The best Spanish Rioja to try | Alistair Gibson

It has always been a pleasure to catch up with Rodolfo Bastida from Ramón Bilbao and last week I joined him for a tasting focusing very much on the roots of this highly respected Rioja producer.

Thursday, 29th October 2020, 4:22 pm
Ramón Bilbao Gran Reserva 2011 wine.

The conversation touched on the subject of climate change and its future impact on the region as well the new single vineyard classification or Viñedo Singular which is now appearing on wine shelves.

However, there is no doubt that the cornerstone of Rioja is very much its crianza, reserva and gran reserva wines. We tasted six – some were barrel samples which is always fascinating, and also an older vintage, Gran Reserva 2005, which was very much a Tuesday afternoon treat!

Ramón Bilbao Crianza is one of Rioja’s biggest selling wines, particularly in the restaurant market and it is not hard to see why. Ramón Bilbao Crianza 2017 (, £11.95) is 100 per cent tempranillo, which is sourced from all over the Rioja region. After fermentation the wine was aged in American oak for 14 months before a further eight months in bottle before release.

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There are dark fruits, liquorice, spices and a little vanilla on the nose, followed by a fresh, well- balanced palate with soft tannins which is very appealing. You get quite a lot of wine for your money with this wine and it would work very well with a shepherd’s pie or a Moroccan tagine.

Reserva Rioja is more often than not the style of Rioja that I find the most satisfying and on the day Ramón Bilbao Reserva 2015 (, £15.95) was my favourite wine of the tasting. Again it is 100 per cent tempranillo, but this has been aged for 20 months in American oak.

It has real intensity on the nose with crushed black fruits, dried herbs, liquorice, a little mocha and sweet spices.

This is a classic partner to a roast leg of lamb and also works well with a cheese board.

Gran Reserva Rioja is only made in the best years and Ramón Bilbao Gran Reserva 2011 (, £27.50) certainly comes from an excellent vintage.

This is tempranillo but with a little mazeulo and granciano in the blend from the older vines from specific vineyards and was aged for 36 months in American oak.

There is real depth here with black cherry, damson, vanilla, liquorice and some savoury notes. If the 2005 is anything to go by this is years ahead of itself and would work wonderfully with roast game birds or a Sunday roast rib of beef.