Rioja Reserva Blanco 2008, Capellania, Marques de Murrieta, (£19.95, Berry Bros. Rudd). 

Cune’s Barrel Fermented Rioja Blanco 2013, (£10.49, Waitrose).

DON’T BLANK OUT WHITE RI-OK-A.

 

A few years ago (!!) a friend of mine popped into a Victoria Wine shop (anybody remember them?) for a bottle of white Rioja. The shop assistant looked at him haughtily over his glasses and announced, “Rioja’s red sir”. My friend protested but he’d have none of it; he’d obviously never heard of white Rioja. ‘Pity, it’s a wine well worth searching out; I recently cracked open a bottle of Rioja Reserva Blanco 2008, Capellania, from Marques de Murrieta, (£19.95, Berry Bros. Rudd). Expensive but wonderful!

In support of the hapless assistant, when you mention ‘Ri-oka’ a soft fruity, friendly oak-touched red comes to mind not a toasty citrus white. Until now that is …. so don’t blank out white Rioja.

White Rioja, just like red, comes from northern Spain where the region is divided into three districts, namely La Rioja Alta, La Rioja Alavesa and La Rioja Baja. The Capellania 2008 Blanco comes from Viura grapes grown in Marques de Murrieta’s Capellania vineyard, a 50 year old plot located at the highest altitude of their 300-hectare Ygay Estate in La Rioja Alta. Viura can be neutral and uneventful when its young but give the wine a few months in a barrel followed by time in the bottle and things change; those lazy months in cool cellars bring forth golden tones, toasty complexity and an attractive richness to Viura’s citrus flavours.

If you visit Rioja you may hear the winemakers talking about the Macabeo grape; don’t worry, that’s just another name for Viura. You may also be surprised to hear our ol’ mates Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc mentioned in conversation – that’s because in 2007 a law was passed allowing these classic varieties to be used alongside the Spanish locals of Viura, Malvasía and Garnacha Blanca in the production of white Rioja. To maintain its Spanish roots white Rioja must have at least 51 per cent of Viura in the blend. Bravo to the Riojans I say!

If you’re wondering what ‘Reserva’ means on the label it refers to the time that the wine must be aged in both barrel and bottle by law, before finding its way onto our shelves and down our necks. White Reserva Rioja has to spend a minimum of 6 months in the barrel and at least 18 months in the bottle before release. White ‘Gran Reserva’ Rioja means that the wine must spend a minimum of 6 months in the barrel and at least 4 years in total in the bodega (winery) before gracing our glass.

If the £19.95 price tag for the Capellania Reserva Blanco is daunting twist the screwcap on Cune’s Barrel Fermented Rioja 2013, (£10.49, Waitrose). The wine was fermented in American oak barrels to give a satisfying roundness and richness. Further barrel ageing, following the fermentation, for about 4 months adds complexity to the flavours and aromas of this smashing ‘blanco’.

I can already smell the barbeques smouldering under the summer sun; ‘fish’ is the ‘new steak’ this season so pour white Rioja to lift those fantastic flavours even higher.