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Under $20 Spanish red wines to chase away winter's chill Part 1

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Cold, blustery winter days call for the warmth of comfort food at night, washed down by a delicious bottle of red wine. Spain stacks the deck, with a wide variety of characterful red wines, from blends such as Rioja, Ribera del Duero, and Priorat, to 100% varietals such as Tempranillo, Garnacha, and Monastrell, topping the quality and value category, with many wines under $20. These wines are great value, with quality on the rise in all levels of Spanish wine production. If proof is needed, Wine Spectator just named the Cune Rioja Imperial Gran Reserva 2004 as its 2013 Wine of the Year, with nine Spanish wines making the Top 100.

Rioja is a popular choice, usually a blend of mostly Tempranillo, with Graciano, Garnacha, and Mazuelo fleshing out the mix. Comparable to Bordeaux in style, the wine is reflective of soil and climate, fashioned by patient winemaking, and shaped by slow aging. Rioja is traditionally supple and elegant, balanced in alcohol and acidity, with more savory than fruity notes, revealing its dance with time in American oak barrels. A modern trend in Rioja has been to develop a richer, more structured wine, comparable to the world’s other powerhouse reds that have been in style for the past decade, with more fruit notes, less earthy character, and bigger tannins.

This fork in the wine style of Rioja offers traditional and modern wines at prices that are a wine lover’s best friend. Although the top tier of Rioja, such as a Gran Reserva that is made from the best grapes and often aged at least 10 years before release, can be more pricey, they are always a bargain when weighed against comparable quality Bordeaux. There are many lower tier Rioja that drink twice their retail value, and greatly enhance a variety of food.

For example, the 2011 Hazaña “Tradición” Rioja, 85% Tempranillo and 15% Graciano is a blockbuster, the contender for an every night house wine. Selling from $8-$11 a bottle locally, it has classic Rioja character, with black cherry jam, licorice, lead pencil shavings, and tobacco leaf, with medium body, round sweet tannins, it’s an elegant wine, and worth the hunt, receiving 90 points from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate.

continued in Part 2

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