The La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza speaks to terroir, tradition, and quality – and at a more than fair price
Rioja, the Spanish red wine made with tempranillo that comes from the Rioja region of northern Spain, is one of the world’s great wine values. And it doesn’t matter whether you want to spend $10 or $100. Case in point: the La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza ($37, purchased, 13.5%).
In the past decade, Rioja producers have been caught between Parkerization, which demanded riper, higher alcohol wines for a high score, and traditionalists, who believed in Rioja’s legendary terroir.
The traditionalists won; even Parker likes the La Rioja Alta Viña Ardanza, giving it 93 points.
Their victory is a triumph for everyone who appreciates terroir and making wine taste like where it came from. The blend is 80 percent tempranillo and 20 percent garnacha, and the latter smooths out the tempranillo but doesn’t cover it up. The result is a full, open, expressive, and traditional Rioja that is a joy to drink.
Look for an inviting earthiness, the lovely and telltale orange peel, and rounded cherry fruit, all balanced by a subtle acidity and a hint of tannins. There is even a little baking spice tucked in – the whole is truly greater than the sum of the wine’s parts. This vintage should age and improve for another five years or so, but is ready to drink now.
Highly recommended, and especially as a Father’s Day gift for a red wine drinker who wants something different. Or who appreciates classic wine produced in a classic manner.
The Bilbainas Zaco, a $10 Spanish red, proves the first rule of wine criticism: Drink before you judge
The first rule of wine criticism – never, ever judge a wine before you drink it. The Bilbainas Zaco is a case in point.
The Bilbainas Zaco ($10, purchased, 14.5%) is not the sort of Spanish red from the Rioja region that I would normally buy; in fact, I bought it by accident, thinking it was something else. So when it was time to taste and I read the back label and saw the alcohol, I was prepared to write the wine off before the first sip. “Full bodied,” which is winespeak for too ripe fruit, is not what I want from Rioja.
Which is why there is the first rule of wine criticism. The Bilbainas Zaco is surprisingly enjoyable, even if it doesn’t exactly taste like tempranillo from Rijoa. There isn’t anything subtle or sophisticated here – just cherry fruit and a style that comes from young, not much aging before it’s released, Rioja. It’s a little rough from all the alcohol and the very unrefined tannins, but not in an unpleasant way. In other words, exactly the kind of wine that got 90 points from Parker and the Wine Spectator and that I would dismiss out of hand.
So taste it, and see what you think. Know, though, it’s a food wine: Beef, barbecue, and the like. Imported by Aveniu Brands
The El Coto Rioja crianza is one of the world’s great cheap wines, a Spanish red to enjoy over and over — even when you don’t get a sample
The Wine Curmudgeon has always been ambivalent about samples. Yes, they save me a lot of money, but too much of the wine I get as samples isn’t worth drinking — let alone writing about. One of the few times I’ve missed samples is when the El Coto Rioja stopped showing up.
Which is entirely too long. This is classic tempranillo, a red wine from the Rioja region of Spain. And the price makes it all that much better. All of the varietal character that is supposed to be in this kind of wine is there: the bright cherry color, the fresh red fruit with a touch of orange peel in the aroma, and the tart cherry fruit and spice flavors. Know, too, that Crianza is the most affordable and accessible of the three versions of Rioja, so it’s supposed to be simple – and simple does not mean stupid.
Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2019 $10 Hall of Fame. This is winter red wine, perfect for stews, braises, and almost anything else (a sloppy cheeseburger and onion rings?) when it’s cold and snowy and you want to sip and to sigh and to enjoy.
The Franco-Espanolas Bordon Gran Reserva is classic Rioja and a stunning value
This spring, I tasted a half dozen or so wines from Franco-Espanolas, a 125-year-old Spanish producer. I liked almost all of them, and even the one or two that I didn’t like were well made and worth what they cost.
Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to write about most of them because their availability is limited. The rose, for example, is classic Spanish pink and $10 Hall of Fame quality. But it’s almost impossible to buy in the U.S. unless you live in a couple of East Coast states.
Which brings us to the the Franco-Españolas Bordón Gran Reserva ($30, sample, 14%). It’s as excellent an example of this style of red wine from Rioja as I’ve tasted in years. It reminded me what great Rijoa, made in the traditional way, can be.
