Why does the word “Rioja” always send me scrambling for a glass? Perhaps it’s the supple, earthy, delicate nature of the wine, which generally sees more oak aging than any other. Maybe it’s the bright berry fruit in young crianza Rioja, redolent with cherry, spice, and vanilla flavors; or perhaps it’s the earthy lushness of reserva Rioja, with intense notes of leather and dried leaves resulting from the mininum three years spent aging – generally in American oak barrels, but sometimes French oak. Especially fine, and probably the real reason Rioja is so compelling, are the gran reserva wines, made in only truly fantastic years, showing a silkiness and elegance normally only seen in great Burgundies. These wines, world-reknowned, see a legal minimum of five years of aging in oak barrels, although the average is eight and a half years. Aging wine is the most important part of making Rioja, and it is this science I respect about it most.
But moving on to the offering at hand: the 2006 Ramon Bilbao Crianza is a dark violet-red in the glass. The nose reveals concentrated aromas of plum and berries, with hints of leather. Juicy and lush on the palate, the wine is rich with jammy black cherry flavor, along with chocolate and tobacco notes. Also provided a nice earthy finish showing well-integrated tannins. $12.