Popular, often great value, and offering a style to suit every occasion, Rioja wines should be perfectly suited to the demands of neighbourhood restaurants’ clientele. A tasting panel put this assertion to the test recently at London’s Grain Store
The best neighbourhood restaurants thrive on a mix of quality and comfort, providing a local oasis. It’s all about maximum pleasure with a minimum of fussy show, meaning that the food and wine has to deliver a great experience that pulls people back time and again.
This is where Rioja can deliver, drawing on its wide recognition and wonderfully approachable styles to ensure that the wine list offers both ready appeal and a flexibility to meet almost any drinking occasion.
From fresh whites and bright, youthful reds to age-mellowed traditional wines, by way of fascinating single variety bottlings and concentrated, thoroughly modern styles, there is something to suit every palate and every dish on the menu.
As our panel agreed, Rioja demands more than a token wine on a neighbourhood eatery’s list, to allow both staff and customers to explore Rioja’s incredible diversity of styles across a range of price points, including by-the-glass options to encourage experimentation.
To explore this further, we called in twenty vinous contenders, from across the spectrums of price and style, for blind assessment by our panel of restaurant wine buyers. The top 10 are listed here, chosen for a mix of quality and value, plus points of interest and difference, along with an eye on broad compatibility with a range of dishes.
TOP TEN RIOJA WINES FOR NEIGHBOURHOOD RESTAURANTS
Valserrano Blanco Fermentado en Barrica 2014
Very fresh, floral and citrus nose, with hints of apricot and quince on the palate, good leesy texture, a flexible food wine.
£9.03, Davy›s Wine Merchants, 020 8858 9147
REDS – GENERIC
Bodegas Perica, 6cepas6 Tinto 2012
Old vine complexity revealed on this deep and dark, slightly savoury and well-structured wine, which calls out for grilled meats.
£12, Perfect Cellar, 020 3617 6945
Ontañón Ecológico 2013
Quite intense nose, with a spicy oak edge over dark fruits, but rounded classic-leaning palate. A good all-rounder with or without food.
£6.80, Boutinot, 0161 908 1300
REDS – JOVEN
Solar Viejo Tempranillo 2014
An almost perfumed, aromatic, cherry-bright wine that positively bounces out of the glass. An easy-going summer choice.
£5.54, Molson Coors, 0845 6000 888
REDS – CRIANZA
Finca Valpiedra, Cantos de Valpiedra 2012
A good all-rounder, revealing bright cherry and plummy fruit, juicy depths and good balance. Ideal as a by-the-glass wine.
£9.90, Berkmann Wine Cellars, 020 7670 0972
Viña Salceda Crianza 2011
Popular wine, with good fresh acidity, mellow oak, rounded mouthfeel and food-friendly but well-integrated tannins.
£7.99, Tanners Wine Merchants, 01743 234 400
REDS – RESERVA
Familia Martinez Bujanda, Promesa Reserva 2010
Fresh, aromatic nose, matching bright cherry-lined fruit with spicier depths. A quality wine for bold flavoured foods.
£10.25, Berkmann Wine Cellars, 020 7670 0972
Marqués de Vargas Reserva 2009
Drinking well, perfectly balanced, showing hints of peppery spice, dark fruits, cocoa and mint, with great length.
£21.95 RRP, Berry Bros & Rudd, 020 7022 8973
Viña Pomal Reserva 2010
Warming, rounded style, showing plummy red fruits. Mellow and very classic Rioja in character, and suggested as a great match for beef.
£12.70, Codorníu Raventós, 01892 500 250
REDS – GRAN RESERVA
Faustino I Gran Reserva 2001
Still fresh, but with well-balanced berry and darker fruit depths, ripe tannins and good mouthfeel.
£12.49, Cellar Trends, 01283 217 703
Bodegas Aldonia 2013; Bodegas Eguía Reserva 2010; Bodegas Franco Españolas, Bordón Crianza 2011; Bodegas Martínez Lacuesta Blanco 2014; Bodegas Valdemar Inspiración Graciano 2005; Federico Paternina, Monte Haro 2013; Los Hermanos Manzanos Reserva 2009; Pagos del Rey, Rio del Rey Tempranillo 2014; Viña Real Fermentado en Barrica Viura 2013
Mark Binden, The Modern Pantry
‘Rioja sits well with a neighbourhood list where people look for good value and wines with easy appeal. Then you can look to introduce a little quirkiness, a single variety wine, and something special at the higher end. Put some of these wines on by the glass to encourage people to explore different styles.’
Pete Jenkins, Ben’s Canteen
‘Rioja really suits the neighbourhood vibe. People know what to expect and can simply enjoy what they are drinking. But there are so many different styles, the crianzas, reservas and gran reservas, along with individual and modern wines and the whites, so there is definitely room for these for more curious customers.’
Martin Lam, consultant
‘What people expect from Rioja is not oodles of vanilla and American oak, but fairly stylish, not overtly alcoholic wines. One of the beauties of most Rioja styles is that they are refreshing, balanced, and so good with food, plus the name sells, so it’s important to do your ground work and find the best at any price level.’
Tamás Tengelics, Grain Store
‘In a neighbourhood restaurant you probably want more accessible, fruit-forward styles as the entry point, so crianza or joven wines, but you still need to ensure that the quality is there, and people will spend up on reserva and gran reserva, or a modern style. The whites can offer some really good food-pairing potential too and create extra interest on the list.’