First publisjed in The Irish Times, Saturday November 11th, 2017
Having a roast of lamb this weekend? Or turkey on Thanksgiving? Our favourite wine to go with celebratory dinners is Rioja, and not just any Rioja. In Ireland it must be a Rioja Reserva. However, they range in price from €9 to more than €50, so what should we buy?
It used to be simple. There were only three kinds of Rioja: Crianza, which had been aged in oak barrels and then in bottle for a little while; Reserva, which had gone though the same process but for a longer period; and Gran Reserva, which had spent a very long time in both barrel and bottle before being released. The theory was simple, too; Rioja came ready-aged, so there was no need to wait before drinking it. It was smooth, rounded and soft. And we loved it.
Things became more complicated as a generation of young Turks decided to make more modern, youthful international wines with plush, rich, dark fruits. Then, as those young Turks aged, a new generation came forward, making lighter, fresher wines, often made from single vineyards and frequently with low levels of sulphur. All of these producers simply put the word cosecha (vintage) on the back label. It was confusing for some, and that may be why a great many Irish consumers stuck to buying Reserva when they wanted something special. It has become our go-to wine when we want to splash out.
The term “reserva” simply means the wine has been aged for a minimum of one year in oak barrels, and at least 24 months in bottle. Start off with a great wine, age it quality oak, you should end up with a sublime, mature, smooth, complex wine. Poor-quality wine aged in poor-quality oak will only get worse.
Each of the multiples will have an inexpensive Rioja Reserva. Aldi and Lidl both have one at €8.99 – see below for the Lidl version, but both are perfectly drinkable. Tempting as cheap Reservas are, at less than €15, I would go for a Crianza instead; they tend to have a bit more fruit. At the moment the multiples seem to be promoting Cune Crianza at €10-€11 a bottle, which is good value, although it may have returned to €15 by the time you read this. The majority of the best-known Rioja Reservas are grouped around the €22-€25 mark, periodically marked down to about €15-€18.
Rioja Reserva is a great choice if you are looking for a wine to serve at a celebration. It is one of the food-friendliest wines, great with white and red meats. In Rioja, they love their lamb; chops grilled on a barbecue, cooked slowly with beans (their version of Irish stew, I guess), lamb shanks or simply a roast.
FOUR TO FORAGE FOR
Cepa Lebrel Rioja Reserva 13.5% €8.99
Light, smooth black cherry fruits overlaid with sweet vanilla.
Cune Rioja Crianza 2103 13.5%, €10-€11
Medium-bodied blackcurrant fruits, with spice and tobacco. Great value on promotion.
Stockists: Tesco, SuperValu, Dunnes Stores and others.
Conde Valdemar Rioja Reserva 2010 13.5%, €17.50
Enticing elegant smooth black cherry fruits with a spicy note. An award-winning Rioja Reserva.
Stockists: Widely available from independent off-licences.
Rafael López de Heredia, Viña Bosconia 2005 Rioja Reserva 13.5%, €31
Magnificent wine: red cherries, strawberries, an earthiness and lovely mineral backbone.
Stockists: World Wide Wines; Blackrock Cellars; Green Man Wines; 64 Wines.