The wine is a stunning value. Yes, almost old-fashioned, but done impeccably, from the quality of the fruit to the two years of oak aging (something that is especially relevant given the recent fake oak controversy on the blog). The Franco-Espanolas Bordon Gran Reserva is a textbook example of Rioja – earthy, green herbs, a touch of sweet cherry from a little garnacha blended with the tempranillo, plus plum and bitter orange.
My notes say, “Just delicious,” which says it all. Highly recommended. Pair this with any red meat, and drink it now. For one thing, it’s too good a wine to let sit, though it might have a year or two left of aging.
The Muga Rioja Reserva ($26, purchased, 14%) may be $40 worth of wine if it came from France or California. But given that Muga is a top-flight producer, that’s not surprising; its wines, whether the $12 rose or its most expensive reds, consistently deliver more value and quality than they cost.
This is a surprisingly traditional Rioja given that garnacha is blended with tempranillo, as well as the 14 percent alcohol – very high for this style of wine. That means tart cherry fruit; layers of flavor, including green herbs, a smokiness that hangs around the edges and just the faintest note of oak. There is also the more common black pepper and orange peel. The garnacha adds richness to the wine, and it’s not as rustic as other vintages.
The Muga Rioja Reserva should age for at least a decade. As it does, the layers will become noticeable and more of a whole, while the flavors will become more full. Highly recommended; pair this with any grilled or roasted dinner, whether beef or chicken.
The Pagos Del Rey Arnegui is classic $10 red Rioja – cheap and tasty
We’re not quite at the point where we can buy Spanish wine knowing nothing about it save what’s on the front label and be assure of quality and value. But we’re getting closer.
Case in point is the Pagos Del Rey Arnegui ($10, purchased, 13.5%), which I bought knowing only it was from the Rioja region in Spain, was made with tempranillo, and was supposed to have minimum oak. Tempranillo is the red grape in Rioja, and crianza is the simplest style and uses the least oak aging.
What did I get? Classic $10 crianza – cherry fruit, a hint of orange something or other, a dash of herbs, a surprisingly full mouth feel for a wine at this price, the soft tannins characteristic of Rioja, and what the tasting notes claim was real oak (and even a bit more than I wanted). All in all, hard to believe if I hadn’t tasted it. Pair this with roast beef or chicken, and even peppers, onions, and sausages.
How can the Spanish do this? Some of it is the lower cost of production, including inexpensive land and cheaper labor. Some of it is tradition melded with modern winemaking. And some of it, sadly, is that demand isn’t what it should be. Too much of the rest of the world is chasing the latest 92-point sweet fruit and chocolate wonder and doesn’t know this kind of wine exists. That’s their loss.
Reviews of wines that don ?t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the fourth Friday of each month.
? Mateus Rose NV ($5, purchased, 11%): I don’t remember this wine, popular when I was in high school, tasting like raspberry 7 Up. But that was a long time ago. The wine has been repackaged since then, so that it’s in a clear glass bottle instead of the traditional green and doesn’t look quite the same as it did. And maybe it did taste like raspberry 7 Up all those years ago, which isn’t offensive — just odd.
? Chateau Graville-Lacoste Graves 2014 ($20, purchased, 12%): The legendary Kermit Lynch imports this French white Bordeaux, and it’s another example why you should buy any wine that has Lynch’s name on it. Look for freshness, minerality, and a clean sort of citrus flavor. Well worth every penny of the $20 it cost.
? Muga Rioja Reserva 2011 ($23, purchased, 13%): This Spanish tempranillo blend from one of my favorite producers was much lusher and fruitier than I expected, without as much of the tart cherry acidity and herbal appeal that I like about wines from the Rioja region. Having said that, it’s well worth drinking, and should age for close to forever. As it does, the fruit and oak will probably give way to more traditional flavors.
?Peter Yealands Pinot Gris 2014 ($12, purchased, 13%): Why grocery store wine makes me crazy. Yealands is a respected New Zealand producer, and this white should have been delicious. But the bottle I bought was a previous vintage that was bitter and pithy on the back, and much of the fruit, freshness and crispness — hallmarks of pinot gris — were gone. Who knows how long it was sitting and baking in some warehouse? Did anyone at Kroger care?