For someone who loves Spanish wine so much, it would seem I’ve spent years traversing Spain, sipping wine as the sun sets over the Iberian Peninsula.

But alas, I’ve learned to adore the wonderful Tempranillo grape from my humble abode in Pikesville as the sun sets over Reisterstown Road.

Tempranillo is a remarkable grape, part of the reason why it so often nowadays stands alone in single varietal wines. Tempranillo offers much of the depth many Americans love in Cabernet Sauvignon with great structure and fruit, and the massive tannins that hold up to your favorite cut of meat.

In the past, we’ve covered a semi-Crianza Rioja (the 2016 Elvi Winery Herenza Rioja). Today, we will discuss another affordable favorite of mine, the estate-bottled 2015 Bodegas Ramon Cardova Rioja Crianza ($19, available locally and online).

Rioja, in a valley by the Ebro River in north-central Spain, is heavily regulated and maintained under the DOCa, the Denominación de Origen Calficada, or “designation of qualified origin,” the highest category of Spanish wine. The region of Rioja was awarded that designation in 1991, shortly after these standards were introduced. This award signifies that Rioja only produces wine from the highest quality grapes with strict controls.

“Ramon Cardova is the kosher line produced by Ramon Bilbao, one of Spain’s most respected wineries,” according to the importer’s director of education, Royal Wine’s Gabriel Geller. “The name of the brand pays tribute to the town of Cordova, where lived the famous Jewish sage and philosopher Maimonides also known in Hebrew as the Rambam.”

What makes it a Crianza? To be called Crianza, the Tempranillo needs to be aged in oak for a minimum one year (in this case American oak barrels) and then aged at least six months in the bottle. Crianza is basically the second tier up of Rioja, with its more limited oak and bottle-aging. More “serious” Rioja would be Reserva and Gran Reserva, with increased aging times. But the aging in our Cardova Crianza seems just about right, as the 2015 is accessible and enjoyable right out of the bottle.

Ruby red with a clear, clean rim, the ‘15 Ramon Cardova Crianza displays a beautiful nose of ripe red berries, toasted vanilla, licorice, and spice. There is great structure apparent, and the wine improves in the glass. Medium-bodied with gripping tannins and nice acid.

Normally, I pair a Rioja with fowl, but this baby can stand up to beef if you so choose. Still, with our Spanish wine in tow, I’d suggest drinking the Cardova Crianza with the Spanish classic, chilindron, a beef stew of roasted red peppers, paprika, tomatoes and onions. Toss in a cup of whatever red wine you left on your counter a few days ago for an extra special dish.

Dr. Kenneth Friedman
Dr. Kenneth Friedman (Provided Photo)

Dr. Kenneth Friedman is a Baltimore-born kosher wine aficionado/connoisseur. He is known for his unsolicited wine advice and runs many local kosher wine tastings.

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