Oaky, fruity, approachable, but ultimately forgettable… If that’s your take on rioja (and you would be forgiven), it’s time to revisit Spain’s best known wine region. A new generation of winemakers is rewriting the recipe book, and the results are really exciting.

Much of the action is centred on Rioja Alavesa – a hilly terrain where cooler climes and limestone-rich soils promote wines with freshness and definition. Here, innovators are turning their back on the style that brought rioja commercial success – big-volume, heavily oaked wines blended from grapes grown across the region and classified primarily by time spent in barrel – in favour of a more transparent style that showcases the character of different villages, vineyards and plots.

“For us, the ‘new style’ is a case of returning to the very old style – one we believe existed before the commercialisation of rioja in the 19th century,” says Pablo Eguzkiza, co-founder of trailblazers Bodega Lanzaga. “That means speaking less about the winery and more about the place [where the grapes are grown].”

Vines at the trailblazing Bodega Lanzaga
Vines at the trailblazing Bodega Lanzaga

Eguzkiza and co-founder Telmo Rodríguez spent 20 years restoring vineyards around the towns of Lanciego and Labastida – they now make a range of single-village and single-vineyard wines. Their signature is Lanzaga (£28, thesourcingtable.com) – a field blend of Tempranillo, Graciano and Garnacha from Lanciego with supple cherry fruit, fine tannins and a hint of mineral crunch. “We want to make wine that’s more salvaje [wild],” says Eguzkiza.

Rodríguez has also been re-nosing his family’s Remelluri estate. The aromatic Remelluri Granja Gran Reserva 2013 (£65, thesourcingtable.com) – which Eguzkiza calls “their Barolo” – is a fine example of rioja with age.

Finca de los Locos 2018, £25.68, Justerini & Brooks

Lanzaga, £18, thesourcingtable.com

Lalomba Finca Ladero 2016, £110, greatwine.co.uk

Rioja Orben, £28.95, slurp.co.uk

Bodegas Artuke is also causing a stir. Run by brothers Kike and Arturo de Miguel (founder members of Spain’s “New Wave” collective Futuro Viñador), this winemaking family goes where others fear to tread. Artuke’s Finca de los Locos 2018 (£25.68, Justerini & Brooks) is named for their grandfather, who had the foresight to plant in this “crazy” terrain in the 1950s. Their light touch results in beautifully turned, highly individual single-vineyard wines.

At the foot of the Cantabrian mountains lies Bodegas Izadi, the co-owner with 50 of Spain’s top restaurateurs of Rioja Orben, a classy single-estate rioja (£28.95, slurp.co.uk). Made from 60- to 70-year-old Tempranillo vines, this modern interpretation marries vivid cherry and cassis notes with an appetising whiff of smoke.

Lalomba is a new single-vineyard range from Ramon Bilbao – wines include the plush Lalomba Finca Ladero 2016 (£110, greatwine.co.uk). And the single-vineyard trend isn’t confined to reds: Bodegas Valdemar just launched Rioja’s first viñedo singular sparkling wine, Finca Alto Cantabria Gran Añada. Rioja’s revolution has just begun...

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