Tempranillo is one of Spain’s signature grapes, and while it can be found in other Spanish wine regions, the variety shines in bottlings from Rioja Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOCa). Rioja is one of the most historic and lauded regions of the Old World, often considered par with those of France and Italy.
Rioja red wines are classified based on how long they are aged. Crianzas are the youngest, with at least two years of aging; Riservas see at least 36 months of aging; and Gran Reservas spend the longest time with at least two years in oak barrels and at least three years in the bottle before being released.
This doesn’t mean that Riojas have to break the bank. Here are 10 high-scoring bottles, all for $30 or less. Whether you like a well-aged Gran Reserva or a bright, young Crianza, we have you covered.
Beronia 2010 Gran Reserva (Rioja); $30, 93 points. Dense plum, berry and spice aromas are compact and full of intensity on the nose. A full, lush and tannic palate has a stout structure, while plum, berry, oak and savory spice flavors finish with vanilla, tobacco and firm tannins. It needs time to reach its peak. Drink this excellent Gran Reserva from a lauded vintage through 2035. Gonzalez Byass USA. Cellar Selection. –Michael Schachner
Bodegas Muriel 2010 Viñas Viejas Gran Reserva (Rioja); $30, 92 points. Ripe berry, prune and raisin aromas are at the core of a nose that’s also driven by coconut and vanilla accents. A rustic mouthfeel with grippy tannins frames savory, oaky red berry and plum flavors, while tobacco and vanilla notes are corralled by a drying finish. Drink through 2028. Quintessential Wines. –M.S.
CVNE 2015 Cune Reserva (Rioja); $29, 92 points. Dry, leathery berry and currant aromas include a note of cheesy oak. On the palate, this Reserva from a ripe vintage feels flush, firmly tannic and well built. Black-plum and dark-cherry flavors finish full and with just a hint of oak character. Drink through 2030. Arano LLC. –M.S.
Bodegas Olarra 2015 Cerro Añon Reserva (Rioja); $22, 92 points. Ripe berry and cherry aromas meld with earth, chocolate and leather on the nose. The full-bodied palate is energized by lemon and supportive acidity, with flavors of toast, wood grain and tobacco in addition to plum and berry fruit. The finish is long in spice and cocoa flavors. Tri-Vin Imports. Editors’ Choice. –M.S.
Baron De Ley 2015 Reserva (Rioja); $20, 91 points. Earthy, spicy plum and red berry aromas are solid and in harmony. This Reserva shows depth and balance along with ripe berry, cassis, chocolate and brown sugar flavors. On the finish, this is more subtle and smooth than loud. Drink through 2023. Carolina Wine Brands USA. –M.S.
Bodegas Riojanas 2015 Viña Albina Reserva (Rioja); $23, 91 points. A prune aroma softens toasty dark-fruit scents on the nose. This Reserva from a warm vintage is tight and braced by red-fruit acidity. Plum and raspberry flavors are spicy like a fine Rioja should be, while this finishes with integration and a firm texture. Drink through 2025. –M.S.
Familia Montaña 2016 Crianza (Rioja); $16, 91 points. Ripe berry and cassis aromas come with a hint of pine or spruce. A fleshy palate shows girth balanced by acidity, while this Crianza tastes of black plum and raspberry. On a texturally nice finish, this tastes mostly of spice and chocolate. Drink through 2024. Classical Wines. –M.S.
Bodegas Faustino 2016 Crianza (Rioja); $15, 90 points. Traditional Rioja aromas of red berry fruits, spice and vanilla fill the nose of this Crianza from an excellent vintage. On the palate, it is tight and juicy in spicy plum and currant flavors. Pacific Highway Wines & Spirits. Best Buy. –M.S.
Montecillo 2016 Crianza (Rioja); $11, 90 points. Fresh berry and red plum aromas are lifted by complementary notes of oak grain and vanilla. This value-priced Crianza from a very good year feels flush but primed by punchy acidity. Red plum, berry and a hint of wood spice make for a classic Rioja flavor profile, while this remains tasty and fresh on the finish. Evaton, Inc. Best Buy. –M.S.
Viña Olabarri 2015 Reserva (Rioja); $22, 90 points. Cherry and plum aromas are at max ripeness and include a friendly note of vanilla. On the palate, this is choppy but lively. Plum and vanilla flavors are lifted by lemony oak, which offsets a note of raisin brought on by the warm and dry conditions of the 2015 vintage. Hidalgo Imports, LLC. –M.S.