dark fruits plus fragrant floral notes. Full bodied for sure, sublime soft fruits with great balance, tannins now very soft indeed and this well-rounded rich and splendid wine provides a beautiful lingering finish. One to take your time with, small sips recommended. The wine itself is Very Highly Recommended.

Andre Guichot Pouilly-Fuissé (AOC) 2014, 13%, €22.99 (€18.00 until 31/12/17)

Colour is a medium gold and there are aromas of citrus and white fruits among quite a medley. In the mouth, it is smooth, close to creamy, richly fruited and soft with good acidity too plus a lingering finish. An elegant wine indeed and Very Highly Recommended. Recommended with shell fish, king prawns, lobster, crab or poultry in cream sauce as well as goat’s cheese. 

Andre Guichot Meursault (AOC) 2014,13%, €44.99 (€35.00 until 31/12/17)

Colour is a greenish gold, limpid and brilliant, and here again the fruit and acidity match up in an exceptional balance. Fresh and smooth it has an excellent refined mouthfeel with a streak of minerality and a long finish that keeps giving. This is indeed excellent and Highly Recommended.

On the area’s website, I read: “Nowhere in the Côte de Beaune does the Chardonnay grape do better that its does here”. Former US president Thomas Jefferson once visited the region and reported: "..at Meursault only white wines are made, because there is too much stone for the red".  


Andre Guichot Vin Mousseux Blanc de Blancs Brut, 11.5%, €17.49 (14.00 until 31/12/17)

Andre Goichot, best known as a negociant but who is also a producer, has been here in Burgundy since 1947; watch out also for his Chablis. He is well known too for his bubbles and this Blanc de Blancs (just means it’s a white from white grapes) is a delightful way to start your evening. Bubbles in your glass will also be welcome before that Christmas lunch or at any gathering around the big day. Just serve a few nibbles with it as those bubbles go straight to the head!

And if you like it, and many of you will, Guichot promises “a perfect match with all food styles”. It is off dry, the bubbles very evident immediately after pouring. There are lovely fruit flavours before a good dry finish. Recommended for sure and good value as well. Bonne Noël!

This particular AG Collection also includes a Demi-sec and a Rosé Prestige.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Three Lovely Presents! More Like These Please!

Three Lovely Presents!
More Like These Please!

Christmas and a birthday came in fairly quick succession. At least it seemed like that. These three wines were among the most appreciated presents! Thank you - you know who you are!

Chateau Batailley Grand Cru Classé Pauillac (AC) 2008, 13%.

The chateau name comes from an important battle fought here during the 100 war while the Grand Cru dates to the 1855 classification created by Napoleon 111. Batailley is regarded as a typical Pauillac with cassis flavours and good structure. Pauillac wines are generally expensive so I was very happy to get this as a Christmas present! The 2008 is a blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, and 3% Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.

It is indeed a high quality wine with plum colour. Blackcurrants and cherry are prominent in the aromas. It is amazingly smooth and elegant, superbly rounded fruit with a little spice, a rich texture, tannins integrated, and well balanced  (a streak of acidity playing its part all through) and there is a persistent savoury finish. Very Highly Recommended.

The Wine Advocate reckoned it could last 15+ years. Not around here!

Vincent Giradin Les Gravieres, 1er Cru Santenay (AC) 2011, 13.5%, Le Caveau

Light red is the colour of this Pinot Noir. The aromas have dark berries and spices, floral elements too. Fruit (blackberry) and spice on the palate, rich and silky with tannins at play; it is light-bodied and throughly delicious with a long and dry finish to boot. No shortage of finesse here and it is Very Highly Recommended.

Importers Le Caveau report that, over the past decade, the focus for Vincent Giradin in his Meursault vineyard has shifted from the cellar to “trying to obtain the fullest expression possible from his vineyard”. The Les Gravieres plot, by the way, is regarded as the best in the area.

Ageing includes 14 months on fine lees and the lunar calendar (“fruit day”) is followed for the bottling, without fining and filtering. Match with red meats, game, various cheeses.

