There was a time when Spanish wine almost always meant Rioja. Winemaking in Rioja goes back to Roman times and while there has been a wine explosion throughout the country, Rioja is still Spain's leading region. Red wines are predominately made with tempranillo, the most widely planted grape, but blends with garnacha are typical. Here are the panel's top picks:
2010 Bodegas Zugober Belezos Crianza, $18.99
Founded in 1987, Zugober is a newbie in Rioja terms, and the style of their Belezos wines is a mix of old world and new. This tempranillo-dominant red (95 percent) is fresh and lively with ripe cherry and vanilla aromas. It's a fruit-forward, user-friendly wine filled with berry, cherry and plum flavors with soft tannins and just a kiss of oak. This wine is an excellent value.
2006 Lopez de Heredia Vina Cubillo Crianza, $26
A blend of tempranillo (65 percent) garnacha (25 percent) and equal parts graciano and mazuelo, this Crianza spent three years in the barrel. The result is a well-aged red that's exceptionally smooth and elegant. Cherry liqueur, leather and licorice come through on the nose. Silky red fruit with touches of oak and earth color the palate. This is a nice example of an old world-style Rioja.
2010 Muga Reserva, $30
This blend of tempranillo (70 percent), garnacha (20 percent), graciano and mazuelo spent two years in oak casks. It offers meaty aromas of dark fruit backed by leather, coffee and anise. It's a well integrated wine filled with spicy flavors of ripe cherry and currant and colored by touches of dark chocolate, creamy cappuccino and chewy tannins. Delicious.