Rioja really is one of the fundamental wines that any new explorer must taste. It’s an explosion of flavour, with a depth that anyone who’s only dabbled in light reds will blow their top at, and a perfect accompaniment to the hearty stews and roasts that autumn rushes in. If I’m in Spain, my limited Spanish brain sees Rioja and immediately orders it, whether white or red.
The prevalence, and utility, of Rioja can leave the sister blend of Spain in the shadows. The Grenache and Tempranillo blended beauty has captured the attention of the old world, meaning that it’s concentrated neighbour can often be overlooked. I had certainly never seen it on a wine bar menu prior to being bought a bottle a few weeks ago. Is it just not the Priorat season? Ever since I learned about the “other Spanish red” in WSET classes, I’ve been eager to try it. Not just for the experience, but because the variety is grown around Catalunya – the home of Barcelona, one of my very favourite cities.
Fortunately, I was given a bottle of Priorat for a gift. Along with the corkscrew from my former deskmates (the engraving stands for “don’t let the bastards grind you down”… a motto for life as expounded by Brian Blessed). The Mas La Mola 2014 (Marks and Spencer, £19.99 in their wine festival) Priorat is a great introduction to the style. Still garnacha dominated, but with a definite raspberry-flavoured syrah tint, this is like a stylish southern French red. Medium ruby, with the floral fragrance of violets and the power of blackberries, blueberries, and cherries, this is a seriously delicious wine. One for savouring over a stew, or opening when it’s just a little too cold to go outside on a Friday evening. The spice that emanates from the glass is warming, almost Christmassy – cinnamon, cumin, and the French oak ageing is clear. Vanilla and smoke, even a little salt is clear when tasting.
This is a wine to enjoy in these last summer days. When the chill is just enough to slip a jumper on in the living room, and the evening sets in from 8pm. Keep the rosé for the Indian summer, and relish the opportunity to crack open this kind of powerful, soft red as the September nights slowly draw in.