Wine ratings: Rioja

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 February, 2013, 9:16am

Forget what you may have heard about China's wine drinkers mixing Lafite with Coca-Cola, the Spanish were there first. Calimocho is a mix of red wine and coke traditionally regarded as an inexpensive cocktail for younger wine drinkers.

Fortunately for most consumers discovering Spanish wines, there is no need to adulterate any of the many high-quality wines on offer .

Rioja - located in the northeast of the country - is Spain's most famous red wine region. Traditional red Rioja is made from a blend of tempranillo, garnacha and graciano and aged in American oak, giving the wine its characteristic sweet vanilla notes. Quality was measured by the amount of time the wine spent ageing in the barrel, as opposed to the vintage.

Wines labelled simply with Rioja spend less than a year in wood. The highest designation is the gran reserva, which legally has to spend at least two years in barrels and three years in the bottle. Modern Rioja wine styles, however, emphasise fresh primary fruit rather than characteristics picked up in the barrel. They are usually denser in colour. French oak is now more popular, and ageing time is shorter to increase the purity of the fruit flavours.

Rioja is divided into three sub-regions: Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Baja. The Baja district is the warmest, producing wines that are full-bodied, lower in acidity and high in alcohol. The Alta and Alavesa regions are at higher altitudes, producing wines higher in acidity with an elegant style. Wine producer Eguren Ugarte, a family business founded in 1870, is one of the largest wineries in the Alavesa region and produces a number of award-winning wines.

Cincuenta Aniversario 2009

Asuncion Eguren made the wine's first vintage in 2007 to honour the work of her father. Made from 100 per cent tempranillo, this is aged in oak for 10 months and then spends six months in the bottle .

Ripe cherry, savoury notes. Medium-bodied with crisp acidity and some grainy tannins. Approachable, a simple fruit style. Ready to drink now. HK$258

Martin Cendoya Reserva 2007

Made from vines that are almost 100 years old. Old vines have low yields and bear fruit with higher fruit concentration and complexity. A blend of 80 per cent tempranillo, 15 per cent graciano and 5 per cent mazuelo. The wines have been aged in oak for 14 months, followed by bottle ageing for 22 months.

Sweet ripe plummy and cherry flavours on the nose. On the palate, rich, concentrated black fruit with high acid and firm tannins. Modern winemaking with well-integrated oak. Drink now and will age for at least another decade. HK$598

Anastasio The jewel in the crown of the winery. Made from 100-year-old vines from a small parcel of two hectares, 1.3 kilograms of grapes are used to produce each bottle of wine. Made from 100 per cent tempranillo with ageing in 100 per cent new French oak for eight to 10 months.

Dense, dark cherry savoury notes. Full-bodied, very powerful, with high fruit intensity and soft velvety tannins. Very long finish. A complex wine that is approachable young but with long-term ageing capacity. HK$2,390

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