Rioja: A Dichotomy of Styles

Rioja: A Dichotomy of Styles

Rioja is a fascinating land of contrasting styles of wine, where tradition and modernity co-exist without the tension between the two styles of winemaking, as there is in other regions such as Barolo or Burgundy.

Although there is a lack of tension, there is, however, a distinct dichotomy of styles. In other regions, the lines between the traditionalists and the mavericks is blurry with many grey areas, but here you are definitely one or the other. But, saying that, there are gradations. On the one hand you have the ‘ultra-traditonalists’ such as Lopez de Heredia and La Rioja Alta, who I am sure are still making wines in the same fashion as they did in the late 19th century. The one thing, for me, that makes them ‘ultras’ is in the long barrel ageing, in American oak barrels, and the racking (the transfer of the wine from one barrel to another to separate the sediment) which gently oxidates the wine over a long period, which is necessary to the ageing process. Still traditionalist, but not quite so extreme, are the wines of CVNE, aka Cune,

The modernists, on the other hand, tend not to follow the long barrel ageing and, more often than not, will use the less aromatic French oak for the ageing. This style is exemplified, in my opinion, by Abel Mendoza, who extracts the essence of this rugged region, and the spicy character of Tempranillo. The quintessence of this style is the Jarrarte Maceracion Carbonica, which is made without oak, but using an extraction method which brings out black cherry and pepper notes to the fore.

Richard Ballantyne MW

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  1. Bodegas Manzanos 2016 Rioja Joven
    A juicy, soft Rioja which is gently spicy with notes of vanilla, yet is has no oak, and black, brambly fruit Learn More
  2. CVNE 2014 Rioja Crianza Cune
    Cune is famed for its long lasting elegant Riojas, just on the cusp of being a traditionalist, but this wine marries... Learn More
  3. Abel Mendoza 2016 Rioja Jarrarte Maceracion Carbonica
    This part of Rioja, Alavesa, is known for occasionally making fresh, young wines, to be enjoyed when young. This is... Learn More
  4. Amezola de la Mora 2014 Vina Amezola Rioja Crianza
    Vina Amezola is a traditonal style of Rioja with long oak ageing, but its also quite rich in fruit. Tobacco leaf notes,... Learn More
  5. R. Lopez de Heredia 2008 Rioja Crianza Vina Cubillo
    Lopez de Heredia is my favourite producer of Rioja. Vina Cubillo is their youngest wine, but is absolutely fantastic.... Learn More
  6. Abel Mendoza 2014 Rioja Jarrarte Crianza
    Abel Mendoza is very much a modernist of Rioja. He ages his winesin small French oak barrels making the wine silky and... Learn More
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