Revisting Rioja - Jon Un-Corked

Revisting Rioja - Jon Un-Corked

Revisiting Rioja - Jon Un-Corked


Rioja wine month...

Did you know that October is a month-long celebration of Rioja? It is a month when retailers and restaurants nationwide shine a light on Spain's most famous wine region. That makes it a perfect opportunity for Jon to revisit his travels to the region and recommend some of his favourite wines from this part of Spain. On to Jon un-corked...


Starting young...

The first winery that I ever visited was Bodegas Federico Paternina in Rioja – I think that I was about 9 at the time! My father was calling in en route to our holiday destination to collect something for the late David Scatchard who was their UK agent at the time. On being asked whether he would like to look around the Bodega, he explained that he had his wife and 4 children waiting in the car! Not a problem - everyone was welcome! We had a full tour of the Bodega complete with tasting, where even us, the children were encouraged to get involved. We were then treated to lunch in the cellars, all of which really captured the imagination of a 9-year-old boy and left a lasting impression.


Returning to Rioja...

Since then, I have been lucky enough to have returned to this, one of my favourite wine regions on many occasions and have always found the welcome and hospitality to be as warm as on my first visit. Rioja is undoubtedly Spain’s most important wine-growing region commercially speaking and is increasingly important from a wine tourism perspective too. The ‘local’ airport (Vitoria) has no direct flights from/to the UK but there are plenty to Bilbao which is only an hour and a half drive away, besides, who wouldn’t want to spend some time exploring the delights of Bilbao?


The three sub-zones...

As a region, Rioja is split into three sub-zones: Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Oriental: Alta is the most Westerly, has the largest vineyard area & is arguably the most prestigious being home to the likes of Lopez de Heredia, Marqués de Murrieta, La Rioja Alta, Muga and many other venerable old Bodegas. The main city here is Logroño with the old town a ‘must see’ for visitors, although many would argue that Haro, 40km to the north-west is the ‘spiritual’ capital of the region.


Alavesa is the Basque section of Rioja, it is the smallest of the three zones and is to the North of the Ebro River which dissects the region. Alavesa reds have historically been Tempranillo dominated with a reputation for being more elegant than those produced south of the river! The delightful 12th Century town of Laguardia is the hub of wine production in the Alavesa and is well worth a detour! Rioja Oriental is the Easternmost zone and was known as the Rioja Baja until it was ‘rebranded’ in 2018.


Historically, the vineyards here were regarded as inferior on account of a more Mediterranean climate and lower altitude, but useful for blending especially in lighter vintages for Alta & Alavesa. These days, it is forging a reputation in its own right with some well-made, characterful wines being produced


Rioja wines at EWGA...

Here at EWGA Wines, we are big fans of Rioja; the people, the region and the gastronomy but particularly the wine! We currently import from several Bodegas based in different parts of the region.


Eguren Ugarte - Laguardia

Eguren Ugarte

This is a medium-sized, family-owned Bodega established in 1870. The main man here is Vitorino Ugarte, who despite being well into his eighties continues not only to run the Bodega but also to innovate. He planned & oversaw the move to their spectacular Bodega in the foothills of the Sierra Cantabria some 30 years ago. They have 130ha of vineyards all in the Rioja Alavesa. 


Vallemayor - Fuenmayor


Family-owned Bodega in Fuenmayor in the Rioja Alta is run by the extremely affable Rafa Pérez-Foncea alongside his cousin Pablo. The family has a winemaking heritage going back to the 19th Century, but it wasn’t until as recently as 1984 that they started to bottle their own wine. They own 70ha of well-situated, mature vineyards across 7 separate locations, with a further 60ha on long-term contracts.


Marques de Murrieta - Logrono


Murrieta is a veritable Rioja Royalty! The Estate carries a royal title making the present incumbent, Vicente Dalmau Cebrián-Sagarriga, the Count of Creixel! It is one of the oldest Estates in Rioja, established in 1852 and undoubtedly one of the finest. It is notable for only producing Reserva and Gran Reserva wines and is credited with reinventing the style of Rioja following the influx of Bordelaise looking to ‘escape’ from Phylloxera. The quality here is beyond reproach and the attention to detail is fanatical.


