This list might seem a bit lopsided, featuring wines from both Rioja and California, but I found that these two regions best epitomize the styles of Rioja in the marketplace. Rioja produces classic wines with leaner fruit and more elegance and finesse, while the New World specializes in power, richness and bright fruit.
Each style remains true to what nature has provided to the wine makers. While I may prefer one to the other, I can recommend both very highly. Tempranillo makes a might fine holiday wine, so enjoy a bottle this Thanksgiving and see if you don’t agree!
Photo courtesy Ryan Opaz via Flickr/CC
2008 Dinastia Vivanco 4 Varietales
Gold Medal Winner – Tempranillos al Mundo 2011
This is simply an explosively fruity, deep and rich wine, though it remains remarkably well defined. There’s a fair amount of oak here, but the layers of fruit aromas from the Grenache and Mazuelo really add complexity to the nose. In the mouth, one finds powerfully rich yet fresh blackberry fruits paired with some assertive and New World-styled, oak induced flavors. The fruit powers through on the finish, which shows intense floral, leather and black spice elements that really make the fruit pop. This is a bold wine, leaning slightly more towards a New World style, yet it does so with some finesse and elegance. Great wine. 93pts
2001 La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza Gran Reserva
Light and elegant on the nose. Vanilla oak topped layers of leather, medicinal, minty, chalky and teriyaki dried beef elements accent a bright core of wild cherry. Smooth and rich in the mouth, this is powerful yet not that large. The berry fruit, both fresh and dried, is accented by earth and spice notes. A fine bitter cherry element drives the moderately long finish. This is brilliant, layered, structured, faceted and transparent. It’s about as good as it gets. 94pts
2009 Hovey Rolleri Cuvee Tempranillo
Gold Medal Winner – Tempranillos al Mundo 2011
Nicely aromatic with blueberry and blackberry notes, supported by sweet coffee and vanilla toned oak. This has a nice softness in the mouth, but there is solid structure lurking under the blackberry and blueberry fruits, along with some spicy licorice tinged coffee notes. Focused and well balanced in the mouth, this offers rich fruit flavors with an inherently dry and savory framework. A very nice balance of rich warm climate fruit and restrained elegance. 91pts
2007 Vina Palaciega Rioja Crianza
Low and a bit heavy on the nose, with a deep core of dark wood underlay, with chocolate dipped cherry fruit and some coconut and mint accents. This is light and fresh on the palate with lovely brightness. The tannins are well balanced, adding some mouthgrab 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. That unripe strawberry arrives on the finish as well, which is rather long and well structured. A background of aromatic oak supports a combination of fresh and dried red berry fruit. This is lovely Crianza, expressive but lean and taut. 89pts
2005 Abacela Paramour
This has a lovely aged perfume which combines the fading scents of red berry fruits with notes of leather, earth, spice and a hint of herb. In the mouth, this has fine clarity to the fruit, more red than black, but with emerging base notes of lightly roasted black fruits. The texture is wonderfully rich yet elegant, allowing the subtle array of fruit and very subtle oak flavors excellent clarity. I don’t know the terroir that this is from, but it does seem to display a nice soil driven vein, which extends through the beautifully perfumed and long finish. 91pts
2005 Ramon Bilbao Reserva
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. This is slightly volatile on the nose, but only to the point of boosting the aromatics. Smooth on entry, this shows some rather extracted, dry tannins, but there’s fine buffering material in the form of rich, slightly chewy dark fruit that’s a bit gamy. 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. The fruit wins out on the finale. 91pts
2010 Verdad Albarino
Okay, so I’m sneaking one in on you! Albariño from California? Is this possible? Well yes, it is. While California Albariño has generally seemed to me to be too high pitched and lean, this Verdad Albariño retains the fine acid and even mineral notes of the grape, while pairing it with unusually rich, yet not tropical fruit flavors. There’s a touch of tannin here, adding wonderful mouthgrab on the palate and making this an excellent food wine. 90pts
Want to Learn More?
Take a look at our reviews for Current Vintages of Rioja!