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29 December 2022

Rioja: 15 white wines.

The first of a few tasting reports gleaned from a right royal Rioja tasting in Dublin (by coincidence, Rioja resembles a word in Irish meaning majestic) focuses on white wines. Rioja Blanco was traditionally once as well known as the region's red wine, usually well-oaked in style, which over the years declined in fashion while reds became more and more in demand; but their white wines are definitely now making a welcome comeback.
There's also a broader range of styles emerging from Spain's leading wine area: some of them are distinctly oaked, others more subtly barrel-enhanced, while some are aromatic and zesty, and others rich mature and complex. Other developments in Rioja white winemaking and growing include more wines made from the Garnacha blanca, Tempranillo blanco (a natural mutation of red Tempranillo discovered in the late 80s) and Malvasía varieties.
This is still very relative though with the well-established Viura occupying 69% of white grape plantings, and the latter variety doesn't even amount to one-tenth of the total 66,240 hectares of vines in the region; hence red and to a lesser extent rosé continue to dominate. I'm also not convinced that allowing Sauvignon blanc in Rioja blends is any progress, unless you like one-dimensional Sauvignon dominating the wine's character (but understandable due to this variety's enduring popularity).
Briefly coming back to some more geeky stats on Rioja, the region is divided into three zones running across 100km of varying hillside, valley and woodland terrain. Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa in the west and northwest are marked by higher ground and cooler temperatures, whereas Rioja Oriental on the eastern side is warmer and flatter. Generally speaking naturally, because vines are planted at altitudes of 300 to 750 meters above sea level, so nowhere is 'flat' as such even on the elevated plains.

Bodegas Ollauri
(Rioja Alta)
This impressive winery and the Conde de los Andes label (pic. at the top) are owned by the well-known and respected Muriel group. This range is about 'sourcing grapes from small plots of old vineyards planted in high places' and 'commitment to old vintages as well as innovation...'
Conde de los Andes Blanco 2016 (100% Malvasía planted in 1975, barrel-fermented and aged for 6 months, 13.5% abv): Very complex nose with nutty oxidised notes mingling with buttery coconut flavours, lovely texture and multi-layered tasty finish. Very good, mature yet there's life in it yet. £25-£29 UK. €25 Spain. Irish importer Classic Drinks (North and South). $48 USA.
Bodegas Muriel (Rioja Alavesa)
Muriel Blanco 2021 (85% Viura, 15% Tempranillo blanco, 13.5% abv): Fresh floral and honeyed with nice nutty vs crisp palate. $14-15 USA. €6 Spain.
Viña Muriel Blanco Reserva 2014 (40+ year-old Viura from El Gallo vineyard, barrel-fermented then 8 months in oak, 12.5% abv): Developed oily Riesling-esque aromas, toasted nutty rounded and mature mouthfeel while still quite lively and elegant; delicious and different. €14-€15 Spain. 150 KR Denmark. £18-£19 UK.

Bodegas Cornelio Dinastía
Cornelio Dinastía Blanco Fermentado en Barrica 2020 (60 year-old Viura, 8 months in barrels, 14% abv): Toasty hints, enticing oily texture and developing flavours vs fresh acidity, well textured yet structured finish. Should develop nicely in bottle over the coming months. €29.95 The Corkscrew, Dublin. £25.85 UK.
Vega Vella Blanco 2020 (100% organic Garnacha blanca, fermented in egg vats with lees stirring, 14% abv): Aromatic citrus fruits with oily honeyed edges, lovely texture and richness with nice palate weight vs underlining crispness. Very tasty and fine albeit expensive (it is their top white wine though): €39.95 The Corkscrew.

