Wine: The pick of Springtime Rioja
Snuggled under the protective arm of the Cantabrian Mountains, 100km from France lies Rioja, the glittering ruby in Spain's treasury of red wines.
Traditionally famous for the lengthy oak-aged Reservas and Gran Reservas, today's reds are younger and fruitier in character.
Rioja's longstanding love affair with the carpenter is over. It was fun while it lasted – a little oak on the side can add a bit of spice to a wine's life. But too long in each other's company and the dominating wood selfishly takes more than it gives, stripping the wine of her vibrant fruit, leaving her tired and jaded.
Modern Riojan red wines have a more youthful complexion. Vibrant with fresh, firm fruit, theses wines are just kissed by oak casks – rather than lingering too long in the barrel's embrace – and so maintain their identity.
Ever-popular modern styles are Joven and Crianza. Released when young (Joven) around six months after the harvest without aging in oak barrels for a fruity and easy character. Or, aged for six to 12 months in barrel for a spicy Crianza style.
1) Rioja Crianza 2009, El Coto 13pc
Subtle earthy notes and flavours in a rich style. Chewy black tarry fruits and firm tannins will perfectly accompany beef, roasted on a bed of red and yellow peppers.
€14.99 at Wine Centre, Kilkenny; Karwig Wines, Cork and the Vineyard, Galway. In Dublin: Morton's, Ranelagh; Molloy's Liquor Stores citywide; Savage's, Swords; Anderson's Food Hall, Glasnevin; Cheers @ Leopardstown Inn and Fresh Stores citywide
2) Rioja Joven 2012, Cepa Lebrel 13pc
Typically fresh strawberry scents follow on the palate with juicy red berries and gentle tannins. A feminine Garnacha style. Try with turkey and cranberry sauce.
€5.99 at Lidl nationwide
3) Rioja 2012, Don Carlos Velazquez, 13.5pc
Warmed fruits and earthy aromas. Liquorice and dark berry fruit flavours, to serve with duck breast pan-fried with star anise.
€9.99 in Cork at O'Donovan's off-licences citywide and O'Driscoll's, Ballinlough. In Dublin at JC Savage's, Swords and Hole-in-the-Wall, Blackhorse Avenue
4) Rioja Crianza 2009, Vinasperi 13.5pc
Black tarry fruits held in a firm grip of tannins and a broad leather finish. Try with grilled fillet steak and crushed peppercorns.
€15.15 at winesdirect.ie and Wine Shop, Mullingar
5) Rioja Crianza 2010, Ibericos, Soto de Torres 14pc
Spiced black fruits, leather and moderate tannins with a dry peppery finish. Match with pork chops in a piquant mustard cream sauce.
€15.99 at O'Brien's chain and Next Door chain of off-licences nationwide