Wine can be a complex beast, which is a shame, because the act of drinking it is oh-so-simple. However Rioja is one of the few that has a pretty simple classification system that’s easy for anyone to get their head around – more of which later.

Rioja is a region in north central Spain, about a 2 hour drive from Bilbao, which is further divided into Rioja Alta, Rioja Baja and Rioja Alavesa zones. The dominant grape used is normally tempranillo, which although native to Spain, now grows more widely. Garnacha (or grenache), mazuelo (carignan) and graciano make up the balance. Although Rioja is most commonly associated with red wine, you’ll also see white and even rose styles available.

Red rioja is a lovely (and by that I mean relatively easy) wine to pair with food. Roasted meats make an excellent match, especially lamb. Pork works well too, even better if it’s prepared tapas style – think meatballs, jamon or chorizo. This is a red that can take on spicy dishes as well which is no mean feat!

Rioja Classification System

Joven – literally translates as 'young'. This applies to the entry level bottles and often you’ll only see the words rioja on the label. Expect simple, inexpensive wines with little to no aging.

After this you’ll find Crianza and Reserva, finishing with the most mature Gran Reserva. Expect a bit more fruit forward flavours with a Crianza, and as you move up the spectrum you’ll tend to find more depth and oak-aging, however that’s not to say Gran Reserva styles are ‘best’. Crianza’s can make for excellent every day wines, as they are highly quaffable, fruity and generally accessibly priced.

Reserva’s are preferred by some to the older Gran Reserva’s because they’re not quite as rich, and the oak can be a little more restrained. If you’re looking to cellar age your wine than the Gran Reserva’s are your best bet thanks to the more structured tannins you’ll find. As ever it just comes down to personal preference.

The best way to figure out your favourite? Buy one of each and hold your own tasting next time you have a dinner party. A good rioja should have fresh acidity, red and/or black fruit, oak, vanilla, spice and a nice long finish. So now you know what to look out for, here are some of our favourites.

Definition Rioja Reserva 2013, 13.5%: £13.99, Majestic

Exclusive to Majestic, the Definition range sets out to showcase the absolute best examples of any given wine, at a great price. We think they’ve really hit the nail on the head with this robust rioja. Rich, chocolaty, this is a bottle you open for just one more glass, and end up draining the last dregs. A super smooth operator, we found a decent amount of complexity at this price – vanilla, oak, and a touch of spice.

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Berry Bros. & Rudd Rioja by Bodegas Amézola de la Mora 2015, 13.5%: £12.50, Berry Bros. & Rudd

This is a Crianza style but before you dismiss it for being too simple, take note – it’s had a lovely drop of Reserva wine blended into the mix to give it that edge. Medium in body, fresh strawberries and raspberries give way to riper black fruit and end with a long, smooth and spicy finish.  A very well priced everyday red.

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Lindes de Remelluri Rioja 2013, 13.5%: £20.70, Honest Grapes

We love a wine with a good story behind it and this one comes from a vineyard founded by monks back in the 14th century – top that! Made from a fully organic blend of garnacha, graciano and tempranillo grapes, there’s a definite freshness from this wine, with well integrated tannins. Your Sunday lunch will thank you for it.

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Marquès del Romeral  Reserva Rioja, 13%: £84 (case of six), Marks and Spencer

Picking up a bronze medal at the International Wine Challenge 2018, this sexy little number is also adored by M&S customers. It’s had two years of aging in American oak barrels which have imparted these lightly toasted, vanilla notes. Expect ripe, baked red fruit – like a hot cherry pie – with a long, velvety finish.

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Rioja Reserva Imperial 2014 CVNE, 14%: £21.99, Majestic

Gold medal winner at the 2017 Decanter awards, this full bodied reserva red is a real treat. At just a snip over £20 you do get a very good quality wine here – one we’re confident will win over any rioja cynics with it’s well balanced red fruit, vanilla and oak. If you have the time to decant this wine before serving, it will really smooth out those tannins and open up on the nose.

