Rioja Masters 2015: the results
With reds, whites and rosés of endlessly varying – even contrasting – styles, Rioja’s diversity renders it ever more difficult to define. Yet as our Masters competition revealed, some classic Riojan characteristics still sing out, writes Patrick Schmitt MW.
Tempting though they are, generalisations are dangerous. And today, there are few wine regions where sweeping stylistic statements have become less applicable than Rioja. Although best known for the sweet coconut flavours that can come from extended periods in new American oak, along with the fading, leather-scented examples among the range-topping Gran Reservas, the Rioja of today comprises pretty much everything from bright, light Beaujolais-esque reds to concentrated blockbusters, at times more reminiscent of the Barossa than anything from Iberia.
As for the whites, despite a reputation for an oxidative approach, these can take on a Chablis-like quality when fruit is picked early, and handled reductively, and even the rosés are starting to appear paler, with a hue found more commonly outside Spain, above all Provence, even if Rioja is known for its darker pinks.
Such diversity was clearly apparent in this year’s Rioja Masters, where even wines from the same producers showed a wide variation in character. While the tasters looked for quality first, and were fully aware of the broad stylistic capabilities possible in this large wine region – whether that was a result of grape, source, or winemaking – they did remain mindful that this was a tasting of Rioja, rewarding most enthusiastically those examples that were both excellent and identifiably from this famous Spanish DOC.
What were they looking for? ‘Chocolate’, ‘vanilla’, ‘softness’ and most importantly, ‘racy acidity’ were descriptors most commonly cited by our experienced judging panel when asked about red Rioja’s hallmarks. And, they believed, even among the so-called ‘modern style’ of Rioja – used to denote more deeply-coloured, concentrated reds – the wines were still, for the most part, clearly, classically Spanish. Indeed, the influence of new winemaking approaches was declared beneficial for a region famous for its old-fashioned style.
“I enjoyed the tension between the two types of Rioja, the old and the new, although we didn’t taste the ultra-traditional,” commented Hugo Rose MW, a tasting panel chairman. “But as a group we had a preference towards the classic style, because of its food orientation, but we recognised the quality of the richer, and often more expensive wines.”
Agreeing, another judge, Alex Canneti, commented, “It was interesting to taste the modern versus the classic – for example, comparing Bodegas Baigorri with La Rioja Alta was exciting.” An overt oak character was certainly expected, and for some, necessary, although all the judges were looking for the integration of barrel-sourced flavours, whether these came from French or American trees.
As for the results, the whites, for one judge at least, were a “revelation”. Following the tasting, this niche area of Rioja – it represents just 10% of the region’s production – was declared an area of marked change. “The whites were astonishing, because they were really good, really drinkable,” commented Canneti, praising the bright, fruity nature of the wines, in contrast to a historic approach, where strong barrel-sourced flavours dominated, along with a heaviness that can come from oxidative handling.
That’s not to say that the strongest performers were devoid of oak, and the best whites married ripe stone fruit with a toasty barrique character. Marqués de Murrieta proved itself particularly capable at striking a pleasing balance with its Capellania, although Bodegas Baigorri was similarly excellent.
Indeed, as in previous tastings, Rioja showed its best when the oak was present. The Joven category, where youthful fruit was served up without the additional flavour and structure that comes from ageing in barriques, seemed to have less appeal, although there were exceptions: Lagunilla, for example, showed the quality potential of the Tempranillo grape without the influence of wood, as did La Bascula, which married Rioja’s flagship variety with Garnacha for its Joven.
Moving up a quality ladder, it was not until we reached Crianza that the first Golds were awarded, which went to Bodegas Riojanas for its Monte Real Crianza de Familia as well as Bodegas Baigorri for its pure Garnacha, which, because it was deemed the best wine of the flight, was upgraded to the ultimate accolade of Master. But for the best results by category, one had to look to the Reservas, where no fewer than five golds were awarded.
“This year the Reservas were spectacular,” commented Rose, with a winery like La Rioja Alta exciting palates for its combination of oak and fruit, along with palate-cleansing dry tannins and bright acidity – the sort of wine that has, over the decades, made Rioja famous.
This producer was also one of the few to gain a gold in the Gran Reserva category, the region’s top tier. Interestingly, looking back over the day’s tasting, Rose observed, “There were some Gran Reservas that were made to a price, and you could tell, and the standout wines were mostly among the Reservas.
“The price was not always a determinate of quality – we gave some higher scores to lower priced wines – and at the top end it was possible that some were trying too hard.”
Having said that, it was at the top, and traditional end of the spectrum where real greatness was observed, with some of the highest scores of the day going to aged Rioja – Gran Reservas that were 15 years and older. In particular, Faustino I Gran Reserva 1994 showed why both this producer and the region as a whole is so sought after for mature wines.
Despite being 21 years old, the wine was still fruity and lively, and continued to evolve during the course of the day, before being enjoyed to its full after the tasting was over, when the judges paired the wine with suckling pig courtesy of Hispania, our host for this year’s Rioja Masters.
