Rioja (ree-oh-ha) is to Spain what Napa Valley is to California, or Bordeaux is to France. It is a region, not a wine. Its wines run the gamut in style and body from delicate with bright fruit to earthy, robust, and rich. The main red grape is tempranillo, which I would describe as a combination of grenache (fruit, earth, and spice) and the fuller body of sangiovese. On average, the reds of Rioja are aged longer than wines from any other wine region in the world, with strict guidelines on time in oak barrels and bottle before release. Rioja’s main white grape is viura. It’s crisp, floral, and clean, with great acid. I think these are some of the best wines the world has to offer, often at great values.
Available at Sulter's Wines & Spirits, 2225 Curve Crest Blvd., Stillwater, 651-439-3399
Marqués de Cáceres White 2004, $7.99
Crisp and clean with lemon, honey, and a hint of butter. Easy to drink and a very good value. Have a glass after work or try with fish tacos.
Conde de Valdemar Reserva 1999, $19.99
Beautiful, full body with spicy vanilla and a nice, silky finish. Not overpowering, and well balanced with fruit and tannins. Try it with a rich cut of beef and sautéed mushrooms. (85% tempranillo/15% mazuelo)
Marqués de Cáceres Gran Reserva 1994, $31.99
Big and bold, this wine needs to breathe—open an hour before you drink it. Complex from nose to finish, it has rich, full flavors from dark plum and berries to vanilla to chocolate and spice. Try with an herb-crusted pork lion and grilled vegetables. (tempranillo/graciano/grenache)
Ostatu Crianza 2001, $19.99
Tastes of black raspberries with a hint of spice and chalk. This wine is silky and ready to drink, with a soft finish. Tastes great with roasted chicken. (tempranillo/mazuelo/ grenache)
Vina Alberdi Reserva 1999, $19.99
Well balanced, this wine’s bright fruit pairs nicely with its spice and light tannins. Beautiful and earthy. Match with something “gamey,” such as venison. (tempranillo)
Bill Coy runs Vintage U, which organizes wine tastings, classes, and events for corporate groups, wine enthusiasts, and the general public. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.