Start your wine education with a flight of Riojas
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Everyone knows rioja – or do they? What's the difference between crianza and gran reserva, and what's the role of in-betweener reserva? For each, the denomination rules set lengths of time for ageing in oak and for cellar rest before sale. The intention is to create a stepladder to the stars.
That isn't always easy to appreciate with bottles bought from different producers. So head for greatwine.co.uk and buy one each of Ramón Bilbao Crianza 2017 (£11.95), Reserva 2015 (£15.95) and Gran Reserva 2011 (£27.50). Delivery will be free, and orders of any 12 bring a 10 percent discount.
It's strange to uncork multiple bottles when you can't share with friends, but opened wine does keep for several days in the fridge. Comparing these three will be an invaluable rioja education – and a great pleasure. What's special about Ramón Bilbao is that it's big, yet personal, and very committed to both quality and tradition – for example, winemaker Rodolfo Bastida chooses classic American oak rather than modern favourite French, yet his wines are free of the sickly coconut creaminess found in too many old-fashioned riojas.
Working through the three levels, there's consistently fine, savoury-edged fruit balanced with clean oak, plus concentration and length. The crianza lacks the complexity of its smarter siblings, but is a tasty, drink-now wine. The reserva, from older vines and a limited area, adds extra style and elegance. And the gran reserva, from yet more venerable vines, is a wine to remember for years. Continue your education at the Spanish Wine Academy at https://www.bodegasramonbilbao.es/
Whether this article reaches you before Valentine's Day or afterwards, why not a little romance? Calvet Crémant de Bordeaux (£13, Ocado) offers happy sherbet-and-strawberry bubbles – crémants, from many French regions, are made just like champagne, but are much easier on the credit card. Or push the boat out with an engraved message on a bottle of sparkling English Bolney Cuvée Rosé (£42, or buy any other wine and add £12 for engraving, bolneywineestate.com). Beaujolais cru Saint-Amour couldn't be better named, and Domaine des Côtes de la Roche (£11.50, The Wine Society) is a winning example, pretty, fresh yet deeply flavoured.