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Rioja: una gran cata ha puesto de relieve los mejores vinos de la...


Among the huge variety of wines and wineries, every single kind of style can be found, from the young Rioja, fruity and fresh, vibrant with an incredible charm coming from a carbonic maceration, to the quiet, complex and deep Gran Reserva Rioja coming from old vines, not to forget the new post-modern profiles. However, by and large, there is a remarkable and recognizable “Rioja touch” in all of them, which is the one that has captivated so many people across the globe and will continue to do so.


Rioja has traditionally been a region where style has evolved over time. And the present period is not an exception. Through our tasting, we have come across classic style Riojas, but also modern wines and even post modern ones – as we had just mentioned. Each kind of wine is anchored in a specific historical period, and corresponds to a specific consumer profile. Some wines are only drunk by people over 60, and some are aimed at the youngest public, just discovering wine.

In order to make things easier for Rioja followers, we have ranked the tasted wines in several groups: whites and rosés, young wines, aged wines, single varietal and special and top cuvees.



Whites and rosé wines.


Young white wines are the most common. They are either viura based (the name of the malvasía in Rioja), like the Ramirez de la Piscina white, quite simple and with a citrusy note. Among the 100% viura whites, Mitarte is an indispensable reference.

Or they can be blended with malvasía, which brings body and structure to the whole. Ana de Altún, Valserrano blanco barrica and Diamante Semi-dulce from Bodegas Franco Españolas in a sweet version - are good examples. Most are slightly aged in wood. The most interesting of them all is the Muga Viura (garnacha blanca is also part of the blend), barrel fermented in new French oak barrels and let for three months on its lees before bottling.


Apart from these young wine styles, aged whites for longer periods are also available, for instance the nicely balanced Valserrano Blanco Gran reserve 2000, based on a blend of Viura and Malvasía which has spent two years in fine Allier oak and seven years in bottle. However, when we talk about aged white Riojas, Viña Tondonia is definitely the name to cite. It has a light amber color, fine dry fruits notes but still keeps some fruity aromas and a present acidity which gives structure to the whole.


Rosé wines are either 100% garnacha based (like the fresh Azabache Rosado) or blended with tempranillo (El Coto rosado offers a blend of tempranillo and garnacha) and even white grapes (Muga rosado includes also 30% viura in its wine). All are quite aromatic and easy to pair with food. The best among the range would be the Muga rosé, very pale in color after a 12 hour maceration and two months in wooden casks of 2.000 liters. A jewel within the Spanish rosés of all regions. 


Young wines.


Carbonic maceration reds have been part of the Rioja landscape for a long time. Wineries like Muga have built their reputation on this kind of wine quite a while ago (now, it is not part of their range anymore). A few producers still offer them: Gómez de Segura, Altún with its Albiker wine and also Mitarte – the last two carrying a superior expression of the tempranillo grape. Both are deep purple, very aromatic, with smooth tannins and a fresh, vibrant fruitiness. They propose a fun experience and are easy to drink.  

Other wines considered as part of this category would be those with a short ageing in wood; among those, Cantos de Valpiedra 2009 would be an example to follow.




Aged wines.


Among these, the crianza, reserva and gran reserva wines are included, the crianza being the most widely made and sold the world over. It is the signature of the winery – a little bit like the non-vintage cuvées in Champagne. These can be found either in classic style (here Martinez Lacuesta is a good example, with its light color, light wines, marked by the wood and the typical discrete varnish tones) or in a more modern style, with a clearer focus on the fruity side and much less on the woody notes. They present toffee, vanilla and sometimes coffee notes and a medium to a medium high acidity, especially when the graciano grape is part of the blend. Most wineries of the list below produce these modern type crianzas. The most typical mix of grapes include always tempranillo as the base, completed by some mazuelo, graciano and more exceptionally garnacha. In some cases, like La Montesa of the Alvaro Palacions winery, garnacha is the most important ingredient.


Some would ask who is still willing to drink true classic style Riojas. Well, probably a decreasing public is and that is why some wineries, feeling the winds of change, are adapting the kind of wines they sell in order to follow the market trends. As we can see, history repeats itself.


Among the Reservas to follow, Viña Tondonia (very classic), Luis Cañas along with Marqués de Vargas, Mitarte, Altún, Muga Selección Especial in a more renovated style would be some of the Reserva wines to follow.

Reserva and Gran Reserva wines will show the classic and more modern approaches, with the above characteristics even more marked. These two categories will generally not be part of the post modern Rioja family, since the “new winemakers” of this family will not take the time on wood distinction as a mean to differentiate from others, thus liberating themselves from most of the constraints of traditional makers. Their creations will rather be included in the special and top cuvees family (see below).



 Single varietals.


