A controversial and often unpopular wine with a hidden soul… If you can find it! White Rioja suffers from a bad press and inconsistent quality but there are some gems to be found if you know what to look for.
What you need to know
White Rioja falls into 3 categories – the traditional, the new and the foot in both camps!
The traditional is not for the faint hearted, it is heavily oaked and has an often fruitless, baked character, they are often classified as ‘Reserva’ or ‘Gran Reserva’ because of the oak ageing – for me these are the ones to avoid.
The new are crisp and dry, made to reflect the popularity of zesty Sauvignon Blanc. They can be lovely and thirst quenching. Make sure you’re buying White Rioja made with 100% Viura grape, it will often be marked ‘joven’ (young) because it hasn’t been oak aged.
The foot in both camps isn’t quite that but is a newer fresher style of White Rioja, which is rich and tropical with a gentle spiciness. It is more full bodied than the new ‘joven’ style but much fruitier than the old style. The key is that it is barrel fermented, the wine is actually made in the barrels rather than aged in them which gives them a hint of oak but not too much.
The new style and the barrel fermented wines both make great food matches.
Top tip – I wouldn’t buy White Rioja in a restaurant unless I was really sure I knew what I was getting!
As I said, it's not always easy to find a good one, but this White Rioja has all the elements to make it a great wine. Smooth and creamy with luscious fruit and smooth oak.