Over the past decades, Rioja winemaking has seen a transition from a traditional love for oak and slow oxygenation to a modern celebration of fruit purity and density. Today, both styles have their respective supporters, with some of the wineries like Bodegas Muga specializing in both. As wine lovers we love both styles. When done in balance, it is truly hard to say which is better. In this blog, we highlight some of the revered names known for crafting classic Riojas.
First thing first, let’s define classic style Rioja.
Classic style Rioja generally refers to the practice of ageing Rioja varietals – for red, that means majority Tempranillo – for an extended period in oak vessels, followed by an extended period of ageing in bottle. Traditional makers had an affinity for American oak vessels, whilst a mix of French and American oak use are becoming more popular these days. Team WWX selects a group of quintessential classic Rioja expressions for your consideration today – all coming from the Gran Reserva category. This means that these wines have seen a minimum of 60 months of ageing, of which a minimum of 24 months are in oak.
Team WWX’s pick: Bodegas Muga Prado Enea Gran Reserva
Founded in 1932, with some 70 years under its belt, Bodegas Muga is actually a relatively young winery in Rioja. A special mention goes to Prado Enea from Bodegas Muga – we are stoked to share some of the back vintages from this top quality winery based in Rioja Alta. All prices are best deals in town – stock up before they are gone!
Classic Rioja Producers that you should explore
These century-old wineries are all masters in use of oak.
Marques de Murrieta, R Lopez de Heredia, CVNE and La Rioja Alta are four authoritative references of classic Rioja style, all of them boasting a long history of operation going all the back to mid to late 1800s. All five venerable producers that were mentioned in the blog today base their headquarters in the region of Rioja Alta, the heart and historic centre of Rioja’s winemaking.
Wines from these producers often well exceed the minimum ageing requirement of Gran Reserva. Take La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904 as an example, its 2010 vintage was only recently released in 2019. So much dedication in patiently allowing the wines to mature first in four-used American oak barrels for 4 years, then another 5 years of bottle ageing before releasing to market. The result is a wine that has attained balance and maturity in the perfect, well-monitored environment of the winery; and is ready to drink upon release.
Marques de Murrieta | Founded in 1852
Marques de Murrieta is the largest single estate in Rioja. The founder Luciano Murrieta was a well-travelled military man whom had become increasingly interested in winemaking in his mid-life years. His travels to Bordeaux had brought not only winemaking techniques to the region but also the concept of “Chateau”. Today, visitors visiting Marques de Murrieta will surely not miss the majestic Castillo (Castle) Ygay, built in 1860s, sitting proudly at the heart of the surrounding 300 hectares of vineyards. The current family running the winery assumed ownership since the 1980s. Modernization was underway for the historic winery and the winemaking facilities. The classic style Rioja expression is well preserved in the Castillo Ygay line whilst the more modern interpretation of Rioja red was encapsulated by the wine Dalmau, which made debut in 1994.
R Lopez de Heredia | Founded in 1877
The time when Don Rafael Lopez de Heredia y Landeta, then a winemaking student, discovered Rioja coincided with the time when French negociants flocked to Rioja in search for source of grapes unaffected by the phylloxera crisis that has struck home in Bordeaux. The founding of R Lopez de Heredia is now well remembered by the historic bodega building, the oldest in Haro. Right next to the century-old original winery designed and constructed by the founder; the modern, next-generation looking Tondonia winery pavilion, designed by renowned architect Zaha Hadid, stands. R Lopez de Heredia is a specialist in producing ageworthy white wines – their ability to coax uniquely umami-charged savouriness from expert use of oak in their Gran Reserva white wines make for one of the most memorable wine experiences. Expect a seamless delivery of Indian spices, sesame oil, bitter almonds, vanilla and walnut in their Vina Gravonia white wines. Their Tondonia and Bosconia Gran Reservas are great revelatory wines as well.
CVNE | Founded in 1879
Two brothers founded Compañía Vinícola del Norte del España (the Northern Spanish Wine Company) in Haro in 1879. Today, the company run 4 wineries: CVNE, Imperial, Vina Real and Contino. As a young winery back then, the company had grand ambitions. Very shortly CVNE began to gain international attention as they won international awards and prizes from key European exhibitions. The most historically significant wine released by CVNE isn’t a red – but a white. The white wine Monopole, created in 1915, is now the oldest white wine brand of Spain. The historic Monopole was a rather vinous, savoury white marrying dry white Viura-based Rioja and Manzanilla sherry. Its popularity continued for about 60 years till the 1980s when the wine fell out of consumers’ favour. Since mid 2010s Monopole Clasico has seen renewed interests in this historically innovative wine!
La Rioja Alta | Founded in 1890
This bodegas came into existence as 5 Spanish families came together to found the “Sociedad Vinicola de la Rioja Alta” in Haro. The merger with Ardanza Winery about a decade after the founding of the company was to eventually contributed to the decision of confirming the winery name as La Rioja Alta. The years when these historic milestones happened were made into names of La Rioja Alta’s flagship offers. Gran Reserva 890 was to commemorate the founding year of the winery 1890. Gran Reserva 904 was a reminder of the year 1904 when the founding society merged with Ardanza Winery. Vina Ardanza Reserva is an obvious reference to the historically important winery that had made La Rioja Alta renowned and famous.