When planning a spring Sunday roast, look no further than the Spanish Rioja region
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Easter approaches and for many of us the thought of roast lamb with rosemary and garlic for Sunday Bank Holiday lunch is enough to lift the gloom of winter. The origins of this traditional feast have biblical connections – lamb represented the purity and innocence of Jesus, and it became a symbol of the Pope’s Easter Dinner. Over the years though, the ritual has caused problems for farmers. Spring born lambs have not had long enough time to build up sufficient muscle and fat. As a result farmers have been forced to breed their flocks in November and December, much earlier than nature intended. The result is tender meat, but it is not as flavoursome as they would like because the winter reared animals are usually brought up indoors out of the cold and miss out on the juicy summer grass. If this seems a bit of a disappointment worry not. At least the occasion calls for some nice, celebratory wine, and you don’t have to look beyond Spain and the region of Rioja. These days Spanish wine from many regions is a revelation, but Rioja – with its reds in particular – has managed to retain its crown as the best-known region in the British market. These wines, made primarily from the tempranillo grape, come in four categories but all to varying degrees are known for the vanilla flavours they take from their ageing process in oak casks.
These are not commonly found in the UK. They are known for their freshness and fruitiness and just what you need in the heat of the Mediterranean.
These have a minimum of one year in cask and a few months in the bottle. They used to be disappointing but have improved considerably and can offer very good quality and value.
As a rule this is Imbiber’s preferred category. Wines selected from the best vintages are aged for a minimum of three years, and must have least one year in casks. Often very complex, they have that delightful velvety mellowness and vanilla overtones that simply shout “Rioja!” Bring on the roast lamb!
These showcase the wine maker’s art and are made only from exceptional vintages. They spend at least two years in oak casks and three years in the bottle. These can be sublime, but beware they can be tough going if not aged for long enough and Imbiber would definitely decant.
Baron de Ley Reserva
From Costco’s excellent fine wine selection this is a real bargain and well worth snapping up. It is fairly concentrated but the fresh fruit flavours radiate and it is very smooth. It would certainly suit a leg of lamb.
From a traditional family bodega. Soft and subtle on the palate, its oaky character is well integrated with lovely fruit. Always reliable, but make sure the bottle is not too cold and give it time to breathe.
Rioja ‘Single Vineyard’ 2010 Ramon Bilbao Another super bargain from Majestic this is made from old vines with an average age of 46 years. Very concentrated, with a nice bright cherry red colour.