Rioja at the Christmas table.

by Alan Kingsbury - Sunday December 10, 2017 11:12 am

With their luxurious colours, silky textures and beguiling flavours, the red wines of Rioja are perfectly in tune with the Christmas season. Alan raises his glass to three Spanish classics.

High quality, single-estate Riojas are a pleasure that must give some of the best value in the world of fine wine. 

They have been created by Bodegas Urbina since 1976 and the excellence of their traditional, long-ageing style is clear in the Urbina Selección 1999 (£15.50 Farham Wine Cellar).

From the north-western edge of Rioja Alta region, this outstanding 'Crianza' is made from old vine Tempranillo grapes and indigenous yeasts which, following 28 days maceration, are aged for 15 months in new American oak barrels.

Now, 18 years since the harvest, the full-bodied, red berry fruit has developed lingering aromatic appeal underpinned by a classic Rioja tannin structure.

Red Riojas are classified according to the length and type of ageing process; and central to the development of the wines is the type of barrels that are used.

For its 'Reserva' wine, Bodegas Lan in the heart of the Rioja Alta region, combines the characteristics of American and French oak in specially constructed barrels using both woods.

Bodegas Lan Reserva 2011 (£14.95 Slurp.co.uk) develops an impressive palate of cooked red berry fruit, black pepper and vanilla which glides on a smoothly integrated textural structure. 

Spending a little extra on a bottle of Rioja can give an extraordinary increment in quality.

In this respect, the 'grand-daddies' of the region are the 'Gran Reservas'; the wines employing the finest fruit, the greatest tender loving care and the longest ageing periods.

Only made in exceptional vintages Bodegas de La Marquesa, Valserrano Gran Reserva 2010 (£31.50 Davy & Co.) is aged for two years in French and American oak casks then given a full three years of further bottle development before release.

A generous airing in a decanter will get the very best from this lovely, garnet coloured wine.

The richly concentrated dark-cherry and raisin fruit magically opens out, revealing its herbal aromatics and complexity of spices while the careful patience of the winemaker has suffused the oh-so-finely tuned tannins with mellow notes of tobacco, leather and vanilla.

In the spirit of conviviality, generosity and warmth, the red wines of Rioja must rank among the finest choices for the Christmas table.

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