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Ultimate Rioja: Excellence rooted in tradition; elegance born of innovation

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Rioja, one of the most renowned fine wine regions and a staple in cellars the world over, is perhaps not fully appreciated for the wealth of landscapes it encompasses and the diversity of styles it produces. Rioja is indeed a place where tradition goes hand in hand with innovation, with producers continuously striving to find the best, and therefore diverse, ways to express the grapes and terroirs that make up the region.

With the town of Logroño as its epicentre, Rioja is divided into three zones along the river Ebro: Rioja Alta, west of Logroño; Rioja Alavesa, north of the river Ebro; Rioja Oriental, to the south and east of Logroño. The region is sheltered by the Sierra de Cantabria to the north and west, protecting it from the rain-bearing Atlantic winds, and the Sierra de la Demanda to the south.

Wine culture is inextricable from the region’s identity and the history and stories of its communities; Rioja is the ultimate example of a landscape shaped by nature as much as by man, to create the strong, yet multifaceted, identity that also shapes its wines.

The Ultimate Rioja tasting emerged as an effort to shed light on some of the finest wines of Rioja and thereby showcase the diversity of styles produced as well as the skills and passion of the region’s growers and winemakers. Below you’ll find the wines which the Ultimate Rioja panel, composed of some of the wine industry’s leading experts deemed to be the best in class from those entries submitted to the competition. These wines were selected from seven of Rioja’s stylistic categories; fine wines with complexity, individual character and strong imprint of the place and the vintage they hail from.

The tasting panel, chaired by Sarah Jane Evans MW, included Christine Parkinson, Laure Patry, Beth Willard, Ronan Sayburn MS, Simon Field MW, Joe Wadsack and Raul Diaz. This group of experts tasted over 300 wines, within the following categories: White, Rosado, Generic, Crianza, Reserva, Gran Reserva and Viñedo Singular.

According to Sarah Jane Evans MW the tasting ‘was a great showcase of Rioja’s diversity.’ The panel’s chair highlighted the quality across categories: ‘There were fresh, complex whites, and the more mature the better. Some seriously good Rosados. The relatively new Viñedos Singular category made its first appearance. Some fine Crianzas. And a selection of lovely classic Gran Reservas. We can’t miss the Reservas and Generics either. In all it was a great day.’

The tasting notes illustrate how the viticultural heritage of Rioja is a dynamic and ever-evolving reality, producing wines of modern elegance rooted in tradition.

Ultimate Rioja tasting – the best in class:



Vina Ijalba 2019
RRP £15 Vintage Roots
Alive with ripe peaches, pear and apricots with a creamy, buttery palate with notes of exotic fruits. Balanced acidity and a persistent finish. Alc 13.5%


Solar Viejo de Laguardia, Orube 2018
RRP £13 Freixenet Copestick
Complex: honeyed and nutty with hints of truffle and mushroom as well as floral notes, melon, peach. Well balanced with a long finish. Alc 12.5%


Bodegas de la Marquesa, Valserrano 2015
RRP £35 Davy’s Wine
Concentrated, powerful ripe exotic fruit aromas, aromas. Balanced acidity. Nutty and creamy with a long finish. Alc 13.5%



El Coto de Rioja, El Coto 2020
RRP £10.99 Liberty Wines
Deep salmon pink; toasty aromas; textured, with slight spritz, fresh, interesting. Leafy, savoury raw plum fruit opens out to a long, creamy finish. Alc 13%


Marqués de Cáceres, Excellens de Marqués de Cáceres 2020
RRP £10.99 Fine Wines Direct
Pale pink, with a rich core of fruit and cooling herbs. Chunky and serious, with supple texture and long finish. Alc 13.5%


Bodegas Alvia, Livius Rosado Fermentado en Barrica 2018
RRP £26.50 Neill Wines
Pale copper pink. Waxy, petrolly aromas. Lots of oak on the palate, which is savoury sweet, juicy and creamy. Baked raspberries and creme chantilly. A lot of oak, but very appealing. Alc 13.5%


Bodegas Valdelacierva, Valdelacierva 2019
RRP £10.35 Fareham Wine Cellar
Pale salmon and a very oxidative style. Warm milk and biscuits initially, with layers of fruit from ripe to green. Alc 14%



Bodegas Riojanas, Viña Albina, Crianza 2018
RRP £13.95 Vineyards of Sherborne
Subtle discreet nose with red berries and flowers. Elegant and balanced, showing hints of nutmeg, quince and white pepper. Long finish. Alc 13.5%


Bodegas del Medievo, Medievo, Crianza 2018
RRP £13 Stainton
Hint of amber in the colour. Attractive strawberry, rosehip and spice on the nose. In the mouth, sappy finely-balanced tannins with some grip and a good length. Alc 13.5%

Rioja Vega, Crianza 2018
RRP £15 Great Grog
Expressive, attractive wine with a nose of ripe strawberries. Palate leads to juicy summer pudding flavours, dusted in cocoa and a warm succulent and gentle finish. Perfect for pairing with a roast beef rib. Alc 14%


