CHRISTMAS is coming, the goose is getting fat and there's no wine as flexible with the varied foods of the season than rioja, so let’s take a seasonal look at our favourite Spaniard.

Rioja is the accidental love child of a vine disease, a bunch of travelling Bordeaux winemakers and oak barrels, but if you want to know more about that particular menage a trois, I suggest you spend an hour on Wikipedia.

Personally, I love tempranillo with its powerful yet restrained fruit and the way that it has some sort of birds and bees affinity with oak that transforms it into a soft, creamy wine. The more oak it gets, the better it becomes.

Seriously, age in barrels is the key to rioja for me so I tend to avoid the jovens and crianza styles and focus all my attention on the reservas and gran reservas, the latter of which spend upwards of two years sucking the goodness out of the oak before adding three years or so in bottle prior to sale. There is, of course, another main grape in the rioja story and grenache is her name but I tend to find the riojas with more grenache than tempranillo are too fresh and lively for me and way too alcoholic.

Gran Reserva Rioja is all about class and the smoothness of the palate and it’s incredibly flexible with food but, like everything in life, it has its favourites and in this case they tend to be the richer, gamier meats and the harder, aged cheeses. The wine seems to wrap itself around the food like an alcoholic velvet glove rather than overpowering it as you often find with grapes like shiraz or cabernet. Trust me and aim high with rioja even if it means taking the bus for a week or so rather than filling up the Jag.

Pagos de la Sonsierra Rioja

A complex, lively nose with hints of cedarwood and a rich, well-balanced palate of autumn fruits, spice and lashings of vanilla. "Absolutely gorgeous darling", as Craig Revel Horwood might say.

Villeneuve Wines £25

Vina Marichalar Gran Reserva Rioja 2009

One of the most succulent riojas on the market and from a cracking vintage. Smooth, almost leathery fruit, with lashings of vanilla and spice and a toasty finish. Quite delicious.

Laithwaites Wines online £27

Gerard Richardson