Rioja That Left Me Speechless for the Price

Today’s Story: La Rioja Alta

I previously wrote about La Rioja Alta back in May when I reviewed the 2010 Rioja Gran Reserva 904, but their 2010 Viña Ardanza Selección Especial was too tempting to pass up today.

La Rioja Alta is a historic winery established in 1890 by five Riojan and Basque families in Haro’s Station Quarter. The endeavor was named Sociedad Vinícola de La Rioja Alta, and in 1904 La Rioja Alta merged with Ardanza Winery. The two years, 1890 and 1904, are important for La Rioja Alta and today’s Gran Reservas 890 and 904 allude directly to those milestones. Today, La Rioja Alta practices sustainable viticulture with 16 hectares dedicated to organic viticulture, limiting treatments in the vineyards and utilizing renewable energy to support many of their operations. La Rioja Alta produces their wines from estate vineyards, with yields kept to under 5,000 kilos per hectare in order to yield higher quality fruit. All of the barrels are produced onsite by the Rioja Alta cooperage, and they use oak imported from the United States which they dry in open air for 2 years before use. All barrels are racked individually by candlelight and the wines go through long aging to preserve harmony and balance before release.

Today’s Wine: 2010 Viña Ardanza Rioja Reserva Selección Especial

80% Tempranillo, 20% Garnacha; 13.5% ABV

The 2010 Selección Especial is translucent medium ruby or even dark garnet in color. I decanted this bottle for 6 hours and drank it over the following 2 hours, and the wine needed every second it. Once this opens up, the captivating and classic nose offers aromas of dried black cherry, plum, dried strawberry, tobacco, leather, loamy earth, smoked game, graphite, cola, chocolate, and oak. The palate is equally tantalizing, showcasing notes of cherry, black raspberry, redcurrant, stewed strawberry, blood orange peel, pipe tobacco, sun-dried earth, wet crushed rock, dill, clove, mild vanilla, and slight baking spice. This is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium tannins, and a medium (+) length finish. While beautifully expressive and a textbook Rioja now, this will only get better in 5-10 years and keep well beyond that. The Selección Especial designation was made in only 4 vintages over the bottling’s 77 year history: 1964, 1973, 2001, and 2010.

Price: $40 (I paid closer to $50). The value here is incredible. If you can find this for $40 (or even less in some locations) I would honestly purchase it by the case. I would even buy it by the case at $50. For how this drinks now with a lot of air, I can only imagine what the coming decades will bring.

Modern Rioja Project by the Rothschilds and Vega Sicilia

Today’s Story: Bodegas Benjamin de Rothschild & Vega Sicilia

Bodegas Benjamin de Rothschild & Vega Sicilia was established in 2004 as a joint venture between Tempos Vega Sicilia and Compagnie Vinicole Baron Edmond de Rothschild. With the Rothschild family legendary in Bordeaux and Vega Sicilia legendary in Ribera del Duero, the two came together over a mutual appreciation of the terroir and history of La Rioja as a winegrowing region. The venture’s first vintage is 2009, with the release of the first bottles of Macán and Macán Clásico in 2013. Macán is the flagship bottling and Macán Clásico is a “second wine,” modeled after Bordeaux’s first and second wine traditions. With 92 hectares of estate vineyards in San Vicente de la Sonsierra, Labastida, Ábalos, and El Villar, the winery produces wines exclusively with Tempranillo and seeks to create a modern expression of the variety.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Macán Clásico Rioja

100% Tempranillo; 14.5% ABV

The 2016 Macán Clásico Rioja is opaque deep purple/ruby in color, but nearly black at its core. This needed a solid 4-5 hours in the decanter to start really opening up, but once it does the nose showcases aromas of cherry, plum, black licorice, leather, tobacco, slight barnyard, baking spice, and vanilla. Moving to the palate, this modern Rioja offers notes of dark juicy cherry, cranberry, spiced plum, rose, cigar box, dried earth, dill, clove, and pepper. The wine is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $55. At this price there are certainly better value Riojas out there, particularly for me since I prefer the more rustic, terroir-driven bottlings over a wine as modern as this one. A modern Rioja is, however, what this winery goes for so they do hit that target. Though not necessarily a wine for me now, I will certainly continue to monitor these wines to see how the powerhouses of the Rothschilds and Vega Sicilia grow into this new venture over time.