AGE Marques del Romeral, Rioja (DO) Reserva 2010, 13.5%, Marks & Spencer
Vineyards in Rioja

This is a Marks & Spencer wine and it does have the official Reserva stamp firmly attached. It is a blend of Tempranillo (mainly), Graciano and Mazuela and has been aged for two years in oak (American and French) and one year in bottle.

It is a glossy medium red colour. Ripe red fruits on the nose, spice and vanilla too. Well rounded fruit flavours follow in the smooth medium bodied wine. There is spice too, tannins close to fine. It is easy-drinking, a good example of the grape, the reserva designation of the area and is Highly Recommended. Try it with roasts and cheese.

Tempranillo is not ranked as “international” by World Atlas of Wine. Instead it is on a select list of “regional” grapes. They confirm though that  it is “Spain’s most famous grape….valued internationally for fine wine”.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Top Red Trio from SuperValu. Delicious Whites too.

Top Red Trio from SuperValu
The annual SuperValu Christmas showcase gets underway tomorrow, 24th of November, and here are three reds (from many) to watch out for. My top three consist of an Italian style Shiraz from Australia, a lovely food-friendly Sangiovese from Tuscany and a delicious Rioja to try with the red meats, leg of lamb in particular. Cheers!

Nugan Alfredo Dried Grape Shiraz 2012 (Australia), 14.5%, €19.99 (15.00 from 24/11) SuperValu

The dried grape technique is borrowed from Italy. It is used mainly to increase concentration. Five days then in contact with the skins before going on to spend 12 months in French and US oak. It comes in a noticeably heavy bottle!

Darkly coloured (garnet), it is lighter towards the rim.  It has very inviting fruit aromas, cherry and plum. And the velvety palate is certainly concentrated, complex deep flavours (that cherry again), some spice too; quite intense; excellent acidity too and it has a long finish. Very Highly Recommended.

Castellani Arbos Sangiovese (IGT Tuscany) 2013, 13.5%, €12.99 (10.00 from 24th Nov) SuperValu
Vanilla is prominent in the aromas of this Highly Recommended medium red; darker fruits there too. On the palate, it is smooth and fruity (cherries and plums), drifts of spice too, plus that quintessential acidity (almost an ever-present in Italian wines), and fine sweet tannins make it a pleasure in the mouth and the dry finish ain't bad either. Great value.

The producers aim has been to use the best Sangiovese grapes “to produce a Tuscan red dominated by fruity and spice notes, typical of the grape”. This worthy effort may be enjoyed with red meats and pasta dishes.

Pagos de Labarca AEX Rioja (DOC) 2011, 14.5%, €22.99 (18.00 from 24th Nov) SuperValu
Vanilla for sure in the complex nose but fruit shines through as well in this dark cherry red. That excellent balance is also noted on the smooth palate, tannins close to fine, plus some spice too, fruit and wood are well integrated and then follows a long and juicy finish with the dark fruit and vanilla still in harmony. Highly Recommended.

Bodega Covila, a co-op in Alavesa, regard this, rightly I think, as a Premium wine. It is a limited edition, just 6,400 bottles. It has excellent acidity and should be a good match for roast leg of lamb (no mint sauce though!), a match to repel the December chill and reinforce the Christmas cheer.

All Right With SuperValu Whites

Coopers Creek Dillons Sauvignon Blanc 2015 Marlborough (New Zealand), 12.5%, €14.99 (12.00 from 3.11) SuperValu
Best enjoyed young and fresh, say Coopers. So let's get at this Dillons, part of their Select Vineyards series.  It is light gold in colour with white fruit aromas (gooseberry, lime and peach in the mix). A power of flavour on the intense palate, balanced by a delicious acidity. Young and fresh it comes with a reverberating finish. Not to be left on the shelf. Highly Recommended.

Abellio Albarino 2015 Rias Baixas (DO), 12.5%, €13.99 (10.00 from 24/11) Supervalu

Liked the colour of this immediately, an inviting medium gold. It is hand-harvested and ideal with shellfish and fish and also recommended for lightly spiced Asian chicken dishes. The medium intense aromas are of white fruit. It has a smooth character on the palate, intense fruit (pear, apple and peach) with refreshing minerality. It is zesty and well balanced and Highly Recommended.

