Rioja punches above its weight, reliably delivering wines that are remarkably flexible with food but also happily affordable, considering the quality that is apparent in the glass. The reasons are rooted in the region’s uncommon geography. Driving north from Madrid toward the Basque city of San Sebastián, the cooling influence of the frigid Atlantic becomes apparent as one nears the Ebro River. Turning off there toward Haro takes you to the stretch of the Ebro Valley, reaching 75 miles south and west toward the distant Mediterranean, that produces Rioja wines. The region’s superstar grape is tempranillo, and most of its red wines are tempranillo blends like this one, accented with only small amounts of other local varieties, like garnacha, graciano, or mazuelo. Tempranillo does make bolder, heavier wines in warmer, drier regions, but in cooler Rioja, its wines tend to be a touch lighter and brighter, which helps explain their food-friendliness, as flattering to heavier seafood dishes as they are to meats. But the elevated acidity and tannin that result from the cool climate are also the key to Rioja’s ability to benefit from long-term aging in both barrels and bottles. The result is a style that is as tempting for fans of classic French Bordeaux as it is for lovers of Oregon pinot noir. This example is complex and savory on the nose, featuring aromas of nuts and herbs, and satisfying on the palate, finishing with lasting flavors of wild woodland berries.
Marqués de Cáceres Rioja Crianza, Rioja, Spain, $12.99 (regularly $15.99; sale price through April 28). PLCB Item #7212.