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20 January 2023

Rioja: reds less than 5 years old.

Part two of this WineWriting.com Rioja feature moves on to red wines - the first instalment highlighted 15 delicious white wines (all tasted in Dublin last month: click/tap to read more). As an appetising entrée, 15 varied red Riojas have been chosen here which are 'less than five years old', to coin a cunning theme that will be developed in two further posts ('5 to 10 years' and '10 to 20 years' old).
This outing includes reds from the 2018, 2019 and 2020 vintages (plus one multi-vintage blend), which all seem to be successful years in differing ways. 2018 feels more structured with fresher firmer bite at the moment but promising, and 2019 lusher fruitier and a touch fuller. There's only one 2020 red here but, if it's anything to go by, the vintage offers rich fruit and chunky yet supple mouthfeel. 
A minor shift in red wine-growing and -making in the region is an increasing focus (comparatively) on varieties other than the mainstay Tempranillo grape, which nevertheless occupies nearly 90% of red vine surface area (reds also form 90% of all plantings). There are about 4500 hectares of Garnacha Tinta and 1200 ha each of Graciano and Mazuelo, aka Carignan or Cariñena. But more varietal reds are being produced than previously, when a blend of two or three grapes was the norm. Another noticeable trend is perhaps a little less or more subtle use of oak for red wine fermentation and ageing.

Bodegas Aradón
Old elevated organic vineyards overlook the Ebro River around the village of Alcanadre, located between Logroño and Calahorra close to the border with the Navarra region. The legend goes that 'Aradon was a village which existed in Roman times but mysteriously disappeared.' So this time, the Romans did at least pass on a nice little myth. Photo at top from the winery website.
La Garnacha Prometida 2018 (15% abv): 100% Garnacha from four small plots of 85+ year-old low-yielding bush vines, fermented and aged 14 months in 500 litre French oak barrels and egg-shaped vats (two thirds / one third). Punchy and concentrated red with wild kirsch notes, dark fruity and spicy palate, still firmly textured yet promising more for those who could wait a few years (it's good now too). Quite expensive but impressive. €27-€30 Spain and France. €47 Ireland (imported by WineLab). 300 Kr Denmark.
Momento 2019 (14.5% abv): 70% Tempranillo and 15% each of Garnacha and Graciano from 18 hectares of bush vines spread around in small blocks, 35 to 100 years old, lying on slopes at 450 to 550 metres altitude. Six months' ageing in new French and American oak. Easy-going style mixing up smoky, savoury and ripe fruity aromas and flavours, drinking now with light grip on the finish. €16.50 Ireland. €7.30 Spain. €9-€10 Netherlands and Belgium.

Bodegas Tobía
Óscar Tobía moved his operation founded in 1994 to a new winery in Cuzcurrita de Río Tirón, on the western side of Rioja Alta, in 2010.
Tobía Cuvée Tinto (13% abv): 80% Tempranillo & 20% Garnacha, blend of 2020 (fermented by carbonic maceration) with 2018 and 2019 vintages (3 months in American oak). Attractively fruity and spicy with maturing meaty notes and light tannin on the palate, very tasty. €18-€19 Ireland (importer Quintessential Wines). €8 Spain and Germany. £12 UK. €10.50-€11.50 France. €8.30 Belgium.
Tobía Seleccíon de Autor 2018 (15% abv): 75% Tempranillo, 7% Garnacha, 5% Graciano and 'other varieties'. Fermented with indigenous yeast from the vineyard, malolactic in barrel followed by 18 months in French and American oak, bottled unfiltered. Firmer and more powerful style with flavoursome sweet / savoury fruit characters, tighter less revealing finish indicating more to come. €23 Ireland. €12.50 Spain.

Bodegas Martínez Corta
Owned by Bornos Bodegas & Viñedos which counts Señorío de Sarría in Navarra, Palacio de Bornos in Rueda and two cellars in Ribera de Duero among others in their winery 'portfolio'. Martínez Corta was established in 2005 in the heart of Rioja Alta, with 80 hectares and four generations of family winegrowing behind it.
Cepas Antiguas 2019 (14% abv): Tempranillo from almost 100 year-old bush vines at around 500m above sea level, 15 months in used French oak. A little oakier and firmer textured than their other reds, nice concentrated fruit though with aromatic blueberry and spice notes, tasty lingering finish beginning to turn savoury and serious. Expensive too: €38.90 Spain (about €20 ex-cellar price).
Martínez Corta Crianza 2018 (13.5% abv): Tempranillo, 12 months in French and American oak. A touch more concentrated with firmer tannins, similarly enticing aromatic berry and spice characters, quite elegant while full-bodied. €8.20 Spain. €20 USA. €13.50 Netherlands.

