Wine Talk

Snooth User: JonDerry

Best Rioja's Under $20?

Posted by JonDerry, Mar 2, 2011.
Edited Mar 6, 2011

Think I just had the best QPR wine of my young career tonight, a 2006 Bodegas Luberrie Rioja Biga. Bought at a local wine shop...was just browsing actually while my wife was having her nails done and noticed this was an (ST 90), and the only couple reviews on CT were very good.  Definitely did not disappoint, in fact for $16.99 this is the most quality wine i've had for under $20.

Rioja's are definitely known for their great value, so what's your favorite value Rioja?

Very good quality wine from top to bottom. Nose was pretty expressive and supple, almost cabernet sauvignon-like. Palate entry took off with a great balance of acidity, spice, oak, and active tannins. Strong, lingering finish. The only chink in the armor here might be the fruit, but it's good enough for a 91-92. Could be the best QPR wine i've had.


Reply by dmcker, Mar 3, 2011.

Am bumping this so someone like GregT might see it...

Reply by RexSeven, Mar 3, 2011.

I like Monticello Crianza.  The 2005 was better than the 2006, but both are good.  they are usually about $12.999 around Iowa.

Reply by spikedc, Mar 3, 2011.

El Coto Crianza 2005, tried this a little while back with some Tapas, very enjoyable and reasonably priced

Reply by JonDerry, Mar 3, 2011.

Thanks for the bump Dm...

Rex & Spike - I'll have to check the Monticello and El Coto, thanks for the suggestions.

Incidentally, the 2006 Luberri Rioja Biga wasn't very good on the 2nd night.  But i'm still going to buy a couple more for future considerations : )

Reply by Richard Foxall, Mar 4, 2011.

JonDerry:  Gotta finish that wine the first night.  Some wines are better the second day, or no worse.  A sign, according to some, that they have aging potential.  Good pop and pour Spanish wines can be had for very reasonable prices, but I'm going to guess that GregT also has recos for higher end stuff you can keep a while.  That said, my own feeling is that Spanish wines often have good QPR.  They are still a little undiscovered, people don't think of them as "food pairings" because they don't cook Spanish food, and they appeal to New World palates fairly well.  I had a Rioja last night that was cheaper than yours--especially after the 5 cent sale at BevMo--and it was perfect with my lamb chops.  But there won't be a second night of it! 

Reply by StevenBabb, Mar 4, 2011.

if you want to step a little above $20, Monticello Reserve is great...

and Bodega Beronia Reserve '05 is awesome, right in about the $20 retail mark...

Reply by JonDerry, Mar 4, 2011.

Fox: Agreed...may have learned a lesson there and am popping and pouring from now on.  Rioja's have a certain herbacious freshness about them, even though good ones can certainly age well for 10 years or so there's usually not much of a need to wait.

SB: Definitely down to step it up a little, thanks.

Reply by GregT, Mar 5, 2011.

"Rioja's have a certain herbacious freshness about them, even though good ones can certainly age well for 10 years or so there's usually not much of a need to wait"

John - I don't want to pick at you here but I think that's completely misguided so let's see if we can sort it out somewhat. 

I'm sure you know that Rioja is a large region.  The red wines are usually based on Tempranillo, but they usually have a bit of something else blended in.  At the low end, you have young fresh wines with little or no oak.  They're not dissimilar to a Beaujolais nouveau - made by carbonic maceration, fruity, young, and should be consumed quickly.

You also have a lot of crappy wine that nobody could really sell so it's found all over the world in clearance bins.  So here we have problem number one. If you buy the first type of wine and I buy the other and they're both under $10USD, we'll have very different impressions of the region.  If I got one of the latter, I may never buy a wine from Rioja again!  It ain't fresh and it ain't good!

So how to tell whether you're getting the unwanted stuff or the tasty stuff?

Unfortunately that's not always straightforward, but we can make some general observations.

There are rules for making wine in Rioja if you want to sell it with the official DOC sticker.  For a Crianza, you need two years, with at least one in cask, for a Riserva, you need at least three years with at least one in cask, and for Gran Reserva you need at least 2 in cask and 3 in bottle. If you're a fan of those types, you now have some idea of what you may be in for.

But you don't need to follow those rules if you don't want to sell with the DOC designations so many people have wines that they label Seleccionada, Joven, Roble, etc.  Those have no legal significance but they give winemakers a whole new range of possibilities. 

Many of the above are available for sub - $25.  Thus, it's virtually impossible to make any really general statement regarding Rioja wines without specifying more.

