Open a bottle of Rioja

Col-head-ZalkinAfter the fiscal and culinary excess of the holidays, it’s nice to get back to basics.

If you’re looking for a great value wine that goes great with food, why not look to Rioja, one of Spain’s most famous wines. Rioja is made primarily from tempranillo, a grape that is grown all over Spain and Portugal. Tempranillo vines need remarkably little water, and thrive in hot, arid regions, making great use of land that is unsuitable for most agriculture.

Rioja is traditionally a blended wine, with dominated by the character of tempranillo, and balanced a few other grapes, most notably granache, which adds fruitiness and ups the alcohol content.

Rioja can be powerful and elegant, with plenty of body. Riojas are rarely too sweet, or too alcoholic, and their high acid content makes them and excellent choice with a meal. They tend to be aged longer than most inexpensive wines, and the price range for a good Rioja is quite reasonable, with many bottles available for around $10. Even the very best bottles can often be snagged for $30 or $40. Rioja has a number of different styles, differentiated primarily by their use of oak:

• Rioja : The youngest wines are labeled simple “Rioja”. Bright and fruity, with less structure and tannin than older models, young rioja might not even have any oak aging, as it is not required.

• Crianza: Aged at least two years, at least one of which must be in oak, one year in bottle. Crianza tend to be fresh, ripe, wines with a little more sophistication than a plain “Rioja.”

• Reserva. Aged for at least three years, one of which must be in Oak. Reservas tend to strike a great balance between the fruit of younger riojas, and the structure of gran reservas.

• Gran Reserva: Must be aged for at least five years, with a minimum of two spent in oak. Gran Reservas have the most tannin structure, and far greater potential for aging. it is not unusual to find ten year old gran reservas on the shelf, as many producers will age the wines for much longer than the legal guideline, releasing them only when they are coming into their own, and ready for the table.

Riojas shine with the melded flavors of slow simmered dishes like casserole, cassoulet, or stew. They also do well with mild or sweet cheeses and grilled meats. There are many wonderful white riojas, but they tend to be less common in the U.S.  Both white and red riojas are classic choices for sangria, as their acidity and structure nicely offsets the sweetness of the fruit.

Rioja is so pleasantly food-flexible, that case of it will easily take you from the icy winter months to your first summer barbecue– provided you can make it last that long.

Here are a few featured Rioja wines for your enjoyment:

• Bodegas Montecillo – Rioja Gran Reserva: Notes of cherry and blackberry with a ripe, raisin edge. Undercurrent of dried spice, and acidity laced with fine tannins, should age nicely.

• Marques de Caceres – Rioja Reserva: Intense with forest berries and a hint of spice. Floral notes and exquisite tannins round out the finish.

• Bodegas Montecillo – Rioja Reserva: A clean, balanced wine with a brilliant deep cherry color, and a fresh spicy nose. Notes of tea leaves and smoke, lead into a lingering finish.


• La Rioja Alta – Rioja Vina Alberdi Reserva: Rich aromas of coffee, plum and leather. Aged one year in new oak, and one year in recycled barrels for a beautiful balance.


• Eguia – Rioja Crianza. A crisp bouquet of dark berries, sweet balsamic vinegar, and vanilla, and with whiff of leather. light tannins and ripe fruit on the finish.

You can find all of these delightful Riojas for purchase at our store, Old Greenwich Fine Wines & Cheese, located at 195 Sound Beach Avenue, Old Greenwich or visit our website or call (203) 990-3030 to place an order. When you stop in, we invite you to taste a number of our favorite wines while we help you find the right bottle for your palate.

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