There isn’t a wine list out there that Rioja isn’t suited to. An expert panel went on a search for the best Rioja for wine and cocktail bars recently, ending up with an interesting and varied selection
One of Rioja’s most defining characteristics is the region’s ability to produce a wine for any setting or occasion, from youthful reds and unoaked whites to top-end gran reservas, and by-the-glass serves all the way to the finest of fine dining.
Wine and cocktail bars not only have specific requirements when it comes to selecting wines for their list, but they also enjoy a greater degree of freedom than some other venues when it comes to experimenting with different styles. That’s where Rioja’s versatility comes in handy. Food doesn’t always play quite so central a role in a bar setting, which means a friendly, drinkable wine is generally what is required.
This is where the region’s fruit-forward crianzas really come into their stride, offering an approachable style that works just as well on its own as it does with a tasty bar snack.
For those customers looking for greater complexity and age to their wines, there’s always the additional evolution offered by a reserva, which adapts effortlessly from a wine to be savoured on its own, to the perfect accompaniment to a meal.
The region’s white wines also lend themselves well to a wine or cocktail bar list with plenty of choice between a zesty and refreshing style or a gutsier, oaked style.
TOP RIOJA WINES FOR WINE AND COCKTAIL BARS
Bodegas Muriel, Viña Muriel Blanco Reserva 2010
Fresh and zippy, with good oak ageing too, and aromas of apple, bread crust, spice and a savoury hint. Tasters praised good concentration and oak integration.
£11.65, Moreno Wines, 020 7289 9952
Marques De Cáceres, Excellens Rosé 2014
Light pink colour yet a substantial wine, with crunchy rhubarb and black fruit, some floral character, and plenty of cinnamon spice. A great summer wine.
£9.25, Ellis of Richmond, 020 8744 5550
REDS – GENERICO
Finca Egomei 2010
A real crowd pleaser said our panel, who praised this wine’s balance. Some appealing black plum and liquorice notes led to a big, concentrated finish, with sweet fruit right to the end.
£12.95 (2011 vintage), TVB Wines, 020 3697 1263
REDS – CRIANZA
Bodega Classica, Hacienda López de Haro Crianza 2012
This was a juicy and earthy wine, with interesting herbal notes throughout, along with excellent texture on the palate and plenty of good black fruit too. Also, and perhaps most importantly, all of that came at a great price.
£5.44, C & D Wines, 020 8778 1711
Bodegas Franco-Españolas, Rioja Bordón Crianza 2011
Panellists described an interesting nose of tobacco, mushroom and leather, with oaky smoke and black fruit too. An expressive, concentrated wine with smooth tannins.
£6.70, A&A Wines, 01483 274666
Bodegas Santalba, Ermita De San Felices Crianza 2011
A classic-style Rioja, with plenty of red fruit and vanilla on the nose, not to mention some hints of balsamic, incense and a baked strawberry note. Bright and youthful, and very good value for money.
£9.02, Castelnau Wine Agencies, 020 7751 2490
Bodegas Tobía Selección Crianza 2010
Well integrated oak, red berry, plum and redcurrant fruit. Great acidity on the palate, with ‘spiced bramble jam on toast’, described one taster.
£10.31, Barwell & Jones, 020 8551 4966
Viña Bujanda, Promesa Crianza 2012
Black fruit and spice were the defining elements here, with a floral note on the bright nose. Good acidity followed, with a juicy palate, subtle oak and fine tannins.
£7.95, Berkmann Wine Cellars, 020 7609 4711
Viñedos De Aldeanueva, Azabache Crianza 2012
Sweet strawberry and raspberry to start, then a pleasant floral note. A fruit-driven wine with excellent balance, particularly on the palate – fun and easy to drink.
£7.25, Ellis of Richmond, 020 8744 5576
REDS – RESERVA
Bodegas Navarrsotillo, Magister Bibendi Rioja Reserva 2009
‘A classy, attractive nose,’ wrote one taster, while others described a full, concentrated wine, with redcurrants and cherries, some woody notes, and sweet cinnamon spice towards the finish.
£7.50, Mason & Mason Wines, 01243 535364
Bodegas Castillo De Sajazarra, Catillo De Sajazarra Reserva 2008; Bodegas Cicerón Larrades Blanco 2014; Bodegas De La Marquesa, Valserrano Crianza 2011; Bodegas Eguia Viña Eguia Gran Reserva 2007; Bodegas Zugober, Belezos Blanco Oak Aged 2012; El Coto De Rioja Blanco 2014; Finca La Emperatriz, Salagón Tempranillo 2013; Finca Manzanos, De Alto Amo Crianza 2011; Herederos Del Marqués De Riscal Rioja Reserva 2010; Ontañón, Artesa Ecológico 2013
Caroline Brangé, 28°-50°
‘Rioja offers good value for money, and a lot of people like the fruit-driven, smooth tannin style. It has a lot of diversity to fit in a wine bar or restaurant. Those younger, juicy styles are more suited to the bar.’
Ian Campbell, The 10 Cases
‘We sell more Rioja by the glass than by the bottle and list a range – from fruity and unoaked to the more expensive, classic styles. Customers are happy ordering it but it can be confusing as there are different styles.’
Carlos Ferreira, New Street Wine Shop
‘Rioja can offer diversity to bar lists. Customers tend to look at the vintage, or otherwise go for crianzas with some complexity. They know that these kinds of wines are going to be good, and that Rioja can offer that diversity to bar lists.’
Iain Griffiths, Dandelyan
‘That old, savoury style of Rioja is suited to bars. White Rioja works with a food-pairing menu, but needs someone to explain it. Customers think of red when it comes to Rioja.’
Oliver McSwiney, The Kensington & The Fulham Wine Rooms
‘With Rioja you can’t help but see the intrinsic value in the category. In terms of value for money, it’s a must-list. We try to list smaller producers to get the narrative; and we do a Rioja focus, with two whites and four reds. Everyone reacts well to the aged whites, and we also sell lots of fresh, younger styles.’
Charles Pashby-Taylor, Dabbous
‘Rioja is a good style for bars. You put it on the list and people go: “I know what that is. I’ve had it before.” In the last five or six years I’ve noticed a move away from people thinking that Rioja is just red.’
Charlie Young, Vinoteca
‘There’s been a quiet revolution. Rioja has taken the best of its tradition and history, and adapted it for the market. We mix things up in terms of style. Customers generally expect older styles, and the white Riojas surprise them.’