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Reserve your Rioja reserva!

Northside Staff
Tasters: Dave Pohl, ed., Dana Malley, Jason Wentworth, Mark Britten, Robert Bradley, and Jay Reed

Rioja is Spain’s best known wine region, and arguably its finest. Located in northern Spain, Rioja has historic ties to the renowned Bordeaux region of France. These ties include the assimilation of Bordelaise winemaking techniques, in particular the use of oak barrels for the ageing of wine, a practice that gained a foothold in Rioja as early as the late 18th century.

The historic emphasis on the use of oak barrels in Rioja reverberates today, as the red wines of Rioja are classified according to how they are aged prior to release. Wines labeled simply Rioja spend less than a year in barrel. Rioja crianza indicates a wine that has been aged for at least two years, at least one of which was in barrels, and Rioja reserva extends the ageing requirement to three years, one of which must be in barrel. Finally, we have Rioja gran reserva, which must be aged for two years in barrel and three in bottles.

Some of the finest values can be found in the reserva category. These wines are frequently available in the marketplace at 5 to 10 years of age. They can be quite complex and are frequently better balanced than the more expensive gran reserva wines.

The staff at Northside Wine & Spirits recently blind tasted 15 Rioja reservas. The staff’s top pick was the Lan 2007 “Viña Lanciano” Rioja ($25). A blend of Tempranillo and Mazuelo (Carignan) grapes, it was aged 18 months in barrels and 18 months in bottles before release. This gorgeous wine exhibits an intense dark fruit flavor enhanced by hints of vanilla, cedar, and a long, balanced finish.

The tasting’s best buy was the Lopez de Haro 2005 Rioja reserva ($14). Aged 20 months in barrels and blended from Tempranillo and Graciano grapes, this wine has a knockout aroma that intermingles red and dark fruits. In the mouth the wine displays a velvety texture and ripe, rich red fruit tinged by a vanilla note on its warm, satisfying finish.

These two wines both offer exceptional value. Try them with a hearty paella, roasted lamb, wild mushroom risotto, or a rich ratatouille. Disfrute!

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