7 outstanding red wines from Rioja to buy right now

These will be your steak’s best friend.

Rioja is the most popular Spanish region for wine in the United States, accounting for almost 25 percent of wines imported to our shores from the Iberian nation. Its star grape is Tempranillo, an early-ripening variety that grows throughout the country but is practically synonymous with Rioja. It is often blended with small amounts of Graciano and Mazuelo and then aged in oak to produce wine with rich flavours of blackberry, black cherry, cassis, dark chocolate, vanilla, and baking spices.

While Gran Reservas sit at the top of the ageing and quality spectrum, we are seeing more and more wines that do not bear the Gran Reserva designation but are matured in oak barrels, often a combination of French and American, and then receive further bottle ageing to mellow out the tannins for perfect drinkability before release. Top tier Rioja wines are ideal alongside porterhouse, strip steak, or ribeye, but don’t be afraid to pair yours with pork tenderloin, spareribs, or stuffed Portobello mushrooms. Here are seven to look for now.

Marqués de Murrieta 2011 Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial

Castillo Ygay is made from only the best grapes which are grown in the 40 hectares La Plana vineyard that was planted 73 years ago. It is located at the highest point of Marqués de Murrieta’s vineyards. Castillo Ygay is the house’s flagship wine and only made in exceptional years. The 2011 is composed of 84 percent Tempranillo which is aged for 28 months in American oak barrels and 19 percent Mazuelo aged for 28 months in French oak barrels. It is garnet coloured with aromas of blueberry, black currant, and dried rosemary. It has flavours of black olives, Christmas baking spices, blueberry, and black raspberry. The tannins are silky smooth especially after 10 years of bottle ageing and the finish goes on for days.

Sierra Cantabria 2019 Finca El Bosque Rioja Spain

Sierra Cantabria is currently in their fifth generation of Eguren family winemakers and has been making wine since 1870. Grapes are sourced from the Finca El Bosque vineyard, which has gravel and pebbles on the surface which afford excellent drainage into the clay soils that retain water deeper down. The vineyard was planted in 1973 and is farmed using only organic methods. The grapes for Finca El Bosque wine are fermented in oak barrels and are punched down twice daily. It is allowed to go through

and aged for 18 months in French oak barrels. It has strong aromas of black raspberry, dark cherry, and vanilla and flavours of black plum, blackberry, and wet river rocks with silky tannins and great persistence.

Muga 2015 Prado Enea Gran Reserva Rioja Spain

Bodegas Muga was founded in Haro’s historic Barrio de La Estación in 1932 by Isaac Muga and Aurora Caño. Grapes for Prado Enea are grown in high-altitude plots in Cellorigo, Fonzaleche, and Sajazarra in Rioja Alta. They are fermented in oak vats without the addition of yeast or temperature control for a period of 16 days. The resulting wine is then aged for 36 months in American and French oak barrels and is fined the traditional Riojan way using egg whites. After bottling the wine ages for an additional three years in Muga’s cellars. Prado Enea 2015 is garnet coloured with aromas of anise, cinnamon, and ripe black fruits. It is soft on entry with silky tannins and flavours of black licorice, black plum, and light vanilla notes in the finish.

Cuentaviñas 2018 El Tiznado Rioja Spain

Cuentaviñas refers to the Spanish expression loosely translated as “story telling.” In this sense the winemaker allows each vineyard to tell its story via the finished wine, or as proprietor Eduardo Eguren says, “It’s not about making wine but more about cultivating wine.” He and his wife Carlota González began this project together as a project of passion to craft excellent wines showing individual terroir. The El Tiznado is ruby coloured with aromas of ripe red raspberry, black plum, and cassis. It has pleasantly grippy tannins with flavours of ripe black fruits, vanilla, and a touch of dried Mediterranean herbs. Drink now or hold for 10 more years.

Bodegas Roda 2017 Cirsion Rioja Spain

Mario Rotllant and Carment Daurella started making wine in La Rioja in 1987 and used the first two letters of their last names to create the bodega known as Roda. It is located in the Railway Station District in Haro and has been expanded four times in 1991, 1996, 2000, and 2018. Cirsion 2017 is composed of 89 percent Tempranillo and 11 percent Graciano that is fermented in temperature controlled French oak vats. It is aged for eight months in new French barrels and is brilliant ruby-garnet coloured in the glass. With aromas of ripe black fruits, forest floor, and brown baking spices, it is soft at first sip with silky tannins and flavours of dark cocoa powder, tobacco leaf, cedar shavings, and crushed violets.

Bodega Contador 2012 La Viña de Andres Romeo Rioja Spain

This wine is named for Benjamin Romeo who started making wine in 1995 in an old rock cave carved beneath the castle of San Vincente de la Sonsierra in Rioja. The first vintage of Contador was made in 1999. His 2012 vintage is dark garnet coloured with aromas of mature black fruits, dried lavender, anise, and toasted oak. It is big and bold in the mid palate with elegant tannins and flavours of red plum, black currant, and Mission fig. It is drinking perfectly right now with 13 years of age, but it will last another two decades.

Marqués de Riscal 2017 Barón de Chirel Reserva Rioja Spain

Bodegas Marqués de Riscal was founded in 1858 by Guillermo Hurtado de Amézaga and within the first five years the winery began receiving prestigious awards. The first vintage of Barón de Chirel was in 1986 and it too became an instant success. Visitors to the winery can have a tasting and lunch prepared by a Michelin starred chef under the titanium wings of the Frank Gehry designed winery and hotel. Made with grapes sourced from vines between 80 and 110 years old, 2017 Barón de Chirel is bright cherry red in colour with aromas of Maraschino cherry, crushed violet petals, and forest floor. In is big, bold, and well-structured in the mouth with flavours of wild strawberry, anise frond, blueberry, and tobacco leaf. Drink now through 2037.

This story was first published on Robb Report USA