You’ve probably heard of Rioja, one of the best-known wine growing regions in Spain. Located southwest of the Pyrenees mountain range with France along the ancient Camino de Santiago, this small province produces some of Spain’s most beloved exports: Rioja wine.
The most common Rioja wine is a blend of two grapes, Tempranillo and Garnacha, with Tempranillo playing the more prominent role in terms of flavor and being sturdier for aging purposes, whereas Garnacha is responsible for the fruitier notes you get in a typical bottle of Rioja red.
While Rioja used to be aged in American oak barrels, the current practice is usually for it to be bottled young and unoaked – they call it joven, which means young in Spanish. If oaking is done at all, the process is mostly done with French oak barrels instead.
When you first uncork a Rioja, the strongest smell that hits the nose is usually described by wine aficionados as fresh tobacco, with a scent of leather hanging around as well; this savory, musky smell is thanks to the dominant effect of the Tempranillo grape.
Compared to flagship reds from other countries, such as Bordeaux in France and Chianti in Italy, Rioja wine tends to be cheaper and better value for your money. At Liquor Barn we carry a few dozen varieties of Rioja wine. Here are two of our favorites:
Campo Viejo Garnacha
This affordable and highly popular Campo Viejo Rioja wine has a bold profile of smoky, deep fruit and vanilla. It’s aged for four months – in American barrels – and has a gorgeous, dark burgundy color. Less serious and imposing than a Tempranillo-forward blend, a bottle of Campo Viejo Garnacha goes great with Spanish dishes such as brochetas de polloor with a plate of chorizo and Manchego cheese.
Bodegas Artadi Tempranillo
The vineyards of Artadi are located around the country, depending on what sort of varietal they produce. The Tempranillo grapes that go into producing this fruity red Rioja wine come from Laguardia, a rustic hilltop fortress town in Alava, in northeastern Spain. In this part of the country, where the altitude is between 1,500-2,000 feet above sea level and the climate fluctuates between bitter cold and dizzyingly hot, it’s no wonder that you can get such a bold and flavorful wine. Expect elegant red fruit and mouth-watering tannins. This is a perfect Rioja red wine to try with grilled meat – light up the barbecue and serve it the next time you grill.