Fans of rich, smooth red wine are likely to enjoy Rioja. This famous Spanish red wine is produced using primarily the Tempranillo grape and is oak-aged giving a soft texture and characteristics of vanilla, cream and strawberries.
The great news for Rioja lovers is that the first bottles of the legendary 2010 vintage are now coming on the market. Look at the website of any serious wine club and you will see promotions featuring 2010 Riojas. Snap them up – the 2010 vintage is being hailed as one of the best for many years.
Each year the governing body of the Rioja wine industry the Rioja Regulatory Council tastes millions of litres of red wine from the previous harvest to assess the quality of the vintage. Vintages can be classified as Average, the lowest rating, Normal, Good, Very Good or Excellent, the top rating.
To gain an Excellent, the vintage has to be outstanding and on average just one or two Excellents are awarded each decade. In fact the 2010 vintage is only the 10th vintage to be rated as Excellent since 1955.
Where the 2010 vintage stands out is that it is said to be the greatest vintage for 50 years. That suggests it is even better than the 1964 vintage which is held currently as the benchmark for greatness.
The first oak-aged bottles of this classic vintage are now on the market. At this stage the red wine will all be categorized as Rioja Crianza. Crianza on the label of a Rioja bottle indicates that the red wine will have been aged in an oak barrel for a year with further aging in the bottle before it is released for sale. Most of these Crianza reds are not worth cellaring – they are best drunk in the next couple of years to get the best from the fresh red berry fruit characteristics.
It will be a few more years before we see the best red wine of the 2010 vintage when the Reservas and the Gran Reservas hit the shelves. A Rioja Reserva needs to age for three years, at least one of which must be in the oak barrel and another in the bottle. As a result of the extra couple of years ageing a Reserva will have a more velvety texture and more mellow characteristics. The highest quality and most complex Rioja is a Gran Reserva. To earn this category the red wine has to spend at least two years maturing in the oak barrel and at least two years ageing in the bottle to total five years maturation resulting in a wine of great depth and body.
There have been fears that the Excellent classification of the vintage would result in an increase in price per bottle of Rioja. This would be ironic as the red wine grapes sold by the farmers to the wineries commanded a lower price than in most of the previous 10 years. However, several of the wine clubs are selling bottles of 2010 Rioja Crianza by the case for the equivalent of ￡7.50 a bottle which sounds like a reasonable price for a five-star vintage.
If you want to know a little more about this famous Spanish red wine before you drink some of this great vintage, here is a brief summary of the Rioja region and its wine. The Rioja region is in north west Spain and is made up of three wine districts. The majority of Riojas are made using red wine grapes from all three districts although the best quality wines will originate from a single district or even a single estate.
The Rioja Alta district includes the towns of Logrono and Haro. It produces the greatest volume of red wine of the three districts and its wines tend to be fruity and concentrated with a velvety smoothness. The Rioja Alvesia district is smaller and the reds produced here are full-bodied with firm character and a greater acidity. The Rioja Baja district has a hotter, drier and sunnier climate than the other two Rioja districts and produces deep-coloured and highly alcoholic reds which lack finesse and are better used in blends than drunk on their own.
Tempranillo, with its deep colour, rich flavour and strawberry characteristics, is the primary red wine grape used by Rioja wine makers but other grapes are allowed in smaller quantities and are often used in a blend. Garnacha (the Rhone Grenache grape), another popular red wine grape in Spain, is used to add body and alcohol to the Rioja blend. Small amounts of Graciano and Mazuelo are usually added too. Graciano adds aroma, flavour and freshness to the blend whilst Mazuelo is used for its colour, tannin and ageing characteristics.
PS: look out next year for 2011 Riojas – another Excellent vintage!