The weekend following Labor Day has become a bit of a traditional wine weekend for me in the city of Chicago over the past three years. Friday night’s Windy City Wine Festival showcases some 300 wines, many of the lower end variety, but saavy wine drinkers can definitely seek out some diamonds in the rough. Set in Grant Park by the famous Buckingham Fountain, the event essentially serves as a warm up for the spectacular Taste at the Track event that follows Saturday afternoon. Now a biannual affair, Taste at The Track is a four hour tasting that takes place outside in the lawn area at Arlington International Racetrack. The offerings here tend to run a little deeper in terms of quality, with a vast array of styles and regions. I tend to spend a lot of my time at that particular event tasting Spanish wines; there always seems to be an abundance of quality offerings, and for whatever reason, the workers pouring those wines seem to be incredibly affable. I was very impressed by a particular bottle of a 2005 Rioja Reserva that has just hit the market. A Rioja Reserva must be aged for at least three years before release, but some producers choose to age the wine a great deal longer than that, which really lends itself to allowing the true varietal and regional character of the Tempranillo grape to emerge. At a very affordable price point, this is one of the purest expressions of Rioja I’ve tasted this year.


LA RIOJA ALTA RIOJA VINA ARANA RISERVA 2005, 92 Points, $30-  Rustic red cherry aromas. Barnyard and wet mineral components form the initial flavor profile, with red licorice and dried cherry fruit showing as well over the elegant, expressive palate. Smoke and barnyard character really carry through the long, refined finish.

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