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Rioja Tasting

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In the midst of a December devoid of media wine tastings, I found myself inspired to organise a Rioja wine tasting. Consisting of seven family members and friends, all of whom share my enthusiasm for wine, we embarked on a journey through the flavours of Rioja.

Accompanied by an array of tasty Spanish tapas, our tasting session featured a curated selection of both white and red Rioja wines. The insights shared here represent a collective blend of our experiences and opinions.

For those new to the world of Rioja wines, I recommend starting with my previous article, Understanding Rioja, which offers an overview of the different types of Rioja.

We began our tasting with the Co-op Irresistible Rioja Blanco 2022 with an alcohol content of 12.5%. This unoaked blend of 70% Viura and 30% Tempranillo grapes is a recent addition to the Co-op Irresistible range. The wine’s advertising promised notes of citrus and white peach. We found the wine to exhibit an amber hue, a fresh but slightly sweet taste, with the peach flavour dominating over citrus. While enjoyable on its own, it paired better with food. Given its price of £7.50, it offers good value.

Next, we sampled the Bodegas Riojanas Monte Real Blanco Barrel Fermented 2022, 12.5%, a blend of Malvasia and Viura grapes. Marketed as a subtle yet complex wine, it boasted tropical fruit, banana, white fruit, spices, vanilla, pepper and cloves. Contrary to its description, we found it to be predominantly oaky, both on the nose and palate. The peppery notes became more evident upon a second tasting. The strong oak meant it is better paired with food than enjoyed alone. Priced at £12.75 from The Oxford Cellar, it was a distinct style from the first white wine we tasted.

The Señorío de Librares El Marujo 2022, a naturally fermented and organically farmed Tempranillo, with an alcohol content of 13.5%, was next. Its bright and fresh nature, with black fruit and slight oak, was well-received. The funky label caught our eye and the wine’s fresh taste, reminiscent of strawberries and rhubarb, was intriguing. Slightly tannic with a finish of raisins, it was better with food. Some suggested it might be even more enjoyable slightly chilled in Summer. Available from £16.00, from Shrine to the Vine, Vino Gusto and Monty Wines.

Our journey into reds continued with the Beronia Reserva 2019, a blend of Tempranillo, Mazuelo, and Graciano with a 14% alcohol content. Advertised as rich and ripe with red-fruit flavour and elegant toasty notes of coconut and vanilla, we found it lacking coconut but had pepper and spice. The medium-bodied wine showed good integration of oak and a balance from the grape blend, making it aromatic and slightly fruity-sweet. It was well-suited for food pairing and, due the sweet fruitiness, seemed designed for mass appeal. Priced at £17.99, it is widely available.

The Barón de Ley Finca Monasterio 2019 was up next. It is advertised as having intense black cherry colour and dominant aromas of jammy fruit and balsamic oak, supplemented by herbal infusions of tea, coconut, cocoa and spices and 14.5% alcohol content. We found it to be slightly more tannic and slightly more acidic than the previous Beroni and less smooth. This wine seemed more suited for connoisseurs who can appreciate its complexities. Available for £17.79 from Costco and around £15 in Asda, though not listed on their website.

The Cune Gran Reserva 2015, a blend of Tempranillo, Graciano, and Mazuelo, promised flavours of black fruits, spice, leather, subtle vanilla notes and firm tannins. Our experience was one of a less bold wine than expected, but smooth and balanced, with age-mellowed fruitiness and slight spice. Equally enjoyable with food or on its own, it is priced at £16.99 from Majestic with a 14% alcohol content and is widely available.

Finally, we tasted the Coto De Imaz Gran Reserva 2016, comprising 90% Tempranillo and 10% Graciano and having 14% alcohol content. Described as having a brilliant ruby colour with a palate focused on red berries and dried raisins with smoky notes, we found it aromatic, smooth and balanced, with layers of flavour and a long finish. Priced at £29.99 (currently on offer for £23.99), it is available from North & South Wines.

In conclusion, the Coto De Imaz Gran Reserva emerged as the standout favourite for four of us. One person preferred the Barón de Ley Finca Monasterio, one person liked the Beronia Reserva best because of the fruity profile and one person liked the Señorío de Librares El Marujo just because it was unique and different. This tasting underscored the diverse styles of Rioja and the varying preferences among different people.

A special thanks to RiojaWine DOC, Co-op, Beronia, Phipps, and RandR for providing the samples that made this tasting possible.