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.
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.
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
Marqués de Cáceres Crianza
Campo Viejo Reserva
Marqués 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.
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.
In case you are wondering how to better your “Nose” or just how to identify the smells in your wine that everyone but you seems to pick up…. check out this create way to do at home or even with those silly wine friends of yours.
All you need to make your own wine aroma kit are a few items: some local fruit from your supermaket, wine glasses and a neutral white or red wine. Before you head to the supermarket, take with you a taking list of things you commonly expect to smell in the wines you are going to taste. That is if you have a particular wine in mind that you would like to better understand. In order to get these smells, just look up online “Wine characteristics” + “wine variety” you want to understand better like Pinot Noir, Riesling or Cabernet Sauvingnon.
For example, if I want to better understand what a Tempranillo (variety) from Spain smells like, I would pick up some black berries, sour cherries,strawberry, piece of clean leather, perhaps even some tobacco and vanilla. While smelling, it might help to look at a Wine Aroma wheel developed by Ann Noble: http://winearomawheel.com/ to help you identify the wines post this experiment. You can also find visual versions of this online if you type in “Wine Aroma Wheel”
Thanks to Wine Spectator, they have laid out how to do it with precision. In the past, I’ve used an oz. of neutral cheap box wine and placed the berries, fruit or spices into the glass, let it sit and swirl and smell. This is a more precise and easy to follow method.
Enjoy this little experiment!
What you will need:
- One glass for each aroma standard you plan to make
- One bottle of an inexpensive, neutral white wine such as Pinot Grigio or Colombard is enough to make 10 to 12 white wine aroma standards
- One bottle of an inexpensive, neutral red wine such as Merlot or Beaujolais is enough to make 10 to 12 red wine aroma standards
- Mark each glass so you know which aroma it will contain; write the name of each aroma on a small sticker (the removable kind are best) and label each glass.
- Pour 2 ounces or 4 tablespoons of wine into each wineglass.
- Add the indicated amount of each aroma ingredient to its own glass of wine and let it soak for an hour or so.
- After the hour is up, remove any solid ingredients.
- Swirl and sniff each glass of wine so you can become familiar with the aroma that has been added to it.
- Next, test yourself by transferring each sticker to the bottom of its glass where it can’t be read. Then shuffle the glasses. Swirl and sniff the standards. Can you identify any of them?
White Wine Aroma Ingredient Lemon A small portion of fresh lemon peel and one teaspoon lemon juice Grapefruit A small portion of fresh grapefruit peel and one teaspoon grapefruit juice Pineapple One teaspoon pineapple juice Melon A chunk of ripe cantaloupe Peach A chunk of ripe peach or one tablespoon syrup from canned peaches Pear A chunk of ripe pear or one tablespoon syrup from canned pears Green grass Three crushed blades of green grass Honey One teaspoon honey (stir to dissolve) Vanilla One drop vanilla extract Nutmeg A pinch of freshly grated nutmeg Smokey Oak One drop Liquid Smoke, available in many supermarket spice sections Red Wine Aroma Ingredient Strawberry Two crushed ripe or frozen strawberries Strawberry jam One teaspoon of strawberry jam (stir to dissolve) Cherry Two crushed ripe cherries or a tablespoon of juice from canned cherries Mint One drop of mint extract or a crushed mint leaf (spearmint or peppermint) Green Pepper A quarter of a green pepper, diced Black Pepper A few grains of freshly ground black pepper Chocolate One teaspoon of powdered cocoa or shaved chocolate Coffee About 1/8 teaspoon ground coffee Tobacco One small pinch of cigarette or pipe tobacco Vanilla One drop vanilla extract Smokey Oak One drop Liquid Smoke, available in many supermarket spice sections
Special thanks to “Wine Spectator- How to” Section. For more information and learn more on wine, please check out http://www.winespectator.com .
Posted on September 5, 2018
As a red wine drinker, I used to only love reds, all the time but as my palate matured, I realized that I needed to start re-educating my palate to other wines. I realized that I adore Rose, especially from the same grape varietals I normally drink as reds, such as a Rose of Pinot Noir, of Cabernet Sauvignon, of Tempranillo, and of Sangiovese.
Recently, I received a wonderful bottle of Rose from Willamette Valley, it was like biting into a watermelon that was soaked in strawberry and nectarine juice and had a crispness to it that made you want to drink more and more of it. This is a dangerous thing, especially by the pool. It is made by Real Nice Winemakers called Shallow Seas. It is a blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Riesling sourced from some of the best vineyards in Willamette Valley.
This is my kind of “Rose all day” kind of poolside sipper!
It most recently received 90 points from Wine Enthusiast but honestly, I am more of one to try the wine and decide whether I like it or not and I do really love this rose. It is crisp and super drinkable. At $18, you really can’t go wrong but hurry as it is almost sold out!
Another very enjoyable Rose came from Lodi, called d’Art and it is a Rose of Cabernet Sauvignon, which we paired with some great steaks poolside. It was a great pairing and one I plan to do again. To me, on the nose, it had this strawberry, watermelon, grapefruit and rose scent. On the palate, it had medium acidity with a lasting finish that had bright fruited yet some herbaceousness, that was quite enjoyable. I also love that their wine label art differs from wine to wine. At $22, this balanced wine is sure end of summer BBQ hit!
Lodi has a great number of varietals that they use to make a variety of wines, if you have a chance, this is an incredible area to visit and while famous for their Zinfandel, grow over 125 varieties and this diversity is reflected in our rosés. They have rosés made from Carignan, Grenache and Garnacha, Barbera, Pinot Noir, Tempranillo, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah and Zinfandel. Learn more at Lodi Wine.
Make sure to get these before they sell out for the season! Cheers!