Age of Rioja La Rioja is one of the best-known wine regions in northern Spain. Traditionally, the quality of wine from this region was measured by ageing time, with gran reserva wines aged for at least five years, two of those in oak. Traditional winemaking techniques produced red wines that were pale ruby coloured and characterised by sweet vanilla and coconut notes, from extensive ageing in American oak barrels. By the 1990s, modern winemakers were dramatically changing the wine scene and paying more attention to viticulture.
Miguel Angel de Gregorio, of the Finca Allende estate, who describes Rioja as "Burgundy territory with a Bordeaux history", says grapes started to be harvested at riper sugar levels; French oak was favoured over American for its more subtle flavours; and wines tended to be aged for a shorter time in barrel. This revolution in style produced wines that were more international and fruit-forward, framed by spicy subtle oak tannins. Nowadays, both the more traditional Rioja wine and the modern version coexist.
The grape mainly used for red Rioja is tempranillo, which master of wine Jancis Robinson describes as more "savoury rather than sweet" and with the aromatics of "fresh tobacco leaves".
For whites, viura is the principal grape variety. On its own, viura is rather shy with discreet aromatics, and marked by high acidity. These characteristics make the wines ideal for long-term ageing.
For wine drinkers looking to explore modern Rioja, here are two top leading wineries worth looking out for:
Finca Allende was established by de Gregorio and his sister Mercedes. " Allende" means further, symbolising the winery's goal to push the boundaries. Located in the sub-region of Rioja Alta, the winery's style tends to be elegant, with restrained fruit and firm tannins. The winery practises sustainable viticulture, and the use of synthetic chemicals is eschewed.
Juan Carlos Lopez de La Calle is the owner and winemaker at Artadi, which has been receiving accolades for its high-quality wines. Its vineyards are located in the sub-region of Rioja Alavesa at an elevation of 400 to 700 metres. The wine styles are modern and fruit-forward with ageing potential.
Finca Allende Rioja Blanco 2010
White Rioja tends to be overshadowed by red Rioja. Traditionally-made white wines can be overwhelmed by extensive oak ageing leading to oxidative nutty notes. Modern white Rioja emphasises primary fruit and spends shorter time in oak barrels.
Made from 95 per cent viura and 5 per cent malvasia. Fermented in new French barrels and aged for 14 months in French oak.
Citrus, nutty, spicy notes. Quite round on the palate, with creamy notes, good fruit intensity and well-integrated oak tannins. HK$198
Finca Allende Rioja Tinto 2007
Made entirely from tempranillo and matured for 14 months in French barrels.
Blackberry, savoury and leathery notes. Full-bodied, very well balanced, framed by some spicy oak tannins. HK$198
Artadi Pagos Viejos 2010 This pure tempranillo is aged for 15 months in new French barrels.
Dense, ripe black fruit with some meaty notes. Very rich, concentrated palate with high fruit intensity, supported by firm tannins and finishing very long. Can keep for at least 10 more years. HK$510
The wines are available from BB&R (HK) (email@example.com).