The middle of a trio of so-called Mediterranean vintages, 2016 generally produced wines with good concentration and ageing potential. That’s certainly the case with the impressive Viña Arana release, which shows impressive depth, energy and presence. Aged in La Rioja Alta’s signature American oak barrels, it’s a well judged blend of Tempranillo from three vineyards in Rodezno with grippy 5% Graciano from Fuenmayor. It has classic aromas of dried coconut, cinnamon and baking spices, plenty of acidity, undertones of baked earth and wild herbs, plum and reds berry fruit flavours and graceful, fine-grained tannins. Very drinkable now, but will cellar well, as La Rioja Alta’s wines so often do.
Textbook stuff from the extensive Muga family, this is a pan-regional cuvée of Tempranillo with 30% Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuelo, aged in a combination of French and American oak. Youthful, structured and showing the freshness of the cooler, more “Atlantic” 2018 vintage, it’s good to drink now but will also reward some extra time in your wine rack. Textured and balanced, with racy acidity and flavours of liquorice, blackberry and vanilla spice.
It’s something of a paradox that the best winter reds often come from warm climates that produce throaty, full-bodied wines. This old-vine cuvée from the Portuguese Alentejo region is a case in point. Made with Alicante Bouschet, Aragonez (Tempranillo), Castelão and Syrah, it’s spicy, intense and textured, unfurling bramble, fig and blackberry flavours in the glass, with a patina of sweet cinnamon oak.
Always one of Rioja’s great bargains, this wonderfully juicy cuvée of Tempranillo and 5% Viura from brothers Arturo and Kike de Miguel is a classic carbonic maceration style that dates back to the 19th century and was popularised by the so-called “cosecheros”. Showing masses of perfume, it’s a tangy, crunchy, cement-fermented delight that combines perfume with vibrant summer berry fruit. Unwooded Rioja at its individual best.
La Rioja Alta is one of the most traditional wineries in Haro’s Barrio de la Estación, famous for producing wines that are good to drink on release, but also age beautifully in bottle. This new Gran Reserva, made from Tempranillo with 6% Graciano for added backbone, is very much a reflection of the cooler, more “Atlantic” 2014 vintage. La Rioja Alta didn’t make its top two Gran Reservas – 904 and 890 – in 2014, so all of its best grapes were used for Viña Arana. Fine and elegant, with vibrant acidity, notes of coconut and cinnamon from the American oak and a core of savoury, refreshing tobacco leaf and red berry flavours framed by fine, caressing tannins. Old-fashioned Rioja at its glorious best.
Is there a better value Rioja Crianza in the UK right now? If there is, I haven’t tasted it. Sourced from Bodegas Muriel, this is a wonderfully traditional style, made entirely from Tempranillo and aged in American oak. Supple, fragrant and sweet, with notes of coconut, fresh tobacco and wild strawberry underpinned by fresh acidity. Delicious.
The Urbina family’s appealingly traditional Riojas age brilliantly thanks to the acidity that comes with growing Tempranillo in the cool, limestone-dominated Cuzcurrita zone. This isn’t a blockbuster wine, but it’s remarkably complex, savoury and scented with notes of wild strawberries, forest floor and pouch tobacco, filigree tannins and haunting balsamic sweetness.
Serious, youthful, good value Ribera that’s at the lower end of the scale in terms of oaking. Sourced from century old vines in Matanza de Soria, this is part of a new wave of balanced, elegant Tempranillos with lovely freshness and poise. Scented, floral and complex with notes of bramble and balackberry and a refreshing finish.
If I were tasting this blind, I’d put it in Ribera del Duero, rather than the hotter Castilla y León region, such is its freshness and perfume. There’s quite a bit of oak on offer here, but it’s more than balanced by fruit weight and acidity. The tannins are extremely smooth for a wine at this price, complemented by notes of bramble and blackberry, subtle vanilla sweetness and a cool, almost grassy finish.
Contino is one of the properties that launched the single estate movement in Rioja, a superb wine that develops beautifully in bottle. 2008 was a late, cool vintage in Rioja, giving this blend of mostly Tempranillo with Garnacha, Mazuelo and Graciano a refreshing, low key elegance. Sublte and refined, with red fruits, subtle oak, some plummy tannins and deftly integrated oak.
CVNE’s Imperial is one of Rioja’s best value, ageworthy wines. This is still an infant and will need at least another five years in bottle to come close to its best. Dense, concentrated and sweetly oaked with a chalky undertone adding freshness and bite to the plum and raspberry fruit flavours. Traditional Rioja at its youthful best.
João Portugal (yes, that’s his name) Ramos makes some of the best value reds in Iberia. This southerrn Portuguese blend of Aragonez, Trincadeira and Castelão is well up to his usual high standards, combining flavours of blackberry, bramble and orange zest in a wine that’s fruity, refreshing, yet substantial enough to serve with red meat.