Wines from this famous part of north west Spain are part of the modern British psyche. In this first segment of notes we taste 1 crianza and 2 reserva’s. These examples are great examples of what benchmark Rioja should taste like - rich and dangerously pleasurable.

For those that are unsure, here is the definition of the 3 designations of wine based on ageing that you currently see in Rioja (from Wikipedia):

A crianza is wine aged for at least two years, at least one of which was in oak. Rioja Reserva is aged for at least three years, of which at least one year is in oak. Finally, Rioja Gran Reserva wines have been aged at least two years in oak and three years in bottle.

I am aware that many people are reining in the spending these days but I would argue that, for  the reserva’s listed below, you’d be hard pressed to buy anything of even close quality in a bar. So why not say to your friends, “let’s meet at home but enjoy some really special wines!”? The point being that these wines offer a memorable drinking experience and are worth paying more for.

In order of tasting:

vina pomal crianza13opt

Viña Pomal Crianza 2013 - Made from 100% tempranillo, the classic Spanish country grape that is round, fruity and perfect for washing down whole pates of food or large tracts of conversation. Crianza in this case means the wine has had one year in oak, in this case new American, and then at least a year in the bottle. That gives it a nice balance of accessibility and layers of complexity you’d expect from Rioja but without the intensity and age-worthiness of the reserva’s and gran reserva's.

Do let it breathe for a while so that the blackcurrant flavour get a chance to appear. The trademark, liquorice and background oak are there but by no means overpowering. Great party wine - try Ocado

imperial reserva 2010

Cune Imperial Reserva 2010 -  This was a fantastic vintage in the region and this wine exemplifies the expression of what can be achieved when the best great winemaking and natural forces collaborate. 

Lovely warmth & roundness from the vanilla oak character. Elegant perfume of Autumn, Woody, berries, herbs, liquorice ... open fires... mature cheese plate.. intense ripe blackberries kept under control by lovely tannin... lingering luxurious finish. A Rioja #VIP for sure & well exceptionally priced at £20 for 6 or £23 for a single bottle at Majestic or £22 for a single at WaitroseCellar

muga 2012 reserva

Muga Reserva 2012 - Dark blackcurrants, underlying leather and, as always with Muga, the trademark seductive vanilla from the oak. The wine is aged first in huge oak vats before being transferred to smaller barrels 2 years, followed by a further 2 years in the bottle before sale. 

I remember a really fun tasting at the Bodega a few years back and all the richness of aromas and landscape come through in the wine. It’s always a pleasure.

I almost find it hard to share this bottle with a meal. Just a taste of good Spanish ham or manchego cheese and then just give in to the pleasure.

At £15 a bottle (when you buy 6) from Majestic, this has to be the ultimate bargain.