It’s time to return to what Rioja does best, great value in aged wines that are ready to rock and roll. We tend to think of Reserva as a premium designation, and it often is, but in Rioja, it falls in the middle of the ageing scale and thus offers a lovely blend of freshness and development that this Monte Real captures so well.
This is moderately rich but super well polished and elegant, with a wonderfully purity to the fruit. The wood is coasting under the surface, adding a bit of spice and a solid foundation to the black cherry fruit, with licorice, leather and vaguely medicinal notes. This could be a touch more complex, but epitomizes Rioja Reserva to me. 92pts
2005 Ramon Bilbao Rioja Reserva 13.5% $20
I’ve already mentioned one wine by Ramon Bilboa, so you may find it odd to see another here. This wine was a standout for me this year. At $20 a bottle, it makes much sense for me to recommend this, a wine that is pretty much accessible to all, is delicious and gives you an idea of the house style.
This is quite fruity and intensely aromatic, with a fair amount of oak. Sweet vanilla, subdued stemminess, red cherry and currant fruit with a peppery top note fill the glass. Mostly cherry toned with some black raspberry notes and a bit of spice, the fruit rises on the mid-palate and becomes more perfumed and expressive on the back end. The moderately long finish shows a fine interplay of wood, spice, sweetness and mouthwatering fruit. 91pts
2006 Vina Palaciega Rioja Reserva 13% $15
One of the trademarks of Rioja is its oak, much to the chagrin of many wine devotees. It’s a love it or leave it feature for many, but when combined with the classically bright fruit of Tempranillo, it definitely becomes more love it than leave it! Particularly at this price.
Very fresh and bright on entry, this has brilliant red and black raspberry fruit in the mouth, all supported by integrated, not obvious wood spice notes, a streak of vanilla and some anise seed elements. The acidity is bright and juicy, keeping the fruit fresh and lightening the medium-bodied palate feel. This is just a touch simple, but is super fresh, juicy and balanced. 89pts
2007 Vina Palaciega Rioja Crianza 13% $11
I’m going with another producer twice again here, but when you find what you like, it’s worth going back to the trough! In this example, I am returning to Vina Palaciega. Not only because the wine is good, but also to illustrate a point. The point that Reserva and Crianza are two distinct styles of wine regulated by law, but without one being better than the other. These are two different wines and both succeed brilliantly at what they are trying to achieve.
This is light and fresh on the palate with lovely brightness. The tannins are well balanced, adding some mouth grab to what seems at first to be a rather lightweight wine. With air, more fruit emerges in a sort of macerated raspberry/strawberry vein with a lovely bright note, maybe combining a touch of chalk with some unripe strawberry. A background of aromatic oak supports fresh and dried red berry fruit. This is lovely Crianza, expressive but lean and taut. 89pts
2009 Garcia Carrion Antano 13.5% $10
We began this adventure with a discussion of the basics and fundamental points that helped me choose Rioja as my region of the year. Price was of course one of them, so ending with another great value seems appropriate. With so much Rioja under $10, it’s good to remember that not all of the wines need to be aged in oak for extended periods of time to be delicious. In fact, young Rioja like this tend to be perfect for year round drinking and ideal for non-wine drinking friends to indulge in!
There are fine-grained tannins adding a touch of mouth grab to the strawberry and cherry fruit. Not complex but delightful, with a zesty purity to the fruit. It feels the way wine should feel. A moderately long, clean and fruit-driven finish that is not really fruity. The perfect combination of fruity and savory, buy this by the case! 88pts
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