• Tim Atkin & Sarah Jane Evans MWs on why Rioja is on a roll

    Even a wine region as established and as well known as Rioja needs new, different and imaginative ways to keep its wines fresh, alive and interesting to busy trade buyers. Which is why Wines of Rioja’s 10×10 tasting has proved so popular. In a nutshell it allows visitors the chance to taste 10 pre-selected wines by an expert panel across 10 key wine styles and categories. The two co-chairs of those judges, Tim Atkin MW and Sarah Jane Evans MW, explain how the process works and why they think Rioja has more to offer and talk about every year.

    Even a wine region as established and as well known as Rioja needs new, different and imaginative ways to keep its wines fresh, alive and interesting to busy trade buyers. Which is why Wines of Rioja’s 10×10 tasting has proved so popular. In a nutshell it allows visitors the chance to taste 10 pre-selected wines by an expert panel across 10 key wine styles and categories. The two co-chairs of those judges, Tim Atkin MW and Sarah Jane Evans MW, explain how the process works and why they think Rioja has more to offer and talk about every year.

    mm By October 2, 2018
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    With so many events vying for attention in the early autumn tasting season it is important you can put on a show that is relevant, focused, informative, but most of all easy to navigate. Which is what Wines of Rioja’s bite size 10×10 event is all about.

    There’s nothing like a good recommendation from a friend, peer or expert to help you cut through the clutter and hone down on the information you need. Be it buying the latest best seller online, choosing which film to go and see at the weekend, or, in the day job, working out which wines are the most relevant for you to know about, taste and possibly buy.

    Which is very much how Wines of Rioja’s 10×10 tasting initiative comes about. It uses expert panels to blind taste wines across 10 different categories to pinpoint the 10 wines they think best demonstrate what that style of wine is trying to achieve and is able to deliver in Rioja. Categories that cover the following:

    • Unoaked white
    • Oaked white
    • Rosado
    • Crianza
    • Reserva (£10 – £14.99)
    • Reserva (over £15)
    • Gran Reserva
    • Non-Tempranillo red
    • Genérico (Premium over £15)
    • Women Winemakers

    To do requires an experienced palate, which is why Wines of Rioja works with those in the trade with the know-how to benchmark wines quickly and accurately. Here Tim Atkin MW and Sarah Jane Evans MW, who have both been working, analysing and tasting wines across Rioja for a number of years, give their assessment of this year’s 10×10 tasting, what buyers can expect, and what makes Rioja stand out as such an important wine region.

    This year's judges for the 10x10 tasting chaired by Sarah Jane Evans MW and Tim Atkin MW
    This year’s judges for the 10×10 tasting chaired by Sarah Jane Evans MW and Tim Atkin MW

    Why is it important for you to be involved in the 10×10 initiative? 

    Tim Atkin: Rioja is one my favourite regions in the world – and a place I write an annual report about – so I’m always keen to be involved in anything that highlights the quality and diversity of its best wines. 

    Sarah Jane Evans: 10×10 is a really useful snapshot of what’s happening in the Rioja market. I hate the word ‘curated’ about a selection, but it is just that, a focused, carefully edited, all blind-tasted selection of wines. A very useful showcase for trade and consumers.

    How has the tasting evolved since you have been involved with it? 

    TA: We’ve added a few new categories – but it’s been pretty consistent since the start, with me and Sarah Jane Evans running the show and many of the same panel members coming back year after year. 

    SJE: Some things stay the same – a number of the judges are the same, and they still judge with the same energy and enthusiasm as in the first year. There are some categories which have become stronger over time, notably the white Rioja. Rosado is still a work in progress, but it’s one to keep an eye on.

    How do you think Rioja has developed as a region in recent years?

    TA: Therebeen a much greater focus on vineyards and expressing terroir rather than on the amount of time a wine spends in oak and bottle. The new regulations have recognised that, which is a good thing in my opinion.

    SJE: Over the years there have been different trends, giving way to Genéricos (ie wines that declare a vintage and are not Reserva or Gran Reserva), and coming up we have a whole new generation of producers, exploring higher altitudes, purchasing small vineyards, recuperating old varieties, celebrating the heritage of Rioja. We have gone from a time when Rioja was just all about traditional wines aged in American oak, cross regional blends, to glorious expressions of the potential of the region.

    We need 10..not 11...not 9: Sarah Jane Evans briefs the judges
    We need 10..not 11…not 9: Sarah Jane Evans briefs the judges

    What have been the key reasons for those changes and what differences have they made on quality of wines? 