The Promise of Ribera del Duero

Today’s Story: Dominio de Pingus Psi

Psi was born out of passion by Peter Sisseck of Dominio de Pingus fame. While Pingus is arguably the pinnacle for the best that wines can be from Ribera del Duero and Spain overall, Peter established Psi to focus more on how old vines and improved farming practices could demonstrate the true overlooked potential of the region. Ribera del Duero has long been a source of “quantity over quality” mentality because the farmers are often paid by the ton and chemical use runs rampant. Peter, however, works with growers who he has helped shift to organic and biodynamic farming practices with emphasis on quality, purity of fruit, and expression of terroir. As quality of fruit improves, Peter pays his partner growers higher rates. The wines of Psi are then produced using more traditional winemaking techniques, with long macerations and rare use of new oak. Psi is no doubt an exciting development in Ribera del Duero, and it will be fun to see how the wines change and improve over time.

Today’s Wine: 2009 Psi Ribera del Duero

100% Tinto Fino (Tempranillo); 13.5% ABV

The 2009 Psi is opaque deep garnet in color with ruby hues. Once this opens up, the nose emits aromas of plum, black cherry, cola, cigar box, forest floor, spearmint, tilled rocky soil, and mineral. I will say it was fairly muted until given about 3 hours in the decanter. On the palate, which really steals the show here, I get notes of blackberry, cassis, black raspberry, tobacco, crushed rock, charred earth, green peppercorn, and mocha. This wine is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, high tannins, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $80 ($40-50 in Europe, but pretty hard to find). I think the $80 price tag here is a bit of a value stretch, but that is I think largely due to the fact this is very difficult to find and even more so with the age on it. If you find this closer to the $40 level (which I speculate is more of a release price here in the US) then it’s certainly worth a shot.

Great Value Rioja Gran Reserva

Today’s Story: El Coto de Rioja

El Coto de Rioja was established in 1970 when they completed their first harvest in Rioja, however the winery was not completed until 1976 in Oyón of the Álava province. Rather quickly, El Coto de Rioja ramped up their commercial goals and throughout the 1980s laid the foundation for drastic increases in global exportation that occurred during the 1990s. By the mid-1990s, demand for the wines was nearly outpacing production so El Coto de Rioja expanded their original winery and became the leading brand in the Spanish market for Crianza and Reserva by 2000. In 2004, the estate’s Los Almendros vineyard (450 hectares) became the largest in Rioja and today the winery is the largest winegrower in the Denominación de Origen Rioja. In 2010, El Coto de Rioja started producing white wines which preceded, in 2014, the creation of a separate winery (still within the overall facility in Oyón) built exclusively to produce white wines.

As briefly mentioned, El Coto de Rioja is the largest winegrower in the Denominación de Origen Rioja with 730 hectares planted to vine. These vineyards are spread throughout the region, broken down into 8 separate “farms.” Maintaining their own estate vineyards is a crucial aspect of the winemaking process for El Coto de Rioja, for it helps them ensure a consistent quality across all the fruit. This mentality continues to the winery itself, which is organized as twelve “separate” wineries each designated to complete one step of the winemaking process. For example, there are separate buildings for production, blending, aging, bottling, and the finished product, all with optimized conditions for their tasks.

To learn more about the estate or to look through their portfolio of wines, check out the website here.

Today’s Wine: 2012 Coto de Imaz Rioja Gran Reserva

90% Tempranillo, 10% Graciano; 14.5% ABV

The 2012 Coto de Imaz Rioja Gran Reserva is opaque deep ruby/purple in color and nearly black at its core. I decanted this for 5 hours or so, tasting along the way, and it needed it. While initially the nose is dominated by oak, cinnamon, and vanilla, over time it develops to showcase black cherry, plum, cassis, tobacco, black tea, graphite, rocky mineral, and cedar. Moving to the palate, I get notes of tart cherry, blackberry, black raspberry, licorice, red florals, baking spice, iron, and oak. This is full-bodied with high acidity, grippy medium (+) tannins, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $30. I think this is a great value for Rioja, especially a Gran Reserva. This would be a great accessible wine for people trying to explore Rioja who may not be familiar with the region or the Tempranillo variety. Drinks beautifully now with some air, but plenty of gas left in the tank.

