Rioja has struggled to become a mainstream wine in the USA. We currently sell about 8 million bottles there, a much lower number than our two leading European markets (after Spain) – the UK, where over 31 million bottles are sold and Germany, with almost 19 million bottles. I think the main reason is that consumers in the USA are used to identifying wines by grape varietal rather than region and Rioja doesn’t fit that mold.
It was satisfying, therefore, to read in the ‘Wines of The Times’ column of the New York Times on March 31 http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/31/dining/reviews/31wine.html?ref=dining
that Eric Asimov, the NYT’s peripatetic wine writer, has called Rioja ‘crianza’ one of the wine world’s finest values following a panel tasting of 20 brands of ‘crianza’.
Asimov has long been a fan of ‘traditional’ Riojas, especially Viña Tondonia, which he has featured several times in his column. He once again shows a strong preference for the light, silky elegant style of Rioja, which he calls “unlike wines made anywhere else in the world”.
I’ve gone on record many times in favor of this style of Rioja which has sadly fallen out of favor against the oaky ‘in your face’, 14% fruit bombs that have been made popular by the New World.
Another eminent wine blogger, Alder Yarrow, creator of Vinography, has also come out in favor of less oak in Spanish wines. In a recent interview in Snooth http://www.snooth.com/articles/the-grapevine/10-questions-for-alder-yarrow/ he was asked what wine trend he thought (or hoped) was almost over. His answer was “the winemakers of Spain abusing their beautiful wines with egregious amounts of new oak”.
I hope Asimov’s kudos and Yarrow’s remarks inspire other wineries in Rioja to return to a lighter, more balanced, elegant style which goes so well with food, even fish. I for one will continue to drink them and I hope you will, too!