Some propose single varietals cuvées from secondary grapes. Wineries crafting those wines are Bodegas del Medievo with their Graciano Tuercebotas, Bodegas La Marquesa with their Valserrano 100% garnacha, mazuelo and graciano cuvées, Miguel Merino with its Mazuelo Quinta Cruz and also Mitarte 100% Mazuelo. Results here are uneven and heavily depend on the quality of the winemaker, the soil, the exposure and the location (sunshine hours, mean temperature during growing season).

As far as mazuelo grape is concerned, the best in Rioja is the one from Mitarte.



Special and top cuvées.


In a recent consumer study led by Nielson in the US, Rioja is considered to be “a wine of the New World within the Old World”, which underlies the continuous innovation effort that many wineries have been doing in recent years. And this can be seen and tasted in the glass. In fact, these new wines are the result of strict vineyard management practices, a rigorous selection of grapes at the entry of the winery, of long macerations and the use of barrel fermentation, including for red wines.


Aro, Torre Muga from the Muga winery, Secreto and Everest cuvées from Altún, Hiru 3 rácimos from Luis Cañas, Egomei Alma from Egomei, Contador from Benjamín Romeo and some others are part of this family. Wines are deep in color, high in alcohol (14,5% to 15% is the norm) and have a massive tannic structure which will allow them to age well for many years. They definitely need time in bottle to round up and to offer a rather domesticated profile.


In a certain way, they offer a somehow different profile and some would ask themselves if those still correspond to the Rioja style. However, here one should remember that at the time Rioja has known a similar change, geared towards the consumer tastes and likes. We can probably say that this is certainly part of the richness of this magnificent region called Rioja.

Winery ranking.


We have ranked the different wineries considering the overall quality of the submitted ranking, thus making a general assessment of the quality of their wines.


The meaning of the stars is the following one:


*****: exceptional range, no cuvée is less than outstanding:

****: overall quality of the whole range if very good.

***: overall quality of the range is good, meaning that perhaps one or two wines are less interesting than the average range.

**: in this case, some of the wines are interesting, but quality is below average.




Overall Quality assessment

Alvaro Palacios




Benjamín Romeo


Castillo de Cuzcurrita




Bodegas Luis Cañas


Bodegas Altos de Rioja


López Heredia


Bodegas Mitarte


Marques de Vargas




Bodegas Covila


Bodegas Marqués de Campo Nuble


Coto Real


Gómez de Segura




Bodegas del Medievo


Bodegas Pagos del Rey – Félix Solis


Unión de cosecheros de Labastida


Ramírez de la Piscina


Bodegas de la Marquesa


Bodegas Baigorri


Finca Valpiedra – Martínez Bujanda


Bodegas Corral


Martínez Lacuesta


Bodegas Lar de Paula




Bodegas Franco – Españolas


Bodegas Olarra


Viñedos de Aldea Nueva


Bodegas Nestares Eguizábal


Bodegas Solar Viejo


Miguel Merino


Finca de la Rica





























































Rioja legislation.


You can find four main types of wines in Rioja, described below.


Type of wine


Young wine

Can go through some oak ageing or not, depending on the winemaker’s decision; these wines are usually released in the spring following the vintage.


Red wines must spend a minimum of 12 months in oak casks and another twelve in the bodega, either in bottle or in tanks or a combination of the two.

White and Rosado wines must spend at least 6 months in oak and another 6 in bottle.


Red wines must spend three years in the bodega, of which 12 months in oak casks.

White and Rosado wines must spend 6 months in oak casks and two years in the bodega.

Gran Reserva

Made in exceptional vintages, the wines must spend 24 months in oak casks and 36 months in bottle. For white and Rosado wines, the minimum ageing period is 48 months, with at least 12 months in casks.





The conditions of the tasting.

All samples have been tasted in Gilbert & Gaillard offices in Madrid from September 2012 to  November 2012. They have been tasted in cooperation with Javier Gila, best Spanish sommelier and wine consultant for many of the best producers in Spain. The following wineries have sent their samples: Alvaro Palacios, Altún, Egomei, Bodega Covila, Bodegas Marques de Campo Nuble, Bodegas Luis Cañas, Coto Real, Gómez de Segura, Cvne, Bodegas del Medievo, Bodegas Altos de Rioja, Bodegas Pagos del Rey, Unión de Cosecheros de Labastida, Finca de la Rica, Ramirez de la Piscina, Bodegas de la Marquesa, Bodegas Baigorri, Martínez Bujanda, Bodegas Corral, Bodegas Martínez Lacuesta, Bodegas Lar de Paula, Osborne, Bodegas Franco-Españolas, Bodegas Olarra, Viñedos de Aldea Nueva, Bodegas Nestares Eqguizabal, Bodegas Solar Viejo and Miguel Merino. Samples of Bodegas Mitarte, López Heredia and Benjamín Romeo have been bought by us. Wines from Muga have been tasted at the winery in June this year. Samples from Castillo de Cuzcurrita and Marqués de Vargas have been tasted in spring 2012. A total amount of 128 wines have been tasted from 33 different wineries.