The phylloxera plague in the 1870s led to an influx of winegrowers from Bordeaux to the Rioja region in northern Spain. These winemakers have adopted the techniques of their region, including the use of new oak barrels for long-term maturation. Red blends based on Tempranillo have acquired new complexities as a result of time spent in oak.

Maturation became an essential feature of La Rioja and strict standards were established, which are still in force today.

The Crianza has the shortest aging period, two years (including one year in barrels), which brings out the aromas of Tempranillo with black fruits such as plums, cherries and black currants. After three years (one of which is in the barrel), the reserves may have more influence from oak cooking spices, vanilla and chocolate. With the longest aging period of five years (including two years in barrels), the Grandes Réserves are heavy on oak and often express earthy, roasted and coffee notes with aromas of dried fruit.

All of these styles are available everywhere, and there are many reasonably priced deals that are great value. Here are 10 recently classified Riojas that meet the three maturation requirements.

La Rioja Alta 2012 Viña Arana Gran Reserva (Rioja); $48, 94 points. Dry oak aromas are welcome, and this one smells of earth and cheese in a classic way, with ripe raisin and vanilla flavors. The palate is rich, yet balanced. Aromas of balsamic plums, berry fruit and tobacco finish more than subtle and elegant. Drink till 2032. Skurnik Vina. Basement selection. -Michael Schachner

Bodegas Tobia 2014 Oscar Tobia Gran Reserva (Rioja); $50, 93 points. Aromas of wild berries and spicy black cherries mingle with notes of dried fruit and pipe tobacco. The supple palate is full and incisive but charming, with supple tannins and a nice wave of lively acidity. Integrated flavors of plum, red currant and peppery spice are supported by a creamy vanilla oak finish. Drinking until 2031. Triple import. -M.S.


Campillo 2016 Crianza (Rioja); $25, 92 points. Flavors of plum and red currant are dense, while this cry of a great year stands out on a lively palate. Spicy plum and red currant flavors emerge at the end of the mouth with notes of ground pepper and lingering acidity. Drinking to 2025. Pacific wines and spirits. -M.S.

Muga 2015 Unfiltered Reserva (Rioja); $30, 92 points. The earthy aromas of black fruit are warm and ripe. In a year as warm as 2015, with plenty of preservatives, flavored with toasty oak, chocolate and mixed berries. In moderate heat, the speed is not lost on arrival. Drinking until 2023. Jorge Ordoñez selection. -M.S.

CVNE 2014 Cune Gran Reserva (Rioja); $42, 91 points. The woody flavors of raspberry and currant are dry and distant, while this preservative of the tough old variety feels firm and gets the job done. Toasted aromas, coffee and woody spices accentuate the raspberry and plum flavors, while the lingering finish provides a dry, slightly spicy feel. This is the future. Drinking until 2023. Arano. -M.S.

Marqués de Cáceres 2015 Reserva (Rioja); 31, 91 points. Black currant and raisin aromas announce a warm, ripe jam of the season, with enough acidity on the palate to provide balance. Blueberry and cooked plum aromas benefit from this acidity, and final notes of aged beef and cooked berries confirm that this is a ripe Rioja style. Drink till 2024. Vines. -M.S.

Coto 2015 Coto de Imaz Reserva (Rioja); $22, 90 points. Grainy aromas of American vanilla oak mixed with slightly spicy red fruit notes create a classic Rioja nose. The palate is dense with strong acidity and sharpness while delivering aromas of vanilla, dill, plum, red currant and woody spice. Oaks is a major player in the long run. Drinking until 2023. It’s Opichi’s fault. -M.S.

We recommend:

Complete collection of Fusion-Air wine glasses (set of 12)

Red wine decanter Schott Zwiesel Air Sense

Lopez de Jaro 2017 Crianza (Rioja); $13, 90 points. Tones of plums, cherries and earthy spices make up the classic Rioja nose, while this warm, dry crianza from a warm, dry year is fleshy and ripe. Dark berry flavors in a warm finish push the spices to the limit. Mr. Tutone’s selection. Best buy. -M.S.

Kirkland Signature 2016. Reserva (Rioja); 7.89 points. This winner is as good and honest as can be in La Rioja. The earthy cherry and plum aromas are enticing, while this wine earns points for its richness, balance and attractive cherry and plum spice flavors. Have a drink. The quintessence of wines. Best buy. -M.S.

Marques de Riscal 2017 Arienzo Crianza (Rioja); 10, 88 points. The aromas of cherries, plums, leather and tobacco are quite deep and concentrated on the nose. The flavors of plums, black prunes and green herbs bring richness to the palate. A chocolatey note appears in the finale. Shaw-Ross International Importers. Best buy. -M.S.

Published on the 24th. February 2021

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