Beronia Rioja Reserva 2012 ($19)
A personal favorite from my years in Spain, this tempranillo blend is affordable, very food-friendly, and more complex than one would expect at this price.The small addition of the notoriously fussy graciano grape, which is low-yielding and subject to mildew, contributes to the aromatic nose, fine structure, and deep ruby color of the blend. A bit of mazuelo (aka carignan) gives the wine enhanced dark fruit flavors and a bit of vanilla, then licorice in the finish. The resulting wine, which spends time in both American and French oak, is a lovely, medium-bodied, fruit-forward wine with well-integrated tannins and a pleasingly dry finish. Winemaker Matias Calleja is typical of the innovative and environmentally conscious winemakers in the region, and continues to experiment with small batches to improve every aspect of Beronia’s wines.
Marqués de la Concordia Hacienda Zorita Abascal Reserva 2011 ($29)
This lush wine is an excellent value. Surprisingly rich with red ripe fruit and berries, it has well-integrated tannins balancing pleasing acidity and a soft, dry, medium-long finish. A deep, almost opaque dark ruby red in the glass, the wine’s nose has a bit of cedar, rose, and a touch of vanilla enhancing the fruit. Hand-picked grapes for this wine come from a vineyard neighboring the legendary vineyards of Bodega Vega Sicilia, and the terroir is very much in evidence here. The grapes are slowly fermented for maximum fruit extraction, then undergo malolactic fermentation in barrels of French oak for at least 12 months. This reserva would pair well with pretty much all things Spanish, from bean soups, jamón serrano, and albóndigas to roasted lamb or a simple slice of tortilla or manchego curado.
Marqués de la Concordia Hacienda Zorita Natural Reserve Syrah 2011 ($29)
This limited-production syrah is another winner from Hacienda Zorita, but from a very special vineyard, Unamuno, located within the environmentally protected Arribes del Duero Natural Park. This provenance earns the wine a “marca natural” designation. Inky red in the glass, this fruit-forward wine has blackberry and dark cherry in the nose and intense dark red fruit on the palate with some sweet tobacco and baking spice notes. Silky on the palate, the wine is beautifully balanced with a somewhat flinty, lightly astringent finish. This syrah would pair well with grilled summer meats, and surprisingly well with Southern-style pulled pork.
Torres Salmos Priorat 2013 ($34)
This seductive blend of three dark-skinned grapes — cariñena, garnacha, and syrah — is just lovely, a deep, rich red wine with a slightly iridescent rim in the glass; beautifully balanced fruit; and toasted oak with a subtle hint of cedar in the nose and on the palate. Medium-bodied, the wine is nonetheless velvety with a lightly tannic, clean finish. The vines that produced the grapes are surprisingly young, planted in 1996 on slopes rich with the Priorat area’s famous black, slate-like llicorella stone. The fruit was harvested in three batches, underwent malolactic fermentation in stainless steel, and was finished for 14 months in French oak. An elegant wine, it would pair brilliantly with all manner of grilled food, but was especially delicious with a seven-hour slow-roasted leg of lamb.
El Coto de Rioja Coto de Imaz Rioja Gran Reserva 2010 ($44)
This impressive red from one of the most prolific producers in Spain offers exactly what you’d expect of a gran reserva Rioja: a complex, layered nose and a palate brimming with dark red fruit, with fragrant notes of herbs, a bit of tobacco, and a hint of vanilla on the finish. It is beautifully structured, with enough tannins and bright acidity to balance the fruit, a pleasantly round mouthfeel, and a lively finish. The wine is aged in American oak for a full 24 months after being vinified in stainless steel, and rests for a further 36 months in the bottle before release.
Riojas are extremely food-friendly. Not surprisingly, they pair well with most lamb and pork dishes, from stews to grilled meats. More nuanced and elegant reservas, such as this one, will enhance everything from a saffron-infused paella to a simply seared steak.