Rioja Santiago - Haro


Although somewhat under the radar, Rioja Santiago, named in honour of those taking the pilgrim’s trail to Santiago di Compostella, is actually the oldest Bodega in Haro, established back in 1870. It was purchased in 2019 by Bodegas la Rioja Alta, its more illustrious neighbour in Haro’s fabled Barrio de la Estacion (station district). We are still waiting to see exactly what plans unfold under the new management, with the style here historically being traditional with an 80/20 Tempranillo / Garnacha blend aged in seasoned American oak the norm, although the newly listed Segundo Año is an interesting departure…


Marques de Carrion - Haro & Labastida

Marques de Carrion

The Rioja arm of the fruit juice behemoth Garcia-Carrión, a 13 000 metres squared winery in the Basque town of Labastida was acquired in 2006 followed by a larger facility in Haro, Rioja Alta 10 years later which has a modest 9ha vineyard. The wines made here are at the ‘cheap & cheerful’ end of the spectrum with most of the fruit bought in, but they stack up very well. Tempranillo dominated they blend grapes from different areas to offer authentic Rioja style at very reasonable prices.


Reserva de la Tierra - Rincon de Soto

Reserva de la Tierra Rincon de Soto

Although Reserva de la Tierra is based in Catalunya, their Luxus ONE range also encompasses some of Spain’s most prestigious DOCas from other regions. The vineyard for their Rioja is in the increasingly fashionable Rioja Oriental (known as Rioja Baja ‘til 2018) which has 220ha given to Tempranillo as well as a plot of very old, bush vine Garnacha.


Bodegas Riojanas - Cenicero

Bodegas Riojanas

Bodegas Riojanas farms over 100 hectares around the town of Cenicero and is one of the oldest Rioja Houses formed in 1890. Throughout its 100-year history, winemaking techniques have evolved because Bodegas Riojanas combine the local winemaking tradition with state-of-the-art winemaking techniques. Innovation goes hand in hand with respect for tradition. Therefore they have incorporated the most advanced winemaking techniques that allow for adaptation to current market trends.


And now onto the wines...

We have several dozen wines from the aforementioned Riojan producers, so below are a couple that Jon thought are worth a mention this month...


Rioja Santiago ‘Segundo Año’ Tinto

This oak-aged Tempranillo represents something of a departure in so far as it is aged for at least two years, as would be a Crianza but the proportions in barrel and bottle will vary depending on the properties of the vintage allowing for the fruit to shine through in lighter vintages. A delightfully accessible, medium-bodied wine with red berry aromas and gentle tannins.

Santiago Segundo Ano



Eguren Ugarte Rioja Rosé di Vin

Although regarded as red wine territory, Rioja produces some excellent whites and rosés as well. This is a new listing from a 6th generation, family-owned Bodega just outside Laguardia that is barrel fermented and matured which is unusual for rosado. It works extremely well however being softer and more creamy-textured than the norm whilst still retaining alluring wild strawberry aromas – unfortunately, availability is limited.

Eguren Ugarte Rose di Vin



Eguren Ugarte Rioja Blanco

The vast majority of unoaked white Rioja is made from Viura sometimes with a little Malvasia blended in creating fresh, clean, neutral dry whites that I find inoffensive, but a bit ‘meh’ TBH! This one, however, is a blend of 5 different varieties and is an excellent example of ‘greater than the sum of its parts! Fresh, fruity and vibrant with citrus and floral notes on the nose with a deliciously crisp, refreshing and fruit-driven dry palate.

Eguren Ugarte Blanco side



Marqués de Murrieta Rioja Tinto Reserva

Taking things up a notch or three, Murrieta is one of the most highly regarded wineries in Spain, with attention to detail here fanatical! Their 300-ha Ygay Estate just outside Logroño provides all of their grapes – nothing is bought in. This is 80% Tempranillo & 12% Graciano with a little Mazuelo & Garnacha aged 18 months in mostly new American oak Barriques. Elegant & poised but quite full-bodied with a rich palate balancing ripe fruit with a savoury edge with good acidity & polished tannins.

Marques de Murrieta Tinto Reserve



If you are interested in any of the aforementioned wines or would like to list any of our Riojans wines, simply email or give us a call on 01524 737 100.


want to discuss your wine requirements get in touch