Incredible Quality Just Outside Ribera del Duero

Today’s Story: Galia

Galia was established in 2009 as a personal project of vigneron Jérôme Bougnaud with the partnership of Daniel García-Pita of El Regajal. Though Jérôme comes from a lineage of winemakers in Cognac, France, he works extensively in Spain and particularly along the Duero River and just outside the official borders of Ribera del Duero in Castilla y León. Galia’s vineyards consist of relatively small parcels and are scattered along the river within the provinces of Soria, Burgos, and Valladolid. Most of these vineyards sit at 795-1,000m above sea level and consist of old vines aging 50-100+ years old. Jérôme practices organic viticulture and all fruit is harvested manually before going through whole cluster or partial whole cluster natural fermentation. The wines age in 15% new French oak barrels before being bottled unfined and unfiltered. Since many of these wines are bottled as Vino de Mesa because the vineyards lay outside established D.O.s, they can be an outstanding play for value given the incredible yet “under the radar” quality of land.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Le Dean

99% Tinto Fino (Tempranillo), 1% Albillo; 15% ABV

The 2015 Galia Le Dean is opaque medium to deep ruby in color with deep purple hues. Once this opens up (I gave it 3 hours in the decanter), the nose showcases aromas of dusty cherry, plum, dried fig, leather, pipe tobacco, forest floor, dried herbs, and cedar. Once in the mouth, the wine displays notes of black cherry, brambleberry, licorice, tobacco, loamy earth, chunky crushed rock and clay, underbrush, and chocolate. This is medium- to full-bodied with medium acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a long finish. 758 bottles produced.

Price: $55. Very high quality and well-made for the price, with the depth and balance (you can’t even tell this is 15% ABV) pushing this into the good value category. Pair with roasted lamb, suckling pig, or charcuterie.

Rioja to Be Cherished for Decades to Come

Today’s Story: La Rioja Alta

La Rioja Alta is a historic winery established in 1890 by five Riojan and Basque families in Haro’s Station Quarter. The endeavor was named Sociedad Vinícola de La Rioja Alta, and in 1904 La Rioja Alta merged with Ardanza Winery. The two years, 1890 and 1904, are important for La Rioja Alta and today’s Gran Reservas 890 and 904 allude directly to those milestones. Today, La Rioja Alta practices sustainable viticulture with 16 hectares dedicated to organic viticulture, limiting treatments in the vineyards and utilizing renewable energy to support many of their operations. La Rioja Alta produces their wines from estate vineyards, with yields kept to under 5,000 kilos per hectare in order to yield higher quality fruit. All of the barrels are produced onsite by the Rioja Alta cooperage, and they use oak imported from the United States which they dry in open air for 2 years before use. All barrels are racked individually by candlelight and the wines go through long aging to preserve harmony and balance before release.

Today’s Wine: 2010 Rioja Gran Reserva 904

90% Tempranillo, 10% Graciano; 13.5% ABV

The 2010 Gran Reserva 904 is translucent deep garnet in color with ruby hues. I decanted this for 7 hours and drank it over 2 hours, though in honesty this could’ve opened up longer. The nose showcases aromas of blackberry jam, blueberry, raspberry, blue/purple/red floral bouquet, dried tobacco leaf, savory herbs, coconut, cinnamon, and vanilla bean. On the palate, I get notes of spiced plum, juicy blueberry, raspberry, violet and lavender, licorice, tobacco, pebbles, thyme, baking spice, and cedar. This is medium-bodied with medium acidity, velvety medium tannins, and an incredibly silky mouthfeel into a long finish. Give this 5-7 years in the cellar and drink over the following 2-3 decades.

Price: $58 (typically averages $66). This is absolutely worth the price, being undoubtably the best young Rioja I’ve enjoyed to date. The wine drinks with pure elegance and finesse after a long decant, but has the structure to age effortlessly for decades to come. Pair with roasted lamb, roasted game bird, or chorizo and Manchego cheese.

Elegant Rioja That Won’t Break the Bank

Today’s Story: Bodegas Muga

Bodegas Muga is a family-owned winery established in 1932 in Haro, La Rioja, Spain by Isaac Muga and his wife Aurora Caño. Their children, Manuel and Isacín, picked up the baton to carry the winery into its second generation, however it is truly the current third generation responsible for modernizing the estate. Manuel’s sons Manuel, Juan, and Eduardo look after management of the estate, sales, and marketing, whereas Isacín’s sons Jorge and Isaac work in viticulture and winemaking. In recent past, Jorge shifted toward more complex blending in his wines by utilizing typically 20-30% of native varieties besides Tempranillo, particularly Garnacha, Graciano, and Mazuelo. For all of their wines, Muga utilizes classical winemaking methods and fermentation, aging, and storage is accomplished in oak barrels produced by their very own cooperage. The wines are racked using gravity every four months and before bottling they are fined using egg whites. Some of the wines (such as the one I’m reviewing today) are bottled unfiltered.

