Vanilla, spice and all things nice: Four Riojas to try

John Wilson: Most of us still prefer the traditional style of Rioja, usually a Reserva when we can afford it, especially with our Christmas turkey

The railway line that runs from Bilbao to the town of Haro was instrumental in creating the success story that is Rioja. A century and half ago, it provided a quick route to the sea, opening up the wine to consumers all over the world. It gave Rioja an advantage over the rest of Spain that it has never lost. Here I feature wines from four of the original Haro producers still going 150 years later, all within handy reach of each other if you happen to visit.

There is a strong argument that most of the interest in Rioja currently lies outside the most famous category of Rioja Reserva. Over the last decade, ambitious growers have spurned the traditional lengthy ageing in barrel to produce Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva wines. Some have ignored oak completely, producing wines that emphasize fruit and freshness rather than vanilla and spice. Others have followed a more international model, ageing their wines for a year or 18 months in French oak (American oak is traditional in Rioja). Rioja recently added some new categories including Viñedos Singular (single vineyards), and Viños de Municipio – village wines that will hopefully allow the region to develop a distinct sub-region.

And yet most of us still prefer the traditional style of Rioja, usually a Reserva when we can afford it, especially with our Christmas turkey. Ageing a wine in oak softens the tannins and gives a smooth mouthfeel; it also gives the fruit an extra layer of flavour. The system is designed to produce wines that are ready to drink the day you buy them.

In addition to the wines of the week, Aldi has the Specially Selected Rioja Reserva (€8.49, €19.99 for a magnum) and Lidl the Cepa Lebrel (€8.49). As well as the CUNE, Dunnes Stores has its own label Camboral for €15.


Rioja Reserva does go very well with turkey, but locally they would enjoy it with roast and grilled lamb or a bean casserole with tomatoes.

Rioja Reserva 2018, CUNE

14%, €12.80

Gentle rounded cassis and dark cherries with a whiff of spice.

From Dunnes Stores; €15 from Tesco, €16 from SuperValu.

Rioja Reserva 2016 Marqués de Murrieta

14%, €23.95 down from €27.95

Sweetly scented with intense smooth red cherries and tobacco.

From O’Briens

Vina Alberdi Rioja Reserva 2018, La Rioja Alta

14%, €24

Soft sweet red fruits layered with vanilla. A classic example of the genre.

From Wines on the Green; Grapevine, Dalkey; Deveney’s, D14; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; Clontarf Wine; Martins, D3; Whelehan’s, Loughlinstown; La Touche, Greystones; Neighborhood Wines; 64 Wine; Mitchell & Sons; Gibney’s Malahide and many other independents.

Rioja Reserva Tondonia 2010 Lopez de Heredia

13.5%, €48

Earthy, mushrooms, piquant savoury red fruits and a dry finish. Unique and wonderful.

McCurtain, Cork; Green Man Wines; Baggot Street Wines; Sweeney’s D3; 64 Wine; Blackrock Cellar; Redmond’s; Clontarf Wines; Pinto; Jus de Vine and many other independents.