In modern terms, the turning point for Spain came at the end of the nineteenth century when an epidemic of Phylloxera destroyed the vineyards of Bordeaux, leading to an exodus of merchants, growers and winemakers to northern Spain – predominantly to Rioja and Penedes.
Easily Spain’s most celebrated wine region, Rioja runs for 120km down both sides of the Rio Oja (hence the name). Protected on three sides by the Cantabrian mountains, it’s a rich landscape containing 14,000 vineyards. Although the Spanish lay claim to around 600 grape varieties, in Rioja the main ones used are Tempranillo, Garnacha and Graciano for reds and Viura and Malvasia for whites.
The Riojanos are renowned for barrel and bottle ageing their wines. This makes them approachable and complex when released, although many wines from respected producers will age gracefully in your cellar, especially from good vintages. We are very fortunate that 2001, 2004 and 2005 have all been hailed as outstanding vintages by the ‘Consejo Regulador’ – an almost unprecedented run – and we have many wines from these years in stock. Look out for the juicy, forward 2005 Crianzas, and the age worthy and very fine 2004 Reservas. The 2001 Gran Reservas are simply sublime.
Did you know? The word ‘tapa’, meaning lid or cap, takes its culinary meaning from a bar-owner’s neat idea for keeping flies out of a glass of wine by covering it with a saucer. When he decided to liven up the plate with an olive or bit of cheese, tapas was born.
Producer Profile: Marqués de Cáceres
Founded in 1970, Marqués de Cáceres has rapidly become the leader in the renaissance of Rioja.
Following his family’s exile during the Spanish Civil War, current owner Enrique Forner returned to Spain at the end of the 1960s, ready to set up a new wine activity using the most up-to-date Bordeaux techniques while retaining traditional respect for terroir and grape varieties. The result was an entirely new style of red wine: elegant, full of finesse, with rich concentration and a subtle balance between ripe fruit and discreet oak.
Rioja Crianza 2005, Marqués de Cáceres
(£9.49 £9.32 or £6.99 when you buy 2 bottles*)
Made with fruit from 25-year-old vines and aged for 12-14 months in oak, then 14-16 months in bottle, this has loads of fruit balanced by velvety smooth tannins.
Rioja Reserva 2004, Marqués de Cáceres
(£14.99 or £11.24 when you buy 2 bottles*)
30-year-old vines, 22 months in French oak and 36 months in the bottle give this wine rich red berry flavours, matched by a chocolate and cedar wood complexity.
Rioja Gran Reserva 2001, Marqués de Cáceres
(£19.99 or £14.99 when you buy 2 bottles*)
The firm, tannic structure and blend of roasted coffee, spice, plum and strawberry notes come from 26 months in French oak, four years in the bottle and 45-year-old vines.
Buyer’s Pick, Matt Pym
Castillo el Destaca Crianza 2004/05, Ribera del Duero
(£7.99 or £5.99 when you buy 2 bottles*)
Black cherries, chocolate, vanilla and cassis on the nose; balanced by sweet, ripe tannins and a refreshing acidity on the finish. Perfect with hearty meat stews and spicy tapas.
Rueda Blanco 2008, Marqués de Riscal
(£7.49 or £5.62 when you buy 2 bottles*)
A light, delicate white bursting with fruit and offering an intensely aromatic bouquet, courtesy of Verdejo grapes. The acidity is well balanced to give a crisp finish.
Rioja Blanco 2008, Muga
(£9.99 or £7.49 when you buy 2 bottles*)
A great example of traditional white Rioja, this has complex zesty lime flavours and a gorgeous spicy oak finish. Drink with full-flavoured fish dishes such as paella.
*All prices valid until 29th October 2009