Rioja: The 2010 vintage has been officially rated Excellent

  • Wed,12 Jun 2019 09:54:49 AM

Our love affair with the wines of Rioja is well storied. We’ve been slurping these richly satisfying reds since day dot – its winemaking culture can be traced back to Roman times, and the traditional gold wire netting around the bottle is as familiar as Spanish tapas.

And the region offers something most European winemakers can only envy: Rioja escaped the phylloxera epidemic (a bug that kills the vines) which devastated the French wine industry in the 19th century.

Today, the 2010 harvest has been cited as a vintage of a lifetime. So what’s all the fuss about, and why does Rioja rule the wines of Spain?

What’s so special about Rioja 2010?

“The 2010 vintage, rated Excellent, is considered the second best vintage of this century,” says Julio Sáenz, head winemaker, La  Rioja Alta (try their Gran Reserva 904, Armit Wines, case of 6, £195, in bond). “The influence of the Atlantic was significant throughout the season, producing highly aromatic, complex wines with an extraordinary balance and integration.”

What’s the difference between a Gran Reserva and a Joven?

There are four different styles: Joven ‘young,’ crianza (minimum one year in barrel), reserva (aged for three years, with minimum one year in barrel) and gran reserva (aged for minimum two years in barrel and three years in bottle, so five years in total).

What does the modern face of Rioja mean?

Often people refer to wines from Rioja as either ‘traditional’ or ‘modern’ in style. Traditional wines are aged in American oak barrels, which imparts richness and sometimes even coconut to the wine. Modern winemakers tend to use French oak barrels, which adds a touch of vanilla and lighter spice flavours.

Rioja is a world traveller

Rioja boasts 600 wineries, 14,800 grape growers and the largest number of barrels in the world. Rioja wines are available all over the planet, in 130 different countries in fact.

For a double treat, head to Haro, Spain where you can fight and bathe in the stuff

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La Batalla de Vino is part of the Haro Wine Festival. Held every summer on June 29 (known as the day of the patron saint San Pedro), you can use Rioja as your weapon and battle it out with thousands of thirsty locals and wine lovers. Think water pistols firing, buckets flying and everyone drenched in the delicious nectar of the gods.

Not every bottle of Rioja is a  100% tempranillo temptress

While the main grape variety is tempranillo, four other red grapes are permitted in the blend: Graciano, garnacha, mazuelo and the lesser known, maturana tinta (a near extinct ancient grape).

Rioja runs the gamut from everyday bottles to award-winning wines

The wines come at a variety of prices, and according to Decanter magazine, despite “burgeoning competition,” Rioja commands an impressive UK average bottle price of £6.82.

Finca San Martin Crianza, La Rioja Alta Alavesa, Spain
(Armit Wines/PA)

But if you want to push the boat out and don’t want to make an expensive mistake,  try the fruity Finca San Martin Crianza 2014, La Rioja Alta Alavesa, Spain, £14.08, Armit Wines.

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