Holiday Wines: Rioja Reserva

Tastings notes on a fantastic varietal, just in time for the holidays

With the holidays fast approaching, this is the time of the year when most of us begin to look for wines that are a cut above our average, wines that deliver something special yet hopefully do not break the bank while doing so. There are many possible routes to take, but Rioja Reserva offers a unique opportunity to bring that something special to the table.

There is no place else in the world where you can find wines like these. The wines of Rioja are aged for you at the winery and then put on sale when they are ready to drink. As if that in and of itself isn’t reason enough to buy more Rioja Reserva, there is also the quality, which is pretty amazing at these price points.

You might be surprised to see me recommend Reservas instead of the more prestigious and arguably better Gran Reservas of Rioja, but I do so with good reason. The Gran Reservas are more expensive and the flavors attained by even more extended wood aging might not be ideal for all palates. On the other hand, Rioja Reserva brings together a lovely mix of rich, vibrant fruit, plenty of spicy oak notes, and the incipient flavors and silky textures of extended aging.

If you want to check out the difference between the classifications of Rioja, we have a nifty guide that you can find here. I’ve got two dozen notes on some of the top Rioja Reservas all lined up here, ready to go for this holiday season. The styles range from very modern to decidedly traditional. While I tend to prefer the traditional style of Rioja, this wide range of styles means that there’s a great Rioja Reserva for almost every meal you have planned this holiday season. I wish to encourage you all to try a variety of these wines. Some are such great values that it would be a shame to ignore them solely because of some rather vague notion of modern or traditional styling.

Consider the possibilities. Traditional Rioja, lighter in texture and higher in acid, is ideal for accompanying foods that are subtle yet rich. Anything from prime rib to roast duck and even a hearty, spiced turkey with smoked paprika and chorizo stuffing would be an ideal foil for a wine that’s showing off pale red fruit, orange rind, and sandalwood notes.

On the other hand, some of these modern interpretations of Rioja absolutely shine with something intense and rich, like a grilled rib-eye or hearty stew.

This adaptability and food friendliness of Rioja is just another reason to explore these wines. And yet, there is one final reason: they are being discovered.

I know, we all know about Rioja in one way or another, but what I am finding is that as wine lovers get priced out of some of their favorite wines like barolo, bordeaux, and burgundy, they are rediscovering the top wines of Rioja. In spite of rather formidable production numbers, I’ve watched the price of Rioja steadily climb over the past few years and the market for aged wines is just about ready to explode!

Now is still a great time to get into Rioja and bargains still abound, particularly if you search through the Reserva wines while leaving the trophy hunters to fend for themselves among the Gran Reservas!

Click here for the top Rioja wine picks.

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— Gregory Del Piaz, Snooth