It’s Rioja, but not as we know it: Why winemakers are dialling back on the oak ageing

John Wilson: Producers in the region want to make wines that show off the fruit produced in specific vineyards or villages

We all know Rioja, or at least we think we do. Rioja Reserva has always been one of our favourite wines and sales show no sign of slowing down. The lengthy ageing in oak produces a smoother, more rounded wine often laden with vanilla spice.

But the process can also deaden any terroir or character the wine may derive from the individual vineyards it came from. Many larger producers buy grapes or wine from all over the region, producing consistent wines, but they can lack real interest.

In recent years, a growing band of producers have dialled back on the oak or excluded it completely. Their aim is to make wines that show off the fruit produced in specific vineyards or villages. The wines, while different to traditional Rioja Reserva, can be spectacularly good, with a wonderful purity of fruit.

Bodega Lanzaga in Rioja was bought by Telmo Rodríguez and Pablo Eguzkiza in 1998. The two are among the greatest and most influential Spanish winemakers. Bideona was set up in 2018 by a few individuals who wanted to express the different meso-climates and soils of Rioja. They cultivate more than 300 vineyard plots - some their own, others rented.


The Navarra region is next door to Rioja and traditionally made wine in a similar style. The wine featured here is a stunning example of how good more modern wine can be.

In addition to the featured wines, Searsons in Monkstown ( has several excellent modern Riojas from Bodegas Bhilar including the Garnacha (€15.95) and Graciano (€19.95), as well as a stunning white Rioja (€39.95).

As with traditional Rioja, all of the wines featured here would go well with lamb, either grilled or roasted. I have included the least expensive wine from each producer and all offer great value for money. However, each producer’s more expensive wines are worth buying for a treat.

El Circulo Rioja 2019, Pagos del Rey

13%, €8.48 (down from €10.60)

Lively, supple, dark cherry fruits with a leafy edge.

From: Dunnes Stores

Bodega Bideona Rioja Laderas 2019

14.3%, €18.95-€20

Medium-bodied, rich in red cherry fruits with earthy tobacco notes and a refreshing acidity. Wonderful wine.

From: Widely available from independents including Ely, Maynooth; Brindle, D8; Lilac Wines, D3; Pinto Wines, D9; Bradley’s, Cork; Morton’s, Galway; Clontarf Wines; Thyme Out, Dalkey; Martin’s, D3.

Corriente Rioja 2020, Bodega Lanzaga

14%, €21

Medium-bodied with dark forest fruits and subtle spice.

From: Pinot Wines D9; Lilith, D7.

Birak 2021, Navarra Aseginolaza & Luenda

13.5%, €22

Delightful, fresh and elegant with pure red cherries and orange peel.

From: Green Man Wines, D6W; Baggot Street Wines, D4.