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 Spanish Arrumaco Tempranillo is cheap, delicious, and the perfect house red wine
The Wine Curmudgeon has been looking for a cheap, reliable, and well-made everyday red wine since giving up on the the Vino Fuerte and the Rene Barbier (a blend change softened and sweetened it). The Spanish Arrumaco Tempranillo may well be their successor.
No, the Arrumaco Tempranillo ($8, purchased, 13%) does not cost $5. Other than that, it’s everything the others used to be and more – an exceptional wine, stunningly well done for what it costs. It’s much more complex and interesting than an $8 wine should be, and reminds us how much difference terroir and varietal character makes.
Look for tempranillo’s cherry fruit, though a bit softer and not as tart. That’s balanced, however, by an almost licorice flavor and easy, just right tannins. The result is a lighter red wine, perfect for summer, and that it can have this much going on for this price is amazing.
Drink this on its own (maybe even a little chilled), or with burgers, pizza, or roast and grilled chicken. Highly recommended, and almost certain to enter the $10 Hall of Fame in 2019. Also worth noting: The rose and white Arrumacos are equally as delicious.
The new vintage of the Vina Fuerte, once a dependable $5 Spanish red, isn’t very Spanish or worth $5
The Aldi discount grocer is famous for its cheap, quality wine in Europe. Unfortunately, we’re not getting any of that in the U.S. – as the new vintage of the Vina Fuerte sadly demonstrates.
The Vina Fuerte ($5, purchased, 13%) is a Spanish tempranillo, and the 2014 was more than serviceable. It tasted like Spanish tempranillo – tart cherry fruit with some character and interest in the back. It wasn’t $10 Hall of Fame quality, but it was the kind of red wine to buy for dinner without worrying about whether it would be any good. In fact, I usually bought two.
The 2015, though, is about as Spanish as a pair of sweat socks. The tart cherry fruit has been bulldozed in favor of almost overripe California-style red fruit and the character and the interest in the back have been replaced by heaping amounts of fake oak.
It’s baffling. Aldi understands the U.S. grocery store market so well that even Walmart is running scared, but it treats wine with the same arrogance and disdain for the consumer that everyone else does. Is it any wonder I worry about the future of the wine business?
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
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. This month, four red wines.
• Big Smooth Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($17, sample, 14.5%): Much winemaking and craftsmanship went into this California red to make it taste like a cherry Tootise Pop. If that’s what you want your wine to taste like, then it’s worth $17. Otherwise, taste and be amazed at the post-modern marketing cynicism that also went into it.
• Casillero del Diablo Malbec 2016 ($12, sample, 13.5%): This Chilean red speaks to terroir and varietal character, and is about more than the jammy black fruit of similarly-priced Argentine malbecs. Having said that, it’s not a value this price – a little thin and tart. But if you find it for $8 at the grocery store and you need a bottle of wine for dinner, you won’t be disappointed. Imported by Excelsior Wine
• Bagordi Rioja Navardia 2016 ($13, sample, 14%): Nothing special about this Spanish red – just a full-bodied (heavier, more red fruit) and not especially varietal tempranillo made with organic grapes. Imported by Winesellers Ltd.
• Cantina Cellaro Luma 2016 ($10, purchased, 13%): This Sicilian red, made with the nero d’avola grape, was either oxidized (doubtful, given the vintage) or so extracted and so overripe that it was about as Sicilian as my Honda. Imported by Gonzalez Bypass
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 Dacu tempranillo is $10 red wine from Spain that offers what we want in cheap wine – quality and value
There is nothing spectacular about the Dacu Tempranillo, no fancy appellation, no 90-plus scores, no hipster sommelier raves. Rather, it’s solid and enjoyable cheap red wine from Spain.
So why do we need spectacular?
The Dacu Tempranillo ($10, purchased, 14%) comes from an almost unknown part of Spain, in the southwestern part of the country near the Portuguese border. As such, it’s completely different from the tempranillos from Spain’s most famous regions – not as refined as those from Rioja and not as lush as those from Ribera del Duero.
In this, look for just ripe cherry and berry fruit, plus a little licorice and spiciness as well as the fresh acidity that marks Spanish tempranillo. It’s not a complicated wine, but that’s not a problem given how well made it is – balanced and eminently drinkable.
Pair this with red meat on the grill, whether steak or hamburgers, and it would do the job with smoked chicken or brisket as well. Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2018 $10 Hall of Fame.