But there is more to white Rioja than just another crisp dry white wine. Like its red counterpart, white Rioja can age well, particularly in good quality French oak when it develops extraordinary flavours.
These are not harsh over-oaked notes. White Rioja ages into silky complexity with layers of citrus, ripe pear, floral and herbal notes, with waxy, lanolin tones and when it is really old and high quality it has an unmistakable smell of old school desks.
Now I must admit it is a long time since I smelt an old school desk, but mine always contained a few apples from the tree at home, and there were various other things in there such as my packed lunch that may have added their own aromas.
To be honest, it was more the smell of the varnish on my desk, especially when I chipped bits off it in particularly boring lessons. I am sure that if I could find my old school desk it won’t smell anything like a quality white Rioja, but these aroma memories are just pegs to hang smells and tastes on. It doesn’t matter what name you call a particular flavour or aroma, just use it to help you navigate flavours.
White Rioja is mainly made from Viura, otherwise known as Macabeo. In the past this grape variety has been picked late and overcropped, but now growers have realised that picking it early when it has good acidity produces the best wines.
Lower crops help with intensity of flavours and allow the wine to age. Sometimes there is Garnacha Blanca and Malvasia de Rioja in the blend, or the relatively new grape Tempranillo Blanco, which is a natural mutation of the red Tempranillo. It has been researched and propagated and now adds floral and fruity notes to some wines.
Most red Rioja producers make a white version, and some make a whole range. Young, fresh-tasting Rioja Blanco wines are made without oak and provide some delicious crisp wines that can be enjoyed on a summer evening.
As you go up the price scale, it is likely that more oak has been used for aging, and these are the ones that go extremely well with Spanish food.
Gazpacho is fabulous with an aged Rioja Blanco, and lightly spiced prawns, chicken and cheese are also worth trying alongside these lovely wines.
I gathered a few white Riojas together to try them against each other. All were different and none were disappointing.
So, if you are looking for new flavours that will team up with a Spanish-themed dinner, or maybe just a salad that has olives and tomatoes in it, these are the ones to look out for.
Marqués de Los Ríos Rioja Blanco 2020, Morrisons, down from £7.75 to £6.50 until July 27: With a substantial 30 per cent Tempranillo Blanco mixed with Viura in this wine, it has fresh, bright, melon and pear fruit. Aged in French oak for six months, it doesn’t taste oaky, but it has weight and balance. A great introduction to white Rioja.
Campo Viejo Rioja Blanco 2019, Tesco, £8: Made from a blend of Viura and Tempranillo Blanco, this has crisp, apple and pear fruit with a bright lemon twist on the finish.
López de Haro Rioja Blanco 2020, Majestic, £10.99, down to £8.99 on a mix-six deal: Full of ripe, rounded melon flavours with pear, quince and honey on the palate, this is a wine to match with food. Throw another langoustine on the barbecue.
Baron de Ley Rioja Blanco, 2019, Waitrose, £8.99: Viura, Garnacha Blanca and Tempranillo Blanco go into this wine, some grown at high altitude where they keep their fresh acidity and clear, bright flavours. This has apricot and clear, fresh citrus notes with a creaminess that makes it good with salads and fish.
Beronia Rioja Blanco 2019, Ocado, £10.99: Hundred per cent Viura in this wine gives intense fruit flavours of mango and pineapple backed by a clear streak of lemon curd. This has a rounded, full style and can easily accompany grilled fish.
CVNE Monopole Rioja Blanco 2019, Bon Coeur Fine Wines, £12.08: The letters CVNE are the initials of a long-established top-quality winery that has extensive vineyards across the Rioja region. This unoaked 100 per cent Viura wine has a white floral aroma with red apple fruit, white currant and soft lemon flavours.
Muga Rioja Blanco 2019, Penistone Wine Cellars, £12.91: Fermented and aged in lightly toasted French oak casks, this blend of Viura, Garnacha Blanca and Malvasia de Roja has intense floral aromas, followed by citrus and apricot fruit, with a bite of minerality. It is perfect to team with chicken, veal and flavourful fish dishes. Also available at Grassington Wines and Martinez Wines.
Marqués de Murrieta Blanco Reserva Capellanía 2015, Penistone Wine Cellars, £24.54: Wonderful old style white Rioja, with a fresh, modern streak. Aged in French oak for 15 months, it has depth and complexity, layers of lemon, lemon curd, cream, wax, lanolin and toast, but these flavours are so integrated it is a seamless flavour experience. The grapes come from a single high-altitude vineyard planted 75 years ago. A dinner party wine.
Viña Tondonia López de Heredia 2008, Rioja Blanco Reserva, around £40: From one of the most historic and fabulous producers in Rioja, this wine is the stuff of dreams. Classic, concentrated and complex, it glides over the taste buds like silk. Aged in barrels and bottle for as long as necessary in the cellars of this remarkable building, it is one to be tasted with friends.
The company is now run by the fourth generation of the López de Heredia family, María José, Mercedes and their brother Julio Cesar. Impossible to find on the open wine shelves, there is one retailer in Yorkshire that has some, but it is all reserved for restaurants, so if you see it on a restaurant wine list, you must try it.