The red wines of the Rioja (pronounced ree-ow-huh) region of Spain are regularly among our bestsellers. There is a long-lasting appeal for these wines that has endured for many years in the UK as the top selling region for Spanish wine.
With over 600 wineries, Rioja is home to an incredible diversity of wines. The key grape used is Tempranillo and is the foundation of the regions best wines, offering flavours of raspberry, plum, blackcurrant and cherry fruit and a structure that is very suited to oak ageing. This can be blended with Grenache, which adds body to the blend, along with other local varieties like Graciano.
The other key factor in wines from Rioja is time in oak barrels. The rules around the style and labelling of their wines is based around the minimum amount of time maturing in both barrel and then bottle before release. This can range from young, juicy easy drinking reds under the Joven label (renamed as Genérico recently) with no ageing, to mature, full bodied, savoury and complex wines under Gran Reserva (aged for 2 years in barrel and 3 in bottles).
However, the most common styles that people will know are Crianza (aged for 1 year in barrel and 1 in bottle) and Reserva (aged for 1 year in barrel and 2 in bottle). These wines have an excellent balance between the rich fruit and warm spicy oak character. It can be dynamic and jammy with flavours of blackberries and cherry while developing more complex aromas and flavours of chocolate, prunes, and dried fig and vanilla spice and clove from the time in oak. The best examples are considered among the Spain's finest wines.
Now if all of this talk about Rioja has you thirsty for a glass, you can find our range of this region's wines here.
But if you enjoy the wines from this region and are looking for something new, what else could you try? We've collected 6 wines that offer similar flavours and textures that will deliver what you're after.
A brighter, fresher wine from the Ribera del Duero, a region a little further west of Rioja. This uses the same grape variety: Tempranillo, and is honest, intense and very expressive on the nose with aromas of blackberry and blackcurrant. It has had 4 months in oak, so style-wise sits in between a Genérico and a Crianza. The region uses the same ageing classifications as Rioja so finding a wine similar to what you enjoy is straightforward.
Portuguese wine also uses Tempranillo in their wine blends (though it will be labelled at Tinta Roriz) This red blend from Lisboa use a blend of Syrah and other local varieties. It has lots of up-front jammy red fruits and sweet spices, while also being velvety and well-structured with a soft elegant finish. One to enjoy if you like Crianza Rioja.
Over in Alamansa, the Venta La Vega winery specialise in growing Garnacha that produces wines with pure fruit and a little minerality. It's juicy and smooth with tons of black cherry and a touch of spice from 3 months in oak. This blend of Garnacha with Syrah is a great alternative to a Joven Rioja and an example of the delicious wine found in other regions of Spain.
This wine has more of an oaky, mature character and richer darker fruit. From the Dao, this blend of local varieties Touriga Nacional, Alfrocheiro and Jean (Mencia) has mulberry and blackberry fruit along with pine, plus vanilla notes from 10 months in oak. On the palate you'll find it generous and inviting with good structure, making it a great match for beef tenderloin. A great alternative to Reserva Rioja reds.
We move away from Portugal and Spain for our next selection to find a winning Shiraz blend from Australia. Full of plush strawberries, poached rhubarb, plums and red cherries, it has a silky richness from time spent in small oak barrels. It has the accessible ripe, fruit and warming spice you want from these wines. This is another one for fans of Reserva Rioja.
Finally we look to Italy to discover a velvety, fruit-packed Barbera. Vibrant and fruity with intense notes of raspberry and cherry, this is unoaked like a Joven Rioja, but it has more body and a voluptuous mouth-filling texture. A very appealing wine.
These Rioja alternatives can be bought together as a case with a tempting discount here.