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Thursday 12 November 2020

CUNE Imperial Rioja Reserva - The Co-op

A classy Rioja from The Co-op

Rioja's character comes largely from aging in oak, a technique learned by the Spanish from the winemakers of Bordeaux in the nineteenth century. It is traditionally aged in new American oak, which gives it a pronounced flavour of sweet vanilla (as compared to other oaks, such as French or Slavonian).

In general, aging a wine in new oak adds spice, complexity and softness and Rioja is classified according to the amount of time it spends in oak:

- Crianza (minimum of one year in oak, and one in bottle)
- Reserva (minimum of one year in oak and two years in bottle)
- Gran Reserva (minimum of two years in oak and three years in bottle)

Rioja was historically Spain's greatest, perhaps only, fine red-wine region; these days, with investment and better techniques, plenty of other parts of Spain make good-to-great wine. Perhaps in response to this, there are now two distinct styles of red Rioja - the traditional, long-aged, American-oak approach and a fresher, more-modern style with younger, fruitier wines.

The main grape of Rioja is Tempranillo; however, most Rioja is a blend and likely to include a proportion of Garnacha, Graciano and / or Mazuelo (all these grapes have various other names).

The main characteristics of a traditional-style Rioja are ripe, brambly fruit, oaky spice, fresh acidity and mellowness. Good Rioja will age and improve as long as an equivalent Bordeaux, but will often be more approachable earlier in its evolution.

CVNE (say "coo-nay") is a family-owned winemaker dating back to 1879; the name is an acronym of Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España and their wines give about as good an introduction to Rioja as you could wish for.

The traditional food match for Rioja is roast lamb (even better if it is with rosemary and garlic), but most red meats will work. 

CVNE Imperial Rioja Reserva 2015 (£19.75, The Co-op) an excellent Rioja from a top ("Muy Buena") year; it is made only in good years and only from the oldest vineyards. At under five years old, it is just ready for drinking (with some aeration - put it in the decanter and give the glass some swirls) and will continue improve further with age; the concentration, structure and underpinnings are excellent.

You could buy a couple of cases of this, drink one a year and the last bottle would still be in good shape as long as you store them well.

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