Great wine from Old World growers – Spanish Rioja

Wayne on Wine
By Wayne Crawford

wayne crawford
Wayne Crawford

The continuous search for quality wines at competitive pricing has led me back to Spain, a country with more wine acreage than any other in the world. Within Spain, two regions carry the highest rating: DOCa Rioja and Priorat.

Rioja is 30 miles wide and 70 miles long with all vineyards in the Ebro River valley in north central Spain. The region, protected by the Cantabrian Mountains to the north, is divided into three zones: Rioja Alta in the west at the highest elevations; Rioja Alavesa in the north; and Rioja Baja in the east. According to, the earliest date for Rioja wine cultivation is 873 A.D.

The grand wine of the region is tempranillo (tem-pra-knee-yoh), which derives its name from the Spanish word for early—temprano—due to its thick-skinned, black grape ripening earlier than most grapes. Some consider this the “noble grape” of Spain. The wine is ruby-red in color, low in acidity and sugar content with flavors of plum, berries, tobacco, vanilla and herbs on the palate. It is lush, supple and full of fruit.

Tempranillo pairs well with Spanish cheese, meat grilled with herbs, duck, game birds, cured ham, sausage, lamb, poultry and Indian dishes. It is a very versatile red wine with many of the attributes of pinot noir and cabernet franc.

One key to understanding Rioja wines is found on the back label, which is green, red, burgundy or blue for red wines. Wine without this label is not a certified Rioja wine. Look for the label to help in wine selection.
The green label certifies wine produced from 100 percent Rioja grapes that meet the Rioja DOC standards. Generally, these are young, fruity wines with less than six months aging.

The red label is crianza, a wine aged for at least two years before being released to market; a minimum of one of those years has been in an oak barrel.

The burgundy label is a reserve wine aged for a minimum of three years, with at least one year spent in oak.  
The blue label is a gran reserva: The wine inside has been aged for at least five years before release, and two of those years were spent in oak aging. This is not a quality cut; many great Rioja wines hold a green label.

At the January Big Canoe Wine Group blind-tasting, old wines dominated. If you are not already enjoying Rioja wines, consider adding them to your wine selection.

‘Wines Drinking Well Now’


Faustino V Rioja Reserva 1996, Spain, $19.99: 90 percent tempranillo, 10 percent mazuelo. A light, ruby-red tint with a brick color on the rim reflects this wine’s 17-year age. It has red berry aromas with soft tannins, cherry and cocoa flavors on the palate. It is well-balanced with a lingering finish. A refined, smooth wine, it was first in the Big Canoe Wine Group blind-tasting. Look for 2005 on as a Best Buy.

Vina Valoria 1968 Cosecha Rioja, Spain, $108: This wine’s dark red fruit with brick rim color testifies to its well-aged qualities, intense structure and very savory flavor. It shows how beautifully Rioja ages, with many of the best wines aged 15-20 years.

San Vicente 2005 Rioja, Spain, $60:  This wine is a bright ruby color with red berry, cherry and spice on the palate. It has a long spicy finish. The wine should age for years and is an impressive example of how Rioja reds improve with age.

Muga Reserva 2001 Rioja, Spain, $24: This Rioja is made up of 70 percent tempranillo, 20 percent garnacha and the remainder a mixture of graciano and mazuelo. The wine shows a soft, ruby-red color. The aroma is red berries, tobacco and earth. The taste is of cherries and raspberries. This is a full-bodied wine with smooth tannins and a nice finish. Best Buy.

Perhaps the best way to enjoy Rioja wines is to seek out well-established bodegas (wineries): Bilbainas, Camp Viejo, C.V.N.E., Faustino, La Rioja Alta, Marques de Murrieta, Marques de Riscal, Muga, Palacio and many others. Both white and rose wines from the region can be found at excellent price points. Determine what is available locally and enjoy

Update on Georgia wine
Another Georgia winery closes: in 2011, it was Persimmons Creek; in 2012—after 17 years in business—BlackStock closed.

In a letter to his loyal followers, owner David Harris wrote, “I am very saddened to inform you that we are closing the vineyards and winery at BlackStock … we have suffered from repeated crop losses due to the exceptionally warm winters and the early bud-break dates … having a devastating effect to our crop. We have also felt the sting from selling fruit in a soft economy and the importation of grapes and wine into Georgia wineries, eroding our market when the crop was plentiful.”  My best wishes to David in his next endeavor.

Next up for review is malbec.

Local Wine Update
The Big Canoe Wine Group and the Homeowners Association are sponsoring their annual wine-tasting fundraiser at The Chimneys, Friday, April 19, 7:15-9:30 p.m. Net proceeds will benefit the Big Canoe Volunteer Fire Department.

Twenty carefully selected wines will be complemented with delicious hors d’oeuvres. Advance tickets, $45 per person, are available at the postal facility, Saturday, March 31 and April 7.


Wayne Crawford is a certified specialist of Wine CSW and a member of the Society of Wine Educators and the American Wine Society.

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