These days, few wines carry greater street cred than the Riojas of Lopez de Heredia (often referred to by its initials, LDH). These are seriously good wines that are valued not only because of the pleasure they offer, but because of what they represent: They are classic Riojas, raised in American oak barrels, relatively light in color and very earthy. This style has been driven to the brink of extinction by the fashion in Rioja to be "modern" – dark, dense, intensely fruity Riojas aged in French oak barrels.
It may be the supreme wine geek's choice these days, but LDH is not the only traditional Rioja: Thanks to the talented young importer Jose Pastor, the superb Riojas of Bodegas Hermanos Pecina are now available on the American market. Hermanos Pecina is a fairly new producer – it was established in 1992 – that makes delicious old-school Riojas. Based in the Rioja Alta part of the Rioja region, Hermanos Pecina is a 120-acre estate that turns out seven different wines, all reds save for one white. The crown jewel in the portfolio is the Rioja Gran Reserva, which is aged for four years in American oak and another three in bottle before being released. The current vintage is the 2001 Hermanos Pecina Rioja Gran Reserva ($30), and it is outstanding. A big whiff of dill greets the nose (that's the American oak talking), with aromas of leather, dried fruits, and earth kicking in. The emphasis here is on savory rather than sweet. The wine has a delicious tanginess on the palate, along with excellent acidity and modest tannins. It is a terrific traditional Rioja, and a great example of why this category of wines is so prized. [$30; klwines.com]