My Top Go-To Rioja Wines Under $20

Finding Rioja wine in your local stores isn’t as hard as most people think. Having lived in Rioja for two years and having completed a Masters of Viticulture and Enology (winemaking) there, this place is my second and favorite home. I am often asked what my “Go-to” Rioja wines are, and I have a few recommendations for a few favorites that you are likely to find in your store.

Let me first explain something about the wine regions of La Rioja, Spain.

Rioja's Three Regions, courtesy of Vibrant Rioja

Rioja’s Three Regions, courtesy of Vibrant Rioja

The Regions of La Rioja

La Rioja has three wine regions where wines of varying styles are made. The Rioja area is subdivided into three different regions – Rioja Alavesa, Rioja Alta and Rioja Baja. While la Rioja Alavesa and la Rioja Alta are located closer to the mountain, they are at slightly higher elevations and have a cooler climate. This results in wines with more acidity and slightly more finesse and elegance.

La Rioja Baja is located to the southeast where it is drier and warmer. The annual rainfall in the region ranges from 12 inches in parts of Baja to more than 20 inches in La Rioja Alta and Alavesa.

Although each winemaker adds their own special touch, terroir is not something that can necessarily changed.  If I want a lighter, more distinguished wine, I tend to lean towards wines from Rioja Alta or Rioja Alavesa. These two areas, of higher altitude, are located in the northernmost part of La Rioja near Basque Country (if not in it).  If I want a slightly bigger-bodied wine, I lean towards wines from Rioja Baja, where there is a bit more sun and slightly different soil types dominate.

Aging and Oak

I also then consider how much aging or oak I would like on my wine. Rioja has a great classification standard that helps you understand how much long your wine has been aged; based on your tastes, this classification standard can help determine the right wine for you.

Rioja Labels and Classification, courtesy of Vibrant Rioja

Rioja Labels and Classification, courtesy of DOCa Rioja

I love a Cosecha wine (a wine in its first or second year with little to no oak; it has a green label) for summertime due to how light and refreshing it is.  However, my go-to night wine is generally a Crianza (12 months+ in oak plus one year in bottle; it has a red label). I reserve Reserva (aged minimum of three years, tends to be 18-24 months in oak with the rest of the time in bottle) for those nights when I am having a hearty meal with friends.  These classifications, while made to be easy to understand, can be at times confusing. Some winemakers who chose to age a wine for 8 months, for example, based on the grape variety, terroir, vintage, etc., still have to use a Cosecha, or green. label.

In general, I stick to Crianza and Reserva unless it is a white wine.  For a white wine, I prefer the wine of the year or the Cosecha wine.

Here are a few of the wines that can easily be found in your grocery or liquor stores with a cost likely under $20. If you are lucky, you may even find them for under $15 on sale.

LAN Crianza or Reserva

lan

LAN Crianza

C.V.N.E. Crianza

cune-crianza

CVNE Crianza

Marqués de Cáceres Crianza

Marques de Caceres

Marques de Caceres

Campo Viejo Reserva

img_0596

CUNE Crianza and Campo Viejo Reserva

Marqués de Riscal Reserva

Marques de Riscal Reserva

Marques de Riscal Reserva

While I haven’t listed vintage, the wines currently released onto the market are ready to drink. Unlike their US counterparts, there are strict rules as indicated by the labels and by the Regulatory Council in Spain that prevent wine from being released before it has been properly aged. You generally can’t go wrong with the suggestions listed above. If you are interested in specific vintages, click here for the listing of the vintages.

The majority of the wineries listed above have been making wine since the 1900s and have vines close to 100 years old. Most are still held by the families who started the wineries back in the 1800s, and all have had a very high standard in winemaking for some time.

