Jonathan Ray Jonathan Ray

Wine Club: six moreish Riojas from Honest Grapes

Mrs Ray can’t stop humming. She loves this time of year. It might be sheeting down and there might be a massive leak in our roof which none of five different builders has managed to fix, but all she notices are the daffs in full bloom, the fluffy pink cherry blossom and her treasured magnolia bursting into life.

I suspect that Mrs R’s high spirits might have been somewhat enhanced by the dozen or so bottles of Rioja from Honest Grapes that we’ve just tasted, especially as we didn’t trouble the spittoon quite as much as we should have. But, heck, the wines were just so moreish, perfect with the marinated anchovies and roast leg of South Downs lamb we had for supper. They were almost impossible to narrow down to six.

The 2018 Sierra Cantabria Blanco (1) from the village of San Vicente de la Sonsierra in the north of Rioja is perfect springtime fare. A blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Viura, Tempranillo Blanco (no, nor me – it’s a recently discovered mutation of red Tempranillo apparently), Malvasia and Maturana, part steel-fermented and part oak-fermented, it’s gratifyingly complex for a wine so modestly priced. Surprisingly fresh and lively given its time in bottle, it’s both citrusy and creamy and was spot on with the garlicky anchovies. £9.50 down from £10.15.

These moreish Riojas from Honest Grapes were almost impossible to narrow down to six

The 2020 Celler Alimara ‘Amb Pells’ Brisat (2) is made from 100 per cent white Grenache, harvested from vineyards 400m up in Terra Alta, north-east Spain. A Vi Brisat – the Catalan term for ‘orange’ wine – it’s a white wine produced as if it was red, that’s to say fermented on its skins for some 50 days and aged on the lees in oak for six months. I’ve never been a huge fan of orange wine but gosh I did enjoy this, and as well as eating my words I drained the bottle (with just a little help from Mrs Ray – she’s a team player, bless her). Intense, concentrated and mouth-filling, it has hints of orange peel, juicy stone fruit, herbs and a long, dry, creamy finish. £11.20 down from £12.

The 2021 Sierra Cantabria Rosado (3) is a delightful pale pink blend of Viura, Garnacha and (red) Tempranillo. Resolutely Provençal in style (but not in price), it’s fresh and vibrant with crushed red and dark fruit, herbs and spice. I’ve seen it elsewhere online for almost £13, so it’s something of a steal, £7.90 down from £8.50.

The 2016 Señorio de Arana Viña del Oja Rioja Reserva (4) is my wine of the offer. It’s astoundingly tasty and, although I’ve seen it elsewhere for £17.50, we’re not even charging a tenner! A classic Rioja blend of Tempranillo, Graciano and Mazuelo that spent a minimum of one year in oak and two in bottle before release, it’s soft, smooth, supple, with silky tannins,  mellow red and dark cherries, vanilla and that inimitable, teasing Rioja sweetness. A worthy joint winner of Best Rioja at the 2016 Wines from Spain Awards. Crikey, it’s good!  £9.70 down from £10.40.

The 2018 Sierra Cantabria Única Reserva (5) is made from old vine Tempranillo with just a dash of old vine Graciano, aged for two years in a mix of French and American oak (in which it undergoes malolactic fermentation). A limited edition of just 1,600 cases, it’s absolutely on song although it will last for many a year. Inkily concentrated, it’s full of ripe fruit with liquorice and savoury notes on the finish. £15.80 down from £17.

The 2014 Sierra Cantabria Reserva (8) make a fascinating counterpart to the above, being four years older and produced solely from old vine Tempranillo, aged for 18 months in oak. This is serious, beautifully-balanced, fully mature Rioja at an extremely genial price. With ripe cherry fruit, vanilla, silky tannins and a long, long finish, it’s ridiculously enjoyable. £15.80 down from £17.

The mixed case has two bottles of each wine and delivery, as ever, is free.

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