Domaine Les Guignottes, Les Resses Montagny 1er Cru 2014, 13%, €24.99 (€20.00 from 24/11) SuperValu




Not too much to say about this - just go out and buy and enjoy! This classic Chardonnay has beautiful intense white fruit aromas, peach the most prominent. Colour is a bright gold and there are amazing fruit and nut flavours, some spice too. The acidity too is outstanding. Fresh, with  a gorgeous mouthfeel and a long finish. Very Highly Recommended. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Celebrating international Tempranillo Day?

Celebrating international Tempranillo Day?
In Rioja, you may well hear familiar accents

If you ever find yourself in Rioja searching for Tempranillo, don't be surprised if you hear familiar accents in the bodegas. I was there a few years ago and at each of the three wineries visited in one afternoon, I was greeted by someone who had learned their English in Ireland, two in Dublin and one in Cork.
Rioja vineyards seen through the glass of Bai Gorri.
The receptionist here had learned her English in Cork. Doubcha by gorri.

Vinasperi Rioja (DOC) Crianza 2012, 13.5%, €15.15 Wines Direct

Celebrating international Tempranillo Day? Here’s a duo of bottles to help, one from Rioja Alavese and one below from Alta. Alavese is the most northerly of the three Rioja sub regions; the others are Alta (to the South West) and Baja (to the South East). 

This light bodied dry red is said to be a good example of the “modern style of Rioja”, a very pleasant one at that. It is quite a dark red and has pretty intense dark fruit aromas. And attractive fruit flavours also feature on the plum-y palate, barely a trace of tannins, just light and juicy, very approachable with a persistent finish. Highly Recommended.


Bodegas Gran Martinez Gold Selection Rioja (DOC) Crianza 2013, 13%, €17.30 Bubble Brothers (this bottle bought at Cinnamon Cottage).

This is a medium red colour with cherries and raspberries in the aromas and on the palate too where you'll also notice smoothness and power, vanilla and spice, fine tannins and a decent finish. Delicious and a touch more serious than the Vinasperi and also Highly Recommended.

The fruit comes from 40 year old vines; it spends 12 months in French and US oak and they recommend pairing it with roast lamb or beef.

Tempranillo, indigenous to Spain and used in the great Rioja and Ribera del Duero wines, is planted in 500,000 acres of the world’s vineyards, making it the fourth most planted wine grape, and that would be enough to celebrate.

Until recently, this noble grape’s entire acreage was almost all grown in Spain. But things have changed. Tempranillo today is grown in many more countries including the United States, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Australia, France, Portugal, Turkey, Canada, China, Thailand, and more.

You’ll notice a Crianza sticker on these bottles and other coloured stickers on other bottles from Rioja. Here’s the key:
The green label (cosecha) indicates less than one year in oak, less than one in bottle.
The red label (crianza) indicates 1 year in oak, 1 in bottle.
The burgundy (reserva) indicates 1 year in oak, 2 in bottle.
The royal blue (gran reserva) indicates 2 years in oak, three years in bottle.

The periods are mimimum.

* 2017 Australia Day Tastings will be held in London on the 24 January at a brand new venue, B1 Bloomsbury Square, in Edinburgh on 26 January at The Balmoral Hotel and in Dublin on 30 January at the RHA Gallery.


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Wines Of The Marques de Caceres. For Food, And Afterwards!

Wines Of The Marques de Caceres.
For Food, And Afterwards!

In Jacques Restaurant on Wednesday evening, a Frenchman told us the story of the Spanish family that employs him, before we got down to tasting a series of their gorgeous wines. 


The Forner family had been involved in wine for decades before having to flee to France during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), having “lost everything”.


Eventually, they began making wine in Bordeaux before, many years later, finding their way back to Spain to begin a winery in Rioja. Forner are better known to us as Marques de Caceres and the Frenchman, Florent Thibaut, is their Export Sales Manager. Florent was introduced to the attendance in Jacques by Dave Buckley of Cassidy Wines.

