When it comes to European wine regions, France and Italy hog all of the spotlight. However, Spain has been producing quality wine for the past 700 years, too. The Iberian peninsula's most popular wine making appellation is the Rioja. Situated just below the Pais Vasco in the central Northeast of Spain, Rioja is known for one grape in particular, Tempranillo. Over 90 percent of the wine produced in Rioja is red and 85 percent of this is Tempranillo. Don't be intimidated if you're not a huge red wine drinker, Rioja also produces plenty of rose and white Tempranillo. To find out why you should be asking for Rioja at your local wine shop, read on.
- It's incredibly affordable. A good bottle of Rioja won't break the bank. At a recent tasting, my favorite Rioja was from the Bodegas Bilbaínas and it retails for just $12! The 2008 Viña Zaco Cosecha is slightly peppery, with a light body, smooth drinkability, acidic finish, and blueberry aroma.
- There's something for everyone. Whether you prefer robust aged reds or light interesting whites, Rioja has a lot of variety to offer. If you come across a rose or white Tempranillo like Bodegas Valdemar's 2010 Inspiración Valdemar, be sure to give them a try.
- It's food friendly. Tempranillo is a very good food wine. It's great paired with everything from cured meats to seafood to slow braises.
- It's ready to drink now. Rioja is one of the only wine regions in which there are required levels of age. The Gran Reserva style must be aged in barrels for at least 2 years before being aged in bottles for 3 years. If you enjoy aged wines, you can purchase a bottle of Gran Reserva and enjoy it immediately because the wine producers do the aging for you.
- It's a wonderful region to visit. Once you've developed a taste for Rioja, consider taking a trip to the area. It's known for its striking architectural wonders of both ancient and modern buildings. Among the noteworthy structures? Frank Gehry's Hotel Marques de Riscal.
Have you sipped wine from Rioja? What do you think of it?