Spain's flagship wine region is Rioja. It's the lead singer in the band that goes on to have a successful solo career and then manages to land a starring roll in a Hollywood blockbuster. We know it, we love it. Rioja is in northern Spain and united by the River Ebro which flows west to east through the heart of the region. But to think that all Rioja is delightfully mellow spicy red is only part of the story.
The truth is, reds from Rioja can be incredibly varied thanks to different lengths of time they are left ageing in oak barrels - a technique for imparting savoury characteristics to wine that Rioja is world famous for. Tempranillo with its velvety fruit and capacity to age is the headline grape blended with Mazuelo (colour and tannin), Graciano (freshness) and Garnacha (warmth). If you see 'Crianza' on the label, the wine has been aged in barrel and bottle for one year each which generally gives a fruity wine with a mild spicy character - perfect as a kitchen table red or with your lamb chops for a weeknight supper. Try the splendid Ramón Bilbao Edición Limitada Rioja Crianza on the Hotel du Vin's wine list. 'Reserva' wines have been aged in barrel for a minimum of two years and one year in bottle and tend to have more of an intense character with a more pronounced spicy or earthy twist. Sunday lunch - bring it on. 'Gran Reserva' wines are considered to be the finest and created in years when conditions offer the best fruit - aged in barrel for two years and bottle for three, these are rich, savoury, earthy wines that are top notch for a special occasion or to pair with a feast of epic proportions. Rioja Gran Reserva from Riscal is a wonder of the Hotel du Vin's wine list.
The regions of Rioja also come into play with the character of fruit - Rioja Alavesa is known for producing wines of great finesse, Rioja Alta has superlative quality and Rioja Baja is warmer thanks to its proximity to the Mediterranean and tends to create fleshy wines with a warming heartiness.
It's worth noting that in addition to reds, Rioja also makes zippy white wines, creamy and nutty aged wines, rosé and even fizz! If you ever get the chance to visit, head to Logroño and spend an evening roaming the tapas bars on Calle Laurel, each with a different speciality dish and a unique slurp of Rioja to explore!
Beyond Rioja, Verdejo is a glorious grape that always reminds me of tropical zesty fruit flavours - have a crack at 'K-Naia' on the Hotel du Vin's list from Rueda. For breezy bright flavours that pair beautifully with shellfish, go Galician on Spain's north western Atlantic coast and sample a drop of Condes de Alberei Albariño in the Hotel du Vin. For reds, you can find good quality and value from Jumilla such as Bodegas Juan-Gil Petit Verdot at the Hotel du Vin or Valencia specialises in chewy Bobal, unique and fun to explore - La Malkerida de Espania is one to watch on the Hotel du Vin's list. And that's the very surface of Spain - when you think of top notch sparkling Cavas, outstandingly diverse sherries and the sheer quality of reds coming from Ribera del Duero and Priorat, Spain has oodles of wine to offer beyond our favourite glass or two of Rioja!
Come and learn more about Rioja at Rioja and Beyond my next Hotel du Vin wine dinner in Harrogate 27th April 2014. For more details or to book tickets please click here