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The Best Marques de los Rios Rioja Reserva,13.5%: £6.75, Morrisons

Fresh blackberries and ripe blueberries come to the fore on first sip. Made from 100 per cent tempranillo grapes, we found this had a pleasant acidity which cut through the richness created from aging in oak for 36 months. An excellent price, we’ll be pairing ours with lamb chops and enjoying that long spicy finish.

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Beronia Rioja Gran Reserva,14%: £21.50, Ocado

Aged for five years before you can get your hands on it, here we found a great balance of both red and black fruit, but particularly ripe cherries, along with notes of sweet vanilla and toasted oak from the barrels. However, a well-judged dose of acidity stops this from tipping into the sickly-sweet territory. Again, roast lamb with all the trimmings would be a dream food pairing.

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Campo Viejo Gran Reserva Rioja, 13.5%: £16, Sainsburys

Every day, more than twenty eight thousand people open a bottle of Campo Viejo Tempranillo, making it the UK’s favourite rioja brand. However there’s more to the brand than the yellow label you’re probably familiar with. At the other end of the aging spectrum is their gran reserva.

This ruby red wine spends at least two years in oak, with another year in the bottle. Expect blackberries, blueberries and sticky plums and on the finish we picked up coffee, chocolate, even coconut. It’s particularly good with game, lamb and smelly blue cheese.

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Marques de Murrieta Rioja Reserva 2014, 14%: £25, Harvey Nichols

Left to sleep in a combination of new and old American oak for 19 months, this silky little number could benefit from a little more time in the bottle. For now though delicate red cherry and a herbaceous undertone make this a very elegant wine to pair with roasted meats and baked mushrooms. For a little more on the nose, try decanting.

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Viña Pomal Compromiso 2015, 14.5%: £29.28, Uvinum

A blend of five red grape varieties –tempranillo, garnacha, maturana tinta, graciano and mazuelo – this wine is, as you might expect, complex on the nose. You’ll find predominantly red fruit, backed up with violet, pepper and hints of coffee.

The brand has been popular in the UK since 1909, with Winston Churchill reportedly a fan, but today things have moved on – and the new Viña Pomal Compromiso is thought to be the first wine in the world aged in tattooed oak barrels. How modern.

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The Society's Exhibition Rioja Reserva 2011 13.5%: £15.50, The Wine Society

Silky smooth, decidedly savoury, with obvious oak and soft fruit, all this needs is a roaring fire and you’ve got yourself a very pleasant evening on your hands. We’d happily pair this with a full on tapas spread, but we may need a little siesta afterwards. Exactly what you’d expect from a traditional rioja.

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Lagunilla Optimus Rioja, 14.5%: £22.99, Ocado

In addition to the anchoring tempranillo, here you have the spicy syrah, soft supple merlot and structured cabernet sauvignon which makes for a well-rounded rioja. A little pricey when not discounted, although it does come in a presentation box, so a good one to consider if you’re looking for a wine gift.

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Rioja Reserva Ortega Ezquerro: £15.95, Jeroboams

Deep garnet in colour, the dominant tempranillo comes from vines that are over 70 years old. Full bodied, with pleasant tannins, the long, complex finish highlights a balsamic note which somewhat surprisingly paired well with duck curry. London wine merchant Jeroboams offer this by the case, which should see you through Christmas.

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Tesco Finest Vina Del Cura Rioja Gran Reserva, 14%: £11, Tesco

The Tesco Finest range celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, and today you’ll find this impressive gran reserva in the premium range. Punchy, with a concentrated oak flavour profile, ripe sticky blackberries are underpinned with delicate vanilla. This is a rich wine with a long spicy finish that could happily be enjoyed on its own, or try pairing with a hearty casserole.

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Marques De Caceres Gran Reserva, 14%: £18.99, Drink Supermarket

Here we found a riot of ripe berries – blackberries, blueberries, raspberry, strawberry – together with notes of chocolate, coffee, and spice. That complexity has developed after 30 months in contact with top notch French oak barrels.  A premium, intense rioja that shows good potential for further aging.

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The Verdict: Best Riojas

Majestic have produced a great value rioja with plenty of complexity at a really great price. For that reason, we’ve awarded the IndyBest Buy to their Definition Rioja Reserva.

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.