Rioja Rising

Though has remained the preeminent red wine region of Spain, over the past 10 to 15 years, Rioja lost some of its luster (or at least attention) as other regions emerged on the American wine radar. First it was Ribera del Duero and Priorat. Then Toro, Jumilla, Bierzo, Cigales, Rueda and Murcia. And more still, as I wrote about earlier this year.

In recent years, however, Rioja has done a good job of catching up. Not only hasRioja modernized its winemaking, it has also gotten pretty slick in its marketing.

In May I attended the second annual Rioja Grand Tasting in New York, which continued the theme from last year–Vibrant Rioja–in an effort to change the image that some have of the region’s wines from conventional and sometimes stodgy to trendy, even fashionable.

As with Chianti, Rioja is primarily a red wine region with one dominant varietal. In Rioja’s case that grape is Tempranillo, which is occasionally blended with small amounts of Garnacha (Grenache) and Graciano.

Spanish wines have often provided good values in the past. And many of the wines I tasted were no exceptions. Here are some of my favorites at $15 and under and their importers (wines are 100% Tempranillo unless noted):

From CIV (www.civusa.com; 916-368-7188)

  • Antano Reserva 2005 (85% Tempranillo). Meaty and peppery with ripe fruit and good acidic balance ($10)
  • Conde de Valdemar Crianza 2006. Lots of earth on the nose but clean and fresh on the palate ($15).

From Classic Wines (www.classic wines; 203-975-2522)

  • Ondarre Crianza 2007 (100% Graciano). Juicy with very flexible tannins and a nice pepperiness ($12).
  • Ondarre Reserva 2004 (75% Tempranillo). Leaner and less fleshy than the Crianza. Crisp on the palate ($12).
  • Cerro Anon Crianza 2005 (80% Tempranillo). Earthy and meaty nose. Good acidity.

From Fine Estates from Spain (These wines come from one of the best importers of Spanish wines, Jorge Ordonez: corporate@jordonez.com; 718-61-5767)

  • Sierra Cantabria Crianza 2006. Clean and lean with a chorizo meatiness. Ripe fruit and good acid ($15)
  • Finca Nueva Crianza 2006. Meaty, ripe and delicious ($12).
  • Finca Nueva Blanco 2008. A white wine made of 100% Viura. Nice floral and minty notes and good minerality ($12).
  • Solnia Tempranillo 2008. Exuberant fruit. A delicious quaff ($8.67)
  • Ilurce Rosado 2009. Made from 80% of the grape that makes the best rose, Garnacha, this pink beauty has lovely strawberry flavors and enough body to hold up to grilled summer food ($6.66)

From Spain Wine Collection (spainwinecollection@gmail.com; 845-268-2622)

  • Bodegas Martinez Lacuesta Joven 2007. Despite the name (joven means little or no oak) this wine uses new American oak. But it isn’t oaky. Meaty and peppery, it’s got good character for the price ($9.40)
  • Bodegas Martinez Lacuesta Crianza 2005 (85% Tempranillo). Fresh fruit and good acid balance ($12).

I saved the two best values for last. One is from Bodegas Martinez Lacuesta. Campeador Crianza 2006 is a blend of 50% Tempranillo and 50% Garnacha. When I tasted it was like being in Spain again. This meaty wine made me lust for the suckling pig they do so well in Spain ($13.50)

From Vintus (www.vintuswines.com; 914-769-3000)

  • Telmo Rodriguez LZ 2008 (92% Tempranillo). From one of Spain’s most celebrated winemakers, this wine shows dark, ripe, mouth-filling fruit and good structure.

Finally, for just a few dollars more ($22.50) try the rich and spicy

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