WINE OF THE WEEK Marques de Riscal 2002 Rioja Reserva ($18; Spain)

AromaA bit shy at first but blossoms with 15 minutes of breathing to reveal a ripe, plummy bouquet of violets, vanilla, mocha and cola.

TasteSpicy black cherry and earthy flavors seasoned by vanilla.

GrapesTempranillo (90 percent), mazuelo (5 percent) and graciano (5 percent). Although tempranillo provides the backbone of this wine, as it does for all red Riojas, graciano and mazuelo add color and acidity.

What's Special About ItAn elusive combination of finesse and power makes it reminiscent of a well-made Bordeaux at a great price.

Serve WithHearty roasts of beef or lamb, grilled steak, or Parmigiano-Reggiano and other hard cheeses.

How It's MadeFermentation takes place in temperature-controlled stainless-steel tanks with periodic pumping over, a technique that deepens color and concentrates flavor. Before being put into American oak barrels for aging, the wine is left on the grape skins for about a week to extract softer tannins. The use of American oak is a tradition in Rioja and accounts for the wine's spicy vanilla flavors.

WineryAlthough Marques de Riscal is considered among the most prestigious bodegas in Rioja, by the mid-1990s its winemaking had fallen behind the times. That was corrected in 2000, when it replaced most of its outdated equipment with a computerized winemaking system that allows precise control of fermentation temperature, initiation of malolactic fermentation and other steps in the winemaking process.

On the LabelMarques de Riscal was one of the first Rioja bodegas to achieve international recognition, and it has decorated its bottles with these early accolades, most notably the First Class Medal from the Exposition de Bordeaux of 1865.

GeographyRioja has a moderate climate similar to that of France's Bordeaux and Burgundy. Like the products of those areas, its wines are restrained and elegant.

VintageAlthough 2002 was a difficult year in Rioja, in such vintages the reservas are often especially good because the winery decides not to make a gran reserva and declassifies that wine into the less expensive reserva.

HistoryIn 1858, Marques de Riscal hired away the winemaker from Bordeaux's Chateau Lanessan. Today the winery still looks to France for inspiration: Its technical adviser is Paul Pontallier of the prestigious Chateau Margaux.

Where to Get ItAccording to the local wholesaler, NDC (202-388-8235), Marques de Riscal 2002 Rioja Reserva is stocked at Calvert Woodley (4339 Connecticut Ave. NW, 202-966-4400, http://www.calvertwoodley.com), AB Liquors (1803 Columbia Rd. NW, 202-234-5500), Morris Miller (7804 Alaska Ave. NW, 202-723-5000), Pearson's Wine and Spirits (2436 Wisconsin Ave. NW, 202-333-6666, http://www.pearsonswine.com), Press Liquors (527 14th St. NW, 202-638-2080) and Rodman's (5100 Wisconsin Ave. NW, 202-363-3466, http://www.rodmans.com).