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A serious Spanish red for a grand feast

’98 Coto Real Reserva shows depth and character. By Edward Deitch
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When it comes to producing great reds, age can be a true ally. Whether a Bordeaux, a Burgundy, a California Cabernet, a Barolo from Italy or a Rioja from Spain, time allows wines made from the best grapes from the best vineyards to realize their potential. And it is just such a wine, pricey as it may be, that I want to serve every once in a while at a special dinner on a special evening with family and close friends. Christmas or New Year’s would be perfect occasions.

For the food, I’m thinking of filet mignon or some other great cut of beef, lamb, or even roast chicken or game hens with fresh herbs. The wine I’m envisioning is, in fact, a Rioja, the 1998 Coto Real Reserva, which I tasted not long ago. It is elegant, complex, concentrated and, most important, is ready to drink right now after half a dozen years of aging.

Rioja is the best-known wine region of Spain, a country that has exploded in recent years with good wine at all prices. El Coto de Rioja, the name of the winery that makes the Real Reserva, released its first wines in 1975, making it a relative newcomer by Rioja standards. It has since become Spain’s top brand, is a big seller throughout Europe and began exporting to the United States six years ago.

Of 11 El Coto wines now available here, the Real Reserva is the most expensive, at about $42, and has the smallest production, with only about 1,800 bottles shipped to the United States, although the importer, Frederick Wildman and Sons, tells me there is good distribution.

The wine is simply superb and well worth the price. The main grape is Tempranillo, a wonderful variety and the most important in Spain (it is also being grown in limited quantities in California and even Texas). At times, Tempranillo has reminded me of Merlot, Pinot Noir, even Italy’s Nebbiolo, which is to say that it has lots of dimension. The Real Reserve also has a bit of Grenache and Graciano in the mix. The wine spent 16 months in French and American oak and was aged for two more years in bottle before release.

What emerges is gorgeous — aromas of ripe, dark berry and cedar, then an array of tastes that include blueberry, plum, blackberry, cedar and mocha, as well as hints of nutmeg and cinnamon. The wine is well structured, refined yet slightly earthy; the tannins have softened to where they provide texture but don’t intrude.

This is a wine you will want to sip and savor through a delicious dinner on a festive evening. As for me, I’d like to raise my glass to the spirit of the holidays and a great new year.

Edward Deitch's wine column appears Thursdays. Write to him at