With the vibrant fruit of the Tempranillo grape and the mysterious, smokey seduction of long barrel ageing, the red wines of Rioja are eminently suitable for seasonal dining. Alan picks three high-class contenders for the Christmas table.

Fine Rioja wines should be enjoyed slowly. After all, they have taken a great deal of time to make, the traditional methods requiring many years of patient maturation before release.

From one of Rioja’s oldest and grandest producers, Marqués de Murrieta Gran Reserva 2009  (£27.28 Amazon) is a super example of the mellow and full bodied style of Spain’s most famous wine region.

Tempranillo grapes are blended with smaller proportions of traditional Garnacha, Mazuelo and Graciano to give an intense palate rich with dark fruits and warm spices.

Still relatively youthful in Gran Reserva terms, this wine can be drunk with pleasure now or laid down to develop further.

Similarly distinguished are the wines of Bodegas Bilbainaswhose Víña Pomal is reputed to have been the favourite Rioja of Sir Winston Churchill.

The spectacular Víña Pomal Gran Reserva 2010 (£23.49 Matthew Clark) is an opportunity to taste the poetry of the exceptional 2010 vintage, regarded by winemaker Alejandro López as one of the best in almost twenty years.

The blend of 90% Tempranillo and 10% Graciano grapes is first aged for three years in oak before a further three years of maturation in the bottle.

Richly complex aromas of vanilla, spice and tobacco combine with the succulent, ripe red fruit to give a weighty experience worthy of the wine’s regional heritage.

Decanting these Gran Reservas a good hour before serving will help them to reveal their full subtlety.

Bringing a more modern twist to the Rioja style, Luis Cañas Selección De La Familia Rioja Reserva 2008 (£18.95 Hennings wine) employs an unconventional 15% Cabernet Sauvignon together with the Tempranillo.

Here, the earthy characteristics of the Cabernet grape bring a juicy depth to the red-fruited, chocolate-tinged palate with smoothly textured tannins and satisfying length.

What is striking about all these Rioja wines is the relatively modest price for the sheer quality on offer.

European classics within reach of the ordinary man? Well, certainly at Christmas, when everyone should be able to slow down for a while and give these Riojas the time they deserve.

For information on the wines of Rioja, visit uk.riojawine.com .