Florent started us off with a gorgeous Verdejo, saying that in fairly recent times, Marques de Caceres had began to make white wines in Rueda and Rias Baixas. “This grape is local in Rueda, giving a dry but aromatic wine, very pleasant on its own or with food (fish, salad).” It certainly was vibrant and fresh in the mouth with a delightful bouquet.
Next up was another white, their Albarino from Rias Baixas in Galicia. Think he said Galicia means mother earth, and he mentioned that the name of the wine indicated that it came, possibly via the Santiago de Compostella route,  from the Rhine (-rino) and was brought by a  monk (of course!).
He highlighted its minerality and said it is a great match with seafood, especially oysters. Jacques, who know a thing or two about matching food and wine, came up with some excellent pairings and the first was their Salted Cod Croquettes, a good match with the two whites.


Florent had excellent English and well able to hold his own in the banter that broke out from time to time. On being asked about the contribution of the Riedel glass to the wine, he said: “The glass is to the wine like the dress is to the lady!” Another quote, not from Florent, came to mind: Rioja wines are voluptuous; they  are round and full and rich. They are not Audrey Hepburn; they are more Marilyn Monroe.
So now we were on to those voluptuous reds, all from Rioja, starting with a very highly rated Crianza, which is for restaurants. “It is one hundred per cent Tempranillo from older vineyards.. with typical pepper, spice, a great choice with charcuterie, chorizo.., very much a wine for food… very pleasant but a serious wine.” Indeed, Excellens is a wine with great character and was quite a hit in the room.
And speaking of chorizo! As the reds were being tasted, Jacques served up a tasty dish of Basmati Rice, chorizo, peppers and chilli. Oddly enough, the Reserva didn't go down as well as the Crianza! Maybe, it was because “the nose was less expressive”. Florent went on to say that the Crianza “was more full-bodied, more tannic...for food.. Matches well with lamb”. And on cue, Jacques had some delicious lamb chops on the table!
In time too for the Gran Reserva which, Dave Buckley, told us “is not made every year”, only when  the fruit is very very good. ”Florent enthused: “And this eight year wine is very good indeed, from older vineyards. Very gentle, with smooth tannins. See that fresh colour…. Very fruit-driven, dark fruits.. Blackcurrant...that pepper and spice (from the oak) is there too..balsamic. For food, and for relaxing afterwards.”

Speaking further on this Gran Reserva, Florent noted its complexity and elegance. “Wine doesn't always have to be easy… sometimes you have to travel towards the wine.. From Cork to Rioja!” Reckon he had a busful of volunteers at that stage!

  • Most Rioja reds will have spent some time in oak. Check out the various designations below:
The green label (cosecha) indicates less than one year in oak, less than one in bottle.
The red label (crianza) indicates 1 year in oak, 1 in bottle.
The burgundy (reserva) indicates 1 year in oak, 2 in bottle.
The royal blue (gran reserva) indicates 2 years in oak, three years in bottle.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

From Rioja to Veneto. Crianza - Reserva - Ripasso

From Rioja to Veneto

Crianza - Reserva - Ripasso

Today, we travel from the Rioja in Northern Spain to the east of Lake Garda in the Veneto region of Northern Italy. And we have three pretty good wines to sample along the way! We’ll take it nice and easy and throw in a few not too difficult technical terms at the end.

Muriel Fincas de la Villa Rioja Crianza 2012, 13%, €14.99 (stockists include: Ardkeen Quality Foodstore (Waterford), Carpenters Off Licence (Dublin), Comet Off Licence (Dublin), JJ Gibneys (Dublin), La Touche Wines (Wicklow), Number 21 Off Licence (Cork), and The Wine Centre (Kilkenny).

Poor Soil is the Key!
This crianza is one hundred per cent Tempranillo and has spent 12 months in oak, and comes from the bottle with a nice bright cherry red robe. The aromas are of red fruit, wafts of vanilla. No shortage of flavour on the palate, some spice too, fine tannins and a lengthy finish. Highly Recommended.

Poor soil is the magic catalyst here, according to the winemakers. “The secret of the quality and expressiveness of our wines is the poor and balanced nature of our soil, exceptionally suitable for the vine.” Bodegas Muriel are in Elciego, one of the most famous villages of Rioja Alavesa.

Faustino V Rioja Reserva 2010, 13.5%, €18.98 (widely available, so shop around!)