Bodegas Castillo de Mendoza, Noralba, Crianza 2017
RRP £17.50 Amathus Drinks
Mature yet with a lively, assertive, youthful character. Resplendent with spice, raspberry and hint of white and black pepper. Elegant, long and seductive with a fine taper on the finish. Alc 14.5%


Solar Viejo de Laguardia, Orube, Crianza 2017
RRP £15 Freixenet Copestick
Warm hay and saffron notes intermingled with cherry and cranberry fruit. Palate sleek with warm cinnamon spice and a fresh spicy finish. Alc 14.5%

Bodegas Navajas, Crianza 2016
RRP £15 Walker & Wodehouse
Harmonious nose that instantly says Rioja. Integrated, sappy, vanilla American oak and bright cherry and banana fruit. Moreish balsamic finish. Alc 14%


Hacienda El Ternero, Crianza 2015
RRP £19.95 Ellis Wines
Nose of damson, plum and wild strawberry, hints of citrus and straw. The palate is broad, traditional, with an impressive weight of brooding dark fruit and a balsamic kick. Plenty of gastronomic potential. Alc 13.5%


Bodegas Hermanos Peciña, Señorio de P. Peciña, Crianza 2015
RRP £18 Justerini & Brooks
Bright vermillion in colour. Benchmark nose of smoke, raspberry, prune and dried fruit, then a broad welcoming palate which is silky, indulgent and long. Alc 14%



Barón de Ley, Reserva 2016
RRP £15.99 Tesco, Co-op, Costco
Violets and honeycomb over a core of raspberry compote; balanced and harmonious, with a long life ahead. Good structure and length. Alc 13.5%


Bodegas Muga, Muga Reserva 2017
RRP £28.99 Ultracomida
Inviting, spicy, Christmas pudding aromas with vivid rose petal and red plum flavours with a saline edge. Balanced, firm and supple, with a long, sandy finish. Alc 14%


Bodegas LAN, Culmen, Reserva 2015
RRP £72.99 Vin Neuf
Vividly spicy with hints of cloves, cassia, szechuan pepper on nose and palate; then black cherry and prune fruit. Fine-grained, savoury and long. Alc 13.5%


Bodegas Faustino, Faustino Icon, Reserva 2016
RRP £30 Cellar Trends
Nicely layered with rich berry and cassis fruit; sweet, chewy, coconut oak, savoury. Almost salty finish. Complex. Alc 14%


Viña Ijalba, Reserva 2015
RRP £17 Vintage Roots
Pretty, floral aromas; balsamic and toasty, with black plums and a touch of lime leaf. Sandalwood at the end. Terrific concentration, length and balance. Alc 14%


Bodegas Miguel Merino, Reserva 2015
RRP £35 Davy’s Wine Merchants
Compact and vibrant, with sweet coconut oak, ripe damson and raspberry, and a long finish. Alc 14%

Gran Reserva


Barón de Ley, Gran Reserva 2014
RRP £25.99 Waitrose
The classic, dignified nose showing notes of smoke, figs and hints of blueberry essence. Fine seam of acidity running through it. The palate is broad with an elegant, delicate finish. Poise and precision and gastronomic potential. Alc 13.5%


Bodegas Manzanos, Manzanos, Gran Reserva 2014
RRP £25.50 Alliance Wine
Crepuscular, elegant colour, hint of amber at the rim. Charming nose of wild strawberry. An elegant, sweet, broad and powerful wine. Alc 13.5%


El Coto de Rioja, Coto de Imaz, Gran Reserva 2014
RRP £25 Liberty Wines
Nose of mulled winter spices, surrounding the aromas of sour cherry and mulberry. Svelte and sleek palate. Alc 13.5%


Bodegas Cosme Palacio, Glorioso, Gran Reserva 2014
RRP £23.35 Amazon
Deep well of profound red fruit including mulberries, plum and winter spice. Palate has intensity, latent power and effortless balance. Alc 14%


La Rioja Alta, Viña Arana, Gran Reserva 2014
RRP £35.08 The Wine Society
Beautiful patina of garnet and bronze. Nose of buttery digestive biscuits, baked bramble and rosehip compote, leading to a deliciously sleek mouth-watering finish. Superb. Alc 14.5%


CVNE, Imperial, Gran Reserva 2012
RRP £49.89 North and South Wines
Generous strawberry fruit character with notes of spice, herbs and hints of vanilla. Palate has grippy, slightly rustic tannins and feels ripe yet pleasingly restrained. A wine with plenty more to give. Alc 14%


Bodegas Bilbaínas, Viña Pomal, Gran Reserva 2012
RRP £30.40 Amazónico London, Boquería
Pure on the nose. A multi-layered wine with clean, crisp fruit and hints of autumn, wild strawberry fruit, sour cherry, quince and forest floor, spice and peat. Attractive, fully resolved tannins and a very long finish. Alc 13.5%


