2004 Baigorri Reserva $40

This is super aromatic with spicy, toasty French oak notes on the nose along with vanilla, sandalwood, cherry licorice and a hint of citric green anise seed. Smooth, rich and just a touch soft in the mouth, this manages to retain a certain sense of delicacy even though it is fairly opulent and rich in the mouth. The tannins and acidity are totally covered by the fruit but with time you can sense their firmness. The flavors are marked by dark and spiced oak over earthy black berry fruit. The finish is all structure at this point, with a shading of black cherry sticking to the structure. This is quite a powerful wine that shows just a hint of heat on the finish. If you like powerful wine, this might be for you. 89pts

2007 LAN Reserva $18

Licorice, root vegetables and plenty of toasty oak sweetness on the nose are joined by wild cherry, rhubarb, pencil lead and a fair veneer of spicy oak and vanilla. This is softer on the palate with round tannins in an easy drinking style. It delivers plenty of black cherry, black currant fruit, a little vein of black spice and herb. Smooth and polished, it shifts to more of a black berry flavor on the back end and long finish, with acidity and wood tannin becoming more obvious. 88pts

2008 Muga Reserva Unfiltered $25

Sweet on the nose with a really engaging blend of wood spice, herb, leather, light barnyard and fruit notes that recall candied black cherries and blackberry pie. This has really nice aromatic intensity and complexity. Smooth on entry, this shows a light edge of acidity and lightly splintery wood tannins on the tongue, but they just add a youthful impression to the fruity palate that follows the nose with flavors of blackberry and wild blackberry. The wood spice adds nice detail on the back end with a slightly chewy feel and suggestion of astringency on the moderately long finish. This shows a little brett on the nose and the finish, but it is currently well within reason. 88pts

2008 Bodegas Luis Alegre Parcela n.5 $40

Violets and purple fruit fight for attention on the nose against vanilla and creamy oak. The fruit and floral notes do seem to be winning this battle, gaining green anise seed and fennel notes with air. Very smooth and polished on entry, this is still a bit tight. Medium bodied and a bit low on the palate, the wine has a certain aromatic freshness to this that comes out with air. That freshness highlights the spicy fennel notes and taut core of transparent if dark cherry/berry fruit. Very refined. I have no experience with this producer so I am hesitant to predict where this might go, but it has excellent balance, complexity and freshness of flavor. It needs a bit more intensity, but I think that will come. A conservative bottling. 88pts

2005 Bodegas Riojanas Vina Albina Reserva $20

Earthy on the nose with low notes of leafy greens and carob under tobacco, roast beef and spicy red fruit, all topped with a light vanilla top note. A touch soft in the mouth, this spreads out across the palate like cashmere. Wonderfully ripe, lush tannins are wrapped in a nice layer of sweet blackberry and strawberry fruit. The acidity makes itself known on the back end along with a little earthy detail and well-judged but obvious nutty oak. There’s a hint of herb on the back end that adds some complexity to the finish, which really shines. Lightly leathery dried cherry fruit recedes to expose grippy tannins that offer a nice, drying contrast to the sweet lushness of the palate. This offers more of a textural experience than a flavor experience and as such should prove to be wildly successful. 87pts

2006 Valdelana Reserva $20

Fine French oak lends the nose a cognac, butterscotch and spicy oak tone over light red fruits. This is medium bodied in the mouth with sweetness on entry from the oak that is followed by nice, bright acids. A zesty edge to the fruit straddles the red, black fruit border. There’s a bit of plum skin and some blackberry fruit in a very well balanced package. This shows off firm tannins on the finish, which has decent length but does show a fair amount of lingering oak influence. 87pts

2004 Bodegas Altanza Seleccion Especial Reserva $36

This smells very oaky and charred on the nose with sour black fruit aromas and accents of green herbs, orange peel and dried pork. Taut on entry, this is very nicely put together. The wine is medium bodied with a nice, early rush of mulberry fruit that is followed by bright, juicy acidity and polished tannins. Sweet tea-inflected sour black cherry, blackberry fruit with a watermelon seed note, and some spicy oak hints on the back end pop on the finish along with the tea notes. This shows a bit of heat on the finish and while it has a great texture, it’s a little anonymous at the same time. Many people will love this modern Rioja, but I’m not sure. Tasted blind, I would say this is Rioja.  87pts

2006 Conde de Valdemar Reserva $22

Sharp wood greets the nose, which is nicely focused with small, wild strawberry fruit and a little tobacco. This is a bit high toned, lean and crisp in the mouth with a focused, elegant feel showing off fine tannins and a nice brightness. While retaining good tension in the mouth, this lacks a little follow through and drops off on the palate. Very front-loaded with somewhat tarry fruit, which is sort of a suggestion through the modest finish. 86pts

2007 Finca Nueva $24

A little tight on the nose with fine oak accents to the vanilla-, cinnamon- and pencil lead-dusted taut black fruit. Nicely focused in the mouth, this does show a fair amount of sweet, black fruit. There’s a little hollowness on the mid-palate followed by nice wood spice notes and a faint hint of herb that accents the black cherry fruit. This is lightly chewy in the mouth and the finish is fairly tannic and spicy from the wood. Ends with licorice and toast notes over a base of persistent black cherry fruit and a hint of heat on the finale. 86pts

2005 Faustino V Reserva $20

Dark and earthy on the nose with notes of caramel, tobacco, cocoa, leather and chalk over roasted fruit. Smooth on entry with acidity that is just a touch low by Rioja standards, this is smooth and silky with flavors that are a bit simple. The texture will be very appealing to a broad range of consumers as will the simple vanilla, cherry and toast flavors, but this lacks complexity and detail for me. Ends rather abruptly with a leather, almond and cherry pit finale and dry tannins. 85pts

2008 Bodegas Luis Alegre Reserva $24

This is subtle and refined on the nose, full of seedy spicy notes and wrapped in vanilla, tobacco and oak aromas over a bed of dandelion-tinged earthy black fruit. Soft and smooth on entry, this is almost tender in the mouth with a delicate feel. There’s some nice acidity here and spicy wood flavors early on. Soft tannins support black cherry and blackberry flavors on the mid-palate. It’s very easy to drink and enjoy with cherry pit flavors on the back end and through the modest finish, but this strikes me as a Rioja with training wheels. 85pts