New categories, some familiar, and a format that is tried and tested at giving key wine buyers a pretty comprehensive snapshot of what’s happening in Rioja today – that was 2018 Rioja 10X10. As the ‘name says on the tin’ the tasting is 10 wines in 10 categories chosen by a panel of judges chaired by Sarah Jane Evans MW and Tim Atkin MW. This year the non-traditional wines were showing particularly well along with the Crianzas.
I have chosen one wine in each of the 10 categories as ‘must buy’ – some categories had many more than one wine that were outstanding, however.
It’s a sign of how far Rioja has changed in recent years that the table for Gran Reservas, one of 10 in this month’s Rioja 10X10 Tasting, was not the most compelling category, nor indeed the most visited table. The fascinating categories were the ones that highlighted the seismic shifts in winemaking that are occurring in Rioja as represented by the Genérico, Non-Tempranillo reds, Unoaked Whites and Rosado categories.
The Rioja 10X10 tasting is an annual snapshot of modern Rioja, organised by ruling body the Consejo Regulador; there’s a competitive element as 100 wines are picked from 100s more by 14 judges across 10 different categories: the traditional categories of Crianza, Reserva, Gran Reserva and Oaked Whites, the four mentioned above and a new category called Women Winemakers.
In my book the categories that were hands-down showing the strongest were the Crianzas, Non-Tempranillo Reds, Oaked Whites and Genérico (premium £15+ reds outside of the traditional Rioja classification system). There were some excellent wines, of course, in all 10 categories but these were the strongest tables in my opinion.
The reason for including a new category of Women Winemakers presumably lies outside of the wines themselves as, when tasting them, there was obviously no discernible stylistic connection.
When the new categories come into force next year some of the 10X10 categories will change or be added to. These are sparkling wine, single vineyard as well as both Vinos de Zona and Vinos de Municipio. It would be a mistake to lose the structure or format of this annual tasting, though, as this is a great, balanced way of covering a lot of ground in just 100 wines.
So which were the 10 wines…
Although this category – meant to highlight fresh, unpretentious white wines – was dominated by Viura in blend or solo, it was the newer Tempranillo Blanco that gave so much more, both unbaked ( and also in the oaked category).
Bodegas Corral Don Jacobo, 2017
100% Tempranillo Blanco
Light gold; complex nose with ruby grapefruit, green fruit, a touch of solera; palate is big and mouth-filling, grapefruit flesh, zesty lemon finish. A straightforward white with enough complexity, texture and life to make it stand out from the rest in its price bracket. (Matthew Clark/ Bibendum, rrp £8.89)
The introduction of newly-permissable varieties in 2007 meant that Viura is joined now by Tempranillo Blanco and Garnacha Blanca. It was shame that none of these 10 wines included a classic oxidised style like Lopez de Heredia but then maybe none were entered into the competition by the winemakers.
La Mateo Colección de Familia Tempranillo Blanco, 2016
100% Tempranillo Blanco
This Tempranillo Blanco has spent six months in new French and American oak, which adds texture and complexity but has made it well integrated for such a young wine. Light wheat gold; intense aromas of jasmine, nectarine, vanilla fudge and quince leap out of the glass; the palate is complex: orange zest, just-ripe citrus, lively acidity with good balance and great texture on the finish. (New Generation Wines, rrp £22)
A category that is being firmly pushed by the Consejo Regulador but there still aren’t as many standouts compared to neighbouring Navarra in my opinion. The judges, presumably, are on the same page as this was a category (like Unoaked White) where the chairs (Tim Atkin and Sarah Jane Evans) didn’t select a wine for special mention.
Marqués de Murrieta Primer Rosado, 2017
Personally I’d give this wine a rosette every year; a rosado that manages to be pretty and serious at the same time. But this is no show pony (with just a fancy bottle and price tag to match), it is a medium weight, complex wine made from 100% Mazuelo from the high-lying Ygay vineyards. Salmon pink with saffron highlights; the nose is all about the rose petals and ripe red fruit; the palate is pretty, a bit of rose water and then a serious, crisp, saline, citrusy edge. The length of the finish and balanced acidity are really something. (MMD, rrp £35)
A very strong category this year which is great news for the on-trade and collectors alike: these can be drunk young or will benefit from some ageing. 2015 was the dominant vintage but there were some 2014 and 2013s thrown in there, most being modern in style.
