Drinkers often think of Rioja as a winter warmer, so they often forget about it when it comes to summer. It tends to have moderate alcohol levels, while its younger drinking Crianza has light structure with strawberry and summer fruit flavours ideal for barbecue and buffet foods, such as simply cooked white meats and salads.
Fashionable albariño from the Rias Biaxas region is the perfect fish wine. And almost every region produces rosé, generally in dry style, and perfect for drinkers who don’t fancy white but find red a tad heavy when the weather gets warm.
Oaked white Rioja goes well with roast and barbequed meats but makers nowadays are increasingly offering unoaked styles that are good with white fish, salmon and cold antipasti. And if no amount of sunshine can put you off red, regions such as Jumilla and Valdepenas can offer hearty wines which go great with char-grilled steaks and burgers. Finally decent value comes from Spain’s newest DO, Ribera del Jucar. With a Mediterranean climate and lots of high-altitude gravely sites, it looks to have lots of potential.
Here are some tasty suggestions sampled this summer. Prices approximate retail.
WHITES AND ROSES
Capellania Reserva Rioja Blanco 2004 (Gilbey €20). Oaked white with lovely white chocolate and spice notes. A special occasion wine for grilled and marinaded white meats.
Adegas Valminor Albariño 2008 (Mackenway €18). This won a NOffLA Gold Star for 2006 and has garnered lots of Parker points. If you’re a fan of Spanish albarino you’ll love this full on style.
Marques de Caceres Rioja Blanco 2008 (Cassidy €13). Rioja with screwcap and no oak ageing? What is the world coming to? An illustration of the modernist’s approach to Rioja and is a tasty alternative to all those endless sauvignon blancs the world is so in love with. There’s quite an elegant rosé also.
El Coto Rioja Blanco 2007 (Mackenway €13). Another respectable green fruit and citrus, summery style.
Gran Feudo Chardonnay 2007 (Ampersand €13). Solidly made white that’s perfect for a summer Sunday lunch; good with roast pork. There’s also a hearty rosé.
Face to Face Verdejo 2008 (Classic Drinks €10). Very attractive label, funky enough to catch the eye of younger drinkers, yet has the finesse to attract the oldies. A fresh Castillian, great as an aperitif or companion for salads.
Torres Vina Sol 2008 (Findlater €9.99). With an impressive companion red (see below), this is clean and citrussy, yet slightly floral. Great with sandwiches in the garden.
Faustino V Rioja Rosé 2007/8 (Gilbey €12). This rosé is a good alternative on a hot day, offering summer fruit flavours of decent density.
Bodegas Borsao Joven Seleccion Campo de Borja 2007 (Searson €11). Fruity, flavoursome and sound for the money.
El Coto Rioja Crianza 2005 (Mackenway €13.50). From the lightest of the oaked styles, this has a lovely traditional feel, with delicious, leather-laced soft fruits.
Principe de Viana Crianza Navarra 2005/6 (Febvre €12). Almost always some redcurranty greenness on the palate along with flavours of riper plum and blackcurrant. With good structure and balance, it’s not for lovers of burly fruit but will appeal to those who like a food wine of finesse.
Ramon Roqueta Reserva Catalunya 2003 (Tubridy Wines €13). Elegantly matured, structured red, which over delivers on price.
Marques de Ballestar Carinena Crianza 2006 (Barry Fitzwilliam €10.49). Hearty good value red from a region that can achieve ripeness without killing things with alcohol.
Casa Gualda Plus Ultra 2006 (Classic Drinks €16). From a Ribera del Jucar range new to Ireland. A blend of bobal and petit verdot, it has nicely structured dark fruit and berry flavours. There’s also an easy drinking syrah at a lower price.
Marques de Caceres Rioja Reserva 2002 (Cassidy €18). Special treat for beef, burgers, or grilled pork. The regular bottling is cheaper but the Reserva offers the best value of the range.
Portia Ribero del Duero 2004 (Gilbey €18). Hearty yet elegant with nice touches of evolution. Good with roast beef, grilled steaks and hard cheeses.
Torres Sangre de Toro 2007 (Findlater €10.40). I had a glass of this with tapas at Dublin’s Salamanca restaurant recently, and was surprised at how good it was. Perfect for that style of casual eating.
Casa de Ermita Monastrell Jumilla 2004 (Oddbins €9.99). This uses a local grape to create a nicely structured, good value wine with dark plummy fruit. Price is based on retail case sale.
Campo Viejo Reserva 2004 (Irish Distillers €12.50). As with much Rioja, the Reserva is the best value of the range. I tasted this one recently against some more expensive Riojas and it showed very well. Lovely with lamb and grills. The lighter Crianza 2006 is a few euro less and great with barbeque white meats and sea bass.