Wine & Spirits

Rioja Reds 101

No patience to let young wines age? Rioja reservas do the waiting for you.

Rioja Reds 101

Rioja is a region in Spain well known for great wine and deep tradition. In fact, it is one of the few regions in the world where the word “Reserve” means something by law. They have strict guidelines on aging, whether in oak or bottle, and producers must meet the minimums to receive the name. Most producers far exceed these minimums. Selection from Haskell’s, 13 Twin Cities locations,

Sierra Cantabria Crianza

2007 (Rioja, Spain)
Grape: Tempranillo
Crianza: Two-year minimum aging with at least one year in oak.
Price: $19.99
A great value and true representation of tempranillo, this wine is earthy and spicy with dark berry fruit, light herbs, and soft acid. It is medium-bodied for a Rioja but will age nicely for three or four years. This wine is unfiltered for added complexity.


Marques de Riscal Reserva

2006 (Rioja, Spain)
Grape: Tempranillo, graciano, mazuelo blend
Reserva: Three-year minimum aging with at least one in oak.
Price: $24.99
It is complex, dark, and smoky with rich fruit, cedar, oak, and a hint of caramel. I drank this one a little young, but it will soften and balance with time. It needs food, so try it with salami, olives, and Spanish Cabrales cheese.


La Rioja Alta S.A. Gran Reserva

1998 (Rioja, Spain)
Grape: Tempranillo, graciano
Gran Reserva: Five-year minimum aging with at least two in oak.
Price: $64.99
Elegant. This one has all the complexity and character of a great Rioja with more earth, more fruit, and more spice (vanilla and nutmeg), but it’s still subtle and not over the top. The dark plum fruit and tannic acid balance beautifully as all the components just come together.


Rio Madre— Graciano

2011 (Rioja, Spain)
Grape: Graciano—the “other” red grape from Rioja
Price: $10.99
An affordable treat without the aging requirements, this one is ready to drink much younger than the first three wines. Dark purple in color, with blueberry and blackberry fruit, it also has black licorice and cocoa on the nose. This fun grape is rarely bottled on its own.


Want to learn more about Rioja?

The annual fundraiser for the University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital, this year’s WineFest No. 18—A Toast to Children’s Health showcases wines from Spain’s Rioja region, May 10–11 at The Depot in Minneapolis.


Bill Coy runs Vintage U, which organizes wine tastings, classes, and events for corporate groups, wine enthusiasts, and the general public. Reach him at For details on a Wine Line Live tasting featuring this month’s wines, go to