There’s a winter ramble of flavours here. Leather, bramble, spice, coffee and caramel. The ultimate partner to lamb, it’s also perfectly matched with a night in front of a classic movie or box set. From one of Rioja’s most celebrated family producers.
You know that prickle of refreshing zest you get in a perfectly made gin and tonic. This is wine’s answer. And it’s better. There’s a spectrum of citrus with everything from lime to grapefruit, and then the wine’s characteristic tingly fizz. It’s the perfect sharpner at the start of the evening, or at 11.5%, it’s a great choice for lunch.
There’s been quiet experimention in Rioja, to look for a more modern style of wine for people who want more fruit and a tad more grip in their wines. This is Marques de Riscal’s answer. Less sweet oak, more bright fruit, a bit more bite. But still fresh. It takes brighter, more modern food too. A touch of spice, a bit of fruit, and maybe slightly richer meats like duck too.
Verdejo is like Spain’s classy answer to Sauvignon Blanc. Lots of citrussy fruit with an elegant restraint. It’s a refreshing, early-evening kind of wine, and Rioja producer Marques de Riscal is one of those who’ve captured Verdejo’s aromatic loveliness and made it famous. Have it with lighter salads, fish and chicken.
Maybe it’s the muscular fruit. Perhaps it’s the sweet oak. Possibly it’s the smooth texture. There’s something about Rioja that makes it a perennial favourite. It’s often the first wine people fall in love with. Served with a roast lamb Sunday lunch, it’s a classic, an archtype. And this one’s a classic in the mid-weight, ripe berry fruit style. Lovely.
We are reliably informed, do NOT pour your Txakoli from a height to froth up the light fizz. It’s only for tourists. Pour normally, nicely chilled and enjoy the brightly, zesty citrus aromas and refreshing palate. Itsas (“sea”) and Mendi (“mountains”) tell you all about what this wine goes with (fish) and where it comes from (the hills).
Rioja is divided in three parts – Baja, Alta and Alavesa, which is the smallest and highest region and the only one that sits in the Basque country. The climate here is more extreme from warm days to cool nights. But the results are a supple, smooth, lingering wine with a combination of ripe fruit and truffley earthiness. Perfect with lamb
Alfredo Maestro Tejero’s vineyards are located within the Ribera del Duero. His wines are completely natural, with no sulphur added in the vineyard or the winery. All his vineyard treatments are natural, and many of them follow biodynamic practices.
The Alfredo Maestro Vina Almate is darkly coloured, opaque and mouth filling with lavender and toffee notes that stay from nose to finish. These notes quickly disappear to allow a sweet nose of roses, mineral and red berry fruits.
The Bodegas Ondarre was established in 1986. It’s named after an old, nearby mansion that belongs to the founding family and is situated in the historical village of Viana, just eight kilometres from Logroño, which is the capital city of the Rioja region. Bodegas Ondarre is a highly respected, award-winning winery that specialises in reservas wines and Cava – in fact, they only produce Reservas and Cava here so production is limited to a few bottles a year.
This wine is such a perfect example of Rioja Reserva, but is also such a balanced wine (although it sure is quite high in alcohol). The flavours are great and the length on the palate is superb. This is THE perfect wine for your Sunday roast, particularly with lamb; a bit of a classic, but an oh so perfect match. Honestly it’s no wonder this wine is constantly being rewarded by every competition it’s entered in to; it’s just perfect!
Situated South of Barcelona, near the city of Tarragona, Herencia Altes is a small family estate that produces just 5 wines. Everything is done in the vineyard and winery to enhance the quality of the finished wine, including early harvesting to preserve the acidity of particular parcels planned for blending, through very gentle vertical pressing and judicious oaking and lees ageing. The resultant wines are rich, aromatic and fruit-driven and show the best side of both white and red Garnacha.
The vineyards that produce the Garnacha Blanca grapes for this delicious wine come from vineyards that are 450 metres above sea level: here the grapes are cooled by mountain and sea breezes prolonging the ripening period. Gently pressed, the juice was fermented at low temperatures and the wine spends two months on fine lees to gain texture and complexity. Aromatic, the wine shows floral notes and white fruit such as melon; the finish is long and fresh.
We were lucky enough to get our hands on this great white, we just wish we could have got more. It’s really up there in the world of white wine!
Sometimes we don’t know how lucky we are. Gran Reserva Rioja for under a tenner. Almost a decade between oak and bottle bringing our warm strawberry fruit, savoury leather and sweet cocoa aromas, and the supple-est of supple tannins. This is luxurious and relaxation in a glass. Cheese, lamb and very good friends and what you want to match this to. It’s the kind of wine that gets people into wine.
Two things that may surprise you. I used to be 16 stone, and I drank this as part of my 6 stone weight-loss. Why? Because a small glass of PX (Pedro Ximenez) takes away a craving that you might fill with a cake. I kept this in the fridge and many evenings just polished off a meal with a small glass. Raisins, toffee, honey and cake all in a glass, coating the sides with an unctuous varnish. Gorgeous.
Let’s be honest here. This is the richest, stickiest, densest wine you’ll ever try. It’s essentially the sweetening wine for other sherries, but here you have it unadulterated. And I love it. Not a ‘wine’ so much as a pudding or a stylish alternative to Bailey’s. Some serve it over ice-cream but that seems wasteful. It does go with a rich cake. You really should try this once though just to taste the treacle, the figs, the prunes and baked raisins.
This is everything people love about Spanish reds; intense fruit, soft and voluptuous texture, the currant and cherry flavours mingling with oak spice and even a hint of chocolate. It’s so versatile too. Easy to enjoy on its own, spiced and textured enough even for beef grills, but better with lamb or even burgers. And at this price a mid-week treat too.
If you’ve not had a Gran Reserva Rioja, this is a great place to start. Top grapes from great vintages (like 2005) are left in oak and bottle for longer for Gran Reserva wines. It’s so they immediately give you elegant cherry and raspberry aromas, mingling with oak spice and a long, sweet finish. It’s a fragrant, lighter red, so don’t match with anything too punchy, perhaps a lamb salad with a light pomegranate molasses dressing.
Winemaking is a lengthy business, but Manuel Raventos took it a stage further when he had to plant a forest to de-salinate the soil before he could even plant a vine. ‘Raim’= grapes, ‘Ma’= hand in old Catalan, so he knew this was a promising site. And it is. With a core of currant and plum and a spiced finish, it’s perfect with lamb and tomato-based sauces.
This is organic, bio-dynamic, sustainable and vegan. Yep, not even any egg white, often used to clarify wine. Leaving a brightly fruity wine with cherry and forest fruit aromas and smooth tannins. Ironically the producers recommend it with ‘red meat, big or small game, sharp cheese’. As it’s vegan I’ll suggest squash and barley salad or Japanese Simmered Daikon with Bok Choy and Edamame.
Think of the things that make for great wines – classic varieties, old vines, historic regions, oak ageing… and then imagine them for about six quid. That’s this wine. Mature, complex strawberry and spice aromas and flavours, wonderful with a mid-week paella dotted with chorizo. Or a rich chicken casserole or pie. Mid-weight, ripe and delicious.
I poured this award-winning white recently for some friends and their expressions said it all. Wide-eyed looks of revelation; mouths pursed in a ‘oooohh’; big grins. Great Verdejo has the fresh zest of Sauvignon Blanc but with quince, not gooseberry. And it’s a more herbal, less aggressive wine, making is so much more versatile with food like coriander chicken, grilled Halloumi salad or seafood paella. Best of all, Verdejo (native to the Rueda district in central northern Spain from which this hails) is a relative unknown, so you get a better wine for less money.