Top 10 Rioja Wines of 2011

Learn to love the best of Rioja


2004 Bodegas Riojana Monte Real Rioja Reserva 13.5% $24

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

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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

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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

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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

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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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  • Well, color me convinced. As a result of Greg's enthusiasm along with recently tasting a 2001 Bodega Muga Prado Enea, I've decided to start buying and cellaring as much Rioja as I can afford. It's good to know you don't have to be a millionaire to drink like one. I just bought two 05's from my local merchant: Bodega LAN and Marques de Murrieta Finca Ygay (both Reservas). Any thoughts on the vintage? Long term potential?

    Jan 18, 2012 at 12:54 PM

  • To Brewtown-Brian: Vintage 2005 is one of the better in past decade. After the (superiorly) best 2001 (similar quality to 1994), 2004 and 2005 are worth buying and storing. Bodega LAN is quite good producer, but MdM YGAY is great one. Cheers :-)

    Jan 18, 2012 at 5:53 PM

  • Snooth User: Jwubina
    944223 1

    Wow! I bought 2 bottles of the Vina Ardanza Gran Reserva 2001 and the next day ordered more! It's reassuring to learn that a rank amateur's taste has been confirmed by a pro!

    Jan 18, 2012 at 6:04 PM

  • Snooth User: hlopez99
    271856 53

    California producers take note!!, Rioja wines are a better wines at rock bottom prices!!

    Jan 18, 2012 at 11:37 PM

  • Snooth User: stefcom
    116154 8

    Rioja as wine-region has got everything, you need to produce excellent wines. If there only weren't those often masking aromas of vanilla, cocolate and coffee from intensely used new barriques. Time for a change!

    Jan 19, 2012 at 12:41 AM

  • Snooth User: cabluvr
    74295 145

    I have been a fan of tempranillo and monastrell wines for several years now. Not only are they great QPR's, they're generally very nice wines. On Greg's recommendation, I purchased 4 bottles of the 2001 La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza Reserva Especial. I opened the first after letting it rest for a few weeks and found nothing close to the descriptions published here. I'm hoping that this was an isolated bottle issue and that the remaining three bottles resemble Greg's remarks.

    Jan 19, 2012 at 11:15 AM

  • Snooth User: jcbwine
    962675 34

    Please remove "Facebook, Twitter, like me - don't like me" crap from the pages. It covers your text and stays onscreen when you scroll. There's no 'close' button.

    Otherwise, I enjoy your take on affordable wines. Me gusta mucho Tempranillo!

    Jan 19, 2012 at 11:36 AM

  • Snooth User: Rich Tomko
    Hand of Snooth
    103444 2,868

    great choices Gregory -- especially digging the Lopez de Heredia and the Dinastia Vivanco. My current fav is the 2001 Altanza Lealtanza Rioja Gran Reserva. Go magnum, if able,

    Jan 19, 2012 at 2:40 PM

  • Just drinking 2001 La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza Reserva Especial. Cheers all :-)

    Jan 19, 2012 at 3:44 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,749

    Lucky you! How's it showing?

    Jan 19, 2012 at 3:52 PM

  • To Gregory: it is not showing. It is here, alive and kicking! Going to purchase some more on Saturday. As you said in your blog, there are few such great wines for such reasonable price. Rioja rules!

    Btw, had close encounter of 4th kind with Rioja wines last Friday. Not bad, but totally different stile than La Rioja Alta ones. (hope you would not consider this as a spam).

    Cheers :-)

    Jan 19, 2012 at 4:31 PM

  • Meant "style". Sorry for mistype :-(

    Jan 19, 2012 at 4:39 PM

  • Snooth User: willit63
    1020114 15

    I wonder if there could be some mistake since I don't see Marques de Riscal mentioned above. This is the wine that basically put Rioja on the map, and has maintained consistent quality for many years.

    Jan 19, 2012 at 9:59 PM

  • Snooth User: Farna
    1026322 51

    I love it. It is a classical style, mixed with a touch of modernity.
    The color is deep, but pretty evolutioned. Bright, special.
    The aroma is complex, hard to define, difficult to explain.
    In the mouth, long sensation, deep too. Elegant. arrogant too.
    Old and young... both.
    I love it.

    Jan 26, 2012 at 5:45 PM

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