Think Rioja only produces red wine? Think again

Unusual wines from Rioja, Spain
From viura to mazuelo, there are plenty of Rioja outriders to discover

Picture a glorious glass of wine from the Rioja region of Spain - go on, close your eyes and conjure up its appearance and flavour in your mind. It’s red isn’t it? And rich? And probably oaky, red-berry scented and mellow (imaginary plate of roast lamb optional…)

That’s not a wrong impression of Rioja at all - it’s just the very limited one that most people have. Rioja does indeed major on barrel-aged reds, ripe and soft, mainly made from its wonderful, strawberryish tempranillo grape, but I went to a Rioja tasting recently which highlighted other styles of wine now emerging from the region. 

The modern whites (yes, whites) were especially impressive, some youthful, unoaked and fruity, appealing to those who have discovered other refreshing Spanish blancos like albarino and verdejo.

Other whites had an admirably subtle wood character - just a dab of vanilla and seasoning of sandalwood - rounded but fresher than the super-oaky, sawdusty white Riojas of the past. Match the crisper style with seafood and salads; the lightly oaked ones with smoked fish or chicken.

Then there were the unusual reds. The flavour of Rioja made from the graciano grape is intriguing, delivering pepper and liquorice, black wine gums and a distinctly salty edge. With other reds made from mazuelo (see below), and the very obscure maturana tinto, it looks like there are plenty of Rioja outriders to discover in 2016.

Try these

Solar Viejo Blanco 2014, Rioja, Spain (, £6.99)

Rioja’s own viura grape brings fresh, crisp zip here while the rare addition of 40% chardonnay adds some richness, and the whole has a gingery orange note. Nicely done. 

Vina Real Rioja Blanco 2014, CVNE, Spain (Majestic, £9.29 or £6.97 as part of a mixed six until 1 February)

Here’s a lesson in well-judged, subtle oak character, a little spice and vanilla coming through on the finish. Could take on smoked fish on Burns Night...

Beronia Colleccion Mazuelo Reserva 2008, Rioja, Spain (, £14.80)

Mazuelo is the same grape as carignan and can taste tough, but this is aromatic, inviting and mellow, richly coloured and big enough for a peppered steak.