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Winner Details

Spain: Rioja 

2014: Gold 7 Silver 19 Bronze 8 Commended 11
2013: Gold 6 Silver 8 Bronze 11 Commended N/A
Must-list status: 90%
Overall SWA performance 2014: B+

Rioja, it seems, is on a bit of a roll. After a sketchy run in the late noughties, where medal counts varied wildly from one year to the next, this is the third consecutive SWA where the region has delivered a hatful of Gold-Listed wines. It’s done it, moreover, in a wide variety of styles and across the price points – proof of a category in the rudest of health.

From reds at a smidge over house wine price to superlative single-vineyard expressions; from cheery sin-crianzas to more intellectual, yet still approachable reservas, it had the lot. This year we even had two good (and different) white Golds, and across the flights the feedback was almost universally positive.

The region’s success could be put down to one word: drinkability. Indeed, the Traditional versus Modern debate was less important this year than whether a wine had easy-going charm, in whatever style the winery chose to make it. Whether bright, red and modern or spicy, browner and more leathery, the good wines all allowed some of Tempranillo’s natural sweetness to come through.

Often our tasters felt that the simplest (cheapest) wines did this the best, and that once wineries tried to turn up the ambition they lost control of the softness that makes the wines so great in the first place.

Wines that were still a little young or tight tended not to be rewarded. This, very definitely, is an appellation whose wines – whether joven or reserva – need to be drinking NOW! Not that this necessarily means ‘simple’ – as wines like the poetically beautiful Valenciso proved.

‘You need something typical, definitely juicy and approachable, with cherry and vanilla oak, an appealing and consistent wine,’ explained The Arts Club’s Athila Roos. ‘There is room for different styles, but you have to get this right first.’


From the Tasting Teams

‘These whites are very good for food matching as long as they have that savoury style. If it’s more vanilla or too creamy, it’s more difficult.’ Xabier Alvarez, Trangallán

‘The best and best value wines were at the cheaper end; easy-drinking, simple wines, which showed fruit.’ Athila Roos, The Arts Club

‘In terms of customer perception, people expect approachable wines from Rioja, and especially with Joven wines, this is the style that still continues to deliver.’ Richard Howard, Blakeney Hotel

‘Gran reserva is not something that you need on the list. If you sell some volume of Rioja, you can find something that’s a little more edgy.’ Stefano Marro, Caravaggio Restaurant

‘The quality showed today. The £5 to £6 wines could provide change from £30, so a great money earner for the restaurant and also a great buy for the customer.’
Roger Jones, The Harrow at Little Bedwyn