This was only our second Rioja tasting in the many years we have been doing these (the last was in February 2007). In a rather unusual occurrence, two tasters brought the exact same wine (even purchased at the same store), with another taster bringing the same wine, but different vintage. This was surprising, since there is plenty of diversity on store shelves for this category of reds.

While there were obvious similarities in these wines, with almost all entries exhibiting some earthy, leathery notes and clear acidity, no taster guessed that the first and fourth place bottle were the same. Indeed, whenever this occurrs, we tend to notice more bottle variation than one would expect.

All entries gained complexity, nuance, and volume with air, especially our top four bottles, suggesting that drinkers of these wines should decant well before consuming these.

First Place: Marqués de Murrieta Rioja Reserva 2010. Tasters found scents of Elmer's Glue, blackberry schnapps, dust, earth, leather, celery, and black sharpie. Matt detected "a small bit of skunk", while others found a hint of iodine, similar to blue ink. In the mouth, this was dark and earthy, with notions of brown sugar, dark cherry, dark plum, mocha, sweet cream, and cherry cola. A little bit woody, with more spices on the finish, and showed more depth the whole way through. Andy, Diana, Matt, and David's favorite of the night. Received 31 points. Diana's bottle. About $25.

Second Place: Campo Viejo Rioja Riserva 2010. Leather, funk, earth, cherries, baby powder, and orange rind aromas. Diana noted that it "smells like jamon", with a glimmer in her eye. Nice texture. Builds in the mouth, with a salty edge to the woody notes, like toasty oak plus blueberries. Kristin felt that "it's got its shit together", while Ali noted that it "ends green". Has a rusty quality to it. Ali and Kristin's favorite. Received 23 points. Ali's bottle. About $15.

Third Place: Marqués de Murrieta Rioja Reserva 2011. Scents were reminiscent of cream, funk, cedar wood, rubber, ammonia, rose petals, and underripe strawberry. A bit muted and distant initially, we wanted the fruit to be closer, but it's clouded by dust. Ali was reminded of "cheesecake with a blackberry on top", while David found "turned milk". In the mouth, there were flavors of almond paste candy, leather, dark chocolate, and espresso. The alcohol is more noticable, with a hot finish. Pleasant texture, with no hard edges, but not mild. David felt it was "robust without being wilting". Had a cherry/lemon quality, with a finish that Matt described as a "crescendo of tannin". Received 17 points. Kristin's bottle. About $26.

Marqués de Murrieta Rioja Reserva 2010. Smelled of cleanser, musk, licorice, rare steak, pine, soap, port, and Sambuca. Diana detected "caramelizing vegetables", along with "bug spray/DEET". With air, some freshly ground coffee notes emerged. Had a creamy note to go with the charcoal, charred wood, and cherry cola flavors. Dark, but also a sweet sacchrine note. Later, a blueberry note was evident. Received 12 points. David's bottle. About $25.

Viña Real Rioja Crianza 2012. Perfume, toast, burnt caramel, and burnt marshmallow aromas. Diana said that "I feel like a tall Spanish man is going to come through the door." Sexy wine, having a cocoa/musky quality. Matt described this as "the raw side of chocolate". Became more funky with air. Dark fruit on the palate, showing more complexity compared to the nose. Ali felt that "he's a little fruit punch guy." Tart, but with some sweetness and green pepper notes, then some darkness around the edges. Diana noted that it was like "Washing my mouth out at the dentist. Watery and minty. Not pool water." Received one point. Andy's bottle. About $16.

Viña Tondonia Rioja Reserva 2004. Smelled of sour apples and tart cherry, with a hint of blueberry. Bright. Some vanilla, oak, and musty qualities. Ali noted "new toy", while Andy found "grass cut and in the compost pile". Later, a terpentine note showed up, plus linseed oil. Matt noted that "At first I was disgusted, but now I'm curious about the follow through." Other notes:

"I just had a sip with my food and it registered as offensive." - Matt
"It's almost like rotting fish" - Ali
"It tastes like vomit" - Diana
"I think it's a carcinogin" - Diana

Cinnamon on the attack, then turns sour on the mouth, with a green apple type of tartness, plus licorice/fennel/anise. A leather note emerges with air. No points. Matt's bottle. About $30.
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