A taste of Spanish Rioja

LOCATED IN THE NORTH of the Iberian Peninsula, Rioja is one of the most wonderful wine-producing regions in Spain. The region is divided into three zones: Rioja Alta, Rioja Baja and Rioja Alavesa.

Rioja Alta is known for its ‘old world’ style of wine. The high altitude of the vineyards in Rioja Alta means that grapes have a shorter growing season, resulting in brighter fruit flavours.

Rioja Alavesa produces wines with a fuller body and more acidity. As the ground isn’t as fertile as it is in the region’s other areas, the vines are planted with large spacing between rows to create less competition for the nutrients in the soil.

Rioja Baja is the warmest and driest of the Rioja regions with temperatures reaching 35°C in the summer months. The wines produced in Rioja Baja are very deeply coloured and can often be high in alcohol content.

One of my favourite estates is the exceptional Bodegas Casa La Rad, south-east of the region’s stunning capital, Logroño, in the northern foothills of the Iberian Massif (Calle de Ocon).

The spectacular 2,000-acre estate, set in rugged terrain, features 272 acres of vineyards, 37 acres of olive trees and 1,360 acres of woodlands – with the remainder of land dedicated to growing cereals and almond trees.

The cereal crops occupy a large part of the slopes between the vines and the woods, where Pyrenean oak, rock rose, rosemary, thyme and lavender are in abundance.

At an altitude ranging from 1,740 to 2,460ft above sea level, Bodegas Casa La Rad has some pretty amazing wildlife too, with red deer, rose deer, hares, wildcats, genets, wild boar, golden eagles and short-toed eagles all often spotted at the estate.

Here’s my pick of wines to try from Bodegas Casa La Rad and one excellent olive oil they produce:

CASA LA RAD RIOJA BLANCO (£18)

A big white wine with fresh and vibrant aromas of white peach, citrus and white flowers. Elegant, well balanced with a creamy texture.

CASA LA RAD RIOJA TINTO (£18)

A stunning wine with complex aromas of black cherries, currants, black pepper, spices and a hint of vanilla. Made from Tempranillo and Grenache grapes and aged in oak for 14 months.

CASA LA RAD SOLARCE BLANCO (£12)

An attractive bright straw colour, subtle, elegant with a touch of minerality. So fresh to taste with balanced acidity.

CASA LA RAD SOLARCE TINTO (£12)

Intense cherry colour with aromatic notes of caramel, cassis and cherry, this wine has powerful balanced tannins.

CASA LA RAD SOLARCE ROSADO (£12)

Beautiful light pink in colour with wonderful aromas of apricot, peach and strawberry. So fresh in the mouth, pleasant acidity and a refreshing fruity finish.

NOT A WINE, BUT STILL EXCELLENT… ARLEQUINA EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL, 500ML (£7)

A rich, deep flavoured olive oil with a nutty aroma.

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