3 Rioja Wine Trends In 2017

A recent Rioja tasting I attended touched on trends from this well-known winemaking region from northern Spain.

The tasting took place at Yankee Wine & Spirits in Newtown, CT. This shop excels at consumer events that go beyond “liquid to lips.” Led by Juan Carlos Rodriguez, national sales director for Grupo Bodegas Olarra, and the store’s own wine pro, Brian Hutcheson, the tasting was also a thorough Rioja lesson. Attendees received discounted prices on wines we sampled, along with a bottle as part of the $20 admission price. Altogether that’s effective in-store marketing.

Here were three takeaways:

1) Don’t Discount Tempranillo Blanco

Most people know Tempranillo as a red. In the late ’80s, some vines of this varietal mutated to produce white grapes (pictured at left). This new mutation received approval in 2007 for use in Rioja DOC wines.

Still, few Tempranillo Blancos are in the market. Production remains low, though this unusual white is worth checking out. Rodriguez poured Senorio de Ondarre Tempranillo Blanco 2015 Rioja (SRP: $11). Floral aromatics led to bright crisp fruit flavors before a light yeasty finish. A clean, easy-drinking wine.

2) Crianza (And Rioja) Is Value

Ondarre Creator 2012 Rioja

Want to point a consumer towards Spanish wine? Rioja’s Crianzas — which spend at least one year in oak followed by several months in-bottle — are a good place to start for their excellent value.

Typically these are wines meant for Reserva that do not make the final cut. They are removed earlier from oak. Which is not to say that Crianza is the equivalent of shopping for discounted clothing. Although not as rich or refined as Reserva, Crianzas boast modestly concentrated flavors, and enough power and complexity to compliment red meat. That can be said of the Cerro Añon Crianza 2013 ($14.99) poured by Rodriguez.

Rioja in general represents great value. While its wines can rival those of famous regions from California, France and Italy (especially in ageability), Rioja lacks their press, and so its prices are a comparative fraction. Savvy-drinkers take advantage.

3) Rioja Is Releasing More Pre-Reserva Bottles

A Rioja Reserve requires three years of aging (minimum one in oak). But wine-thirsty consumers have become less willing to wait. So explained Rodriguez, as he poured Ondarre Creator 2012 Rioja ($15.99), which was juice intended for a Reserva released several years early.

Surprisingly, Rodriguez explained that it was not Americans behind this new trend. U.S. consumers have reputations as wine drinkers who prefer opening bottles immediately, rather than aging. But Rodriguez believed that may be changing as “Americans are becoming more traditional in their palates, while Europeans are becoming more modern.”

To that point: Switzerland is the source of demand for younger Rioja, according to Rodriguez. Though that also means more pre-Reserva wines will likely end up in the American market: again, representing value in Rioja for consumers.

Kyle Swartz is managing editor of Beverage Dynamics magazine. Reach him at kswartz@epgmediallc.com or on twitter @kswartzz. Read his piece 7 Wine Trends To Watch In 2017.

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