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Montecillo Reserva: Real Rioja

The Montecillo Reserva, Rioja 2003 is the sort of rich, smoky red one expects from Spain—and at an affordable price that one expects, too

The other evening I attended a private tasting event featuring the wine from a new boutique Spanish winery. It was a very pleasant wine—smooth, creamy, and easy to drink. But it was totally devoid of personality or any sense of place, yet alone any sense of that place being Spain. It was, in fact, a prime example of that bane of the current wine scene, an international-style wine. That is, a wine designed to pander to the pernicious ratings points system, but which could as easily have come from Sonoma or Sicily. Moreover, it was ridiculously over-priced.

After an hour or so, this featured wine ran out—it really wasn't that bad—so our host resorted to his own cellar, pulling out a few bottles of Montecillo Reserva, Rioja 2003 ($18), a widely available and always reliable wine, and I was reminded what Spanish wine should taste like.

Good Rioja like this displays that unmistakable dry, dusty quality that reminds me of the experience of entering an old, dark Spanish church on a hot summer's day; the smell of worn stone, ancient wood, and centuries' worth of incense and smoke from the candles of the faithful.

This Rioja evokes just such a response in me thanks to its rich, smoky flavors laced with hints of deep mystery. It is as darkly evocative as a painting by Velásquez or Ribera, and quite unmistakably Spanish.

WOW Rating: Five stars

When to Drink: Now

Breathing/Decanting: One hour breathing helps.

Food Pairing: Richer meaty dishes.

Grapes: Tempranillo

Appellation: Rioja

Region: Rioja

Country: Spain

Price: $18

Availability: Very good.

See more wines at

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Nick Passmore is an independent wine writer and consultant based in New York. For five years he contributed a widely read monthly wine column to, in addition to which his work has appeared in such publications as Forbes, Discover, Town Country, the Robb Report, the Wine Enthusiast, Saveur, Sky, and Golf Connoisseur. He is currently Artisanal Editor for Four Seasons magazine and contributes the Nick Passmore: Wine of the Week column to He is also a judge at the widely respected annual Critics' Challenge wine competition.

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