A relatively large winery, Muga owns 250 hectares of vineyards and produces roughly 1.5 million bottles of wine annually. With their vineyards planted to Tempranillo, Garnacha, Mazuelo, Graciano, Viura, and Malvasía, Muga’s portfolio includes a broad range of wines from White and Rosado to Red Rioja Reservas and Cava (sparkling). You can visit their website here.

Today’s Wine: 2013 Rioja Reserva

70% Tempranillo, 20% Garnacha, 10% Graciano & Mazuelo; 14% ABV

The 2013 Rioja Reserva is nearly fully opaque medium ruby in color. I decanted this for about an hour and the nose opens to express aromas of black cherry, plum, blackberry, purple and blue florals, leather, charred earth, tar, chocolate, vanilla, and oak. On the palate, I get notes of blackcurrant, blackberry, cherry, black raspberry, cola, tobacco, slate, dried rocky earth, green herbs, and smoky mineral. This wine is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, dusty medium tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $25 ($16-$18 in Europe). This is an incredible value that drinks with refined elegance now but still has gas in the tank to go another 5+ years. Pair this with roasted pork loin, veal, lasagna, or Manchego cheese.

Remarkable Value from Toro

Today’s Story: Bodega Numanthia

Numanthia is a somewhat young winery, founded in 1998 and located in Valdefinjas in the region of Castile and León in northwestern Spain. The winery is named for the ancient city of Numancia, one whose residents resisted Roman rule for 20 years before ultimately sacrificing their lives instead of surrendering to the invading army. Though Numanthia is slightly over two decades old, their vineyards were first planted centuries ago and have weathered the passing of time and even survived the phylloxera crisis throughout Europe during the 19th century. These vines are planted in sandy and rocky soil, causing them to struggle and stretch their roots up to five meters below the earth’s surface to reach water and nutrition. The vineyards are planted 100% to Tinta de Toro and are made up of more than 100 plots, with some vines dating over 120 years old, and all farming is manual and organic while removing the use of pesticides. There are three expressions of Tinta de Toro in the Numanthia portfolio, which includes the Termes, Numanthia, and Termanthia bottlings.

Today’s Wine: 2012 Termes

100% Tinta de Toro (aka Tempranillo); 15% ABV

The 2012 Termes is opaque medium to deep purple/ruby in color. This requires about 45 minutes to open up, but once it does the nose emits aromas of blackberry, cassis, spiced plum, black raspberry, anise, smoked game, tilled rocky soil, wet granite, dark chocolate, nail polish remover, and oak. On the palate, this wine showcases notes of black plum, blackberry jam, blueberry, black cherry, cola, licorice, sweet tobacco, leather, cracked pepper, loamy earth, and light vanilla. This is medium-bodied with medium acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $25. This is a really good value wine, especially since I’ve been able to find it multiple times on sale around $15! Even at $25 per bottle this drinks incredibly well with some bottle age and the high ABV actually goes mostly unnoticed. Pair this with pizza, barbecue pork ribs, steak tacos, or tomato sauce pasta.

Promising Toro that Barely Misses the Mark Today

Today’s Story: Bodega Teso la Monja

Teso la Monja was founded in 2007 by Marcos and Miguel Angel Eguren, however the history of their family in Spanish winemaking stretches much deeper. The Eguren family has been cultivating vines and producing wine in Rioja Alavesa since 1870 and today carries their culminated knowledge down five generations. The Eguren family, alongside Jorge Ordóñez, have been instrumental in the revitalization of the Toro DO and were the original founders of Bodegas Numanthia in the region. When the family sold Numanthia in 2007, they did not want to abandon their projects in Toro and Teso la Monja was born. With Marcos as winemaker and his son Eduardo assisting, we have the fourth and fifth generations of this family once again continuing their tradition of passing along knowledge of crafting exquisite wines.

Teso la Monja is one of six wineries the family operates under the Viñedos y Bodegas Sierra Cantabria umbrella. If you have an interest in exploring their other labels, check out the website here.

Today’s Wine: 2012 Almirez Toro

100% Tinta de Toro (Tempranillo); 14.5% ABV

The 2012 Almirez is opaque deep purple in color. I decanted this for about 30-45 minutes before trying the wine and the nose opens to reveal aromas of cherry, plum, figs, red licorice, tobacco, earth, shoe leather, and oak. Once in the mouth, the wine displays notes of blackberry, black cherry, bay leaf, dried fig, chocolate, forest floor, dried herbs, and nutmeg. This Tinta de Toro is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $20. Typically a price-point for some great value Toro wines, however this one is a bit unbalanced and either needs more time in the cellar or I would suggest trying a different wine. Pair this with pizza, barbecue chicken, or tomato sauce pasta.