Bodegas D Mateos
Based in the Rioja Oriental zone.
La Mateo Selección de Familia Vendimia 2018 (14% abv): 70% Tempranillo, 27% Garnacha, 3% Graciano (average 50 years old); 14 months in new French & American oak. Concentrated fruit on a firm yet luscious palate, tight finish still with lingering sweet / savoury flavours and a bite of tannin; well balanced and promising. €38 Ireland (WineLab). £30 UK. €22.50 Germany. €22.50 Spain.

Bodegas Santalba
Rioja Alta. Importer Classic Drinks Ireland.
Santalba Crianza 2019 (14.5% abv): 100% Tempranillo, 15 months in American oak. Lots of rich berry fruit, nice acidity and light grip too, oak is well integrated, powerful and concentrated but balanced; very good. €14 Germany. €13.50 Belgium. £11.50 UK.

Bodegas Martínez Lacuesta
Haro, Rioja Alta: see white Rioja feature for more info.
Martínez Lacuesta Crianza 2018 (13.5% abv): 100% Tempranillo, 18 months ageing in American oak. Not so oaky in fact with tasty aromatic fruit and a touch of freshness on the finish. €15.50 Ireland (importer Vinos Tito). €10 Spain. £15 UK. $16 US.

Bodegas Domeco de Jarauta
Rioja Oriental: see white Rioja feature for more info.
Domeco de Jarauta 2020 (14% abv): 65 year-old Garnacha vines, 11 months in French and American oak. Rich and ripe dark cherry fruit with savoury edges, concentrated chunky mouthfeel, firm tannins and powerful but has plenty of fruit and rounded texture; very nice. €23 Ireland. €13.90 Spain.

Viña Real & Cvne
See white Rioja feature for more info about one of the region's best known wineries.
Viña Real Crianza 2019 (14% abv): mostly Tempranillo with 10% Garnacha, Mazuelo and Graciano; 12-14 months in barrel. Pretty classic 'lighter' style combining berry and spice notes with attractive freshness and subtle depth. Good. Ireland €15.99 (Bibendum). $15 US. €8.25 Spain. £10-£12 UK. CA$16 Quebec.
Cvne Imperial Reserva 2018 (14%): similar blend to above with 5% less Tempranillo, planted at 450 to 600 metres altitude near Haro; 24 months in barrel. Elegant and tightly structured wine offering ripe and spicy aromas and flavours, and firmly textured backdrop with subtle oak tones; lingering finish, needs time to develop in bottle. Very good. €38 Ireland (Bibendum). £20-£28 UK. $40 US. €28 Spain.

Bodegas Cornelio Dinastía
(Rioja Alta)
Cornelio Dinastía Crianza 2018 (14% abv): selection of 50+ year-old Tempranillo grown at 500m altitude, aged 12 months in American oak. Fairly rich and fruity with underlying light toasty oak, fresh-structured mouthfeel yet savoury flavoured and maturing, lovely balance and style; very good. €29.95 Ireland (The Corkscrew, A Wine Idea). €15-€17 Spain and Germany.
Cornelio Imperial Autor 2018 (14.5% abv): even fussier selection of old Tempranillo, malolactic fermentation and ageing for 14 months in new American oak. Quite different in style, more coconut oak spice and firmer tannins, closed up on the finish but it's concentrated. Good show wine but I prefer their other reds, especially at €50 a bottle (The Corkscrew). €29 Germany.

Bodegas Muriel (Rioja Alavesa)
Muriel Crianza 2019 (13.5% abv): 100% Tempranillo. Lightly smoky nose with sweet & savoury berry fruit characters, the palate delivers a little tannin and freshness while nicely maturing at the same time. Good. Classic Drinks importer in Ireland (North and South): €16 The Wine Centre. UK £10-£15. US $15-$20. Netherlands and Austria €6-€7.

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