Rioja Tasting

Taste Testing & Average Price : 2006 Bodega LAN Rioja Crianza: $13.99, 2007 Marques de Caceres Rioja Crianza: $19, 2009 Montebuena Rioja: $11

Where buy now:: Surdyk’s, Zipp’s, Byerly’s Wines & Spirits, Sorella Wines & Spirits + several other fine establishments. I’ve seen Montebuena the most around town for around $7-8. I’ve found Marques de Caceres for $12 at Costco. At wine sales, you’ll find the LAN around $10-11

Grapes: Tempranillo

Region: Rioja, Spain

Rioja tasting

A fine evening of good friends, food & wine. Viva la primavera! If you’ve been reading the website, by now you know I’m having a current love affair with Spain and particularly with Riojas. But, I really wanted to explore some of my favorites a little more. Am I just a slut for the Spanish grape or are there nuances that will help me decide on my one true love?

Enter friends to help in this endeavor. We bagged up the wines and I didn’t see what was in which bag because sure enough, I’d recognize the top label. The six of us sat out on the patio on a peculiarly warm early Spring Saturday afternoon. One by one, we sipped each of the three wines while noshing on almonds and salted cured meats.

The buzzer went off, on the oven, alas my Nueske bacon wrapped Medjool dates stuffed with Manchego cheese were done. If you haven’t made these before – just do it. Medjool dates are a bargain at Holyland’s grocery store. The sucky thing is you have to pit them but it’s a sticky good time. Stuff them with Parmigiano, Manchego or Bleu cheese. Wrap in bacon and cook up. The bacon caramelizes with the date and before you know it, your own buzzer is going off. Back to the tasting.

Riojas with bacon wrapped dates, salted cured meats and almonds

I came running out with the bacon goodies and we discussed what wines we liked. 1, 2 or 3. Then we had the big reveal as we removed the bags. Here was the overall consensus among the six of us.

#2 was our favorite – Bodegas LAN Rioja Crianza

#3 was our next favorite – Montebueno Rioja

#1 was last, still good but ranked last – Marques de Caceres Rioja Crianza

Our favorite just so happened to be what Wine Spectator deemed as #44 on the top 100 wines list of 2010. Believe me, none of us are expert panel judges. Let me give you a few reasons why we liked it best. It had this depth and complexity upon tasting it. Not in an overly dry way, just aged enough to give it the character that seemed to be lacking a bit with the other ones we tried. This is due to the wine being labeled a Crianza. It’s aged longer in oak, giving it that oakier, fuller bodied and bolder wine. A little more spice, not as fruit forward as the Montebuena but made you want to keep sipping it over and over. It really opened up the longer it sat out. So, if you have one of those nifty aerators, throw that on the bottle. (You can find all kinds of aerators from $7-$20 at Home Goods, skip the Venturi) Due to it’s nice long finish, we all agreed this wine really stood out as pairing the best with food, especially the bacon wrapped dates.

What’s interesting is we liked #3 second, this was the most mild, fruit flavored of the Riojas. Montebuena is a young (joven) Rioja, not aged as long as the LAN Crianza and thus lighter in body. As I mentioned before, this one was more fruit-forward in taste. What we loved about this wine was that you could drink it alone! This was an easy, drinkable and agreeable red wine. Dare I say, if you like Pinot Noir, try this Rioja. With a $7 price point to match, you aren’t taking a big gamble.

The one we liked the least, which isn’t to say we disliked at all, was the Marques de Caceres. I reviewed this wine a month ago or so, use the nifty search function to find that complete review. This was also a Crianza, aged longer in oak, it did have more complexity and was less fruit forward than the Montebuena. The taste was more demure, it just didn’t seem to have the vibrancy we liked in the LAN.

We all agreed that we’d sip any of these as they were all great tasting wines. LAN, for around $10-$14, you just can’t go wrong. Plus, how cool to give this as a housewarming gift or to bring to a dinner party. You can act like you know your stuff by letting your host know that you’re providing a wine featured on Wine Spectator’s Top 100. If I’m strapped for cash or see a crazy good deal on the Montebuena, that’s definitely going in my cart. If neither are around and all I find is the Marques de Caceres on sale, I’d gladly pick that one up. So, I guess we can all surmise that I truly am a slut for the Spanish grape and no one will completely capture my heart. I’m too easily persuaded by money. In this case, less is more!

I challenge you to do the same with friends. Pick three of the same style of wine: three Pinot Noirs, three Sauvignon Blancs, or perhaps three Cab’s (you get the drift). Select three in a similar price range, perhaps place them in bags to keep their anonymity, and taste away. This will help you start to figure out what you like and it’s a wonderfully sociable alternative to just sitting around getting drunk. (NOT that there’s anything wrong with that.)

2 thoughts on “Rioja Tasting”

  1. I just had the Marques and loved it. I’m guessing I”ll love the others as well. Thanks for the suggestions. I’m totally on a Spanish anything kick with the upcoming trip.
    Buen Provecho!

    1. Dear Jen,

      Thanks for your comment! First, I cannot tell you how J-E-A-L-O-U-S I am of your upcoming trip to Spain. If I could pay you to bring back saffron, Serrano Ham and Javier Bardem, I would.
      Second, I do urge you to try the LAN Crianza Rioja knowing you loved the Marques!


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