If there's a way to celebrate the end of Dry January, this might be it. That is, with the Rioja that tops Decanter's (www.decanter.com) panel review of 2010 (red) Riojas. The big news is that it does so at a remarkable price of just £14.95 (from us).
Big Scores at Low Prices is exactly the story we find our customers want to hear about, so let us tell you more.
If you just want to buy the wine without further ado, click on any of the photos/images below.
The Bodegas Olarra Cerro Añon Gran Reserva 2010 scores 96 points in the blind-tasted panel review. In so doing, it tops the pops by a full point and is one of just two wines rated as Outstanding at 95 points or more (the other Outstanding is a £40 wine and not UK-available - this we know as we looked hard at importing it).
There are a further 34 Highly Recommendeds (ie 90 points or more): you can find full details of all those we offer - some are very fine and affordable - here on our page of the March 2019 Decanter wines.
The review confines itself to wines under the Reserva and Gran Reserva labels (plus a very few of the "luxury modern" style ... which curiously don't fare that well, although 2010 was early days for these). In so doing, it captures the upper-echelon style of Rioja that accounts for a good 25% of the UK market, but does not cover the workhorse Crianza category or the 'house wine' (if one is to to be frank) Jovens.
The variation in these four styles - as most will know - is not inherently one of quality, but, by definition, one of:
That said, it is typically the case that, for a Rioja to age well - for which, Reservas and Gran Reservas are largely designed - better quality in the vineyard and winery are almost always required. (That said, there are a few cheaper versions that just meet the criteria for the label and then fall apart spectacularly after a few years!)
It is typically held that Gran Reservas are only made in the very best years, but it is noticeable that the majority of Rioja producers have produced one every year for some years now, despite some noticeably poorer harvests.
It's the topic of harvest quality that explains why Decanter have focused on 2010. Put simply, 2010 was a brilliant Rioja vintage, whoever you ask or believe:
That's the background, the pre-amble. We could bang on about grape varieties allowed, the sub-regions of Rioja and the relative merits of French and American oak, but
Bodegas Olarra lie behind this tasting-topper. Based in Logroño, they're a relative newcomer (established in 1973) on the Rioja block. However, they've risen to major prominence, partly by dint of armfuls of awards in recent years. But their approach remains one of tradtion and mid-market appeal, continuing to espouse the classic categories of Rioja ... and not getting too far ahead of themselves to rocket numerous boutique "luxury modern" Riojas up the price scale instead. Their Y-shaped bodega is among the very top striking wineries (of many) in the region, and has attracted the moniker, The Cathedral of Rioja. You can see why...
The Cerro Añon Gran Reserva (GR) is Olarra's flagship wine. At under £15, one might expect it to cut every available corner to sneak inside the GR category. It very much doesn't, because:
There's a heap more detail on the wine's 'technicals' on the product page.
So, how does it taste for all of that? Well, we at Exel loved it in our group tasting here (see bottom photo). There's a careful balance to be struck in a good GR Rioja. It's all too easy for the extended oak ageing and subsequent time-in-bottle to fade a wine too heavily (it happens often with GRs); that is, to make it too 'tawny' (if you will). It's also too easy to bring too much oak to bear and to up up with an Oak Monster, or to leave it just a bit short of oak, leaving the wine feeling too 'full-on fruity' and unbalanced.
We strongly felt the balance was excellent here; this didn't feel like a wine with 8+ years already on the clock, and had instant drinking appeal (we respectfully disagree with Decanter's view that this needs a little more time before drinking, but that entirely depends on just how you like your aged Rioja and what you expect from it. NB: We took the time to give our bottle of the GR some 4-5 hours in a good, large-surface decanter (see bottom photo) at a good room temperature, and felt that the wine was open and fully expressive already. Whether each of the 70 bottles tested by Decanter gets such love, we know not.
We'd entirely agree with Decanter, of course, that it easily has 10 years (and then some) of prime drinking window ahead of it (from now).
There's oodles of all those classic 'ageing flavours' swirling around: tobacco, leather, boxwood, bacon ... all draped across a base palate that is unusually black fruit-ish for a Rioja (but still predominantly red fruit).
What (pleasantly) surprised us most were both the sheer silkiness/'smoothness' (a term we try to avoid), and a finish that was still with us at tea-time.
Decanter's 96 points was accompanied by a myriad of positive remarks from the three judges (see review above): "refreshing and well balanced", "seductive and wonderfully approachable", "very long and memorable", "vibrant and gorgeously rich".
We've probably said all we need to, haven't we? If nothing above convinces you of just how good this daftly-well-priced, ageworthy Rioja is - from the best vintage in decades - we're not sure anything will.
All Hard Sell put aside, we'd always suggest buying plenty of a wine that looks this good when you see it - these wines often see their stocks vanish very fast after a Decanter review like this. Oh, how many times we speak to returning customers a little distressed that they didn't buy a bit more...
If you are wading in for a fair chunk and want to qualify for free carriage (£200 order value), here's two key thoughts we might offer:
The Reserva is a very fine specimen, and we struggle to find Reservas of this quality for the wonderful £12.50 price tag. That 2015 vintage (in Rioja generally) sees big scores from the critics (see those vintage chart links above). It's got some top vanilla, heaps of fruit, great balance and is most appealling, especially at the price.
But that Crianza, in particular, is Fantastic (capital F fully intended). Of the team here, most actually preferred it to the "main event". Yes, really. It's a different style, of course - more fruit-forward, immediate and crunchy. We're quite sure that this is a top-scoring Crianza (alas, it escaped the remit of this test) and one that will age incredibly well for a Crianza (5-7 years from here). At (exactly) a tenner a bottle, seriously, don't miss this one.