The wines listed above are also wines made with the traditional grapes grown in the region: Tempranillo, Garnacha, Graciano, Mazuelo and Maturana Tinta.  These wines tend to be elegant and subtle yet powerful in the mouth.  To me, they bring me back to my time in La Rioja where I ate and drank with friends on Calle Laurel, the famous tapas street of Logroño.

calle-laurel

These Rioja wines have an earthy, dark cherry, tobacco mouth taste that conjures up all the sights, smells, and sounds of this amazing town. To me, they are special, and every sip I take brings me back to those times. While they may not do the same for you, I hope that you will visit La Rioja and have a chance to experience what I have loved so much about this region. It’s not just about the food and wine but about the people behind the wine that make it so special.

 

A visit to the beautiful Priorat wine region of Spain

For those of you who are not familar with Priorat, as I wasn’t previous to my move to Spain, Priorat is one of only two designated origins that qualify to use the term DOCa/ DOQ, Spanish Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOCa) (Denominació d’Origen Qualificada (DOQ) in Catalan).  Priorat’s DOCa/DOQ is considered to be the highest qualification level for a wine region according to Spanish wine regulations, alongside Rioja DOCa. What this means is that wine producers are technically held to a higher standard of quality than those in the rest of Spain.  However, this is not to say that there aren’t other regions of Spain that make amazing wine. This is simply a qualification method within the European Union.

Priorat is a terraced, hilly wine region near the city of Tarragona, Spain, south of Barcelona.  It is characterized by its unique terroir of black slate and quartz soil known as Llicorella. To get a better idea of the Priorat region, please see the map below.

Map of Priorat Region

Map of Priorat Region

The Priorat region is famous for its Cariñena and Garnacha (Grenache) grape varieties.  However, wine producers are also allowed to use Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Shiraz (Syrah), among other varieties.  Four white varieties are also authorized: Garnacha BlancaMacabeo, Pedro Ximénez, and Chenin.

Interestingly enough, compared to the over 600 wineries in the La Rioja DOCa, the Priorat DOCa/DOQ has approximately 96 wineries and produces only 1% of what La Rioja does each year. This is due primarily to the challenging conditions of the land, the soil, and the weather, which together work to cause extremely low yields.  In order to properly grow and cultivate grapes on this difficult land, true, honest dedication is required. Most wine producers give up and leave to seek more fertile land; those that stay behind, like the owners of the three vineyards we visited, live the life of vignerons and eat, live, drink, and breathe life into this region.

We visited three vineyards during our two-day visit to the Priorat region: Agnés de Cervera, Cellers Capafons -Osso, and finally Celler Burgos Porta. Each of the three wineries was distinct in its own way.

Agnes de Cervera- La Solana Vineyards

Agnés de Cervera- La Solana Vineyards

Agnés de Cervera, which is located in El Molar, is a medium- large winery; once the project of Osborne, it is now run by a family.  Its well-known winemaker Fran Vernet makes top quality red wines such as Lytos and Kalos.  Agnés de Cervera is located in the southwestern part of Priorat.  I fell in love with the Kalos 2009 wine and had to take home some of this beauty-in-a-bottle!

Celler Capafons -Osso Oasis

Celler Capafons -Osso Oasis

The second winery on our tour was Cellers Capafons-Osso, located near the town of Falset.  Cellars Capafons-Osso’s owner and winermaker, Francesc Xavier Capafons, provided us with a five-hour-long tour through the two wine regions of Montsant and Priorat.  The tour included a stop at a natural water source hidden in the mountain to save us from the extreme heat.  It also included a great explanation from a viticultural standpoint concerning the land, the plants, and the vines. This ended with a tasting of eight wines, including some amazing ones with ratings of over 90 points,  at a tasting room in the owner’s own traditional style home.

Cellers Capafons-Osso’s red wine Mas de Masos was an incredible one, and one that I would recommend trying. The winery also produces a Garnacha Blanca, a white Garnacha (Grenache) called Auseta, that I found easy to drink and fresh.  I decided to take the Auseta 2010 home with me.

