Search

Rioja - It's Ab Fab!

This week the Wine Club will be revisiting some previously trodden ground as we open our third Rioja rojo. It’s hard to think of anything truly unique or revelatory to say about this absolute monster of the wine world – it’s such a big name player that there has been as much written about it as there have been bottles of it drunk. Therefore, the quest is to find the holy grail of an article, one that brings Musa Okwonga levels of hot take with an incredibly liberal sprinkling of wild comparison – see here for Musa's stupendously great example involving Radiohead and Lionel Messi!



Perhaps a wine flight of Riojas that all line up perfectly with Beethoven’s symphonies or van Gogh’s masterpieces? I’m not sure I’ve got the peak levels of genius bullshittery to pull that off! Therefore, instead of re-invent the wheel I’ll offer an updated throwback to my first attempts to preview a Rioja. However, a little context first for those who were not original wine club members…


[In the interests anonymity all names have been altered]. The first Rioja, an absolute belter from the ever reliable Muga – available from Waitrose, The Wine Society and Majestic – was to be drunk on 'Frank’s' birthday and so it was decided that a special day for a special guy required a special sort of preview. What followed was a wine list to be offered at Chez Frank based on the ladies that had played a part in his life. As we all know, wine is as interesting and more complex than humans so can easily be compared to the people in our lives...

Sainsbury’s Basics Dry White – A bottle that reminds you of your youth. An easy going number that fuelled many enjoyable and debauched evenings whilst in sixth form or the early days of university. Actually of better quality than you gave it credit for at the time, but you were too busy mistreating your liver to realise. AKA Katie (the Pre-university girlfriend)

Vinho Verde – A left of centre choice. Crisp and quite enchanting with a characteristic gentle spritz that draws you in to try it. You are not used to this sort of drinking sensation but you do enjoy it. You think. Definitely funky and quite hip. However, not a long term cellar prospect and more of a fond, yet confusing, phase of your drinking life. AKA Jane (the Fresher term girlfriend).

Jaeger Bomb – He spends much of his early life denigrating and putting down this shot sized beverage, but actually finds his nights out enriched by its presence and it’s arrival always causes a huge cheer from his friends who find Frank to be much better company in its presence. AKA Ruby (the younger, more charming sister).

Vintage Dom Perignon – A classy and memorable drop. Elegant fizz, intellectually complex and always a memorable bottle. Refined and layered but still with the power to cut you down with a hefty hangover if not shown due respect. It’s rare you get to order it and it is always a special occasion to be in its company, but you never feel like you deserve to be. AKA Elizabeth (the mother).

Pouilly Fume – An exceptional white. Crisp minerality with unchartered depth of character. Not an in your face stonker but a wine of understated quality, elegance and dry wit. A wine that makes you think and contemplate before realising you are not worthy of it and should probably return to a run of the mill Pinot Grigio. One that is very much worth ordering a few cases of so you always have it in your life. An incredibly organised wine that could co-ordinate a military operation whilst holding two babies and watching neighbours. AKA Susie (the wife).

The last bottle on the wine list is The Wine Society’s Exhibition Rioja, 2017. In its youth a juicy, full bodied and moreish red with succulent flavours and spicy undertones. An alluring wine with fierce opinions that can stand up for itself but does so with class and finesse. Always very tempting and a bottle you can’t help but return to even when it’s clear you’ve quite enough for one evening. AKA Violet (the long term on and off girlfriend until the Poilly Fume entered his life).





Looking away from the life of dear Frank, I think Rioja reminds me of someone else. It’s a classic upper class character, a very well spoken wine and feels like part of the establishment. However, it is incredibly lovable and approachable. Rioja could easily have dinner with The Queen, open a primary school fete and paint the children’s faces or help out at a local foodbank. It is complex and layered, beautiful and kind, loved by all. It’s the incorrigible aunt who let you drink the good wine whilst on holiday in the south of France at the age of 14 and regardless of her advanced years, all your friends have a massive crush on. Rioja is...Joanna Lumley.



This particular bottle comes from the excellent ‘Exhibition’ range by The Wine Society and is made for them by the legendary La Rioja Alta who, according to The Wine Society, ‘excel in classically styled reservas and gran reservas which are given considerable cask ageing. What sets this bodega apart from other traditionalists is that the wines succeed in retaining striking vigour and fruit whilst undergoing their lengthy period in cask. They are released for sale only when fully ready to drink and always have an air of graceful maturity about them.’


Fiona Beckett said this example from the 2017 vintage was ‘particularly good’ , whilst Matthew Jukes wrote ‘My brother-in-law Charlie is a massive Rioja fan and when he found out that this wine was made by the elite estate La Rioja Alta he asked me to save him a sip! Charlie’s smile is worth more than a couple of lines of tasting notes and I have to concur – it is nothing short of outstanding.’

Powerful and concentrated, yet spicy and oaky – I’m excited for this one.




69 views0 comments