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)
- 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.
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.
Bardos CLEA Ribera del Duero Crianza, 14%, Spain
To begin with with stick with the key grape in Rioja - Tempranillo. You only have to venture a little to the west and the south to find Ribera Del Duero. This is a full-flavoured an very accessible Tempranillo red wine with intense and complex aromas of ripe fruits, dark fruit jam, tobacco and leather. The palate is full-bodied, rich, smooth and elegant. It spends 14 months in oak and it is time well-spent, it complements the wine with gentle tannins and an expressive, lasting finish. The region uses the same ageing classifications as Rioja so finding a wine similar to what you enjoy is straightforward.
Santos Lima, Quinta Vista Tinto, 13.5%, Portugal
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.
Venta La Vega Aldea Tinto, 13.5%, Spain, Organic
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.
Alceno, Organic Monastrell, 14%, Spain, Vegan, Organic
This wine has more of an oaky, mature character and richer darker fruit. A step up from Alceno's Sierra de Enmedio range, this is proper Jumilla Monastrell with rounded plummy fruit, cherry, blackberry, raisin, cocoa and vanilla from 3-4 months in American oak barrels. Deep flavours and soft texture. A great alternative to Reserva Rioja reds.
Coterie by Wildeberg, Cabernet Franc Malbec, 14.5%, South Africa, Vegan
We move away from Portugal and Spain for our next selection to find a winning Cabernet Franc and Malbec from South Africa. A satisfyingly ripe, textural expression of Cab Franc and Malbec with real purity of fruit. The nose is fresh and vibrant with crushed red fruits, hints of redcurrant and wild plum with lightly herbal notes plus warm spice of cloves and star anise. This leads to a plush and richly flavoured palate with ripe black fruit, balanced with a savoury mid palate, subtle, gently spicy oak and lifted by juicy acidity. This is another one for fans of Reserva Rioja.
Samurai Shiraz, 13.5% Australia, Vegan
Finally we look to Australia to discover a super juicy and fruity Aussie Shiraz with oodles of blackberry, black cherry and plum fruit on a ripe and round medium-bodied palate with a little smokey, earthiness. This is less dense and spicy than your regular Australian Shiraz with soft tannins that make it ever so drinkable. This really is all about the pure fruit making it like an unoaked Joven Rioja, but it has more body and a voluptuous mouth-filling texture. A very appealing wine.