JWL Issue #027: An Intro to Rioja

November 6, 2018

I’ve redone my website. Go check it out and let me know what you think.

East London has long held a spotlight for its wine bars, but South-East London is making headway as well.

Diogenes The Dog opened in Elephant & Castle on Sunday. There’s a strong wine list from some lesser known regions including the Czech Republic and Poland. Good Neighbour in Camberwell is starting to do some higher value bottles by the glass thanks to its new Coravin.

Brixton’s Salon opened its second site last Wednesday, this time in Peckham. Levan is named after DJ Larry Levan, who is one of my all-time favourite DJs & was resident at New York’s Paradise. This is definitely a restaurant-first, but a lot of attention has been placed on the wine list.

It won’t be long till we have our own little wine trail.

Finally, I was honoured this week to discover @freshcutgardenhose chose one of my tasting notes for an illustration. 

What have you been drinking this week?


Hibernal 17 is a Polish white made by Winnica Turnau. Hibernal is a grape I’d not come across before, but its cloned in one half from riesling. This is a greatly aromatic wine with a strong citrusy backbone. It reminded me a little of chenin blanc.

Idoia is an xarel-lo, garnacha blanca and chardonnay blend from Catalunya in Spain. Xarel-lo is one of the three principal grapes in Cava. Here it produces a wonderfully round wine that brings in some white flower and stone fruit aromas. Lovely wine. Both available from Diogenes. 

Staying in Spain, Ontanon Vetiver is a white Rioja that’s great value. Tropical fruits mix with something smoky here to produce a really nicely rounded white. It’s £10.99 at Kwoff, which is a bargain.


An Intro to Rioja

Rioja is one of the world’s most recognisable regions for wines. But as with every region there’s a handful of things to get to grips with. There’s four classifications of Rioja are defined by minimum ageing: 

  • 'Joven’ spends less than a year in oak
  • 'Crianza’ spends at least one year in oak, and another in bottle 
  • 'Reserva’ spends at least one year in oak, and two in bottle
  • 'Gran reserva’ spends at least two years in oak, and three in the bottle 

There’s three subregions within Rioja to look out for, which are often blended together to make a Rioja:

  • Rioja Alta - these have bright fruit and are lighter 
  • Rioja Alavesa - these are fuller bodied with a higher acidity 
  • Rioja Baja - has a Mediterranean climate, which means wines can be far higher in alcohol, and are often used as part of blends 

And finally, the main grape you get is tempranillo, with garnacha as a close second. While white Riojas are rarer, they do exist with macabeo, malvasia and garnacha blanca as the main white varieties.


Chewy Tannins

Chewy is actually quite literal, it means the tannins in red wine feel like you need to physically chew them in your mouth. Chewy can be good and bad. If on its own, it’s usually a positive, but if in combination with words like 'harsh’ then steer clear.

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