In Event Reports, IWFS London Blog by ashepherdiwfs

September 2020 – Red Rioja

Our latest tasting by Zoom was to compare and discuss traditional red Riojas. We were delighted to welcome some IWFS members from the north west, an advantage of getting together technologically, without travelling!

The three wines suggested, easily obtainable from Majestic, were all from the Rioja Alta region, in traditional/classical style, with extended ageing in oak barrels and bottle, ready to drink once released.

The Tempranillo grape is at the heart of Rioja’s best wines. It may be blended with small proportions of Graciano and Mazuelo (the latter is another name for Carignan), or with Garnacha.

Many Rioja winemakers disapprove of decanting Reserva or Gran Reserva wines. Their view is that decanting risks oxidising the wine, and that the flavours should be allowed to decant in the glass. In ageing fine Rioja, the sediment falls to the bottom of the barrel, so there is very little by the time it is bottled. At our tasting this evening, we found that it was worth delaying our opinion beyond the first sip, as the taste improved, the longer the wines were in glass.

The first two wines were both from Beronia, a bodega in the heart of Rioja Alta founded in the 1970s and integrated into the González Byass group in 1982:

  • Beronia Reserva Rioja 2015

94% Tempranillo, 4% Graciano, 2% Mazuelo.

Reserva wines have had at least one year in barrel and two in bottle. In this case the wine was aged for 20 months in barrel, then developed for 18 in bottle.

  • Beronia Gran Reserva Rioja 2011

97% Tempranillo, 3% Graciano.

Gran Reserva wine is made only in the best vintage years, with rules requiring longer ageing than for Reserva. Again, this wine was aged for longer than stipulated, with 28 months in oak barrels and 36 months in the bottle before release.

Both wines had been highly rated by various organisations, awards and professional reviews. Comparing both wines this evening, we generally felt that the first was better value. The second wine appeared rather closed at this particular time, and did not show quite as well as anticipated.

The third wine was

  • Rioja Reserva ‘Selección Especial’ Viña Ardanza 2010 La Rioja Alta

La Rioja Alta is one of the long established bodegas of Rioja, family owned since its foundation in 1890. They grow all the grapes they use, and hand pick them. They manufacture all the barrels. All bottling is on site.

This is only the fourth time in 78 years that the bodega has made a classification of ‘Selección Especial’. It is awarded by winemakers only to their very best wines in the very best vintages.

The blend is 80% Tempranillo from 30-year-old vines and 20% Garnacha. The two varieties were harvested and vinified separately.

The wine is already beginning to drink well, but is expected to evolve over the next two decades. It was reviewed very highly by James Suckling, Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate and Tim Atkin, amongst others.

We appreciated this wine. At £23.99 (and since available on promotion) and not much more than the last wine, we thought that it was good value.

However, one of us was fortunate enough to be tasting a 2001 Gran Reserva La Rioja Alta, which we were assured was tasting even better.

Other wines tasted, both sold as typical traditional Riojas, and both showing well, included:

Definition Rioja Reserva 2014 from Majestic, also from the Rioja Alta region

Wine Society’s The Society’s Rioja Crianza 2016, 100% Tempranillo, aged in American oak.

The Zoom meeting framework made for a friendly environment. We were all able to see each other and to communicate our opinions or questions about the wines, as much – or as little – as we wanted to. While we are prevented from our normal wine tastings, we shall happily continue.

Rachel Burnett