    TA: Younger producers who’ve travelled to other regions. The quality of the best wines is increasingly diverse, reflecting place. At the top end, Rioja is moving towards a Burgundian model and away from one that resembles Champagne or mass market Bordeaux. 

    SJE: Part of this is undoubtedly due to the changes happening around Rioja, and internationally. Producers and consumers are asking questions about terroir, winemaking, the particular characteristics of each wine. It’s not enough to be ‘Rioja’ any longer. The arrival of the new generation, and the outspoken, pioneering presence of others, has helped to set the region alight.

    Do you think the perception of Rioja amongst the trade is up to date with what is happening there? 

    TA: No I don’t. The UK trade regular dispatches dozens of people to cover each new vintage of Bordeaux, but I rarely see familiar British faces in Rioja. People are surprised when I tell them about the incredible array of terroirs that Rioja produces and the exciting new faces. They have an image of Rioja that’s 20 years out of date. 

    SJE: The fact we just call the wines ‘Rioja’ is deadening, no doubt. Rioja appears to be some unchanging bloc, when it’s nothing of the sort. If you are building a wine list, or developing a sector in your wine shop, then Rioja has plenty of potential – the name is established but within that there are so many different styles and varieties. Now is the time to explore, and find out what’s really happening.

    Raul Diaz and Waitrose's Nick Room enjoy some down time at the 10x10 tasting
    Raul Diaz and Waitrose’s Nick Room enjoy some down time at the 10×10 tasting

    How do you see the potential for the region over the next five to 10 years? 

    SJE: Now that Rioja has decided to have its own sparkling wine category, separate from Cava, it will be fascinating to see who produces Rioja sparkling.  There’s a lot of potential there, so long as they enter the market with top quality wines. It is going to take time for the other changes to Vinos de Pueblo and Viñedos Singulares to bed down.

    Where do you think Rioja now offers the best quality and value in terms of style/ sub region to the trade and for consumers if relevant? 

    TA: Its top end whites, its Reservas and its Generic reds, which have a little more leeway to experiment. 

    SJE: Thinking about the fine wine segment, where the wines really speak of their origins and are full of character, the Reservas and Gran Reservas have already been cellared for some years by the producers. Most importantly there is superb stylistic diversity: refined Garnachas; silky traditional blends; elegant barrel-aged white Riojas.

    Anyone new to the 10×10 tasting what is the best way to approach the event to get the most out if it? 

    TA: Taste everything if you can, but don’t miss out on the Reservas and Generic reds. 

    SJE: Get there early and give yourself a few minutes to read the tasting book before you start. With so many wines on show it’s important to start off with a plan – even if you get deliciously diverted.  And don’t forget to enjoy the tapas as you go round.

    Now do we all agree!?
    Now do we all agree!?

    Which of the categories really stood out for you this year and why? 

    TA: I didnt taste all the categories, because Sarah Jane and I divide the workload. But I loved the Reservas. 

    SJE: The ‘non-Tempranillo reds’ is always fascinating, and a clear lesson that there’s so much more to Rioja. And then the two contrasting categories: on the one hand the ‘Genéricos’ for their pure, individual expression of the vineyard. On the other, with some years of cellaring under their belt, the Gran Reservas, including one that was 14 years old. And not forgetting the best of the oaked whites. And…

    And if a wine buyer was looking to list wines for a list what are the best criteria to use when assessing different Rioja wines.

    TA: Realise that Rioja is very diverse and try to reflect that by listing several wines, rather than just one. Seriously, there is no substitute for visiting the place, visiting vineyards and talking to producers. 

    SJE: It’s clear that Rioja is always good value. Pick the wines that show originality – look for the wines that have individual character. Definitely select some non-Tempranillo reds – all the character of Rioja, but something different, giving you something to talk about to customers.  Think about the oaked whites – the very best have superb complexity, and are very gastronomic wines. Above all, taste the wines first. When you enjoy them as we did, you can sell them with confidence.

    • The Buyer 10×10 Debate, 12-1pm:  This year The Buyer has teamed up with the 10×10 tasting to help put on a debate at the event to hopefully give buyers and visitors the chance to take part and listen to a wide ranging analysis of what is happening in Rioja and what is most relevant for the UK wine industry. Richard Siddle, editor-in-chief of the Buyer will be hosting the debate along with:
    • Jamie Avenell, wine buyer for Matthew Clark Bibendum
    • Dawn Mannis, director at The Sampler
    • Raúl Díaz, educator and TV’s Channel 4 Sunday Brunch wine expert.
    • The 2018 Wines from Rioja 10 x 10 trade takes place on October 9 at Banking Hall, London, EC3V 3ND between 11am and 5pm. Click here to register. 

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