Interestingly, this year, we did see good things among those entries declared Vinos de Autor. Sometimes criticised for failing to resemble Rioja, this category is notable for falling outside the region’s traditional classifications, allowing winemakers to experiment to the full.
While the tasters acknowledged that a wine such as Viña Pomal Alto de la Caseta was a very different proposition to the likes of Faustino Gran Reserva, the former was no less delicious, and in the world of ambitious reds, undoubtedly a fine wine.
So, after a day’s tasting, Rioja proved home to a diverse source of wine styles. Nevertheless, common characteristics were present, above all the imprint of oak barrels and high-acid fruit. Yes generalisations are dangerous to draw, but as one judge commented, “There is still typicity in Rioja.”
Click through for a round up of all the medals awarded.
|Felix Solis Avantis||Pagos del Rey – Castillo de Albai Viura||2014||Bronze|
|Baron de Ley||Baron de Ley White||2014||Bronze|
|Araex Rioja Alavesa||Baigorri Blanco Fermentado en Barrica||2014||Silver|
|Gomez Cruzado||Gomez Cruzado Blanco||2014||Bronze|
|Rioja Vega||Tempranillo Blanco||2014||Bronze|
|Araex Rioja Alavesa||Lar de Paula Blanco Fermentado en Barrica||2013||Bronze|
|Marqués de Murrieta||Capellania||2010||Silver|
|Viñedos Bodegas de la Marquesa||Valserrano –White Gran Reserva||2008||Silver|
|Rioja Vega||Rioja Vega Tempranillo Rosado||2014||Bronze|
|United Wineries International||Federico Paternina – Lagunilla Tempranillo||2014||Silver|
|La Bascula Wines||The Charge Tempranillo and Garnacha||2013||Silver|
|Félix Solís Avantis||Pagos del Rey – Castillo de Albai Tempranillo||2014||Bronze|
|Bodegas Alamaraz||Finca de Oro||2014||Bronze|
|Lidi UK||Cepa Lebrel Rioja Joven||2014||Bronze|
|Bodegas Casa Primicia||Carravacas de Primicia Tinto||2014||Bronze|
|Frederic Robinson||Bodegas Forcada – Vendimia Seleccionada||2012||Bronze|
|Rioja Vega||Rioja Vega Tempranillo||2014||Bronze|
|Araex Rioja Alavesa||Bodegas Montebuena Oak Aged||2013||Silver|
Red Rioja cont.
|Araex Rioja Alavesa||Baigorri Garnacha||2011||Master|
|Bodegas Faustino||Faustino Crianza||2011||Silver|
|Viñedos de Aldeanu||Azabache Crianza Vendimia Seleccionada||2013||Silver|
|Bodegas Marqués de Teran||Marqués de Terán Crianza||2010||Silver|
|Bodegas Vinedos de Aldeanueva||Gran Colina Crianza||2013||Silver|
|Frederic Robinson||Bodegas Forcada Rioja Crianza||2010||Silver|
|Araex Rioja Alavesa||Baigorri Crianza||2011||Silver|
|Araex Rioja Alavesa||Luis Cañas Crianza||2012||Silver|
|Bodegas Muriel||Truly Irresistible Viña Gala||2012||Bronze|
|Miguel Torres||Altos Ibericos Crianza||2013||Bronze|
|Marqués de Cáceres||Marqués de Cáceres Crianza||2012||Bronze|
|Félix Solís Avantis||Pagos del Rey – Castillo de Albai Crianza||2013||Bronze|
|Frederic Robinson||Bodegas Forcada Rioja Crianza||2012||Bronze|
|El Coto de Rioja||El Coto Crianza||2012||Bronze|
|Araex Rioja Alavesa||Lar de Paula Crianza||2012||Bronze|
|Bodegas Riojanas||Puerta Vieja Crianza Selection||2012||Bronze|
|Viñedos de Aldeanueva||Fincas de Azabache Crianza Garnacha||2012||Bronze|
|Rioja Vega||Rioja Vega Crianza||2012||Bronze|
|Boutinot||Ontanon Rioja Crianza||2012||Bronze|
|Bodegas Riojanas||Monte Real Crianza de Familia||2012||Gold|
|Araex Rioja Alavesa||Luis Cañas Reserva||2010||Gold|
|Viña Bujanda||Viña Bujanda Crianza||2012||Silver|
|Marqués de Cáceres||Marqués de Cáceres Excellens Cuvée Especial||2012||Silver|
|Bodegas Corral||Altos De Corral||2010||Silver|
|Rioja Vega||Rioja Vega Edicion Limitada||2012||Bronze|
|Araex Rioja Alavesa||Rolland Galarreta Rioja||2011||Bronze|
|Bodegas Muriel||Muriel Crianza||2012||Bronze|
|Hacienda Marqués de la Concordia||Marqués de la Concordia Crianza||2012||Bronze|
