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Rolling with Rioja


Arguably the best-known wine region of Spain, the indigenous Tempranillo is Rioja's primary red grape, though it is often blended with Garnacha and Graciano. In the past, the wine was aged for years in large wooden casks, resulting in a rustic style. Modern methods and a more relaxed aging regimen prevail today. To be labeled a Crianza requires a year in oak and a year in bottle, while a Reserva is aged for three years, of which at least one is in oak. Here are the panel's top Rioja picks:

2011 Lan Reserva, $20

A blend of 92 percent Tempranillo with the remainder Graciano, this wine spends 16 months in hybrid barrels with American oak staves and French heads. It opens with aromas of blueberry, dark chocolate and creme brulee. A nice bit of cedar on the palate colors the creamy red fruit flavors, while ripe tannins come through on the long finish.

2011 Marques de Caceres Reserva, $20

Tempranillo dominates this blend, along with 10 percent Garnacha and 5 percent Graciano, all aged for 20 months in French oak. The nose is filled with deep, dark cherry and berry fruit backed by vanilla, tea, toast and spice. This is an elegantly structured wine with a rich core of blackberry fruit flavors balanced by hints of olive, coffee and leather.

2014 Sierra Cantabria Crianza, $20

This 100 percent Tempranillo varietal spends just over a year in a mix of American and French oak barrels. Lightly toasted oak, vanilla and spice color the tart cherry aromas. Exceptionally well-balanced and medium-bodied, the palate of this wine is marked by dark plum and bright cherry, along with nuanced smoke, earth and spice.