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‘Almost impossible’ to define Rioja anymore

Rioja’s array of different wine styles means it is now practically impossible to define the character of the region’s reds according to one Master of Wine.

Speaking during a historical tasting of Rioja wines made in Haro held in the Spanish town last Friday, Tim Atkin WW said: “It is almost impossible to define Rioja today as there are so many different styles.

“I think the idea of traditional versus modern Rioja is old hat now – we’ve moved beyond that. Producers like Cune and Muga have both styles in their ranges.”

During the tasting of 14 wines dating back to 1981, which kicked off the Haro Station Wine Experience organised by the seven wineries in the town, Atkin spoke of the need for Rioja producers to tell the terroir story.

Tim Atkin MW leads the way during his historical Rioja tasting in Haro

“Rioja needs to focus more on terroir, site specifics and grape varieties, not only the ageing process. The future of Rioja lies in its villages and Pagos. It should take more of a Burgundian and less of a Bordeaux approach. Traditional and modern styles can happily coexist in Rioja – the important thing is that they’re well made.

“For me, this was an exceptional tasting – it would be hard to find wines of a similar quality across the board in Bordeaux and Burgundy.”

The subject of oak use also came up during the tasting, with Atkin pointing out the Rioja is something of a lone star in the fine wine world for its continued use of American oak.

“One of the most interesting things about Rioja is its ability to age. There are very few fine wine regions in the world that use American oak save for Rioja and Australia’s McLaren Vale and Barossa Valley,” he said.

María Lopez de Heredia of the bodega the bears her name told the audience that “Rioja producers need to raise their prices and better control their use of oak.”

Pedro Ballesteros MW meanwhile, pointed out that a number of producers have woken up to the terroir message. “Producers in Rioja have been working for a while to promote the different terroirs of the region – these are wines with their own identity that can’t be made anywhere else in the world,” he said.

The Haro Station Wine Experience took place last Friday and Saturday bringing together Haro’s seven wineries: Lopez de Heredia, Muga, Cune, La Rioja Alta, Roda, Bodegas Bilbainas and Gomez Cruzado.

The trade event on Friday was attended by the likes of Atkin, New York Times wine writer Alice Feiring and Spanish wine expert Sarah Jane Evans MW, while the consumer day saw over 4,000 visitors descend on the seven wineries.

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