ALISTAIR GIBSON: Best of the Rioja region '“ so much more than just reds
There is no doubt that we love Rioja in this country: the UK is this famous wine region's number one export market and we account for more than 30 per cent of the total amount exported '“ true love indeed.
But even as I write that sentence I imagine that a glass with red wine in it is what springs to most peoples minds.
Rioja has made its reputation based on barrel-aged red wines that mainly deliver soft, ripe notes with the tempranillo grape at the fore. You only have to add a Sunday lunch roast leg of lamb to complete the picture.
However, to only drink red Rioja would be missing some of the story of this region. Times are changing in Rioja on many levels and nowhere more so than with the production of white and rose wines.
White rioja only accounts for about 10 per cent of the production of this region and today can be split neatly into three very distinct styles: traditional oak-aged white Riojas with its deep colour, then fresher, fruity styles, meant for early drinking, and thirdly a style that has only appeared more recently: wine with just a hint of oak, aiming to bring a little structure but retain the fruit and freshness.
Beronia Viura 2016, Rioja (Ocado £9.99, thedrinkshop.com £8.68) is a lovely example of a young, fresh, white Rioja. Made from 100 per cent viura, the main white grape of Rioja, this un-oaked wine has a gentle citrus and apple bouquet followed by a refreshing palate with grapefruit and zesty acidity.
There is real interest here for a wine at this price, perfect on a warm evening with a summer salad.
Cune Barrel Fermented Blanco 2015, Rioja (Waitrose and Ocado £8.79, down from £10.99 until July 11) is again made from 100 per cent viura but this time with a little oak ageing which adds a toasty richness but without losing the fruit characters.
Produced by one of Rioja’s most famous producers, this is aged in American oak and is in many ways traditional white Rioja but made in a more modern style.
There is citrus, pineapple, banana and a touch of spice on the nose before a well-rounded mouth feel with some toasty oak in the background and well-judged acidity.
Again, it’s great value – it would appeal to white Burgundy drinkers and would work really well with roast chicken or fish in a cream sauce.
Allende Blanco 2012, Rioja (winedirect.co.uk £20.95) is classic, benchmark oaked white Rioja. It’s a blend of viura and malvasia, aged in French oak and it has a lovely waxy, yellow colour. The nose has peach, melon, baked apple and spice from the oak, but the palate is still amazingly fresh with a touch of nuttiness, more tropical fruit and a hint of ginger.
This is a textural wine with great balance and poise – a true classic. Try matching with a slow-cooked pork shoulder for a real treat.