El Coto's Well-Priced Rioja

The El Coto wines from Rioja in northeastern Spain have long been a favorite of mine. I especially recommend the white and rosé at an astounding $10. This week, however, I am moving up the quality scale a bit and focusing on its red Reserva, the Coto de Imaz Rioja Reserva 2004 ($20).

One of the many things I like about Riojas in general is that the producers age the wines for several years before release. It means that the wines are really ready to drink by the time you buy them.

This is a practice that's expensive and therefore increasingly rare in the wine world. What's even more impressive, though, is that Spanish winemakers can indulge in this costly practice and still sell the wines at a price that, when compared to reds from most other countries, represents a terrific bargain.

This is what you get in the Coto Reserva, along with the fact that it also tastes totally and unmistakably of Spain.

At first it explodes with glowing flavors of ripe plums, blackberries and black cherries wrapped in soft easy tannins. But after a time—and a modicum of contemplation perhaps—other, more interesting flavors emerge. There's a pronounced, rustic earthiness that's unique to Riojas and separates it from other well-made, reasonably-priced European reds.

That earthiness evokes for me the dark world of the country's great 17th and 18th centuries painters—particularly Ribera and Zurbarán—a world quintessentially Spanish in its passionate mysteries.

And you get all this in an everyday bottle of wine that you can drink with thin-crust pizza or a steak frites. ¡Salud!

When to Drink: NowBreathing/Decanting: Half an hour's breathing helps it open up.Food Pairing: Red meat and simple, rustic dishes such as pasta, pizza, tomato sauces.Grapes: 100% tempranillo.Appellation: RiojaRegion: RiojaCountry: SpainPrice: $20Availability: Good

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