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

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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.

 

La Vendimia 2011- The 2011 Harvest at Juan Carlos Sancha Winery in La Rioja, Spain

In preparation for this year’s harvest, I thought I would show you what I did last year as part of my masters program at University of La Rioja in Logroño, Spain. I had a chance to work with Juan Carlos Sancha at his Ad Libitum Winery in Baños de Río Tobía, La Rioja, Spain. We participated in the 2011 harvest, analysis and watched as the fermentation process began at this artisan winery.

For more information on Juan Carlos Sancha’s wines visit: http://www.juancarlossancha.com

Bet yet…visit them in La Rioja, Spain! Juan Carlos and Marian will take incredible care of you!

Logroño, La Rioja, named Gastronomic Capital of Spain 2012

The Famous Mushrooms from Calle Laurel

Gastronomic Capital of Spain is sponsored by the Federación Española de Hosterlería (FEHR), Spanish Federation of Hospitality, and Federación Española de Periodistas y Escritores de Turismo (FEPET), Spanish Federation of Journalist and Tourism Writers. The FEHR and FEPET created this Capital in order to promote Spanish gastronomy at a national and international level, as an attractive form of tourism in Spain.

According to the Spanish Secretary General of Tourism, in Spain, there are over 59.2 million people who visited the country in 2010, five million of which came solely for gastronomic reasons. So how does it work? Each year a city is nominated as the “Capital Española de la Gastronomía (CEG), Gastronomic Capital of Spain, which lasts from the January 1 to December 31.

La Rioja was chosen due to its leadership in Spain to market its land, wine and active tourism not only nationally but internationally. It was able to take their successful model of ecotourism to gastronomic tourism.Logrono- Gastronomic Capital of Spain 2012

Logroño, the capital, is situated in the heart of La Rioja. Oenologically (in regards to wine) La Rioja is divided into three different regions, Rioja Alta, North West of Logroño; Rioja Alavesa, the Basque wine region, North of Logroño; and Rioja Baja, South East of Logroño. Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa are well known in the wine industry, whereas Rioja Baja, which also produces wine, is primarily known for excellent agricultural products that are also under a Designation of Origin – DO similar to the wine which is under a Qualified Designation of Origin—DOCa. These DOs are a regulatory classification system used to control and ensure the quality of products of these regions in wine as well as food. Combining these quality agricultural products along with quality wine and the already established culinary culture of La Rioja, optimally makes La Rioja a prime candidate for being selected as the Gastronomic Capital of Spain.

In La Rioja, there are over 510 restaurants and 2,180 bars (that also serve food-tapas) that all share the drive and desire to continue to make La Rioja a gastronomic destination now and in the future. For these reasons and more, Logrono, La Rioja was selected as Gastronomic Capital of Spain.

Speaking from personal experience, Logroño, the city in which I live, is wonderful. I have never been a place in the world that lives, eats and breathes this concept more. Every day there is an event that demonstrates this, such as tonight, for example, I am attending a tasting that is sponsored by La Rioja, a regional newspaper, called “Lo Mejor del Vino de Rioja Cata,” The best wine of La Rioja wine tasting, which is open not only to people in the industry but also the general public. This event is held every month to highlight one Riojan winery of the region and allow everyone to try their wines with the owner and winemaker. A few weeks ago, there was a Tapas Week as part of this Gastronomic capital initiative where all the bars in Logroño served their special tapa ( small bite) with wine for a special price. There are also two streets dedicated to Tapa hopping, which is the same concept as bar hopping, except you literally go bar to bar in these two streets, Calle San Juan and Calle Laurel, and devour the beautifully tasty tapas that are specific to each bar with a wonderful Riojan wine.

What more can you ask for? If it were up to me, Logroño would be named Gastronomic Capital of the World, and this coming from someone who has lived in a lot of places. Though Peruvian and Thai food would be my next choice!