|Francisco Garcia Ramirez||Paco Garcia Crianza||2013||Bronze|
|Federico Paternina||Banda Azul Crianza||2013||Bronze|
|J Garcia Carrion||Marqués de Carrion Crianza||2011||Bronze|
|Finca Valpierdra||Cantos de Valpiedra||2012||Silver|
|Viñedos de Aldeanueva||Finca de Azabache – Culto||2012||Bronze|
|Bodegas Muriel||Baron Amarillo Rioja Reserva||2010||Silver|
|Lidi UK||Cepa Lebrel Rioja Reserva||2009||Silver|
|Félix Solís Avantis||Castillo de Albai Reserva||2011||Silver|
|Bodegas Muriel||Viña Eguia Reserva||2011||Silver|
|Frederic Robinson||Bodegas Forcada Rioja Reserva||2010||Bronze|
|Asda||Extra Special Marqués Del Norte Rioja Reserva||2011||Bronze|
|Baron de Ley||Reserva||2011||Gold|
|El Coto de Rioja||Coto de Imaz Reserva||2011||Silver|
|González Byass UK||Beronia Reserva||2011||Silver|
|Codorníu||Viña Pomal Reserva||2010||Silver|
|J Garcia Carrion||Pata Negra Reserva||2010||Silver|
|Bodegas Faustino||Faustino V Reseva||2009||Silver|
|Bodegas Casa Primicia||Carravacas de Primicia Reserva||2010||Silver|
|Rioja Vega||Rioja Vega Reseva||2010||Silver|
|Bodegas Corral||Don Jacobo Reserva||2009||Silver|
|Federico Paternina||Banda Rioja Reserva||2011||Bronze|
|Pernod Ricard||Campo Viejo Reserva||2010||Bronze|
|El Coto de Rioja||Coto de Imaz Reserva||2010||Bronze|
|Torre de Ona||Torre de Ona Reserva||2010||Gold|
|Marqués de Murrieta||Marqués de Murrieta Reserva||2010||Silver|
|J Garcia Carrion||Reserva||2009||Silver|
|Remirez de Ganuza||Fincas de Ganuza||2008||Bronze|
|Gomez Cruzado||Gomez Cruzado Reserva||2009||Bronze|
|La Rioja Alta||Viña Ardanza Reserva||2007||Gold|
|Bodegas Riojanas||Gran Albina Reserva||2009||Silver|
|Araex Rioja Alavesa||Baigorri Reserva||2008||Silver|
|Araex Rioja Alavesa||Baigorri de Garage||2010||Silver|
|Araex Rioja Alavesa||Clos Montebuena Reserva||2009||Bronze|
|Finca Valpierdra||Finca Valpiedra Reserva||2009||Bronze|
|Grupo Vinicola Marqués de Vargas||Reserva Privada||2010||Bronze|
|Araex Rioja Alavesa||Lar de Paula Reserva||2009||Bronze|
|Rioja Vega||Rioja Vega 130 Aniversario||2006||Bronze|
|Araex Rioja Alavesa||Amaren Tempranillo Reserva 2008||2008||Gold|
|Asda||Extra Special El Meson Gran Reserva Rioja||2005||Silver|
|Bodegas Muriel||Gran Colina Rioja Gran Reserva||2007||Silver|
|Cellar Trends||Faustino I Gran Reseva||2001||Silver|
|Codorníu||Viña Pomal Gran Reserva||2006||Gold|
|Federico Paternina||Lagunilla Gran Reserva||2007||Silver|
|Bodegas Riojanas||Viña Albina Gran Reserva||2007||Silver|
|Bodegas Riojanas||Monte Real Gran Reserva||2007||Silver|
|Pernod Ricard||Campo Viejo Gran Reserva||2009||Bronze|
|La Rioja Alta||Gran Reserva 904||2005||Gold|
|Rioja Vega||Rioja Vega Gran Reserva||2009||Silver|
|Marqués de Murrieta||Marqués de Murrieta Grand Reserva||2009||Silver|
|Viñedos y Bodegas De La Marquesa||Valserrano Gran Reserva||2008||Silver|
|El Coto de Rioja||Coto de Imaz Gran Reserva||2005||Silver|
|Araex Rioja Alavesa||Hiru 3 Racimos||2007||Silver|
|Gomez Cruzado||Gomez Cruzado Gran Reserva Magnum||2007||Silver|
Red Rioja cont..
|Gran Reserva 15 years +|
|Bodegas Faustino||Faustino I Gran Reseva||1994||Master|
|El Coto de Rioja||Coto de Imaz Gran Reserva||1995||Gold|
|Viños de Autor|
|Frederic Robinson||Alma de Forcada Rioja Garnacha Cepas Viejas||2012||Silver|
|Bodegas Muriel||JME Tempranillo||2011||Gold|
|El Coto de Rioja||Coto Real||2011||Silver|
|Miguel Torres||Altos Ibericos Parcelas de Graciano||2011||Bronze|
|Araex Rioja Alavesa||Altos R Pigeage||2010||Gold|
|Bodegas Muriel||Conde de los Andes||2013||Silver|
|Rioja Vega||Rioja Vega 9 Barricas||2011||Silver|
|Bodegas Muriel||Marqués de Elciego Edicion Limitada||2010||Bronze|
|Codorníu||Viña Pomal Alto de la Caseta||2010||Gold|
|El Coto de Rioja||Coto Real||2010||Bronze|