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Premium red Rioja – panel tasting results

Our experts praised Rioja for its incredible value for money in the March 2017 issue of Decanter magazine...

With 50% of wines Highly Recommended and above, and with more than 45% of these wines priced between £20 and £30, this tasting shows Rioja’s strength: diversity, reliability and value. It is undoubtedly one of the most successful Decanter panel tastings of the past decade.

The scores:

191 wines tasted

Exceptional – 0
Outstanding – 8
Highly Recommended – 88
Recommended – 93
Commended – 1
Fair – 1
Poor – 0
Faulty – 0

The judges:

Pedro Ballesteros Torres MW; Sarah Jane Evans MW; Pierre Mansour

Click here to view the tasting notes and scores for all 191 premium red Rioja

Today, if you want to spend £20 or more on a world-class wine, no classic region matches Rioja’s amazing offer. But don’t expect this disparity between high quality and moderate prices to continue indefinitely. Invest now and reap the rewards, says Pedro Ballesteros Torres MW.

Our judges found the two-day tasting extremely difficult, but for good reason: ‘Your body cannot cope with so many good wines,’ said Ballesteros Torres. ‘You have a duty to evaluate these 191 wines in the best possible way, but with such complex wines you need a lot of concentration.’

The eight top-rated premium red Rioja from the panel tasting:

Crianza vs Reserva

If there was a complaint, the tasters struggled to see a distinction between the crianza and reserva categories. ‘Crianza and reserva are commercial labels,’ said Ballesteros Torres. ‘What is reserva? In many cases, for the cheaper wines, it is just a crianza that you didn’t sell last year. This should be forbidden.’ Sarah Jane Evans MW agreed: ‘When you have a bodega’s 2011 crianza which is the same age as its 2011 reserva, you wonder why they are still selling the crianza!’

Pierre Mansour, however, felt the terminology was still relevant. ‘One producer’s crianza might be another’s reserva. Once you find a producer whose style you like, you should just follow that producer rather than the age category.’

The Gran Reservas

The jury also felt the gran reservas were sometimes too youthful. ‘When buying a gran reserva, you think you are buying a wine that is already so old that it’s the perfect time to drink it,’ said Evans. ‘But in fact we tasted many wines which had lots of energy and are going to last another 20 years.’

Single varietals and single vineyards

For what is traditionally a blend, Rioja’s varietal wines – a relatively new category – are becoming very serious, said Evans. But it is another layer of confusion for consumers to deal with. ‘Rioja has to find a way to explain that it can do blends, it can do single-varietal wines and also single-vineyard wines. Producers should be able to say, “our Garnacha comes from this particular vineyard in Rioja Baja”.’

Buying advice

Ballesteros Torres advised Decanter readers not to focus so much on the grape varieties, but to look at the producers and prices. ‘Get information about the style of wine from producers’ websites or your wine merchant,’ he said. ‘You may like round, velvety, soft 100% Tempranillos. Maybe you prefer the fruity, fresh style of Garnacha. Perhaps you enjoy the seriousness of Graciano. Or you love a traditional blend. Decide your style first, then go by producer and price.’

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