5 Impressive Wines for Rediscovering Rioja, Spain

Spain produces the finest value wines in the world.

If you've been paying attention over the last 15 years in the wine business, you've seen the rise of 'modern-style' Spanish wines.  This rich and flavorful reds and white wines are notable for two major characteristics.  Luscious international-style wines and stunningly low prices.  In fact, if you are drinking wine under $10 a bottle, it is criminal if you don't buy mostly these wines.

And then there is Rioja.  Strong, austere reds that taste of tobacco, leather, and the entire spice red with a touch of red fruit.  This is Spain's classic region and the wines are as old-school as you can get.  

Here are 5 wines worth seeking out from top producers in Rioja.


The Spanish tend to age their wines before release, so all of the following wines are available in the American market with these vintages.

Muga 2009 Rioja 'Selection Especial' Reserva.  92++/100 points.  $44.99 Oh Retail.

Very young with a long life ahead.  Strawberry jelly and gentle mocha on the nose.  Caresses the mouth with light toffee, cream, and spicebox.  Cherry fruit that darkens and becomes more tannic as it stays in the mouth.  Great for grilled meats.

Ramirez de la Piscina 2001 Rioja Gran Reserva.  93/100 points.  $39.99 OH Retail.

The value wine of this list.  A superstar vintage and a wine with 10+ years of bottle age.  Tawny colored rim with a red pitt.  The tobacco of a nice cigar with baking spices on the nose.  A light Rioja with finesse.  Gentle, elegant, feminine fruit.  Seduction.

Muga 2001 Rioja 'Prado Enea' Gran Reserva.  96/100 points.  $69.99 OH retail.

A masterpiece!  One of the finest Rioja's I've ever tasted.  Very spicy with an almost port-like intensity to the plum fruit.  Rich red color.  A complex series of flavors in a velvet texture that also is supremely spicy.  Classic.

La Cueva del Contador 2002 Rioja.  92/100 points.  $105.99 OH retail.

2002 was a very difficult vintage throughout Rioja and this is a very impressive wine considering what Contador had to work with. Dark color and dark plums and dusty aromas.  A smooth jelly of green pepper and red plums.  Very impressive body and richness with a dash of spice on the finish.

Remirez de Ganuza 2004 Rioja Reserva.  93/100 points.  $96.99 OH retail

Dark, smoked black fruit in a layered and opulent package.  Enough barnyard aromas to remind me of funky old Burgundy.  A blue/black smokiness finishes off this excellent wine.


These wines lack the fabulous low prices of the more modernist Spanish wines, but there is an argument to be made for classic, aged wines of very high quality.  In fact, if you compare the prices of old Rioja to that of ten-year-old Bordeaux or Napa Valley Cabernet, you may decide that these are still some of the finest values in fine wine.

But save me some 2001 Prado Enea.  I really liked that one.