According to recent figures from the Rioja Control Board, sales of Rioja hit record levels last year, the third consecutive year of growth.
It seems everyone is drinking the stuff, particularly here in the UK which is Rioja’s biggest export market, taking almost 35 per cent of the total amount of wine exported.
However, Spain is a huge wine-producing country with many other regions and styles and, possibly because of Rioja’s popularity, they are now taking up more space on wine shelves.
If you are looking for something different then Alaia Txakoli 2013 (M&S £10 down from £12 until March 7) is the wine for you.
Produced from the Hondarrabi Zuri grape, which I assume is easier to pronounce after a glass or two of the wine, in the north of Spain, this is slightly sparkling and traditionally served in Basque region bars, poured from height into tall glasses.
It is dry with a touch of grapefruit, crunchy green apples, a hint of the sea and zesty acidity. Simple but lots of fun and great with some grilled fish.
Godello is another white grape variety from northern Spain, which is not very well known but has begun to gain a following and makes a great seafood partner.
Montenovo Godello 2014, Valdeorras (Majestic £9.99 but if part of a mixed six £8.99) is very fresh with lemon and green herbs on the nose, followed by bright acidity and a palate-pleasing texture. It’s good value and worth a try with scallops or a crab salad.
Pizarras de Otero 2014, Bierzo (Majestic £7.99 but if part of a mixed six £6.99) is made with the mencia grape, another variety from northern Spain. Bierzo is the region next to Galicia where it is most widely planted.
It’s difficult not to like this red wine. Deep-coloured with lots of dark, bramble-type fruit and a touch of violets on the nose, followed by a juicy, supple, satisfying palate. This is excellent value for a mid-week pizza supper or with a summer barbecue. You may have to work hard to track down this wine, but it’s well worth the effort.
Es Lo Que Hay Garnacha 2011, Calatayud (crossstobswine.co.uk £13.95) is made by Scotsman Norrel Robertson MW from old Garnacha vines – or Grenache as it is known elsewhere. This is unoaked, totally opaque, with violets, black fruits and herbs on the nose. It’s full-bodied with plush fruit and crunchy acidity before a very long finish. It’s a great mouthful of wine, try it with a chorizo and bean stew.
Lastly, I know this is about wines from other Spanish regions but how about white Rioja as something a little different?
Muga Blanco 2014, Rioja (Majestic £10.99 but if part of a mixed six £9.89) is mainly made from a grape called viura with the addition of a little malvasia. It’s fermented in new oak barrels but don’t let that put you off. This is wonderful wine. There is lime, spice and vanilla followed by a lovely creamy palate with well-balanced acidity and a spicy finish. Try with roast chicken or pork.