Bodegas Muriel, Viña Muriel, Gran Reserva 2011
RRP £25 Dulwich Vintners
Showing an amber rim in the glass, leading into notes of ripe strawberry fruit. A beautifully balanced wine with powerful elegant tannins, firm acidity and a fine structure. Alc 14%


Bodegas Hermanos Peciña, Señorio de P. Peciña, Gran Reserva 2010
RRP £45 Savage Selection
A full, rich, complex Gran Reserva with elegant strawberry, Morello cherry, hints of tar and licorice, as well as fig, spice and a lovely crisp finish. Plenty of time ahead. Alc 13.5%


Bodegas Ontañón, Ontañón, Gran Reserva 2010
RRP £27.50 Camber Wines
Mature integrated nose belies the youthful, if not particularly dark colour. Palate is a perfect blend of gentle fruit and sweet oak. Ready to go. Alc 14%



Bodegas y Viñedos Leza García, LG de Leza Garcia 2016
RRP £29.24 Hattersley Fine Wines
Really well balanced oak, fruit and fresh acidity. Chocolatey finish, graphite. Alc 14%

Asúa, Real de Asúa 2016
RRP £70 Farr Vintners
Lovely red berry nose with a hint of sweetness, chocolate and vanilla. Herbal, with notes of rosemary. Really well balanced, good use of oak, mocha flavours and rich fruit with just enough grippy tannin. Will age further. Alc 14%


Bodegas Bilbaínas, Viña Pomal Alto de la Caseta 2016
RRP £80.20 Hedonism
Chocolate, coffee notes on nose. Really well balanced, rounded, intense, spicy. Well managed tannins. Alc 14.5%


Bodegas Navajas, Antonio Navajas 2015
RRP £30 Walker & Wodehouse
Complex. Herbal with notes of forest floor and red berry fruit. Lovely classic balance of sweet fruit and acidity, elegant use of oak. Really refined with potential to age further. Alc 14%


Altos de Rioja, Altos R Pigeage 2018
RRP £25 Laithwaite’s
Complex nose with intense red berry fruit, chocolate notes and spice. Palate is layered, concentrated, and flinty. Oak is prominent but not dominant. Fresh finish with woody and forest spice, and loads of black pepper. A serious wine. Alc 14.5%


Bodegas y Viñedos Pujanza, Pujanza Cisma 2015
RRP £121 Gourmet Hunters
Nose is appealing with earthy, smoky notes, and a hint of chocolate. Very fresh on palate. A little warm on the finish but otherwise very classy. Alc 14.5%

Viñedo singular


Bodegas Juan Carlos Sancha, Cerro La Isa Blanco 2019
RRP £50 Woodwinters
Alluring floral, citrus and green apple character with refreshing acidity and a great structure. Lovely now, and a bright future ahead. Alc 13.5%


Bodegas Juan Carlos Sancha, Cerro La Isa Garnacha 2018
RRP £50 Woodwinters
Savoury, meaty and gamey with candied fruits, ripe tannins, great length and acidity. Delicious wine. Alc 14.5%

Wines seeking UK distribution


Bodegas Lozano, Lozano 2019
RRP £28
A great example of a white Rioja with floral notes and hints of beeswax. A toasty, creamy, complex wine with a long finish. Alc 13%

Viñedos Ruiz Jiménez, Pago de Valcaliente 2016
RRP £22
A fresh, youthful style, floral, aromatic, nutty, with bright acidity, some tropical fruits and a spicy finish. Alc 14%

Bodegas Vinícola Real, 200 Monges 2010
RRP £35
Youthful, with layers of white flowers, ripe stone fruits balanced by some toasty oak and a creamy texture. Alc 13%


Bodegas Aradón, Calzadas de Aradón Crianza 2016
RRP £12
Roasted, meaty character on the nose leading to a generous exotic palate of prunes, sumac and vanilla oak. Alc 14.5%

Gran Reserva

Bodegas Vinícola Real, 200 Monges Gran Reserva 2005
RRP £45
Still remarkably youthful to look at, with a delicious mouthwatering jampot of summer pudding flavours and a moreish but fully mature finish. Alc 14.5%


Viña del Lentisco, Villota 2016
RRP £33.75
Very intense red fruits, some spice, well handled oak although quite prominent. A big, rich wine with lots of fruit and oak, but balanced. Chewy finish that will probably round out. Alc 14%

Marqués de Vargas Family Vineyards & Cellars, Selección Privada 2016
RRP £56
Lovely balance between fruit and oak. Fresh and fruity. Alc 14.55%

Bodegas Tierra, Tierra Fidel Tinto 2015
RRP £37.50
Red cherry, fresh, quite elegant. Acidity prominent but balanced, clean and bright finish. Juicy on finish but with tannin. Will age further. Alc 14%

Bodegas JER, Thaler de Plata 2015
RRP £28
Smokey notes with coffee and top quality oak. Lovely fresh balanced acidity and intense fruit with the structure of the vintage. Long, concentrated finish. Alc 14.5%

Discover more about DOCa Rioja here

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