This history of wine in Spain didn’t start with Tempranillo from Rioja, but the variety has proven to be the shining star of the country producing balanced, savory selections from historic producers. When the governing body for wine in Spain was created, Rioja was the first to receive an official regional DOC designation in the country in 1932, advancing to become a DOCG region, or Denominación de Origen Calificada Rioja, in 1991 making the wines of Rioja synonymous with the highest quality.
Though the region is dominated by Tempranillo based reds, lovely, lively white wines are also produced in the region from various varieties, but dominated by Viura, as well as other red wines from varieties like Graciano and Mazuelo, with a designated set of rules detailing the aging requirements for all wines of Rioja as instilled by the governing body of the region. I love the wines of Rioja, enjoying everything from youthful Joven whites, slightly aged Crianza and Reserva, to savory, dried fruit-filled Grand Reserva selections, like these that deliver quality often at very reasonable prices.
Rooted in the history of Rioja, Marques de Murrieta was founded in 1852 and named after Luciano de Murrieta, considered one of Rijoa’s founding fathers Rioja. Today the winery embraces the traditions of the past, while moving forward into the future producing some of the region’s finest wines. The 2015 Marques de Murrieta Reserva ($25) sources fruit from 30 different plots on their massive, 900+ acre estate, ensuring the perfect blend of fruit and flavors is achieved. Predominantly Tempranillo, with a touch of Graciano and Mazuelo, the wine is fragrant and fresh, with layers of ripe black and blueberry, black licorice, woody herb like rosemary and thyme, toasted vanilla, and balsamic.
Founded in 1972, Bodegas LAN derives its name from the initials of the three provinces of the Rioja Designation of Origin, Logroño, Álava and Navarra, with the winery’s historic low-yielding Vina Lanciano vineyard located on a bend of the Ebro River. LAN Vina Lanciano Rioja Reserva ($25) tells the story of place perfectly, layering distinct crushed stone mineral notes with ripe red cherry, black cherry, blackberry, and a melange of spices including cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and vanilla bean.
Bodegas Beronia capturing its beauty and essence with grace and style, thanks in part to winemaker Matias Calleja. Over the past 20+ years, Matias has worked to showcase their Rioja Alta fruit, developing an unconventional style for aging Tempranillo. This style now defines the wines of Beronia. By using a mix of French and American oak to age the wines, Beronia benefits from the best characteristics the oak imparts into the wines, including the flavors, tannins, color, and texture. Bodegas Beronia Reserva ($20,) aged 20 months in oak barrels produced with American oak staves, and French oak tops, and bottle aged an additional 18 months prior to release, is silky and seductive. With a lovely balance of tannin, fruit, and acid, the wine layers red cherry, red plum, nutmeg, cinnamon, and vanilla.
It is not often you will find a single varietal red wine in Rioja that is not Tempranillo, but a small number of producers are starting to create single-variety wines, including Rio Madre Graciano ($15) from Bodegas y Viñedos Ilurce with one of Spain’s greatest wine advocates and winery owners, Jorge Ordóñez, creating the blend. From the heart of Rioja Baja (or the lower Rioja region below the Ebro River) where late-ripening Graciano has the ability to slowly develop fully, ensuring vegetal notes won’t appear in the wine, as can happen in some areas in the northern part of the region, creating a luscious, easy wine with red and black fruit flavors melding effortlessly with black licorice, star anise, nutmeg, and clove.