But which Rioja should you buy? With the plethora of wines available to you at the store, we wanted a scientific way to wade through the choices. We thought we’d blind test you, our readers, on a whole bunch of Riojas to find out which you liked best.
One thing that’s important to keep in mind is that Rioja comes in different forms, including a host of whites and rosés, too. When it comes to your reds, an easy to understand classification system will help you find the right wine for every occasion. The main three classifications of Rioja are Crianza, Reserva, and Gran Reserva.
Wines classified as Crianza are aged for one year in oak and one year in bottle. These wines are perfect for everyday drinking, with a relatively low price point and flavors that are both fresh and accessible.
Rioja Reservas are aged for one year in oak and at least two years in bottle. These are your date night wines.
These wines are the most elevated expression of Rioja. They are only made in great vintages and aged for two years in oak and at least three years in bottle. This is the wine you pop when you have something special to celebrate. The amazing thing about the wines in each of these categories is that they are all still incredible values when compared to their counterparts from other top regions like Tuscany, Bordeaux, or Napa.
We wanted to compare only Riojas in the same category, for the sake of being the most scientific. To determine which Rioja in each category is the best, we partnered with the Rioja DOCa Regulatory Board — the organization that oversees the entire region of Rioja and upholds its strict classification system. Together, we issued an open call for submissions from every winery in the region. The wineries were instructed that in order to qualify and submit, their wines must be widely available on the US market, and they must be submitting the current vintage available on the market.
We received almost two hundred submissions in all three categories. VinePair Staff tasted each submission blind, narrowing the selection down to thirty bottles per category. We then convened a group of VinePair readers, who applied and were selected from a field of hundreds, to rate those bottles.
Each wine was again tasted blind and the panel was asked to rate the bottles on a scale of one to ten. One meant they’d never drink it, and ten meant they’d drink the whole bottle happily because the wine was incredible. We then compiled the scores and created an average for each bottle. Only after the final scores were tabulated did we reveal to ourselves the names of the bottles.
One of the most interesting things you’ll notice is that price does not always equal taste. Some of the more affordable bottles in each category found their way to the top of the list, proving there is great value to be found in this storied wine region. It’s definitely worth exploring.
Here are the results:
Top 10 Rioja Crianza Wines
- Viña Bujanda Crianza 2013 – $13
This was by far the overwhelming favorite with readers, who called it “smooth,” “balanced,” and “delicious.”
- CVNE Rioja Crianza 2013 – $13
Described as “juicy,” “fruit-forward,” and “balanced,” tasters were impressed with how well made this wine was and how easy it was to drink.
- Altos Ibéricos Crianza 2014 – $13
Described as rich and unique, one taster even said they’d mistake it as a Châteauneuf-du-Pape. This was a wine everyone said they’d pour at a dinner party.
- Cantos de Valpiedra 2012 – $20
- Taron Crianza 2012 – $18
- Hacienda Lopez de Haro Crianza 2014 – $10
- Muriel Fincas de la Villa Crianza 2014 – $20
- Conde Valdemar Crianza 2012 – $12
- Luis Cañas Crianza 2013 – $21
- Viña Pomal Crianza 2013 – $14
Top 10 Rioja Reserva Wines
- Muga Reserva 2011 – $26
This was described by our tasters as a special occasion wine that was easy to please. On taster even referred to it as a bit sassy. Lots of personality and character here.
- La Antigua Clásico Reserva 2008 – $22
“Earthy,” “balanced,” and “rich” were the adjectives used to describe this wine, which was a very close second to the Muga.
- Beronia Reserva 2011 – $20
This wine possess a nice amount of fruit while also being incredibly well-balanced and smooth. Many said they’d drink the entire bottle themselves.
- Ontañón Reserva 2005 – $23
- Coto de Imaz Reserva 2012 – $21
- Remírez de Ganuza Reserva 2008 – $74
- Marqués de Vargas Reserva 2011 – $26
- Ondarre Reserva 2013 – $14
- Viña Pomal Reserva 2011 – $22
- Luis Cañas Reserva 2009 – $40
Top 5 Rioja Gran Reserva Wines
- Ontañón Gran Reserva 2005 – $36
An incredible depth of flavor was present in this wine that most tasters referred to as mind-altering. Receiving by far the highest scores of any wine in any category, this is definitely a wine to impress.
- Viña Bujanda Gran Reserva 2009 – $26
One taster referred to this wine as being very similar to Bordeaux, specifically Cabernet.
- Viña Albina Gran Reserva 2009 – $48
One taster’s note was simply, “I want to drink this forever.” Described as full-bodied and absolutely delicious, this was another very special wine.
- Campo Viejo Gran Reserva 2009 – $23
- Luis Cañas Gran Reserva 2008 – $43
- Beronia Gran Reserva 2008 – $31