Perhaps we can offer a better approach.  If you first define what it is that you like and then look for wines that are in that mold, you'll seriously improve your chances of finding wines that you like.  For example, some people object to the woodiness of some wines.  If that's your case, then you may want to simply avoid any of the "traditional" styles like crianza, etc., and look for wines w/out those designations.  Find something like "joven" for example.  If you find a recent vintage, there's a good bet that you'll have a Tempranillo-based wine with lots of fruit and good acidity. 

OTOH, if the wine is four or five years old, you'll have a very different animal. Remember - because "joven" means nothing legally, it can confusingly be applied to wines that have 18 months in oak and a few years in bottle!  Literally it means "young" but compared to a Gran Reserva that's 10 years old, maybe a six year old wine IS young.  And then of course, maybe the wine just languished on the bottom shelf of a store somewhere and it's way past the drink date.  So you improve your odds if you buy a recent vintage labled "joven" or "roble" or something like that.  Doesn't mean you'll hit a bull's eye every time, but maybe.

Then of course, there is the producer.  Some people put out "traditional" styles.  Let's take that Beronia for example. It's kind of funky, even stinky when you open it, maybe has notes of leather and earth. It's very different from what you get when you open a young Zin from Sonoma.  It's also going to have fairly high apparent acidity, not a load of tannins, and it's what people call "old school".   Alternatively, you pick a wine like the equivalent from Bodegas Ondarre and you get bright cherry, spice, fruit, and a "new school" kind of approach without the funk. Side by side you'd never think they were from the same region and based on the same grape types.  The bodegas are about 45 minutes away from each other.  As an experiment, you may want to buy one of each and taste them side by side. 

The one thing that is true is that there's usually no need to wait.  The good people in Rioja usually did the aging for you. Unlike the folks in Bordeaux who sell you wine and tell you to store it for your grandchildren, in Rioja they'd keep it until it was ready.  So they would put a Gran Reserva on the market 10, 12, 15 years after the vintage when it was ready. That doesn't mean you can't age it further.  In fact, there is no other red wine on earth that will age better than a good wine from Rioja, which should easily go 40 - 50 years.  It only means the wine is ready to drink if you wish to do so rather than keep it. 

Problem is that as I mentioned, some people don't produce wines using the DOC designations.  That's a completely different story and you just have to know their wine.  Some are ready to drink on release, some not, some will age for years, some won't.

There's also the issue of wood.  Don't think that aging a wine in oak means it's in 225 liter barriques made from Alliers oak.  That may be the case but usually it isn't.  The barrels can be huge and ancient.  The wood can come from many places, although traditionally it came from the US.  Even if the barrels are new, the winemaker may put the wine in them for three, four, six or eight months, just to round it out a bit. 

Finally, vintages matter. Much of Spain is dusty and dry, but Rioja is influenced by the Atlantic and they don't always have a great vintage. Perhaps they're usually luckier than Bordeaux, but some vintages just tend to be weaker than others.  It's why you would have expected that Rex would like the 2005 more than the 2006 for example. He's completely right - it's a far better vintage.

At the end, you find more variety in terms of wine and winemaking than you do in a place like Bordeaux, and because of that, it's hard to generalize.  Anyhow, keep trying the wines!  Cheers!

Reply by JonDerry, Mar 6, 2011.

Hey Greg, whatever it took to get you to respond to this thread, glad it worked. Thanks for dropping the knowledge. Definitely appreciate the fact they release drinkable wines...was at a wine shop last night and they were showing me a 2000 Riserva that they just got in. 

Should have said Tempranillo has an herbacious freshness (low sugar, acid) that I enjoy.  Similar texture to Sangiovese. 

Will try to seek out some 05's...any recs would be appreciated.

Reply by GregT, Mar 6, 2011.

"Similar texture to Sangiovese" is an astute observation and not one that many people would make. Congrats.  When young, the wines are quite different but as they age they become more similar - to that point that it can be hard to tell them apart.  Sangiovese based wines, contrary to what I thought before trying to tell them apart in blind tastings, can be pretty close when both wines are aged.

Based on their physiology, one would not expect them to have much similarity. Sangiovese is late-ripening and has thin skin and low tannin and slightly high acidity and it is prone to rot in humid areas.  Tempranillo is early-ripening and has thicker skin and relatively lower acidity.  And yet somehow they can converge a bit over time.  Riojas are often compared to Nebbiolo or Pinot Noir and in fact, some people have postulated that Tempranillo is related to Pinot Noir, but they don't become similar at all after 15 or 20 years as all three have very different aging profiles. 

