For about as long as I can remember, Spanish wines have represented some of the best wine values around. And that is particularly true of the wines of Spain’s Rioja region, which are generally excellent values that can be enjoyed young, but also have aging power.
Rioja is one of the most prominent wine regions in the country, situated in the northern part of Spain. The region is particularly known for its red wines, predominantly crafted from the Tempranillo grape variety, which thrives in Rioja’s diverse terroir. Rioja wines often showcase a perfect balance of fruitiness, acidity, and oak influence, thanks to traditional aging methods, including extended oak barrel aging. The classification system in Rioja places wines into Crianza, Reserva, and Gran Reserva categories based on their aging period. This meticulous approach to winemaking has contributed to Rioja’s global reputation, making it a must-explore destination for wine enthusiasts seeking a taste of Spain’s vinicultural excellence.
Two such examples of value-laden Rioja wines that I had the good fortune of sampling recently came from the El Coto winery: Coto de Imaz Reserva 2018 ($22.99) and Coto de Imaz Gran Reserva 2016 ($36.99).
Founded in 1970, El Coto de Rioja winery is the largest owner of vineyards in the Rioja D.O.Ca., extending through the three subregions of Rioja Baja, Rioja Alta, and Rioja Alavesa. The wines I sampled – Coto de Imaz – are produced from a selection of the best Tempranillo grapes grown in a single, old-vine parcel in El Coto’s vineyards in Cenicero, in the heart of Rioja Alta. According to the winemakers, “The limestone-rich clay soils deliver grapes of great flavor intensity and excellent levels of acidity, crucial for wines which undergo extensive oak aging.”
Coto de Imaz Reserva 2018 is made from 100% Tempranillo grapes and undergoes 18 months of aging in oak casks, lending complexity to the wine along with nicely balanced acidity. It’s a fairly soft and juicy wine with vanilla and cocoa notes and tame tannins that would be perfect to sip alongside tapas, pizza, burgers or grilled meat dishes. Wine Spectator awarded 91 points to Coto de Imaz Reserva, which is pretty high praise for a wine under 25 bucks.
Coto de Imaz Gran Reserva D.O.C. 2016 undergoes considerably more aging: 24 months in American and French oak barrels, followed by a whopping minimum of 36 months of bottle aging prior to release – “a period which is almost always exceeded,” say the winemakers. The Gran Reserva is a lovely, elegant wine with rich aromatics, a blend of 90% Tempranillo and 10% Graciano. Wine Spectator gave this beauty a rating of 93 points. There are toasty aromas and hints of coconut on the nose. The mouthfeel is silky with round, soft tannins, dark fruit flavors, and a rich, long finish. I would pair this blockbuster Rioja with roasted game meats or suckling pig. The wine is wonderful now, but I’d put a few bottles away to enjoy down the road in a few years.