Wine Notes – Rioja

Steven Goddu on October 29th, 2015

Rioja: Music and wine have a lot in common. There seem to be infinite choices for both, and the more you explore, the more you have trouble deciding what kind of wine, or music, you enjoy. Sampling many good wines can make you rather fussy and intolerant of lower quality products. So when someone asks me what kind of wine I like, I reply (borrowing from one of my favorite musical quotes): “There are only two kinds of music [or wine], good and bad, and I like the good stuff.”

I find wines that I like from all over the world, and enjoy discovering new regions to explore. Lately, I have been following my wallet and tasting Spanish wines. Spain is up there with France, Italy and the U.S. as one of the largest wine producing countries, but for some reason, Spanish wines are not as popular in the U.S. as they should be.

Spain’s economy is somewhat depressed, a factor that drives down the price of Spanish wine. I’ve particularly noticed this when making wine selections at restaurants. Spanish wines offer good value, and I have enjoyed their unique qualities.


Andrea Difiore, wine manager at Andover Classic Wines, holds up a 2010 Muga Rioja Reserva, one of the best wines I sampled. Photo by Kevin Harkins.

I like to write about wines that are available locally, so I usually begin by visiting stores that have an ample selection, and experts to guide me. My search for interesting Spanish wines began with Andrea Difiore, the wine manager at Andover Classic Wines. “Point me to your favorite Spanish red wines,” I said. Andrea mentioned that she had just returned from a wine tour in Spain, where there are seven major wine regions and multiple subregions. For this article, I decided to focus on one of the subregions, Rioja.

Located in northeast Spain, close to the French border, the Rioja region produces barrel-aged, aromatic red wines made mostly from tempranillo and garnacha grapes. The first thing I noticed when choosing a bottle from this region was the labeling system called “Rioja Trustseal” on the back of each bottle. These government stamps indicate the authenticity and aging process of each bottle. A green label denotes a very young wine with little or no oak aging. Wine with a red label (“crianza”) is aged for two years, with at least six months in oak and the remainder in the bottle. A maroon label (“reserva”) indicates three years of aging, with at least one year in oak. The best wines have a blue label (“grand reserva”), indicating at least five years of aging, including 18 months in oak.

I visited my favorite local stores and brought home about a dozen bottles. I found that the labeling system truly indicates the quality of the wine and makes it easy to choose which bottle of Rioja to purchase.

As always, a few wines stood out. As Difiore put it, you can’t write an article about Rioja without mentioning the Bodegas Muga Winery. After tasting one of its products, I had to agree.

The 2010 Muga Rioja Reserva was the best of the group. I plan to buy a case to age in my basement. This unfiltered dark red blend hits you with dark cherry flavors, good acid and a nice tannic structure. The finish reveals oak and mineral components that really sold me.

Chuck Palazzolo, owner of Lucia’s Bodega in Windham, N.H., recommended my second favorite from the Rioja region. The 2010 Vina Cumbrero Rioja received 90 points in Wine Spectator, helping to indicate what a great year 2010 was for the Rioja region. Labeled as a crianza, it tasted more like a reserva and lived up to the 90-point ranking. The Vina Cumbrero is a complex full-bodied wine with bright red fruits and enough acid to make it a great choice with many foods. I also enjoyed the 2005 Hacienda Lopez de Haro Rioja Reserva. This wine had additional aging time in the bottle and was wonderfully complex — the best buy of the lot.

When you are searching for new wines to try, do as I do and ask the experts at your favorite wine stores. And remember, there are really only two kinds of wine, and you deserve to drink the good stuff. Salute! 

2010 Muga Rioja Reserva ($23 – $32)
Andover Classic Wines, Andover, Mass.,
(978) 470-0500,

Wine ConneXtion, North Andover, Mass.,
(978) 965-8000,

Leary’s Fine Wines & Spirits, Newburyport, Mass.,
(978) 462-4451,

2010 Vina Cumbrero Rioja Crianza  ($18 – $25)
Lucia’s Bodega, Windham, N.H.,
(603) 421-9463,

2005 Hacienda Lopez de Haro Rioja Reserva ($17 – $22)
Leary’s Fine Wines & Spirits, Newburyport, Mass.,
(978) 462-4451,

Lucia’s Bodega, Windham, N.H.,
(603) 421-9463,



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