These were certainly some of the most unique samples I've been sent in the past year. I've always loved wines from Rioja and think the region has gotten a bad rap over the years. Sure, the wines can get distinctly "New World", with uber-ripe fruit and heavy doses of Americna oak, but there are always gems at great price points if you look hard. As always, I recommend chatting up your local wine shop owner. Chances are they've tasted through the available Riojas and can steer you in the right direction.
2011 Bodegas Franco-Espanolas Royal Viura: A 100% viura is rare..unless you're in Rioja! This one has beautiful aromas of melon, subtle tropical fruits, and a zingy lemon-curd thing going on. I was really groovin' on the bouquet. Tasting it brought a smile to my face. So much crackling acidity mixed with ripe citrus and apple. Really an excellent example of viura. I swear this needs jamon iberico or some tomatoes rubbed on fresh bread. The finish lasts a while, with a minerally/saline note carrying it to the end. Highly recommend. 12% abv. $10 SRP.
2004 Bodegas Franco-Espanolas Rioja Gran Reserva: A blend of 80% tempranillo, 10% garnacha, 5% mazuelo, 5% graciano. Opens with aromas of sun-dried tomato, barnyard, red cherry, and baking spices. There's definitely some oak in play but it integrates well. Smooth entry on the attack, with dried fruit and coconut flavors coming through, before it dries out with sundried tomato and tobacco. As it opens up, more barnyard and allspice notes come out, so drink it quickly! A nice, solid, drinkable Rioja for a very reasonable price. Firm tannins beg for some grilled meat. 13.5% abv. $20 SRP.
Who says you have to spend a bundle to get quality wines from Rioja? Both of these are perfectly serviceable, weeknight-type wines that you can be happy about serving to friends and family. I would suggest keeping an eye on vintages for the white Riojas though, because you want to buy the freshest you can. Viura can oxidize a bit and turn boring if it's not fresh.
These wines were samples for review purposes.