The third winery that we visited was Celler Burgos Porta, in Poboleda.  Salvador Burgos, part-owner, vigneron, and winemaker, gave us a great tour and tasting of the wines which he and his wife and partner, Conxita Porta, produce.  They market their delicious wines under the name Massinen, and all are rated over 90 points. Check out our visit below.

(While the tour is in Spanish, I have summarized it below.)

In this video, Salvador talks about how, while Spain is second in production of wine worldwide behind France, it is one of least wine-consuming of the wine-producing countries in the world.  He then moves on to discuss the type of terroir, the slate and quartz soil known as Llicorella, which we all were able to feel in our wine tasting. We also talked about “Poda en Verde,” green pruning, which refers to removing canes before they have hardened, and which is done to better control production.  At the end, Salvador speaks of his favorite tool as a winemaker, a tool which allows him to push down the cap in the fermentation tanks to help extract color and aromas from the grapes.

This video was created to focus on the wonderfully authentic visit to Celler Burgos Portia of Poboleda, Priorat, Spain near Tarragona. Salvador, the owner and Conxita, his partner and wife have created an authentic experience full of passion and knowledge for their beautiful poppy covered vineyards and winery. They have great wines,under the name Massinen, all over 90+ pts. I ,personally, took home a bottle of the 2006 Mas Sinén Negre, which for me had the freshness of the Llicorella soil and well-rounded beautiful fresh fruit of the Garnacha, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.

Mas Sinén, Celler Burgos Porta Winery in Poboleda, Priorat

Finca Mas Sinén, Celler Burgos Porta Winery in Poboleda, DOQ Priorat

Priorat, while not as well-known a region in the world as La Rioja for producing wines, it is a region with enormous potential. Most of the wineries are small family owned wineries that are run by either one or two people who wear many hats, such as the owner/vigneron/winemakers of Celler Burgos-Porta and Cellers Capafons-Osso.  The wines they are producing are just now reaching the UK and US markets and are worth an enormous amount of attention. If you haven’t tried a Priorat or Monserrat region wine, please, go out and try these incredible wines.

If you are in the Barcelona area and are able to spare a day or two, it is well worth the trip south about an hour and half to visit these amazing vineyards and landscapes. I can’t wait to go back! Cheers! Prost! Salud! To your health!

For more information all these wines visit them at:

Agnés de Cervera:http://www.agnesdecervera.com or call for a reservation: +34 977 054 851

Celler Capafons-Osso: http://www.capafons-osso.com/ or call for a private reservation in English at +34 654 519 385

Celler Burgos-Porta: http://www.massinen.com/celler_burgos_porta.html or call for a reservation in English at +34 696 094 509

http://www.about.me/aprilyap-hennig

Interested in learning more about the vintages or years to consider when purchasing Priorat wine? Click here for the Priorat Vintage Chart.

Wine Tasting: 2007 Marques de Caceres Crianza

2007 Marques de Caceres Crianza

Bodega: Marques de Caceres

D.O./Zona: La Rioja, Rioja Alta, Cenicero

Country: Spain- España Type of wine: Tinto con Envejecimiento en Roble – Red with aging in barrel

Alcohol (vol): 13% Price: 7-10 Euros (Spain), $15 approx. cost in US

Varietals: Tempranillo, Garnacha and Graciano

Color: Ruby red with yellow edges

Nose: Red berries and vanilla

Mouth: Licorice, vanilla, oak and red berry taste. Has quite a bit of tannins, this wine would need additional time open before being served.

Elaboration: Aged 6-12 months in French and American oak barrel Recommended with grilled dishes and rices, perhaps even work great with Pizza. Serve at 16-18 degrees C (around 65 degrees F)

Score: 8.9/10 Best value wine

www.marquesdecaceres.com

I will be gone during the Christmas season but promise to come back with some great new videos in the new year! Happy Holidays!

Enjoy! If you’d like to see more or would like me to taste a particular wine, please email me at sacreddropseeker@gmail.com or leave a comment below. Thanks for joining us today!