I have to admit that I've been somewhat obsessed with Rioja lately. Not in my posts necessarily, but certainly in my thinking...and drinking. Spain is the country of the big three of Europe (the other being France and Italy) that I am the weakest on in terms of wine geography. I have stated many times that Spain is my go to country for value with more excellent under $10 wines available here than from any other country. There's more fruit and complexity and thus interest for me in the everyday wines of Spain. Jumilla, Navarra, Manchuela, Calatayud, Campo de Borja and Monstant are just a handful of the Spanish DOs that produce great everyday wines.
But you can't really learn about the essence of Spanish wine without eventually delving into Rioja. Wine production in Spain is centuries old, as it is in the rest of Europe, and Rioja is one of the most important Spanish viticultural areas. Tempranillo is the most important grape of the region and can be blended with Garnacha Tinta, Mazuelo, and Graciano. Cabernet Sauvignon is also sometimes used in the blend. World class wines with decades of aging potential have been produced here for a long time. On these pages however, we deal with the wallet friendly versions of the wines we taste.
The Rioja DO is a long valley in north central Spain that is surrounded on three sides by mountains that protect the vines from the wind. There are three sub-regions running northwest to southeast in the valley: Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Baja. The highest altitude vines lie in the Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa and produce more wines with more "terroir", or flavor elements that come form the soil. They will in general be less extracted and more complex. The Rioja Baja on the other hand, with it's lower altitude and warmer Mediterranean influenced climate, will generally produce fruitier, larger-scaled but somewhat more monolithic wines.
Last night's Rioja was a Crianza from Vina Bujanda and imported by Winebow, a national company with a great portfolio. The Crianza designation calls for at least two years of aging with at least six months in barrel. This cuvee is a 100% Tempranillo example that saw 70% American oak and 30% French oak, the American oak in general imparting more vanilla and the French oak more subtle spice flavors. With the source of these grapes being the Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa, this is a good example of balanced and elegant everyday Rioja. It's translucent ruby in color with red cherry and blueberry fruit supported by oak spice and tobacco notes. In the mouth, it's not too ripe, but juicy and energetic with a wonderful mid-palate of berry fruit with earthy notes and a reprise of the oak spice. It finishes long and soft and is a delicious example of good Rioja for an affordable $11.99. Bottoms up!