Spanish Wine

Spanish Wine - Rioja & Bierzo

As a veteran specialist in importing French regional wines, we are never sure whether to be embarrassed or proud that one of our 'Top Ten' best-selling red wines hails from Rioja. We have always believed in serendipitous discoveries and when Tom was holidaying with Spanish-based friends in 2015 he was delighted to come across a Crianza that he felt was a cut above most of the competition. Indeed, he was so impressed by the wine in question that he paid a visit to Bodegas Petralanda in Fuenmajor where it was produced and despite his strangulated Spanish, managed to secure an inaugural allocation.

Made from a blend of 90% Tempranillo and 10% Mazuelo that is raised for 2 years in American oak barrels and 3 years in bottle before release, it was created by entrepreneur Iñake Petralanda Uria Zearra to supply his restaurant in Bilbao. Ready to drink from release and ideally suited to full-flavoured, characterful cuisine, its ripe red fruit characteristics are offset by mellow forest-floor notes and supple tannins. A fringe benefit of Tom's trip to the winery was his discovery of a 'Gran Reserva' produced from pure Tempranillo. It too has a prolonged maturation in barrel and bottle and the finished wine is even denser, more structured and ageworthy than the Crianza. With a wealth of dark berry scents and an inky palate of concentrated black fruit with peppery undertones, it makes a fine foil for game and wild mushroom dishes.

An even more recent Iberian innovation was brought to our attention by roving winemaker Antoine Graillot. He has colluded with the celebrated 'natural wine' enthusiast Raúl Pérez to co-produce an audacious old vine Mencia, from parcels of vines in Otero and Valtuille, called 'Encinas'. Made from whole bunches of grapes that are fermented in concrete and raised in oak vats, it has a beguiling bouquet of violets and fennel and a lively red fruit palate underscored by lively mineral notes and fresh acidity. It drinks well lightly-chilled and is perfect with pâté and picnic foods.

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  1. Rioja: Viña Zearra Blanco 2021
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  2. Rioja: Marqués de Zearra Crianza 2016
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  3. Rioja: Marqués de Zearra Gran Reserva 2012
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  4. Bierzo: Antoine Graillot & Raúl Pérez 'Encinas' 2018
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  5. Bierzo: Antoine Graillot & Raúl Pérez 'Encinas' 2017
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Quick and Easy Guide to Rioja wine

Know your Bodega from your Bo Diddley with our latest regional guide.

Bordered by the Sierra Cantabria in the north and Sierra de Cameros in the South, the fertile Ebro river valley is a haven for the cultivation of artichokes, peppers, asparagus, olives and, above all, wine. Despite its large size and differing terroirs, the region is covered by only one denomination and bodegas have tended to blend different parcels of vines to create a 'house style'. The key classification for Rioja is the amount of time the wine is aged in oak barrels and then in bottle – 1 year in cask, 1 in bottle for Crianza; 1 plus 2 for Reserva; 2 plus 3 for Gran Reserva. Having made a first-rate effort to shoot themselves in both feet by over-production in the 1970s, followed by over extraction and over-oaking in the 1990s, the bodegas of Rioja are seeing a real renaissance driven by a succession of good vintages and a focus on quality for wines that are of intrinsically outstanding value. 95% of production is red and this is yet another region where the UK is the largest export market – salud!

Area Under Vine:
62,000 hectares, a tad smaller than the Rhône valley.

Key Areas DOCs:
There is only one, although it's divided into three areas Alta, Baja and Alavesa (across the Rioja Ebro in Basque country). Historically, the best wines came from Rioja Alta, although the boundaries have been blurred by the more recent efforts of, for example, Alvaro Palacios in the Baja.

Principal grapes:
Tempranillo, Garnacha, Mazuelo, Graciano, Viura (for white).

Notable domaines:
Lopez de Heredia, Muga, La Rioja Alta, CUNE.

Local delicacies:
Caparrones (red kidney bean & chorizo stew), chipirones (fried baby squid), embuchados (fried lamb's intestines), guisante de lagrima (seasonal petit pois)

Restaurants we like:
Asado Terete (Haro), Restaurante Alameda (Fuenmayor).

Famous people from the region:
First poet of Castilian literature Gonzalo de Berceo, engineer and eight-time Prime Minister Práxedes Mateo Sagasta, brothers Fausto and Juan José Elhuyar - discoverers of the chemical element Tungsten.

Things to do:
Visit the museum of wine culture in the pretty medieval town of Briones; marvel at the stunning bodega architecture of Frank Gehry (Marques de Riscal), Zaha Hadid (Lopez de Heredia) and Santiago Calatrava (Ysios); spend an evening on the 'trail of the elephants' munching delicious pinchos in the specialist bars of the Calle La Laurel in Logrono; get all 'Jurassic Park' checking out over 1,000 dinosaur footprints and the Paleontological Centre near Enciso. Discover the origins of the Castilian language in the Monasterio of Yuso in San Millan de la Cogolla.