Viña Real & Cvne
One of the most famous names in Rioja-land, Viña Real has been around since 1920 based in the Alavesa zone near the ancient Camino Real. Contino was established in 1973 as 'the first Rioja chateau concept winery', although the name and cellars date back to the 16th century.
Viña Real Blanco Fermentado en Barrica 2020 (100% Viura, 5 months in barrel with malolactic fermentation, 13% abv): Zesty and yeast lees tones to start, turning rounder and richer in the mouth with appealing fresh citrus vs roast nut finish. €23.95 Bibendum Ireland. €7.55 Spain.
Contino Blanco 2020 (70% Viura, 10% Malvasia, 20% Garnacha blanca; partly oak aged for 10 months): From their 62 ha vineyard at altitude around the property near Haro (Rioja Alta). Tight crisp mouthfeel at first, developing oilier and subtle honeyed nutty notes, surprisingly closed up and structured still but promising. £22-27 UK. €28 Spain.

Bodegas Domeco de Jarauta (Rioja Oriental)
This family winery in Aldeanueva de Ebro boasts 100 hectares of vineyards, whose grape-growing history goes back to the late 19th century; and José Vicente Domeco de Jarauta founded the eponymous Bodegas with his son in 2005.
Domeco de Jarauta Blanco 2020 (100% Garnacha blanca, barrel-fermented and aged for 4 months, 12% abv): Quite rich and toasty on the nose, enticing yeast-lees characters build to an intense palate though with attractive crisp zesty finish to balance. €14 Spain. €23 Ireland. €16.50 Germany.

Bodegas Marqués del Atrio (Rioja Oriental)
2 Cepas de Marqués del Atrio Blanco 2019 (50-50 Viura and Tempranillo blanco from vineyards, 10 months in barrels with lees-stirring, 13% abv): Coconutty and creamy lees-y rather than overtly oaky, still surprisingly fresh too while nicely rounded and maturing on the finish. Good but pretty dear (it's a limited edition wine apparently). €30 Ireland. €19 Spain. £18-£20 UK.

Bodegas Martínez Lacuesta (Haro, Rioja Alta)
Tempranillo Blanco 2021 (13% abv): Floral citrus and honey aromas, lively zingy mouthfeel with tasty concentrated finish. Good. €13 Ireland. €7-€8 Spain. £10.50 UK. €8 Poland.
Blanco Fermentado en Barrica 2018 (100% Viura, 3 months in French oak with regular lees-stirring, 13% abv): Wild interesting nose, creamy and lees-y while floral with green fruits too, fatter palate with lots of different flavours; definitely a bit 'out there' in style, and doesn't taste very oaky at all. Very good. (2021:) £13 UK. €10 Germany.

Bodegas Santalba (Rioja Alta)
Santalba Blanco 2021 (100% Viura planted in 1967, 13% abv): Aromatic with nutty oily notes, attractive palate mixing crisp yet rounded texture, tasty dry white with zingy 'mineral' finish. Imported by Classic Drinks.

Bodegas Tobía
Tobía Cuvée Blanco (blend of 2019-20-21 vintages: Sauvignon blanc, Tempranillo blanco, Chardonnay, Viura, Maturana blanca, Garnacha blanca; barrel-fermented and 3 months lees-stirring, 13% abv): Very appealing style for the money, juicy vs oily mouthfeel with perfumed fruit and nicely textured palate. €10 Quintessential Wines. €8 Spain. £11.95 UK.

Bodegas Valdemar
Conde Valdemar Finca Alto Cantabria Viñedo Singular Blanco 2019 (from a plot of Viura planted in 1975, fermented partly in stainless steel tanks and barrels, 6 months of lees-stirring, 13% abv): Hints of toasty oak on the nose underlined by enticing oily 'mineral' characters, yeast-lees richness and maturing fruit on the finish, very nice traditional white Rioja. €30 Febvre Wines. £23-£25 UK. €15-€19 Spain.

Francisco Corres
Fran Corres Blanco 2021 (Tempranillo blanco from 3 ha plot in San Asencio at 600m altitude, 13.5% abv): Crisp citrus fruit followed by attractive oily texture; quite good for the price. €15

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Header image: Château de Flandry, Limoux, Languedoc. Background: Vineyard near Terrats in Les Aspres, Roussillon.