The way a wine is made can determine its character, whether it is classic or modern, and one of the regions where these two different characteristics are very clear to see is Rioja, one of the oldest and most recognised denominations in Spain, with a long winemaking tradition dating back several centuries. Rioja classics are a reflection of this wine history and culture, and are well loved around the world for their quality and distinctive character. These wines are produced in the Rioja wine region in northern Spain (La Rioja, Navarra and the Basque Country), and are made following the area’s traditional techniques and practices, reflecting the unique identity and character of the region.
Great fine wines with the Rioja name
The truth is that although the winemaking tradition in Rioja is one of the oldest, the arrival of the railroad marked a turning point in the region’s development. Before the Denomination of Origin (DO) was established in Rioja, the Barrio de la Estación, in Haro, became the hub for making high quality wine when the trains arrived and made transportation easy. As well as that, the area, with similar characteristics to the French region of Bordeaux, became the target of the French in 1859 who, due to phylloxera and powdery mildew, were forced to leave their country to find healthy, quality vines. This is how French wineries began to buy wine in the region and then to make wine around the train station. This move taught the local winemakers to produce a new style of wine with a classic production method characterised by long aging in barrels, which has been maintained to this day. Red wines for aging, which allows them to stabilise naturally over time and gives them a slightly subdued colour, tertiary and spicy aromas, and an elegant and complex palate.
5 Rioja classics not to be missed
Choosing just 5 classic Rioja wines is difficult, because the region has a wide variety of high quality wines. However, here are 5 top wines that we highly recommend:
1. Marqués de Murrieta Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial
The flagship of Marqués de Murrieta is one of the most emblematic of Rioja. Made with Tempranillo and Mazuelo grapes, it won first place in the “Top 100 Wines of 2020” list in the prestigious Wine Spectator magazine. A complex, elegant wine with a great aging potential that is a flagship of Rioja’s expertise.
2. Muga Prado Enea Gran Reserva
Another of the most prestigious wineries in the Barrio de La Estación, in Haro, is Muga. This Gran Reserva made from Tempranillo, Garnacha, Mazuelo and Graciano, lives up to its great reputation. An elegant and complex red wine that feels like heaven.
3. Viña Tondonia Reserva
Known as the first winery in Haro and the third in La Rioja, Viña Tondonia is one of the greatest examples of the classic Rioja style. So if you want to enjoy a wine that pays tribute to the evolution of this wine region, Viña Tondonia Reserva is perfect. A classic among classics.
4. Ramón Bilbao Gran Reserva
The name of Ramón Bilbao is firmly linked to the D.O.Ca. Rioja. Their Gran Reserva, a coupage made with Tempranillo, Graciano and Garnacha varieties from an excellent vintage, is a wine with very good aging potential that is powerful, unctuous and very enveloping. A great red wine with a name and surname.
5. Cune Imperial Reserva
Although CVNE says that “a careful balance between tradition and modernity has defined the form and substance” of the winery, the truth is that wines like this one have placed it squarely in the top ranks of classic-style wineries. A wine that is only produced in exceptional vintages and has long been one of Rioja’s international ambassadors.
These are just a few examples of classic Rioja wines that you cannot miss. But there are many other high quality wines in the region that also deserve to be tasted. And as we all know, it doesn’t cost anything to learn ;)