Wednesday, July 27. 2016
Rioja, in Northeastern Spain, has long been recognised as Spain’s most distinguished wine region. The best reds of Rioja are worthy competitors to Burgundy and Bordeaux, as well as Italy’s Barolo or Brunello. The noble grape of Rioja is Tempranillo, which is traditionally blended with smaller amounts of Garnacha and, sometimes, Graciano and other lesser known varieties.
In the past, the great reds of Rioja were characterised by long ageing in American oak, which gave these often splendid wines an extraordinarily sensual sandalwood bouquet. Some producers still keep faith with the old style but many more have moved on. More recently, the emphasis has been on bringing out the fruity freshness of Tempranillo as well as a shift to using the more subtle French, rather than American oak.
Younger, more dynamic and experimental winemakers are continuing to push the envelope. Currently, some are seeking out distinctive local terroir and creating wines, often using less well-known varieties, to express the local character. This initiative has even led to producing single vineyard wines based on a single variety, not necessarily Tempranillo. There is also a push underway to seek Appellation status for more narrowly defined areas, more like those of Burgundy, which can be very small and highly localised.
Stylistically, many Rioja Appellation wines are not as easily recognisable as in the past. Official recognition has been accorded to a number of new varietals that can be used under the rules of the Rioja Appellation. Some of these are recognisable international grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay for whites, but others are lesser-known local grapes such as Maturana Blanca, Tempranillo Blanca and Turruntes (as distinct from Torrontes, the signature white grape of Argentina). Needless to say, it is not as easy to predict how the wines will taste. This is part of the excitement in exploring the “New” Rioja.
Here are some fine currently available examples. They represent a variety of styles but all are excellent values in their price range.
Viña Cumbrero 2010, Rioja DOC Tempranillo Crianza 13.5% $18.99 NSLC (Larger Stores) Shows characteristic Tempranillo berry, currant and spicy scents with generously ripe red and dark fruit flavours. Moderate tannins and rather brisk, still youthful acidity on the medium weight palate make for good drinking now with red meat dishes. Better with another 2-3 years cellaring to soften forward acidity. ***
Bodegas Ilurce Rio Madre 2013, Rioja DOC 14% $19.99 NSLC (Limited Selection – Larger Stores) A new style single estate wine made from 100% Graciano grown in vineyards surrounding the town of Alfaro that exemplify the best this grape has to offer. Opens with dark fruit on the nose showing strikingly distinctive peppery and spicy scents. Concentrated blackberry and dark cherry flavours come in a robust bodied package with well-structured tannic grip. Rounds out with an elegant touch of oak on the long, satisfying finish. Unusual and well worth a try. ****
Garcia Carrion Antaño Reserva 2009, Rioja DOC 13.5% $19.99 NSLC (Limited Selection). The blend here is Tempranillo, Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuelo. The intriguingly complex nose shows deep, developed dark fruit with notes of sandalwood, cigar box and cinnamon. Rounded dark berry flavours are enveloped in velvety tannins with fine spice, brisk acidity and a touch of dark chocolate. Already quite developed, with a long harmonious finish, this wine has room to integrate further over the next 3 years or so. ****
Bodegas Franco Españolas Rioja Bordon Reserva 2009, Rioja DOC 14% $24.99 NSLC (Limited Selection). This blend of Tempranillo (80%), Garnacha (15%) and Mazuelo (5%), is aged in white American oak for 24 months with additional bottle ageing before release. Adhering more to the classic style, it offers enticingly spicy developed ripe red and dark fruit with elegant sandalwood perfume on the nose. Supple, refined fruit flavours reveal blackcurrant, red currant and blackberry, backed by lightly firm tannins, bright acidity and a deft splash of milk chocolate on the well-integrated finish. ****
*Acceptable ordinary quality
**Good quality, everyday standard
** Very good quality in its price range
**** Exceptional quality, top 15% - 20%
**** The finest possible, top 5% - 10%