SPAIN'S GREATEST WINE REGION: RIOJA
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 wine can be, their red wines are capable of greatness in the cellar, and at tableside, the finest can stand aside giants like Bordeaux, Burgundy, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Hermitage, Barolo and Chianti Classico.
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’m excited to share some excellent red and white wines from Rioja crafted by some of my favorite producers:
Ostatu’s crisp, dry white is a store favorite year after year and their 2019 release is truly exceptional. This refreshing white strikes the perfect balance between fruit, minerality and acidity. The wine is generous yet focused with citrus and white fruits while herbal undertones add character. Ostatu’s Blanco is made from 85% Viura and 15% Malvasia. Bodegas Ostatu is a family owned winery and harvests grapes for this wine from 60 year old vines that are farmed with minimal treatment.
$16.99 per bottle
Finca San Martin is a 100% Tempranillo wine produced by the La Rioja Alta Winery. This great value wine is a classic expression of Rioja red wine.
$15.99 per bottle
The Remelluri estate is nestled against the Sierra de Tolono mountains in the Rioja's Alavesa subregion close to the town of Labastida. The mountains provide a barrier against the cold and damp weather from the north. The 2011 vintage was much warmer and riper than 2010, and it shows in this 2011 Reserva. The cuvee shows the Remelluri house style, blending grapes from their vineyards at various altitudes, ranging from 550 - 800 meters, and vines aged 35 - 80 years old. Made from mostly Tempranillo, with some Garnacha (Grenache) and Graciano. Before bottling, the wine is aged 16 months in oak.
Powerful with a full body, strong, developed tannins and a solid backbone. Aromas and flavors of ripe and baked dark berries and plums, with spice, earth and cocoa. Tannins are dusty adding complexity and grip. Pair with game, roasted meats, rich casseroles.
$39.99 per bottle
CUNE's Crianza is always a great buy and delivers classic Rioja flavors. The 2016 vintage is bright and fresh with red cherry fruit taking the lead. They age this wine one year in American oak which adds some notes of licorice and vanilla. Its an easy drinking red that can pair well with a wide variety of foods. CUNE is one of the more historical producers in Rioja starting in 1879 and helped define classic Rioja wines.
$12.99 per bottle
Bodegas Muga was started in 1932 and is known for their meticulous winemaking methods using only oak barrels for the entire process. Muga wines are great for those looking for more full bodied style Rioja wines and deliver a lot of wine for the price. The wine is intense with concentrated dark red and black berry fruits with plenty of vanilla and cedar from the toasted oak. The wine shows great purity with great acidity keeping its power fresh and pleasing.
$27.99 per bottle
A very expressive Tempranillo! On the nose and palate, fresh red plums, hint of strawberries, spice, vanilla and coffee in a firm tannic structure. A great, affordable, Rioja red for weeknight dinners! The grapes for this wine are 100% Tempranillo with an average vine age of 30 years. All are manually harvested. These wines are aged 6 months in a mix of used American and French oak 225-liter casks. Very expressive on the nose and palate of red plums, hint of strawberries, spice, vanilla and coffee in a firm tannic structure. Pair with rice and pasta dishes, lentil casseroles, grilled white and red meats.
The Eguren family has dedicated itself to its vineyards in Rioja since 1870. The fifth generation of winemakers is now managing the winery, incorporating new technologies and knowledge into their traditional practices. Their wines are revered nationally in Spain and internationally. They own 68 hectares of recognized and prestigious vineyards in Rioja Alavesa, a quality sub-region of the Rioja DOCa and Rioja Sonsierra, all on clay-limestone and gravel soils at average heights of 557 meters.
$11.99 per bottle
The wines from the Eguren family's Sierra Cantabria estate in Rioja are consistently some of the best values in the entire store, and always showcase beautiful ripe, red Tempranillo fruit in the classic Rioja style. Their Crianza wine spends 14 months in American and French oak (from Bordeaux) with a light toast to add spice and complexity to the bold wine. Their Crianza is refined, approachable and deeply satisfying with roasted berries, earth and spice. Pair with roasted meats, game, veal dishes, hearty soups and stews.
The grapes from this 100% Tempranillo wine are from vineyards situation near the towns of San Vicente de Sonsierra and and Labastida. All grapes are hand harvested with specific bunches chosen at each vineyard site. They are then destemmed and fermented in at a controlled temperature. Only indigenous yeasts are used. Post fermentation maceration on the skins takes place for about 16 days.
$16.99 per bottle
Viña Santurnia is a 5th generation family winery located in the Rioja Alta. Their Crianza is a very traditional style Rioja wine with the classic red fruits being matched by earthiness and toasted oak spices. This is a dry red with a nice tannic structure. This screams for some Spanish chorizo!
$15.99 per bottle
"Lovely dried red fruit, such as plums with just a hint of prunes. Cedar, walnut and leather undertones. Full-bodied with lots of fruit, considering its age, as well as hints of smoke, tobacco, bark and black tea. Some balsamic at the finish. Traditionally styled with lovely results. Drink or hold. 96 points"—James Suckling
$69.99 per bottle
Clear, bright ruby. Fresh and slight aroma to licorice with consistent texture and persistent aroma. Smooth, fresh and persistent. This wine is perfect with all meat dishes, tapas and charcuterie.
“Wonderful aromas of mushrooms, bark, cigar tobacco and plums with just a hint of citrus. Full-bodied with incredible softness and complexity. Subtle chocolate, fruit and walnut in the aftertaste. Goes on for minutes. Fantastic wine. Classic, textbook Rioja. A joy. Incredible value! 95 points”—James Suckling
$27.99 per bottle
Spain's most traditionalist wine maker with a well deserved reputation for making fantastically interesting and delicious wines. A blend of Tempranillo (80%) with 20% Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuelo, it was matured in used American oak barrels for five years.
“Taking on a balsamic and high-toned wood character to the ripe fruit on the nose. Some dried cheese and ripe fruit, too. Medium-bodied with integrated tannins that are polished and fine. Goes on for minutes. A beautiful, traditional wine, as always. Drink or hold. 94 points"-- James Suckling
$46.99 per bottle
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. It is a blend of 75% Tempranillo, 15% Garnacha, 5% Graciano, and 5% Mazuelo.
“The nose of the 2008 Viña Tondonia Reserva is very elegant, fresh and with an herbal twist, starting to show the complexity of the aged wines that are sometimes still too young when they are released 10+ years from the vintage! The palate is medium-bodied, with lightness and depth, very classical with extra freshness and all that is needed for a long development in bottle. This is the more Tondonia of the two vintages I tasted side by side. There are notes of maple syrup, smoke, licorice and crisp fruit. The palate is more austere, crunchy and reveals the chalkiness of the soils. There's more definition and precision here.”-- Robert Parker's Wine Advocate 95 pts.
$59.99 per bottle