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Red Rioja remains a classic

Northside Staff
Tasters: Dave Pohl, ed., Dana Malley, and Jason Wentworth

Rioja is Spain’s best-known wine region and, to many, the finest as well. Though Rioja does produce white wine, its red wines are better known. Most Rioja wines are blended primarily from Tempranillo and Garnacha grapes. Many of the wines, at all price-points, offer excellent value. The best examples of red Rioja exhibit a fine balance of fruit, acid, tannin, and alcohol that makes them extremely versatile at the dinner table.

The staff at Northside Wine & Spirits recently blind tasted a group of 27 red Rioja wines priced under $40 per bottle. The lineup included young (joven) wines and crianza wines that must spend one year in barrel and one year in bottle before release. There were also a number of reservas, which must spend at least one year in barrel and two years in bottle, and a single gran reserva, a wine that must spend a minimum of two years in barrel and three years in bottle.

The quality of the wines tasted was quite high. Many of the more traditionally styled wines were rounded and gentle, exhibiting hints of leather, soft red fruits, violet, and a vanilla character from ageing in new American oak barrels. Others, produced in a more “modern” style, were deep, dark, and concentrated, with the use of new French oak evident.

In the end, two traditionally styled wines tied for first place. The La Rioja Alta 2005 Rioja reserva “Viña Alberdi” and the Bodegas Breton 2006 Rioja reserva “Loriñon” are both priced at $19.99 per bottle. They offer exceptional quality for the price, and were preferred to several more expensive wines.

Both wines were aged for two years in American oak barrels, and both are made from primarily Tempranillo grapes. La Rioja Alta is a rather elegant wine, with hints of dried cherry, vanilla, and leather, and a very long, juicy finish. The Breton “Loriñon” is a bit fuller bodied, with a darker fruit character and a spicy note that lingers in the finish. Either of these fabulous wines will pair nicely with grilled pork or chicken, roast lamb, hearty stews, or most any dish containing mushrooms.

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