05/11/10 – Revisiting Rioja

By Jesse on May 10, 2010

During the two months that we dedicated to the March Madness blind-tasting tournament, we drank wine from eleven different regions in six different nations: France, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, and the good ol’ USA. In doing so, we made geographical stops at a number of the world’s top countries for wine production. However, several important wino nations were overlooked, including Spain, which is a particular favorite of several of us LA Winos.

For the next two weeks, we’ll be doing a sort-of Spanish wine mini-series. We’ll start this week with an exploration of what has traditionally been considered Spain’s greatest wine region, Rioja, which we previously tasted at Nick’s place last summer for the Tempranillo meeting. Next week, we’ll be doing a blind tasting of budget Spanish reds from various regions, in an attempt to find the best values in a country that’s full of them.

Read about Rioja: Rioja’s position of esteem as Spain’s top wine region can be something of a double-edged sword. First of all, Rioja isn’t the warmest region in Spain, and people who are used to drinking inexpensive full-bodied reds from such sun-drenched regions as La Mancha can sometimes find Rioja to be a bit understated in comparison. Also, in a country that’s still best known to American consumers for producing value wines, both white and red, producers in Rioja have to choose between releasing more expensive wines (which might alienate foreign customers who aren’t used to seeing pricey Spanish bottles) or producing wines using less expensive production methods (which could lead to depleted quality).Unfortunately, some producers choose the latter, meaning that the bottles of Rioja you’ll find for $8 at your favorite supermarket may be of inferior quality, and not truly representative of the region.

However, there still are a number of great Riojas to be found for $15 and under. But how do you separate the good from the med-rio-cre?? (See what I did there?)

1) First, visit a wine shop with a good Spanish selection (such as K&L in Hollywood, Vendome in Toluca Lake or Studio City, or the Wine House on the west side) and ask for a recommendation of a budget Rioja that’s a real winner. They’ll probably have several for you to choose from.

2) Another tip is to seek out Riserva and Gran Riserva wines. As opposed to the Crianzawines, which undergo minimal aging, Riserva (and especially Gran Riserva) spends a good amount of time in barrel before being released. Click here to learn more about Spain’s aging classifications.

For this meeting, please feel free to bring any bottle of Rioja that you think is going to be stellar, based on one of the two reasons above. Although more famous for its reds, Rioja also produces a number of excellent white and rosé wines, so those are good to go as well. (As always, you can choose to bring a $10 donation instead.)

We’ll be meeting at Andrew’s place in Korea Town, right up the street from the legendary Han Kook Supermarket (but don’t plan to buy your Rioja there). The RSVP system functions like this: if you want in, you click on this link and tell me so (don’t forget your full name, e-mail address, and a cute message conveying to me your intentions). Andrew’s place is small, so this meeting is limited to twelve Winos. RSVP soon to reserve your spot! If you don’t make the cut, you’ll be on the top of the list for next week.

Once you’ve gotten your confirmation e-mail, go out and find yourself a bottle of Rioja, or a crisp $10 bill. We’ll see you on Tuesday at 9pm!