9,000,000 bottles!
Faustino, with vineyards in the best parts of Rioja, is the largest privately owned vineyard in the region. “The winery holds more than 50,000 oak barrels and a permanent stock of some 9 million bottles - without doubt, the largest bottle collection we’ve ever seen”, says The Finest Wines of Rioja (2011).

Cherry red is the colour of this reserva and there are fairly concentrated dark fruit aromas, vanilla and spice notes too. Fruity and peppery, smooth with well integrated tannins and a good long finish. Highly Recommended.

The grapes are Tempranillo and Mazuelo (10%). It has spent 16 months in American oak and 24 months more in bottle. Match it with red meats and mature cheeses, says the winery. And they also recommend “flavourful fish such as tuna and squid in its ink”.
See more about Rioja and its wines here in a recent post.

Campolieti Valpolicella Ripasso 2012, €13.5%, €17.70 Karwig Wines

Second Time Around

Campolieti means happy fields and this Classico Superiore is produced by Luigi Righetti with Corvina as the main grape of the blend. 

In the heart of Valpolicella Classico, the Luigi Righetti estate is a small to mid-sized family run winery. The most exciting tradition to evolve from the Veneto region is the process used to dry grapes prior to pressing. Amarone and "Campolieti", the ripasso Valpolicella, have traditionally been the products to benefit from this process.

Aromas of plum and blackberry are noted in this rather fruity ruby red wine. Much the same fruits can be detected in the flavours. This has been made from grapes dried and put through the Ripasso method (see link below); this enhances the concentration. It also has a good dry finish. Ideal with Pasta, Risotto, Roasts, Red Meats. Highly Recommended.

Technical Terms
The red label (crianza) indicates 1 year in oak, 1 in bottle.
The burgundy label (reserva) indicates 1 year in oak, 2 in bottle.
Read all about the Ripasso method here.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Rioja whites. Young ones are easy; old ones are worth chasing!

Rioja whites

Young ones are easy; old ones are worth chasing!

The old ones, the great ones, are found here in Haro

Vina Tondonia Aged Whites

Most Riojan whites are for made for easy consumption but some are not. Vina Tondonia aged whites are a different kettle of fish entirely and Jancis Robinson has been known to praise both them and “the waxy whites” by Marques de Murrieta.

Don't think I’ve ever had any of those waxy whites but I did call to Tondonia (or Bodegas Lopez de Heredia/Tondonia to give them their full title). I was then on the hunt for their famous aged Rosada but they had none, they don't produce it every year. You may read about the visit here.

I spotted racks of whites, all with a rich golden colour and, thinking out loud, said they must be sweet. “No,” said the assistant behind me (who had studied English in Ireland). “All our whites are dry.” After a tasting in their ancient bar in its ultra modern setting, I was convinced and bought a bunch of them. Needless to say, they are long gone.
They are not easy to get here but an internet search revealed that Dublin’s Black Pig have some on offer and you may check them out here. It will be well worth your while!

The Young Ones

Zuazo Gaston Rioja blanco 2013, 13%, 15.99
Stockists: The Goose Off Licence, Co. Dublin. Matson's Wine Store Grange & Bandon, Co. Cork.  Sweeneys's Wine Merchants, Co. Dublin. Number 21 Off Licence, Co. Cork.
Zuazo vineyard
This is a 100% Viura, the most widely grown white grape in Rioja, known as Macabeo in other Spanish regions and as Macabeu in France. It is also one of the main varieties of Cava. This Basque vineyard has been in the same family since 1850 and this comes to you in a Burgundy style bottle.

It is lemon/straw colour with green tints, really bright. The aromas, floral and fruity, have been enhanced by cold maceration of the must in contact with the skins. The palate is fresh and aromatic, creamy and generous, rich and round, yet well balanced and it has a quality finish as well. Highly Recommended.

El Coto Rioja blanco 2013, 12%, €11.75 Karwig Wines

This Viura has a very light straw colour with a nice intensity of white fruit aromas. On the palate, it is fresh, fruity (citrus mainly) and zesty, a decent mouthfeel, good acidity and a refreshing finish. Hardly a heavyweight but a pleasant lightweight, well priced and Recommended.

