Fiona Beckett recommends:
How can you tell if a rioja is one of those full-on fruity numbers or a more mellow affair? I was sitting next to a guy at a BYO supper club the other day. He opened his bottle of rioja, took a sip, pulled a face and said, “That’s far too fruity.” I had every sympathy – it’s hard these days to know quite what to expect from rioja.
The best clue is the way the bottle looks and feels. A heavy bottle with a contemporary label and recent vintage generally indicates a modern style. A more old-fashioned script and gold-wire-mesh cover? That’s probably more traditional. There are exceptions, such as the incredibly lush Bodegas Palacio Glorioso Crianza 2008, 13.5% abv(SP7271), which you feel from the label could swing either way, but in this vintage at least is definitely in the super-fruity camp. (If you prefer more restraint, go for the 13% abv 2007 (SP6751) or the Wine Society’s own-label Rioja Crianza 2007 – 13.5% abv – which is made by the same bodega (SP7111).
Reservas can vary hugely in age and price, too. The beautifully poised, elegant Contino Reserva 2007, 14% abv (SP6331) outstrips the cost of many gran reservas, but is totally worth the money if you’re a rioja fan (2007 in general is a good vintage to look out for, without the over-ripeness that sometimes accompanies vintages from hotter years).