Rioja: Spain's Leading Wine Region

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  • By Kevin Lepisto
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Rioja: Spain's Leading Wine Region

The great red wines of Rioja can perform miracles in the cellar, and at tableside can stand shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Hermitage, Barolo, Chianti Classico and Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

Nothing says Spain in a glass more than a glass of fruity and spicy Rioja red wine.  Rioja is Spain’s most famous and historic wine region and known for producing world class, age-worthy red wines from blends of Tempranillo, Graciano and Grenache grapes with Tempranillo taking the leading role. 

 

 

85% of Rioja's wine production is red, but Rioja also produces fresh-tasting white wines as well, primarily from the Viura grape, known as Maccabeo in other parts of Spain.  As delicious as Rioja white wines can be, the region's red wines are capable of true greatness in the cellar, and at tableside, the finest can stand aside giants like Bordeaux, Burgundy, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Hermitage, Barolo and Chianti Classico.  And usually for a lot less money.

 

 

La Rioja is located about 3.5 hours north of Madrid in a valley surrounded by mountains to the north and south.  The region is protected from heavy rains and extreme heat and benefits from both Atlantic and Mediterranean influences.   This unique climate, along with a rich diversity of soils, creates bold wines with great structure, depth and complexity. 

 

 

What is also unique about Rioja wines is that they benefit from having a foot in both new world and old world styles.  They typically have the ripe fruitiness of new world wines and then the earthiness, acidity and tannins of old world wines.  That makes them great for either drinking now, when they are released or cellaring to enjoy years later.

 

 

I recently acquired several new Rioja red wines from some of my favorite classic producers, and some new discoveries, that I’m excited to share here with you.  I’ll be pouring many of these wines and more at my All About Rioja tasting event on Friday April 13th.  Come and discover why Rioja wines are so great!

 

New Arrivals in Rioja:

2013 Conde de Hervias ‘Mencos’ Rioja

 

This is a great value wine for fans of more plush and rustic styles of Tempranillo wines.  ‘Mencos’ is rich and concentrated with black cherry and plum fruits with notes of earth, spice and cocoa.  A big wine for the price!  Pair this with grilled steaks or meaty stews.

$14.99 per bottle

 

2010 Bodegas Altanza ‘Lealtanza’ Rioja Gran Reserva

 

Bodegas Altanza is a newer producer in Rioja starting in 1998.  They make elegant 100% Tempranillo wines from vineyards in the cooler sub region of Rioja Alta.  Breaking from tradition, they age their wines in 100% French oak believing the French oak enhances the nuances of their Tempranillo fruit.   Altanza’s Gran Reserva Rioja is aged 24 months in French oak then 3 years in bottle prior to being released.  On the nose the wine has beautiful aromas of candied fruit, vanilla and spices. On the palate it’s powerful with ripe black cherry fruit, toasted oak and wild herbs yet well balanced and silky.  A great Rioja wine from a great vintage.

$26.99 per bottle

 

2005 R. Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia Rioja Reserva

 

Lopez de Heredia is one of the oldest and most traditional producers in Rioja starting in 1877.   They are known for their remarkably long aging process with all their wines. The Tondonia Reserva is aged 6 years in used American oak then 6 years in bottle prior to releasing to the market.   This wine is all about complexities and secondary flavors rather than fruit flavors although the wine is remarkably fresh given its age. It’s a wine that you need to sit and contemplate while drinking, taking mental notes of all the spice aromas and umami flavors that emerge from the glass.  The 2005 vintage is slightly richer than the 2004 although still somewhat light in body.  This is an incredibly satisfying wine at this price and a wine that can age for many years.

$44.99 per bottle

 

2013 CUNE Rioja Reserva

 

This wine is a quite a bargain given the fact CUNE did not produce any of their top of line Imperial or Gran Reserva wines in the difficult 2013 vintage. All the fruit for those wines was declassified and put into their Reserva wine and boy does it show.  This is a beautiful medium bodied wine with aromas of fresh berries and spices.  The wine has great concentration of blackberry and black cherry fruits but also has great acidity keeping it vibrant and fresh.   Notes of licorice and vanilla round out the wine and the fairly soft tannins make it enjoyable now.

$26.99 per bottle

 

2011 CUNE Rioja Gran Reserva

 

CUNE is one of the more historical producers in Rioja starting in 1879 and helped define classic Rioja wines.  2011 was a hot, dry year in Rioja creating powerful wines with great concentration of fruit and the rustic edge one expects from Rioja wines.  CUNE’s Gran Reserva expresses great purity of black cherry fruits with the classics notes of vanilla, spice and umami.   This is a powerful wine but finessed and balanced with great length.  The chewy tannins beg for a nice grilled steak or roasted leg of lamb.

$32.99 per bottle

 

2010 Vinedos del Contino Rioja Gran Reserva

 Contino is the first single estate winery in Rioja established by the CUNE winery in 1972.  CUNE historically used grapes from the estate for the top of the line Reserva wines.  CUNE decided to bottle single estate wines from Contino vineyards, rather than the traditional blending of grapes from vineyards across the region, as they recognized the unique soils and southwest facing vineyards produced exceptional quality fruit.   Contino’s wines are modern and polished in style with exceptional aromatics, freshness and purity of fruit.  “Black tea, mushroom and bark aromas with ripe fruit undertones. Full bodied, round and polished. Edgy structure with blackberry, mushroom and cedar. Fantastic finish. Just a baby. Stock up for the cellar. Better in 2020 but already excellent.” –James Suckling

$52.99 per bottle

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