Rioja is Spain’s high-end wine district, officially classified (along with Priorat in Catalonia) in a higher quality ranking than any of the country’s other 60-plus regions. What makes it so special? Sandy clay soils laced with calcium-rich alluvial deposits, old vines and a prime location, sheltered between interlocking mountains midway between the moderating influences of the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. The tempranillo grape, upon which most Rioja is based, is a chameleon, expressing a wide range of stylistic diversity. Here are three of the many faces of Rioja.
Sierra Cantabria Crianza Rioja, 2012
Crianza is aged for up to a year in wood. This great producer’s version has the fragrant aroma of a cherry pie, with undertones of grilled nuts, vanilla and dried herbs. It is earthy and clean with a bit of tannin, medium-bodied and lingering in flavor. This is an ideal red for roasted chicken or medium-textured fish such as salmon.
$18, Bauer Wine & Spirits, Boston
Muga Reserva Rioja, 2011
Muga is one of the great family-owned artisan wineries of Spain. Aged for two years in Alliers French oak barrels that the winery crafts in its own cellars, this Reserva-level wine is a touch floral and smoky, with engaging red berry and clove flavors and a hint of gaminess in the finish. Classic in style, it’s ideal with grilled meats.
$32, Federal Wine & Spirits, Boston
Rio Madre Graciano Rioja, 2014
Pure graciano is a rarity in Rioja, as the grape constitutes only about 1 percent of the vines planted. This pure-varietal graciano is medium-deep in color, with scents of mushroom, fennel, damp earth and game. Round on the palate, its ripe flavors evoke dark cherry and almond, with hints of roasted coffee. It’s delightful with a plate of cured meats.
$11, Wegman’s, Chestnut Hill