Approachable, affordable, well-aged and well-made, on the whole, the red wines of Rioja tend to be a safe bet. Occasionally, they’ll even surprise you. Lettie Teague picks the best

The red wines of Rioja, Spain, are some of the most reliable wines in the world. They are also some of the most affordable: A five- or six-year-old Reserva wine can cost less than $20 a bottle. But what do we lose in the name of reliability? Can Rioja be a bit too predictable sometimes?

Even fans talk about Rioja in more practical than rhapsodic terms. “I like Rioja. You can get something okay for a cheap price,” said my friend Allison, who buys red Rioja quite often. She added a few more complimentary words, such as “fruity,”...

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