Rioja wines: Some whites and a rosé for good measure

rioja wines reviews

If you think about Rioja wines, I bet you imagine a glass of smoky red rioja with lots of vanilla and cloves and spice. Who can blame you, as 75 per cent of the wines from the Rioja region are red.  

Let’s turn the tables and try a handful of Rioja wines but not red ones … some whites and a rosé too for good measure.

Rioja wines: Aromas of a herb border

Marqués de Cáceres Rioja Blanco 2015 (12.5% abv, £7.99 or £6.99 in a buy six deal at Majestic) This wine is produced from viura grapes – also known as macabeo which is a key grape in cava.

Marqués de Cáceres Rioja Blanco 2015 rioja wines
Marqués de Cáceres Rioja Blanco 2015

The wine has apples and pears on the nose and a subtle aroma of a herb border. A good sip and there’s more apples and pears and a refreshing acidity which just takes the edge over the fruit flavours.  

Rioja wines: A white with personality

Fincas de Azabache Tempranillo Blanco 2015 (12% abv,  RRP £10.99 www.sandhamswine.co.uk)  This unoaked white is made from a relatively new grape variety, tempranillo blanco, a mutation of the red tempranillo grape which is the backbone of red  rioja wines.

Fincas de Azabache Tempranillo Blanco 2015 rioja wines
Fincas de Azabache Tempranillo Blanco 2015

I loved the shape of the bottle; a wine with personality before I’d even opened it. Once poured, aromas of green apple, citrus and floral dance together above the glass, then in the mouth it is well-balanced and fruity with a bright citrus finish.   

Rioja wines: Concentrated flavours

Contino Blanco 2014 (13% abv, RRP £25.45, www.waitrosecellar.com, hedonism.co.uk, The Wine Reserve) With one sip, you can tell this is an elegant well-crafted wine and yes, the price suggests that. It is a blend of three grapes – viura (80%) with malvasía and white grenache in supporting roles – from old vines which deliver more concentrated flavours.

Contino Blanco 2014 rioja wines
Contino Blanco 2014

It is partially fermented in French oak barrels then aged on its lees for six months.  The winemaker’s hard work pays dividends in creating a fresh, complex,  fruity wine, with a citrus nose and a good blend of fruit and spice which leave a pencil-sharp juicy memory on the tastebuds.

Rioja wines: A pink to make you think

Muga Rosado 2015 (13% abv, RRP £9.99 at Waitrose, Majestic and The Wine Society)  Mmmm.  One of the nicest rosés I’ve tried all summer. The grapes? Viura and tempranillo are back again, but the mainstay is garnacha (60%) which is never backward in coming forward.

Muga Rosado 2015 rioja wines
Muga Rosado 2015

It delivers a summer fruit compote of aromas, though not sickly sweet strawberry syrup; but clean, fresh, breezy and uplifting. Ooo there’s a subtlety of fruit tart pastry and a hint of spice too; then to taste the red fruits stir the senses alongside a squeaky acidity which keep the mouth a-watering.

First published in Raise a Glass, Trinity Mirror regionals August 2016

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Wine Press: Call My Bluff Wine Tasting fizzes perfectly

A few years ago there was a TV quiz show, Call My Bluff. My mum and dad loved it. I remember the 70s brown and beige shirts and the quizmaster technology included a simple bell.

A team would give three definitions of a word; but only one was true. Another team had to guess which.

Bring that up to 2015, add gaffer tape, wine, human guinea pigs, yours truly, some lovely helpers, and what you have is a Call My Bluff wine tasting.

We disguised wine bottles with the tape and split my guinea pigs into teams.

Call My Bluff wine tasting
Call My Bluff wine tasting with yours truly

I like fizz so I pretty much went all out on the stuff.

With the first wine I said: “I’m sauvignon blanc, and I’m from Marlborough in New Zealand.

“I was recently described as having a ‘very catty aroma’ and being ‘the spring onion side of sauvignon’.”

I threw in a Bluff line: “My homeland is France and this is the first time that French winemakers have turned me into Champagne”.

FALSE!!! Sauvignon blanc would never be used in a Champagne.

Freemans Bay New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc
Freemans Bay New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc

This was Aldi’s Freemans Bay New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (£8.99). Did my guinea pigs like it? Well yes, most of them did. Though for some, the jury was out.

Next: “I’m a prosecco. I’m one of the best you can get. My grapes are grown on steep limestone hills between two villages. They are so special I have a high DOCG status. I have apricot and citrus and you can even taste a little bit of the limestone if you concentrate really hard. I’ve won awards. I’m so proud of myself.”

If you find a prosecco marked DOCG it is indeed one of the best.

In this case it was multi-award winner Sainsbury’s Conegliano Prosecco, Taste the Difference (around £11). My guinea pigs really loved this one.

Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Conegliano Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut 2013
Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Conegliano Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut 2013

Moving on. My clue on Codorníu Gran Cremant Vintage, Brut (several retailers, RRP £9.99) was: “Just like Champagne, three dominant grape varieties are used to make me: paralleda, macabeo and xarel-lo. Each of them is difficult to say, but each of them makes me special. I don’t know why people like prosecco more than me, as I have more flavours and tasty layers. You might be able to smell citrus, honey and almonds.”

call my bluff wine tasting
Death by Powerpoint

Several guinea pigs didn’t think this was cava at all, but my made up Bluff description, of a sparkling chardonnay “bright and zesty with a ping of lemon and scrunched red apples”.

Next, an ooh-ahh of a Wine Bluff reveal. I said: “I have a golden hue. I have a nice crisp and intense flavour of lemon and honey. I’m an award-winning champagne at less than a tenner.”

A bluff line included… “you might think I have a smell of peach – that’s the peach trees which grow very close to the vineyard.” (Ha! See how easy it is to make it up!)

Veuve Monsigny Champagne Brut Philizot Aldi
Veuve Monsigny Champagne

The wine reveal was Aldi’s Veuve Monsigny Champagne Brut by Philizot (£9.99) and it was praised by the guinea pigs; A tenner for a really lovely drop of champers.

We turned to another of my faves. “I’m the Gracie Fields of the champagne world. I taste of brioche and toast and citrus with little hints of stone fruit.”

A bluff line included: “If I was featured in Hello! magazine I’d have a footballer boyfriend and a villa in Marbella. I’m more full in the face than most champagnes with stewed apples and cinnamon sticks.”

My guinea pigs worked out that this didn’t smell of cinnamon and some rightly guessed it was The Co-operative Les Pionniers NV Champagne, £16.99 and very nice it is too. My clue was that Gracie Fields is from Rochdale, which is also the birthplace of the Co-op movement.

Sometimes you have to live inside my head.

Published in the saturday extra magazine April 25, 2015

Liverpool Echo – South Wales Echo – Daily Post Wales – Huddersfield Examiner – The Chronicle, Newcastle – Teesside Evening Gazette – Birmingham  Mail – Coventry Telegraph – Paisley Daily Express