#newwinethisweek Week 40 – Rioja Tinto, Spain


We originally set up #newwinethisweek to explore new grapes varieties and new wine regions; to expand our horizons and avoid the default choice on a Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday night etc! But sometimes it’s great to just go for something you know, something reliable, something comforting.

One of those go-to wines is Rioja, the king of Spanish reds. Rioja has become a brand name and I often wonder whether the majority of people picking it up off the supermarket shelf realise it is a place and not a grape; Sancerre, Chablis and Chianti also suffer the same misunderstanding for the most part I’m sure. But that is often the problem with old world wine; you are expected to know what’s in the bottle by solving the puzzle on the label… so let’s make things simple…

Rioja Map


Rioja is an inland region in northeast Spain, which produces red (tinto), white (blanco) and rosé (roasado) wines. It was the first region in Spain to be granted Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOCa) status, which is awarded to regions with a proven track record of consistent quality; currently there are only two such regions in Spain; Rioja and Priorat. We are focusing on the famous red wines of Rioja this week, where the dominant grape is Tempranillo. Most of the red wines are usually a blend of grapes however, which might also include Garnacha, Graciano, and Mazuelo, and there are an increasing number of bodegas including Cabernet Sauvignon, which personally I feel is a bit of a shame, but I’m a traditionalist.

The other thing a Rioja label will tell you (if you know what to look for) is how long the wine has been matured for; there are four classification levels in Rioja, each with strict rules on how long, and in what, the wine must be aged; this classification must be declared at the time the grapes are harvested, so a wine maker can’t start out making a Crianza and then decide its looking great and “upgrade” to a Reserva, for example.

Rioja – if that’s all the label says the wine will have spent less than a year ageing in an oak; if the word “Joven” appears on the label it will not have seen any oak at all. These wines are designed for very early drinking and possess very fresh red fruit flavours

Rioja Crianza must be aged for at least two years, at least one of which was in oak. Again these wine are very approachable early on their life, with flavours of strawberry and just a hint of vanilla for the short time in oak.

Rioja Reserva is aged for at least three years, of which at least one year is in oak. These wines have more complexity and are often best drunk a couple of years after release so the fruit and sweet spice notes can come together in a delicious and harmonious way.

Rioja Gran Reserva wines will be aged at least five years, with two of those years in oak. Many producers choose to age their Gran Reservas for even longer, often another four to eight years, but the Marqués de Murrieta 1942 Gran Reserva wasn’t released until 1983… after 41 years of aging! Expect lots of complexity and plenty of vanilla and coconut in beautiful harmony with the elegant red fruit.

This classification isn’t a guarantee of quality; a good winemaker’s Crianza can be far better than a poor winemaker’s Gran Reserva. The wines are just different in style.

So we know where it’s from, what’s in the bottle and how long it has been aged… let’s got onto drinking some with a few recommendations; where possible I’ve selected a couple of different classifications within each retailer:


Finest Viña Mara Rioja Crianza 2009 (Tesco £7.99)

Finest Viña Mara Rioja Reserva 2009 (Tesco £9.49)

Finest Viña Mara Rioja Gran Reserva 2007 (Tesco £11.49)

CUNE Rioja Reserva 2009 (Waitrose £12.99)

Baron de Ley Gran Reserva Rioja 2007 (Waitrose £19.99)

Romeral Rioja Crianza 2010 (M&S £7.49)

Marquès del Romeral Rioja Reserva 2008 (£11.99)

Baron Amarillo Rioja Reserva 2009 (Aldi £5.99)

Or how about trying Decanter magazine’s top wine of 2013?

Faustino I Rioja Gran Reserva 2001 (Sainsbury’s £18.00)


You know the drill by now… buy a bottle, have a slurp and tell us what you think!






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Posted on October 6, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. I would never admit it publicly, but good Rioja wines (La Rioja Alta, Lopez de Heredia, Muga, Cvne…) are my top favorites… And you are absolutely right – good Rioja are good without much regard to Crianza or Reserva, but the bad ones are equally bad…

  2. I have four Rioja wines in my cellar. Reserva and Crianza. We haven’t had them yet and will watch your pairing recommendations.

  3. The Faustino I is a great wine and really well priced for what it is. A go to wine for when I want something a touch more opulent but without breaking the bank…

  4. I had a bottle of Faustino I Gran Reserva 2001 left on the shel so though it was time I tried Decanter’s wine of 2013 again. I had it wish Ox cheeks cooked in red wine and chorizo for a truly Spanish experience.

    Starts off with the anticipated strawberry, sweet red cherry and vanilla oak on the nose but there’s also rose petals and a figginess and notes of leather. On the palate, as well as the red fruit there’s leather and liquorice, maybe a hint of chocolate, and the tannins are delightfully smooth. At £18 this is a top-notch wine – look out for the £25% off promos in Sainsbury’s when you can bag a bottle for £13.50. 8/10

  5. Along with half the modern world seemingly, Rioja is my ‘old faithful’ go-to wine when it comes to something you can bank on. Every store stocks it, and if you have even half a clue about what you’re buying you won’t be disappointed.

    Whilst extolling the virtues of drinking £10+ bottles of wine to my Ogio loving philistine mates, I use Rioja as my case study. For around a tenner in most supermarkets I preach, you can buy a fantastic bottle of Reserva Rioja that’s had similar production treatment to a second growth Bordeaux that’ll cost you £50-£100. I honestly don’t know how they can barrel a Reserva for 1 year and then store it in bottle for 2, and then sell it for a tenner in Tesco. Knowing duty, VAT and margin levels in the UK, the Bodegas mustn’t make more than a few pounds per bottle. Either a very efficient business model or a prime example of how much we’re getting ripped off in BDX!

    I’m a serious evangelist for Bodegas Faustino and have a fair amount in the cellar so it was an easy choice for me this week. I bought a bottle of 1999 Faustino 1 Gran Reserva a few years back for around £16 as part of a bulk deal from Sainsbury’s.

    My point made above for production vs price with Rioja is proven to the power of 10 with this example- a 15 year old wine that’s wallowed in oak for 2 years before settling on a comfy cellar shelf for a further 3 years, and then sold for less than 20 quid across the UK. This just beggars belief with me. That’s before I even mention that the 2001 version was rated as Decanter’s wine of the year in 2013 beating such unknowns as ‘Ridge’, ‘Henri Gouges’ and ‘Jadot’ for the coveted prize!!

    The 1999 Rioja vintage scored an inferior 86 compared to the 2001’s 94 with Mr Parker, but it still has enough life left in it to keep me enthralled.

    There’s concentrated red cherries, deep leather, smoky cigars and coffee on the nose, but also a surprising and pleasing amount of acid on the palate to more than match the aged character.

    Two hours or so in a decanter seems to soften the tobacco aromas nicely to more ‘e-cig’ than ‘Cuban bad boy’, and it slips down oh so quickly with the crispy duck pancakes on the menu.

    I love the fact that I’ve bought this wine in both a dodgy tapas bar on a stag do in Lanzarote and then a wine merchant in Central London-no better example of a wine available for all classes and tastes!

    An all-time favourite 9/10.

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