Wine: Rioja's shades of red
Rioja is regarded proudly within Spain as her premier wine region. With 75pc of Rioja's wine being red it can be characterised by two words, blending and aging. Rioja's black grapes each express their own character. Tempranillo has its blackberry fruit taste and well balanced alcohol, tannin and acidity, while Garnacha (Grenache) produces faster maturing wines with strawberry fruit tones and low levels of tannins and acidity. Mazuelo, (Carignan) compensates with high acidity, tannin and colour. A little Graciano is used in the finest wines giving colour, powerful black fruit aromas and structure.
Aging is a fine art in Rioja. Popular modern styles of aging are Joven and Crianza. Joven translates as 'young' and these wines are released around six months after the harvest without aging in oak barrels for a fruity and easy character. If aged for six to twelve months in barrel the result is a slightly spicy Crianza style. When the aging process is combined in barrel and bottle for an extended minimum period of three years the wines receives the official term Reserva, and if this is extended over five years the wine will be known as Gran Reserva. Pair these reds with slow cooked beef dishes, roast chicken or lamb, baked peppers and tomatoes stuffed with savoury rice, finishing with Manchego.
1) Rioja 2011, Cantas de Valpiedra 13pc
Gorgeous aromas perfumed with vanilla. Delicious silky smooth texture delivering intense flavours interwoven with liquorice and vanilla.
€18.95 in Dublin at Donnybrook Fair; the Black Pig, Donnybrook and
2) Rioja Reserva 2009, Baron Amarillo 13.5pc
Mellow bouquet and attractive vanilla and liquorice palate. Perfectly mature now. €8.99 at Aldi stores nationwide.
3) Rioja 2013, de Alto Amo 13.5pc
Earthy aromas. Good depth of black berry fruit with excellent balance between the moderate tannins, acidity and alcohol. €10.99-€12.99 in Dublin at McHugh's, Red Island and Redmond's, Ranelagh.
4) Rioja Reserva 2009, Finca Amalia 13.5pc
Vanilla, peppery and woody bouquet. Intense spiced berries and an obvious peppery finish. €13.99 at Gibney's, Malahide; Creaton's, Co Roscommon; Cappagh Stores, Galway; No 21 Off-licences in Waterford; Carrick-on-Suir; Middleton, Charleville, Blarney, Ballincollig and Coburg Street, Cork.
5) Rioja Reserva 2009, Glorosio 14pc
Nutmeg, pepper and pencil shavings bouquet. Lovely intense baked berries and spiced flavours from French oak barrel aging. €16.99 at Walsh's Spar, Dungarvan; Gibney's, Malahide; Next Door, Racefield Limerick; No 21 Off-licences in Waterford; Carrick-on-Suir; Middleton, Charleville, Blarney, Ballincollig and Coburg Street, Cork.
6) Rioja Crianza 2010, Conde de Valdemar 13.5pc
Classic vanilla bouquet. Intense spicy pepper and paprika infused with the berries. Classic liquorice, vanilla and pepper finish. €18.99 at Fresh Supermarkets, Dublin; Gerry's Supermarket, Skerries and McHugh's, Kilbarrack. The Wine Well, Dunboyne; Ardkeen Stores, Waterford and McEntee's, Kells.
7) Rioja Graciano 2011, Ijalba 13.5pc
Polished oaky aromas. Dense and concentrated black fruit with a polished leather finish. €19.50 at quintessentialwines.ie, Quintessential Wines Drogheda; The Black Pig, Donnybrook and The Hole in the Wall, Blackhorse Avenue, D7.
8) Rioja Reserva 2008, Rondan 13.5pc
Classic stewed berries with liquorice and vanilla with a woody finish. At peak now. €19.95 at winesdirect.ie and Wines Direct Shop Mullingar.