Dave McIntyre’s wine column in the Washington Post Wednesday cast aspersions on one of our favorite wine grapes, Spain’s tempranillo. Yes, he attributed the criticism to a friend, while professing his love for the grape made famous in Spain’s Rioja wines. Yet he allowed his friend an awfully broad brush to paint Rioja wines as over-oaked monsters that overpower food or “tastes like oak juice.”
If you think primarily of wood chips when you think of Rioja, you’re not drinking the inexpansive, everyday tempranillos that we recommend. You’re probably drinking pricey “gran reserva” wines that by law in Riojo must be aged at least two years in oak barrels, plus three more years in the bottle. The more youthful wines we’ve recommended in the past are labeled “crianza” (See Rioja’s youthful crianza may be Spain’s best bargain) and require only two years of aging, just one in oak barrels.
McIntryre steers wine buyers to Spain’s pricier Toro and Ribera del Duero regions for fresher, juicier tempranillo-based wines. His “Recommended tempranillo wines” range in price from $17 to $27 a bottle, but you can enjoy similarly fresh, young Riojas for about half that.
Thanks to the lingering effects of the economic downturn, two of our favorites are still on store shelves all over town for between $9 and $12 a bottle. We’ve been touting Bodegas LAN Rioja Crianza 2006, since it earned 90 points and the No. 44 spot on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of the 2010 last fall. We bought a case when Chevy Chase Wine & Spirits put it on sale for a ridiculous $8.99 a bottle, and have found every bottle we’ve opened tastes like a wine twice that price.
“Fresh and balanced, this red brims with cherry, spice and licorice, with light, firm tannins and vibrant acidity,”wrote Spectator’s Thomas Matthews, awarding the LAN Crianza 2006 90 points in June 2010. “The texture is generous yet delicate. Not heavy, but vivacious. Drink now through 2014.”
Though Chevy Chase’s sale price is long gone, the wine is still widely available for a $10 to $13, a bargain compared to wines from Toro and Ribera del Duero. (See slideshow for a sample of prices in DC, Maryland and Virginia.)
Compare prices and find LAN Crianza online or at a store near you nationwide.
Another perennial Rioja value that’s still on retail shelves more than a year after we first recommended it (see A mixed bag of value wines at tonight’s Grand Tasting) is 2009 Montebuena Rioja. Known as a “joven” in Spain, because it’s made to be consumed young and doesn’t conform to the aging requirements to be labeled crianza, the 2009 Montebueana has enough fruit to age well for another five to seven years, according to Jay Miller of The Wine Advocate who scored it 90 points in the April 2010 issue.
“Dark ruby-colored, it offers an appealing perfume of spice box, leather, tobacco, and blackberry. On the palate it is packed with ripe fruit, has outstanding concentration, and impeccable balance,”Miller wrote. “It is a great bargain that offers a sneak preview of the great 2009 vintage in Rioja and northern Spain in general. It should drink well for 6-8 years.”
Normally a wine that earns such high praise and costs about $10 a bottle disappears from store shelves in a few weeks or months. But Montebueana is still widely available for a low of $9.99 a bottle at Calvert Woodley, Magruder’s, Bell Wine & Spirits, Total Wine and others to a high of $11.99 at Corridor Wine & Spirits in Laurel and Beltway Fine Wine in Towson. (See slideshow for a more complete rundown of prices in DC, Maryland and Virginia.)
Compare prices and find Montebuena online or at a store near you nationwide.
Both of these wines are consistent winners year in and year out, which is why they’ve been named to the Wine for the Rest of Us Top 5 Spanish Reds list.
We do agree with McIntyre that there’s no need to swear off tempranillo just because you don’t like the big, oaky, smoky flavors of expensive, aged Spanish wines. But we don’t think you have to spend $20 a bottle, either. These $10 to $12 bottles will go great with whatever is on the grill this holiday weekend or all summer long.
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