Muriel Vendimia Seleccionada Rioja blanco (DOC) 2014, 12.5%, 13.99

Stockists: Ardkeen Quality Food Store, Co. Waterford. The Parting Glass, Co. Wicklow. Simply Delicious, Co. Dublin. Matson's Wine Store Grange & Bandon, Co. Cork.



This is another Viura, another with the basic green sticker. Colour is a light gold but oh so bright and there’s a great floral and fruity mix in the aromas. Nothing too complex here, good fruit and acidity, with a pretty good finish, easy drinking and Recommended. Should match well with most types of salad and light food, as they say on the label.

Check out our mini-feature on leading Spanish winemaker Alvaro Palacios and how he is changing the balance in your Riojan red!
Watch out too for Rioja Rocks - some fabulous reds featured here.



Rioja Rocks. Voluptuous Red Wines

Rioja Rocks


Rioja wines are voluptuous; they  are round and full and rich. They are not Audrey Hepburn; they are more Marilyn Monroe.*
Samaniego, between Haro and Logroño (2012)

Rioja in the north of Spain is one of the great red wine areas of the world. Like some of the other big red wine areas, there is a river running through it. The Ebro, the longest river in Spain with more than 200 tributaries, has given its name to the peninsula. But where has the name Rioja come from … Hard to say! Ana Fabiano in her 2012 book, The Wine Region of Rioja, says there are twenty two theories! But she narrows it down to two serious ones.


One of the pair does include the River Oja, Rio Oja, a tributary that joins the Ebro near Haro, in the mix. It is convenient for the modern reader to jump to that conclusion. But, as Ana points out, it is too simple. The origin is clouded in history and by versions in so many languages, including local, invader and Euskara (Basque). Much easier though to work your way through the wineries, even if many of them have Basque names!

Must admit I didn't know until recently that Rioja (the wine region) and La Rioja (the administrative region) are not exactly the same. Vines don't recognise where the border ends and so a Rioja vineyard can extend into Navarra or Álava. Rioja is divided into three sub regions: Alta, Alavesa and Baja.

Tempranillo is the main grape in Rioja. She (yes, it is a she) is so called because she ripens early and the Spanish word Temprano means early.

*The Wine Region of Rioja by Ana Fabiano.

Rioja red wine stickers:

The green label (cosecha) indicates less than one year in oak, less than one in bottle.

The red label (crianza) indicates 1 year in oak, 1 in bottle.
The burgundy (reserva) indicates 1 year in oak, 2 in bottle.
The royal blue (gran reserva) indicates 2 years in oak, three years in bottle.


Finca Cien Vacas Tempranillo 2012 (Rioja), 13%, €11.95 Karwig Wines

Decent fruit and a matching acidity combine to make this a quality, easy drinking wine. Colour is ruby and you have a bowl of ripe red fruit in the aromas. It is one hundred per cent Tempranillo and has been produced by a family undertaking to be “pleasant, healthy and for daily consumption,.... reflect in a straightforward manner the qualities of the environment and the benefits of the vintage”. All sounds honest to me and the wine is Recommended.

This bottle has a green label indicating less than one year in oak, less than one in bottle. This level of wine is often spoken of as being joven (young) but you may never see that word on the label. More than likely, you’ll see cosecha (harvest).



Ardo by M. de Riscal Rioja 2013, 13.5%, €10.99 *

You’ll love the colour of this one, ruby with a shine. There are intense aromas of ripe red fruits. Fruit and spice combine in impressive attack, fine tannins too, superb body and balance and finish. This, made from younger grapes, has had a few months in oak. It is very good indeed for your basic cosecha (green sticker) and Highly Recommended.

Torres Altos Ibéricos Crianza 2012, 13.5%, €16.99 *


While Torres is synonymous with wine in Spain, it was only in 2005 that they first purchased land in Rioja. This wine is 100% Tempranillo and has spent 12 months in French and American oak. It bears the red crianza sticker. It was first produced in 2007. Torres don't rush and they now have just two wines from here, the second a Graciano. Watch this space methinks!
This deep cherry wine has aromas of ripe fruits, wood and spices. Quite a serious wine this monovarietal, bold and confident with fruit galore, elements of the oak too, a tannic grip, and a balancing acidity. Not of the easy drinking variety but well worth making the effort to get acquainted with this smooth customer. Very Highly Recommended.

