Wines That Rock: Rioja - Spanish passion and flair

There is something about Old World wines that make them so much more than just a bottle of wine. Old World wines have a way of taking a culture, its traditions, its people, and the environment that the culture developed from, and concentrating it into that beverage that allows us to celebrate it. Spain has been turning Tempranillo into wine for more than 2000 years, and nowhere is that tradition more vibrant, more iconic of the country, than in Rioja.

The settling of dust from the bullfight, the translucent, transcending, slices of Jamon Serrano...Rioja is Spain in a bottle, full of passion and flair. 

The settling of dust from the bullfight. The translucent, transcending, slices of Jamon Serrano. The spirit lifting, sexy waves of the flamenco guitar, and the dance. The free flowing wine, capturing the baking sun before you retire to the cool night to watch the heat of El Classico as Barcelona and Real Madrid clash in a battle as that is as much a dance as it is a sport. Rioja is Spain in a bottle, full of passion and flair. 

The most amazing thing about Rioja is just how damn luscious every single bottle is, from the standard Rioja, through the Crianza, Reserva, and Gran Reserva (the four levels of quality highlighted below)

  • Rioja - Ages just a few months in oak barrels, tastes pretty ripe and fresh
  • Crianza - Spends at least a year in oak, then further aged for a few months in the bottle before being sold. Starts to take on a little more character
  • Reserva - Made from the best grapes of the harvest, aged for at least 3 years with at least one year being in oak barrels, makes for a decadent wine that is rich and powerful
  • Gran Reserva - Made from the best grapes when an exceptional growing season has been declared, kicks the ass of any other wine in the world so if you can find it snap it up

At each level though, you get a wine that is full of smoky, woody flavors, like tobacco or the burning wood from a fire. A lot of the flavor is driven by Tempranillo, but some winemakers will add a bit of Grenache to instill a little more fruitiness to their wine. Some rich flavors of fig, and cherry round out a wine that goes with almost anything but is best suited to Spanish fare like a good nutty manchego cheese, cured meats, or roasted meats to really stand up and enjoy it to its fullest. 

Rioja is a wine for lovers, who are going to lose themselves in the wine and then lose themselves in each other.

Though it is considered a full bodied red wine, it is not quite as heavy as a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Syrah/Shiraz. That touch of a lighter body makes it a charming wine to sit down and swig back with your friends, or even better on a hot date. Especially on a hot date, the woody, smoky, sometimes earthy, sometimes fruity flavors will make you want to get closer to the person next to you. Rioja is a wine for lovers, who are going to lose themselves in the wine and then lose themselves in each other. There can't be anything more rock and roll in a wine than that.