When to drink Rioja blanco?The white wines of Rioja are not as well-known as the reds, and so it can be difficult to know when to drink them. When it comes to the red, or tinto, wine from the region, it’s simple enough: Red Rioja is a great food wine due to its structure, mellowness and flavours of vanilla and red fruits. Young red Rioja wines with minimal aging, such as Crianza, can be enjoyed without food. Rioja Reserva takes on additional body and structure and so will compliment many dishes. The powerful woodiness of an aged Gran Reserva makes food virtually mandatory! So, where does that leave us with white Rioja? First, it helps to know what we’re talking about.
What is Rioja blanco?Wines labelled Rioja blanco is white wine from the Rioja region of Spain. The wine is usually a blend, and permitted grapes include Viura, Malvasia and Garnacha. From 2007 onwards, winemakers have also been allowed to use Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Verdejo in their white wines, though these grapes cannot account for more than 49% of any blend, either together or by themselves. Other grapes include Maturana, Tempranillo blanco and Turruntés. Rioja blanco can vary in style from young and fresh to heavier, structured and influenced by oak.
Rioja blanco to drink by itselfRioja blanco can come in different styles. The most approachable are released young with little to no oak aging, present crisp fruit flavours and are ready to drink immediately. These “joven” wines, such as Dinastía Vivanco Blanco, or Anahí from Javier San Pedro Ortega, are quite enjoyable without food, as an aperitif or just as a pleasant thirst-quencher on a hot day. These wines retain their fresh aromas from minimal to no time spent in oak, such as Monopole Blanco from Cune which has been fermented only in stainless steel tanks. Young Rioja blanco tends to be quite affordable and quite a versatile wine for everyday drinking.
Rioja blanco to enjoy with foodYou can of course enjoy younger, easy-drinking Rioja blanco with any food if you so wish. Light appetisers, fresh seafood and some simple white meats are classic accompaniments. However, Rioja blanco gets more interesting as a food wine when it spends some time aging in oak vessels. The individual varieties that make up Remelluri Blanco, for example, have spent 12 months aging in oak prior to final blending. As a result, you get a richer wine, capable of some further aging but also ready to take on richer dishes such as fish stew, creamy dishes and soups. Allende Blanco has seen 14 months in oak, leading to a robust and flavoursome wine that again will stand up to heavier dishes including meaty fish, soups and stews. Rioja blanco which has been fermented in oak barrels, such as Sierra Cantabria Otoman, is fuller in body and matches very well with richer dishes such as those mentioned above, as well as omelettes, frittatas and similar creamy egg-based dishes. Read more about Bodegas Sierra Cantabria here. Discover some more examples of great Rioja blanco here.