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Discover Wines From the Rioja Region of Spain

The Wine Guys

The wine world is constantly evolving. Fifty years ago -- a blink of the eye for some of us -- France was the preeminent producer of world-class wines. Although most Americans had not tasted a great wine from Bordeaux or Burgundy, there certainly was a vague awareness that these storied regions were the source of great wines. Italy and Germany were minor players, producing inexpensive plonk, and California was noted for their post-Prohibition jug wines.

Fast forward to present day, and, while France is still certainly a leading producer of world-class wines, American, Italian, German, and Spanish wines are some of the best and most competitive in the world.

The newest region to attain this well-deserved recognition is the Rioja region of Spain. Tempranillo is the dominant red grape of Rioja, although it is frequently blended with garnacha (grenache) and mazuelo (carignan).

A recent meeting with Eladio Fernandez, export manager of Bodegas Muriel, gave us a chance to taste their Rioja offerings, as well as a delightful albarino from Rias Baixas. Bodegas Muriel is a large producer of Rioja, with ownership of several wineries producing one million cases of wine per year.

The Muriel Vendimia Seleccionada Blanco 2015 is a steal at $12. A perfect summer sipper, this clean, 100 percent viura offered thirst-quenching apple and citrus flavors with balanced acidity.

We also enjoyed the Pazo Cilleiro Albarino Rias Baixas 2015 ($20) made entirely from albarino grapes, which presented a bit more acidity and citrus notes than the viura. The albarino grapes are grown on a 6-foot high pergola system that allows for effective air circulation away from the damp ground. According to Fernandez, all of the Rias Baixas D.O.-approved land is already planted to mostly albarino (90 percent), thus cutting off any potential expansion of albarino plantings in the area.

The well-priced Bodegas Muriel Vina Eguia Tempranillo Rioja 2014 ($14) features fresh cherry fruit in a rich and round package with some black pepper notes.

The Vina Eguia Reserva Rioja 2013 ($19) is a step up. This delicious reserva presents very ripe cherry with a hint of licorice and is elegantly balanced.

The Bodegas Muriel Reserva Rioja 2011 ($20) is another fantastic reserva that deserves attention. Coconut and fruit dominated the nose with a bare hint of mint. Ripe cherry and coconut flavors and hints of vanilla developed in the mouth with a long, pleasing finish.

The Conde de los Andes Tempranillo 2013 ($50) is a stunner. Although this wine could benefit with some bottle aging, it already displayed delicious cherry and berry flavors, with coffee and cacao notes in the nose and mouth. Very elegant, this beautiful wine can compare to some of the best wines in the world. A bit pricey, but worth it.


  • Clos du Val Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($52). This historic property seems to have turned a big corner with a series of new estate-grown wines made by the new team of Steve Tamburelli, president and CEO, and Jon-Mark Chappellet, director of operations, and winemaker Ted Henry. The wines slipped in quality in recent decades, but this house cabernet takes it back to the quality that made it famous in the Judgment of Paris. This wine is concentrated and complex with a velvet texture and rich plum and cocoa flavors.

  • Saldo California Zinfandel 2015 ($28). From The Prisoner Wine Co., this lively and rich zinfandel shows off beaucoup raspberry aromas with strawberry and blackberry flavors, with a hint of oak and vanilla.