Though regions like Ribera Del Duero and Priorat are now competing with Rioja for the title of Spain’s greatest wine zone, this large region in the northeast still turns out an impressive percentage of the country’s best reds. Many producers today strike a balance between earthy, old-school wines and superfruity modern ones.
Roda (a creative combination of the names of founders Mario Rotllant Solá and Carmen Daurella De Aguilera) is a full century younger than most of its veteran Rioja neighbors. Prime contract vineyards contribute to a trio of concentrated, modern wines, while Roda’s own estate vineyard is a repository of 552 different Tempranillo clones.
Although owner Jesús Martínez Bujanda comes from a long line of grape growers, it was not until 1982 that his family launched their winery. The entry-level Valdemar wines are fresh and fruity, whereas the flagship Conde de Valdemar range includes aged reds. The Inspiración Valdemar line, which often uses experimental grapes in the blends, consistently impresses.
With a thoughtful focus on terroir, this boutique winery from Miguel Angel de Gregorio is a fine example of the new face of Rioja. All of Finca Allende’s stellar wines, from the basic Allende to the iconic Aurus and Calvario bottlings, defy Rioja tradition with their concentrated flavors and use of mostly French oak.
Marqués de Cáceres
Founded in the late 1960s by Enrique Forner, with consulting help from Émile Peynaud, a former professor at the University of Bordeaux, Marqués de Cáceres was a pioneering bodega from the outset. Today Michel Rolland helps guide the winery, his hand evident in the stylish, small-production MC, made from Tempranillo. The Marqués de Cáceres Crianza remains the most widely available of the Cáceres wines in the U.S.
Marqués de Murrieta
The focused portfolio here—a mere four wines—remains largely faithful to Murrieta’s roots in traditional-style Rioja production. Founded by Peru native Luciano Francisco Ramón de Murrieta in 1852, the winery crafts two traditional reds and a white, Capellanía, using only estate fruit. The much pricier Dalmau represents a modern departure for the winery with its addition of Cabernet Sauvignon.
Montecillo makes reliably good wines on a grand scale, thanks in large part to the talent and three-decade-long tenure of winemaker María Martínez Sierra. Owned since 1973 by the Osborne Group, a privately held Spanish food-and-beverage company, Montecillo has the freedom, and the financial resources, to purchase the best grapes when the opportunity arises.
Like most Rioja producers, Muga has a passion for barrels, but its diverse cellar—which includes French, American, Hungarian, Russian and Spanish oak—reveals the winery’s experimental streak. Founded in 1932, Muga has always excelled with traditional red blends; prestige wines like Torre Muga and the recently introduced Aro show its skill with a more modern style.
R. López de Heredia Viña Tondonia
This family-owned Rioja winery hasn’t changed much since it was founded in 1877. Now run by the fourth generation, the winery sources exclusively from hand-harvested estate vineyards and is one of the few in the world to maintain a working cooperage to craft its barrels. The red and white gran reservas are often released up to a decade later than most Rioja wines.
Sierra Cantabria is one of six wineries in the Eguren group today helmed by winemaker Marcos Eguren. Much of the fruit it uses, including the peculiar Tempranillo Peludo grape (literally, “hairy” Tempranillo), hails from the winery’s hometown of San Vicente de la Sonsierra. In addition to a full line of Rioja reds, Cantabria is notable for a barrel-fermented white blend called Organza.
Viñedos del Contino
Established in 1973, Viñedos del Contino is part of CVNE (the Spanish acronym for Wine Company of Northern Spain), which dates back to 1879 and is still owned by its founders’ descendants. The modern-leaning Contino estate winery crafts bold (and pricey) wines such as Contino Graciano, while the original CVNE winery in Rioja Alta is known for traditional reds and whites.