One of Rioja’s greatest strengths is its diversity, with a range of styles suited to all wine lists. In the second part of this series of tastings, a panel of top-end sommeliers checks out what the region has to offer fine-dining establishments
Whether it’s traditional or modern, an oaked white or a well-aged gran reserva, Rioja has plenty to offer the fine dining sector. For one thing, Rioja is a well recognised name at all price points, and a must-stock on wine lists.
Known for its strong gastronomic heritage, Rioja has huge food-matching potential, particularly for top-end restaurants. Versatile, adaptable crianzas have what it takes to occupy the by-the-glass section, while the more substantial reservas and gran reservas offer diners something with a bit of age, almost always at a great price.
To demonstrate this region’s suitability to the fine-dining sector, we presented 20 wines to a panel of top sommeliers, who tasted these blind and rated each based on flavour, value for money, and appropriateness to the fine-dining restaurant sector.
The top 10 are listed here, and check out the next two issues of Imbibe, where we’ll continue to explore the region’s potential in other on-trade sectors.
TOP TEN RIOJA WINES FOR FINE-DINING ESTABLISHMENTS
Marqués de Murrieta, Capellanía 2010
Oak played a major part in the character of this wine, but in a balanced way that appealed to our panel. They described vanilla, brown butter and toasty notes, as well as tropical fruit elements.
£11.14, Maisons, Marques et Domaines, 020 8812 3380
REDS – CRIANZA
Bodegas Vivanco Crianza 2010
A classic, complex wine, with everything from dried leaves, mushrooms, leather and balsamic notes, to dark baked fruits. ‘A vibrant wine, with lots of layers of oak and fruit,’ thought one panellist.
£9.89, Bibendum PLB, 0845 263 6924
REDS – RESERVA
Bodegas Castillo de Sajazarra, Digma 2009
A rustic offering, with tasters describing leathery, savoury notes, as well as rose and violet character. Spiciness on the palate emphasised this savoury character, joining prunes, figs and chocolate notes. And all that at a great price.
£7.30, Boutique Wine Company, 020 7183 5470
Bodegas Corral – Don Jacobo, Altos de Corral Single Estate Reserva 2005
Dark fruit notes, along with liquorice, dry roses, and a smoky note. Juicy fruit followed, accompanied by some spice. This would need some rich food to accompany it, thought one panellist, while another thought this perfectly suited to high-end, Michelin-starred restaurants.
£23.64, Matthew Clark, 01275 891 400
Bodega Martinez Lacuesta, Ventilla 71 2011
Elegant, with some gamey notes playing against some red fruit and spice. A refined palate led to a vibrant finish, with those spicy notes leaving our panel thinking about hearty food matches.
£13.99, Momentum, 01691 654499
Bodegas Muriel, Viña Muriel Reserva Blanco 2010
Lots of complex layers to this modern-style reserva with wild berry fruit, as well as abundant cherry fruit. Balanced acidity and tannins on the palate, and some excellent oak, made for a fresh wine. This could develop even further.
£11.65, Moreno Wines, 020 7289 9952
Finca Valpiedra 2008
Typically Riojan, this was a powerful wine, with big dried fruit notes along with a leathery character, and a savoury, capsicum element. Layers of red plum fruit on the palate followed, accompanied by more spice. A classic wine, and very suited to fine dining tables.
£17.95, Berkmann Wine Cellars, 020 7609 4711
Luis Canas, Seleccion de la Familia Rioja Reserva 2006
This was defined by its great purity, said one taster, who also praised its refined nose, with red berries and an almond note. Deep red fruits and confit plums, as well as dark cherry, some spice and a touch of cedarwood followed.
£15.78, Alliance Wines, 01505 506060
REDS – GRAN RESERVA
Bodegas Covila Gran Reserva 2008
Panellists thought this was quite light and youthful for a gran reserva, but praised its complex, savoury character, with everything from leather and sandalwood, to plenty of spice, and not without some good fruit extraction. ‘Ripe and ready, but with firm, fresh acidity,’ said one panellist.
£8.20, Myliko, 0161 736 9500
Viña Real Gran Reserva 2007
Universally loved by our panel, this gran reserva was showing some beautiful signs of development, with a fine, mineral nose and some leather notes at the forefront. In addition, balsamic and oaky notes joined red forest fruit flavours on the palate, making for a powerful yet elegant wine worthy of being on any fine dining wine list.
£14.45, Hatch Mansfield, 01344 871 800
Bodegas Beronia Graciano 2011; Bodegas Carlos Serres, Onomástico Reserva Blanco 2011; Bodegas LAN A Mano 2011; Bodegas Riojanas, Monte Real Reserva 2009; Bodegas Valdemar Inspiración Tempranillo Blanco 2014; Bodegas Valenciso White Barrel Fermented 2013; Finca Egomei, Carpess 2011; Navarrsotillo, Magister Bibendi Crianza Special Selection of Garnacha 2011; Pagos Del Rey, Finca Dos Cientos 2012; Remelluri Reserva 2009
Andrea Briccarello, Galvin Restaurants
‘Rioja really has diversity of style, from modern, oaky wines to that traditional, oxidised style. There’s something for everyone. And this offered a good panoramic view of Rioja. For fine dining, you need
a traditional and modern-style Rioja on the list.’
Giancarlo Cuccuru, The Gilbert Scott
‘Even in fine dining people are looking for value for money, and these wines delivered that. The wines were well put together. Some of the lighter wines would work for warm afternoons, while moving up in price point, others would work with food, in the right season.’
Yves Desmaris MS, Lutyens
‘Some of the wines here would suit gastro pubs and bars, while others would be better in fine dining restaurants. It seems that people aren’t trying to use too much oak, but rather more fruity character, which is better for fine dining.’
Andrea Fasan, La Petite Maison
‘I think the whites from Rioja are underestimated. In the reds, the reservas are good value for money, but when you get to the gran reservas, you sometimes have to wait a bit. Usually, the reservas are enough, particularly based on what we tasted today.’
Laurent Richet, Restaurant Sat Bains
‘I thought the £7-£12 price point was very interesting, while the £15 price point was over delivering. There was great value for money. I’ve actually just listed a white Rioja – it’s good for food and wine pairings.’