Who doesn’t like a good $10 or $12 bottle of wine?
Finding them is the holy grail of the wine world. And although there are tons of them out there, buying inexpensive wines that rise above vin ordinaire status is one of the great challenges that wine lovers (and critics) face.
But there’s nothing particularly complicated about it. It’s essentially a hit-or-miss exercise. With that in mind, I stopped by one of my local wine stores the other night in need of a mid-week bottle of red for a roast chicken dinner — and came away with a winner.
In the process, I ruled out California (usually fruity, one-dimensional wines at this price point); I passed on Bordeaux (some good wines to be found but broad distribution of any particular bottle will often be limited); I skipped Italy (I love Italian wines but usually enjoy them with Italian dishes).
And then there was Spain, whose wines still offer some of the best price-to-quality values. In a choice between a couple of bottles from Rioja, Spain’s most famous wine region, I went with the $12 Bodegas LAN Rioja Crianza 2014. One thing that swayed me was the fact that this wine was “estate bottled,” a sign of quality you often don’t find at this price.
At home, I gave the bottle a 10-minute chill in the freezer on a warm summer evening. (Warning: do not do this with more than one bottle at a time, as forgetting the second bottle while drinking the first is easy and can lead to really messy consequences in your freezer.)
The interesting thing about wines from Rioja is that they come with at least a couple of years of age – the “crianza” level requires at least one year of aging in oak and one year in bottle. The 2014 Bodegas LAN had four years of aging when I opened it, and it showed.
The wine is made from 95 percent Tempranillo and 5 percent Mazuelo and has good complexity for the price. There’s lots of ripe berry fruit on the nose and palate, mainly red but also some dark undertones, punctuated by spice and herbal notes. There’s a good deal of oak in the mix (perhaps a bit too much for some), which gives the wine a layer of vanilla sweetness. Soft tannins make it effortless to drink.
All in all, it was a perfect bottle to enjoy on the fly. In the hit-or-miss world of wine on the cheap, this one hit the spot.