Sunday, May 12, 2013

How to bluff your way to buying a good deal on Rioja

So, Rioja is one of those easy wines. Easy as in easy-drinking, easy to find on the shelves, easy to take to a diner party, easy to find at a cheaper price point... but is it too easy? Most of the time, for a Rioja, I used to just pick one - what does it matter, they're all roughly the same, right? Wrong.

There are four levels of Rioja

  1. Rioja (youngest, with less than a year in oak)
  2. Rioja Crianza (aged for at least two years, with at least one year in oak)
  3. Rioja Reserva (aged for at least three years, with at least one year in oak)
  4. Rioja Gran Reserva (aged for at least two years in oak, and three years in the bottle)
Oak ageing increases the complexity of the wine, making it more interesting to drink  more flavourful and more enjoyable. The oak adds flavours of vanilla, toffee and/or coffee. So you're looking out for a Reserva or a Gran Reserva. It may not say it on the front of the bottle but as producers can charge a premium for it, you will see it somewhere, maybe the neck or back-label.

Rioja is a region in Spain where the grapes are grown. Within Rioja there are three regions within it:
  1. Rioja Alta (high altitude, creates lighter wine, old world style)
  2. Rioja Alavesa (hgh altitude, but fuller body wine)
  3. Rioja Baja (lower altitude, so full colour wine with high alcohol, new world style)
Of course it can be down to taste as to which you'd prefer, but lets think about this on a practical scale. In Rioja Alta, a Gran Reserva is likely to cost around £40, but a Gran Reserva from Baja you can get for £10. The reason being is that the vines in Alta must be hand-picked because the rows of vines are grown close together on a steep aspect. Rioja Baja is machine-picked which means the wine can be produced more cheaply, which gets passed on to you and me. 

So to enjoy the full oak flavour of a Gran Reserva and you want to stick to your £10 budget, look for Baja. If you want less alcohol, then go for Alavesa. If you want fancy-pants then buy an Alta. It may not say baja on the label, but I wouldn't worry, if you're buying a Gran Reserva at a £10 price point, it won't have come from Alta!

Heres the delicious wine I tried at the Majestic summer tasting last week, Torre Aldea Gran Reserva Rioja

If you like more subtle oak flavours, then look for a Crianza. Again, if you go for Baja, you'll be tasting plums, spices and vanilla. For my hen do I did a blind tasting, and had a Baja wine for the first time, I was convinced it was a Shiraz, and told the sommelier so, even argued that he had poured the wrong bottle, but in fact it was a delicious Rioja. So now I know, and so do you. This tasting was at Ten Green Bottles in Brighton and the Rioja was a David Moreno Crianza 2009.

If you want more tips on Rioja, or tips for another wine, please write a comment and let me know!

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