As to whether or not that's the winemaking style as much as the grape - I really don't know for sure and can't opine.  However, based on the fact that the new "modern" styles of Rioja converge with their more traditional cousins over time, (despite what you may hear from various self-proclaimed experts and other Taliban types) I'd bet that the winemaking has less to do with it than the grapes themselves.

What I haven't done, and can't speak to, is compare the various kinds of wine from Rioja made with more or less Garnacha and/or Mazuelo, aka Cariñena vs those with less.  One would think that all that stuff matters but maybe it really doesn't. Needs more research!

If you look, you can still find some from 94, 5, or 6, which should be drinking pretty well these days.  If not, 2001 or 2004 or 5 should be on your list.  The 2000 vintage is interesting - it's not bad really and some people once said that in the long term, it would be equal to 2001.  Maybe.  Tasted blind, I'm not sure I ever prefered a 2000 to its counterpart, but in time, who knows?  I have both just so that I can find out firsthand.  If you're in NYC one day, give a holler and we'll open a couple of each and you can find out too. 

The interesting thing is that you mentioned your price as being under $20.  I don't know where you exactly are so I'd lift it to $25 just to be safe, but the fortunate part is that you can find a lot under that price that will drink well today and that will also age. Most of the big, old-school bodegas put out product under that price that you can safely stick away for a few years.  I'm not sure how many other large regions can make the claim.  It's time to start looking at the inexpensive Bordeaux that I bought from the 2000 vintage to see if it has held up as well or not. 

Reply by Richard Foxall, Mar 6, 2011.

GregT--start a thread, please, when you start tasting your inexpensive 2000 Bordeaux.  I am really interested in the experiences that others have had with aging reasonably priced wine.  The lower monetary investment makes it appealing, but seems like there's little data on the topic because people don't think it's going to be worth the time.  Since those wines pretty much have to be bought when released (who has libraries at those prices?), it would be nice to have the benefit of your experiment.  Of course, spotting a vintage where even the lower end has aging potential is quite a skill.

You might consider a tasting of Rioja for Snoothers in NYC... a couple of us from the west coast would try to arrange our schedules if at all possible.

Reply by dmcker, Mar 6, 2011.

Not 2000s (don't have so many of those sitting around) but from the '90s I've had plenty of Potensacs and Pontet Canets (yes, that's the pricerange they used to be in) and Chasse-Spleens and Sociando-Mallets and Poujeauxs and Ormes de Pez, etc. on the left bank, and Monbousquets and many others as well on the right, that matured quite nicely far into their second decade of life. Earlier in that decade they were all way, way below $25.

Reply by GregT, Mar 6, 2011.

Potensac, Poujeaux, Beaumont, Tronquoy-Lalande, Cantemerle and a few stray bottles of d'Arcin and some others I can't remember off the top.  From 1996, 8, and 2000.  I just never got around to drinking them and well, now they're aged far beyond what I'd intended.  I think the top may have been around $20 but most were around $15 if I remember correctly.

I think they'll be fine actually.  Had the Beaumont and TL recently and they're just fine.  The 1994 and 1995 Buehler Napa Cabs are drinking just like a decent older wine should.  If I can round up enough, I'll do a little mini tasting of cheap Napa and cheap Bordeaux blind.  Nothing really exciting but could be kind of fun.  I don't think anything will ever be as stunning as the 1987 Columbia Crest Merlot Barrel Select that smoked a couple of top flight Bordeaux about 2 yrs ago. 

By way of comparison - if one has comparably priced Riojas from the same years, one can have complete confidence that the wines will be excellent with years to go.  Different flavor profile of course.

Reply by JonDerry, Mar 6, 2011.

Greg - Would love to taste with you some time...was actually in NYC last fall, but that was just before I started participating here.  I'm in L.A., so likewise if you're ever around out west.  It's been hard for me to find any wine clubs out here other than expensive paid for courses. 

Interesting that you've found the same similarities with Sangiovese...Our pal Suckling recently drew some comparisons between Pinot Noir and Sangiovese, but they have a much more distinct difference for me. 

Will definitely seek out some 01' and 04' Rioja's, and see if I can track down anything from the 90's and report back.

Reply by dmcker, Mar 6, 2011.

Would be quite surprised if the '96 Bordeaux are past it...

Reply by mrroberto, Mar 11, 2011.

I just reviewed a 100% Graciano...Heretat De Taverners 2005...that was excellent and in your price range. I personally dont care for the Bordeaux blends though 2000 was a good year for some $20 values. Try a Madiran..2001 was exceptional..stick with blends of at least 80% tannat to get the full effect, Happy hunting and sipping.

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