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Sep 11, 2009 11:36 PM

Rioja Tasting 101

I'm a bridesmaid for a wedding. The couple's married name will guessed it! Riojas. So as part of our wedding research, I decided organizing a Riojas tasting was #1 of my list of duties.

Unfortunately, it is a wine varietal about which I know nothing. So here's my plan:

-gather Chowhound favorites
-visit two or three of my favorite San Francisco wine shops this weekend
-compile a list to give their hotel. They say they'll be able to buy any wine we name, but I want to let the bride and groom take a look at which price points are feasible before buying sample bottles
-throw a party with about half a dozen bottles and invite everyone to a blind tasting

Any and all advice about how to proceed is greatly appreciated!

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  1. I'd suggest that you first obtain the required price points from the bride and groom before you get ideas on what wines to sample. Rioja is one of the largest wine region in the world and which produces wines at a wide range of the price spectrum. It'll be easier to gather information about what wines when you know your price range.

    2 Replies
    1. re: RCC

      The wine list at the hotel starts in the forties, and there's no way for them to wiggle out of using their list or ordering through them, so any wine that retails for $10-20 and that the hotel would sell them for $20-60 would be considered.

      Other than that, we're looking for a couple of different reds, not rioja blancos. One heavier variety, one lighter one, sort of like how people tend to serve one Cabernet Sauvignon and one Merlot to cover most preferences. The dinner menu has not been set, but it's possible there will be some kind of white fish and braised short ribs.

      My concern is that in my experience, riojas don't tend to shine in the $10 range. And I know no wine really "shines" for $10, but I just mean that at that price I've had okay California wine, but only pretty bleh Spanish wine. But I really don't have much experience so I'm hoping to be wrong.

      1. re: Pei

        These are some of what I would consider Riojas that would be sufficiently “safe” in a large crowd and are under $15 (at least in stores here in my city):.

        These reds can be crowd-pleasers and on the modern fruity/oaky side, medium-bodied with enough acidity to be food-friendly.
        CUNE Vina Real Crianza 2004
        Abando Crianza 2004
        Marques de Riscal 2004
        Sierra Cantabria Crianza 2005

        For whites, you can look for
        Marques de Caceres
        Bodegas Muga

    2. The 2004 Lan Rioja Reserva made the Spectator's Top 100 (#52, if you care about such things). It retails for about $17 and has a nice acid/fruit/oak balance. I highly recommend it for the price.

      3 Replies
        1. re: redmeatfan

          No, no corkage. But while my friends won't be able to purchase the wines themselves, the hotel will order wines for them if they want certain wines by name (I know, what a racket). The bride just confirmed for me that most wines on the hotel list are at a 3x markup. They've made vague promises to her that if they order just for her the markup will be a little less than that, but who knows.

          I found the 2004 Lan Rioja Reserva for $16 locally, which I guess would mean the hotel would give it to them at $40-50. Right in the range of the cheaper wines on their list! I'll be hunting around some more. Thanks for the help so far, everyone!

        2. re: invinotheresverde

          I second the Lan Rioha Reserva, I actually tried it just a few weeks ago and it was very nice.

        3. The Spanish Table in Berkeley specializes in Spanish wines. They have several Riojas, including Lopez de Heredia, which releases Reserva and Gran Reservas after aging them. I believe the white Riojas are up to 1998. The oldest reds are in the 1960s and are several hundred dollars each before mark up.
          Awesome wines, by the way.
          K&L also has 41 wines from the Rioja, including Lopez de Heredia.
          Thank God their married name won't be Temecula. . .

          2 Replies
          1. re: SteveTimko

            Hey, I'm just glad his name isn't Chuck!

            I'll definitely be heading to K&L, hopefully they'll have a person who loves riojas.

            1. re: Pei

              CVNE Real Reserva 2001 is very good. Retails under $30.

          2. I was just in Spain and found a great Rioja. Montecillo (or Bodega Montecillo) has a great bottle 2003 Reserva. Priced at about $20 retail on the east coast. Try it!