TALK of property taxes and home repossessions is dominating our airwaves, but spare a thought for Spain where home owners seem to be in even worse trouble.

Spain’s building boom also took hold in some wine regions, particularly Rioja, where some of the most extraordinary wineries ever built began appearing in the early 2000’s. Star architects such as Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid and Santiago Calatrava were commissioned to create some truly wondrous buildings and a quick google of “Rioja Architecture” will show you exactly what I am mean.

Rioja producers did get ahead of themselves a little in those years and began to price themselves out of the market but, thankfully, they saw sense and good value Rioja is now easy to find. Of course you will have to pay more for the top end producers such as Muga, Murrieta and Riscal, but even these producers have wines at all price levels.

Rioja has always been the most elegant of Spanish wines partly as a result of their connections with Bordeaux which began in the mid-19th century, but things have changed here also. Younger producers in Rioja are experimenting with French Oak instead of the once ubiquitous American Oak and wines are being released younger with more upfront fruit flavours.

The best value in Spain remains in the small regions near the Pyrenees, in Catalonia, in the south east around Alicante and just about everywhere else. The general quality of regional Spanish wine is increasing every year and a shrinking domestic market means there are more good value wines for us to try.

Tempranillo and Garnacha are the two grapes to look out for in red, but also watch for Monastrell/Mourvedre and unusual grapes such as Mencia from Bierzo near Galicia.

For inexpensive and flavourful white wines seek out Verdejo, Albarino and Godello from the NorthWest rather than Viura (also called Macabeo) and Airen.


Baturrica Reserva 2008, Tarragona, Spain — €5.99

Stockist: Aldi

A blend of Tempranillo, Garnacha and Cab. Sauvignon from just south of Barcelona North Eastern Spain. Bright juicy flavours — dried fruit, raisins, and cherries on the nose with a solid fruity palate, tasting significantly better than its modest price.

Lar de Paula Tempranillo Rioja 2010 — €9.99 (was €11.99)

Stockists: Curious Wines Cork, Red Nose Wines Clonmel

Thankfully not all Rioja is aged in barrels for years and some producers are happy to release wines filled with ripe fruits rather than just cedar and spice. This has moscatels and plums on the nose with lots of sweet ripe raspberries and red currants on the palate.

Cepa Lebrel Rioja Reserva 2008 — €6.79

Stockist: Lidl

Lidl has three Riojas under this label — a Joven, Crianza and Reserva. Even the Joven at €4.50 is worth a punt, but the Crianza and Reserva have more concentration and spicy red fruits. The Reserva has the archetypal l Rioja cedar and spice aromas with good fruit and structure on the palate and a bit more length on the finish.


Jaspi Blanc. Terra Alta, Spain 2010 — €15.99

Stockist: O’Briens

From Terra Alta in Catalonia, this blend of 70% Grenache Blanc and 30% Macabeo is remarkably floral on the nose, with touches of white peaches and lemon peel. On the palate are lemon drops mixed with green apples and some acidity and structure, but also is a creamy texture and not a little depth.

Finca La Barca Reserva Rioja 2006 — €10.99 (was €14.99)

Stockist: SuperValu

This Rioja is exclusive to SuperValu and is on special offer from tomorrow until the middle of April. Some Rioja spends a little too long in oak causing the fruit to disappear; despite its age this example still has lots of red fruits on the nose and palate, has nice length and not a little complexity.

Londoño Rioja 100% Graciano 2010 — €15.99

Stockist: Superquinn

Graciano is not a well known grape, but most top end Reserva and Gran Reservas will contain a small portion where its high acidity and deep colour provides both freshness and depth. This dark, almost black wine is packed with dense dark fruits and has a lovely warm clean lingering finish thanks to its high acidity.


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