Conde Valdemar Crianza, 2015
90% Tempranillo 10% Graciano
Fresh, bright, black fruit, red cherries on the nose; the palate is dark, broody, with a dash of chocolate with a little lick of cherry ice cream. Fantastic texture, with a dry stone finish. 90% Tempranillo 10% Graciano. (Berkmann, rrp £15.99)
Vintages from 2010-2014 were all represented.
Bodegas Manzanos de Alto Reserva, 2011
80% Tempranillo, 15% Garnacha, 5% Graciano
Classic Reserva hitting all the right notes in the right places. A blend of 80% Tempranillo, 15% Garnacha, 5% Graciano. On the bright, fruity nose we have blackberry, pepper, star anise with a touch of toffee and tobacco; the palate is well integrated fruit and wood flavours with blood orange, Terry’s chocolate orange and a zippy, bright acidity. (Alliance, rrp £14.99)
RESERVA OVER £15
Heras Cordón Reserva, 2012
90% Tempranillo, 5% Graciano, 5% Mazuelo
If calling this premium reserva ‘intellectual’ isn’t too poncy then this is an intellectual wine. It has complexity in spades; a nose that has black fruits, plum, fresh and dried herbs, a whiff of cigar box; the palate is tense with firm acidity and flavours of blackcurrant, ripe blood orange and green orange pith, liquorice, toast. A blend of 90% Tempranillo, 5% Graciano and 5% Mazuelo. (Ralph’s Wines Online, rrp £24)
A range of vintages in this selection of new releases from 2004-2012. Again the value is outstanding from my choice (below) but also the Pagos del Rey Castillo de Albai Gran Reserva which is a 2010 retailing for a mere £12.99.
Urbina Gran Reserva, 2004
This is pretty much fully evolved (gracefully) from a cracking vintage; bricking on edges; complex nose of black and red cherries, old cedar, tobacco; fresh, medium weight palate giving classic secondary Rioja notes, coconut husk, lick of menthol. Impressive to get a 2004 GR for £24 rrp, although expect some possible bottle variation – at the tasting one bottle was grubby. (Burridges of Arlington St, rrp £24)
Abel Mendoza Graciano, Grano a Grano, 2016
Good to see Graciano get a leading role rather than just a supporting one – 100% in fact. A richer style than some Graciano varietal – it’s a big old nose, ripe macerated black fruit; on the palate there’s intensity and concentration but great balance, with a core of ‘just-pressed’ juice, a wild flavour, a touch of herb and a little lick of cream in the finish. A real statement wine that has great poise. (Alliance, rrp £55.49)
This new category had a strong selection of wines of various styles.
Ramón Bilbao Lalomba, 2017
90% Garnacha, 10% Viura
A new wave Rosado with a fancy bottle at £20 is enough to put anyone off, but hold your horses – this is a truly gastronomic wine that takes you on a journey and makes the case (once again) that Rosado is a category that deserves more serious attention. The colour is peachy pink, the nose is gorgeously ripe red fruit, apricots, lychee; the palate is layer upon layer of ripe fruit, it’s rich but has a playful grapefruit zest rasp on the finish. (Enotria & Coe, rrp £19.95)
Santalba Amaro, 2015
80% Tempranillo, 20% Others
Pushing the envelope once again, as we have come to expect from this estate, a traditional Rioja made in the Amarone style of a Valpolicella. Late-picked 80% Tempranillo (20% ‘others’) air-dried for several months before fermentation. The nose is unbelievable! Beef broth, yeast, black fruit, fermented red bean; the palate is huge and rich but tempered with fine acidity. (Castelnau, rrp £55.99)