M. de Riscal Arienzo Crianza 2010 (Rioja), 14% *
In 2008 Tempranillo, Spain’s flagship variety, accounted for 80% of the red wine harvest in Rioja. You’ll also see it called Tinta del Pais, Tinta Roriz (Portugal), Tinta de Toro, and more. The blend here is Tempranillo (90%) and five per cent each of Graciano and Mazuelo (Carignan).

Colour is ruby (with a super sheen) and it has ripe fruit aromas. Vibrant wash of fresh fruits leads the soft attack, some sweet spice there too and other hints of its 18 months in oak. The finalé doesn't lack for length. May not make the top wines of Riscal - after all it is a newcomer (2007) to the stable - but it will sit nicely on my short list. Very Highly Recommended.

Zuazo Gaston Rioja Crianza 2012, 13.5%, 17.99
Stockists: Ardkeen Quality Food Store, Co. Waterford. Carpenters Off Licence Castleknock, Co. Dublin. Chill in Off Licence, Co. Dublin. JJ Gibneys, Co. Dublin. Matsons Wine Store Grange & Bandon, Co. Cork. The Wine Well, Co. Meath
Zuazo
This comes with dark fruits aromas, hints too of its 12 months in oak. Fruit and spice on the palate, fine tannins too and sufficient acidity, complex and elegant, all before a long pleasant finish (with a hint of fruit sweetness). Highly Recommended.
This is listed as one of the best crianzas in Ana Fabiano’s Rioja. Can't argue with that. Indeed, it is that listing that alerted me to Zuazo Gaston. The bottle is of an unusual colour, frosted dark green which, when full, looks totally black. Looks well on the outside, and what is inside tastes well when you get it out!

CUNE Rioja 2011 Crianza (Spain), 13.5%, €10.00 Tesco
This bottle, from one of the longest established wineries in Rioja, has the bright red sticker that indicates its a Crianza with a minimum of 12 months in oak. It is drinking very well now. Uncomplicated, easy to drink and Highly Recommended. Penin, the leading Spanish wine guide, gave it 90 points.
Colour is a Cherry Red and there are very pleasant fruit aromas. Fruit flavours, fine tannins, plus the influence of its time in the oak and a matching acidity make this a very agreeable wine indeed and it has a decent finish too.
CUNE was founded in Haro 1879 as Compania Vinicola del Norte de Espana (CVNE). The transformed acronym, pronounced coo-nay, grew somewhere along the way! The sixth generation of the Madrazo family are now in charge.


Coto de Imaz Rioja Reserva 2010, 13.5%, €18.50 Karwig Wines
The bottle has the burgundy sticker indicating Reserva status. It is dark cherry in the glass with aromas of fruit (ripe, red) and spice. No shortage of power here, fruit, spice and wood wonderfully combining in a smooth show of Tempranillo at its best, power yes but in a velvet glove. It has spent 17 months in oak, well over the minimum twelve.
Founded in 1970, Bodegas El Coto is one of the “younger” Rioja producers and its wines are regarded as “wonderful Classic Riojas”. And indeed reverence is due here, excellent structure, well rounded and balanced and Very Highly Recommended.

Marques de Riscal Rioja Reserva 2011, 14%, €19.99 (down from 23.49) *

This superb reserva is made mainly from Tempranillo vines planted in the 70s. The Graciano and Mazuelo varieties, whose presence in the blend does not exceed 10%, provide crispness and a lively colour. The fruit has been hand-picked and the wine has spent 26 months in American oak.

That colour is a dark cherry and the aromas are of concentrated ripe fruits, hints too of the oak and also balsamic notes.  The palate is superbly rounded, smooth and elegant, tannins are very soft and there is a long finish, A top drop for sure and Very Highly Recommended.

They recommend pairing it with ham, mild cheeses, casseroles which are not highly spiced, bean and pulse dishes, poultry, red meat, grills and roasts.

* At leading independents, including Bradley's and O'Driscoll's of Cork and also available on-trade at leading restaurants and bars.

Check out our mini-feature on leading Spanish winemaker Alvaro Palacios and how he is changing the balance in your Riojan red!
More here on Rioja whites