Michelle and I attended a Rioja Red tasting at Party Source this past weekend and with her sinus infection, I get to share my notes from the afternoon. The session was led by Mark Maher of Cutting Edge Selections.
Back in November, we attended a Spanish wine seminar led by Doug Frost (MS, MW). Spanish wines were a revelation for us, with remarkable taste for value, and we’ve been steadily tasting them ever since.
Rioja is one of the best known regions of Spain. It was one of the first to begin producing wine for international sale. As with most Spainish wines, the Reserva and Gran Reserva designations are now being released after aging at the winery for the last 3-10 years. Spanish wineries will age the wines locally from some of the better years. This ensures that your investment in the bottle of older wine is safe as the quality will usually match the price. Buying wine to age yourself could cause problems as no one likes popping open a nice old wine and finding out the it has turned.
Here’s a list of what we tasted, with the full review after the jump:
Because it was an all red tasting, we tasted in a Spanish white for good measure when we returned home.
Note that Shel’s tasting notes are slightly skewed due to a cold living in her nose.
Sierra Cantabria Rioja 2004 ($9.99 at Party Source): The youngest red we tasted was a nice tinto joven, which is a red meant to be consumed young. This had a soft, velvety and plum flavor and a nice relaxed flavor. It had all the characteristics of Tempranillo and used French oak. This wine was made in an Old World style and is at its peak now. As I mentioned earlier, one of the nice things about Spanish wines is that the winery will take care of the aging and release the wine when it is ready. Old world wines also tend to have lighter or softer flavor as opposed to the bold, fruity and oakey wines that the new world (I’m talkin’ about you California) is known to make. On the younger made wines, Spanish wineries will sometimes use used french oak barrels in order to round out the wines.
Sierra Cantabria Especial 2001 (S21.99 at Party Source)
This is the next step in Sierra Cantabria selection and represents a New World style. New oak was used and gave this wine a earthy character with a heavy fruit forward flavor. The finish was heavy tannic and green peppers. This was a nice showing for how versatile Tempranillo is when combined with different production styles. I didn’t like this one as much as the last, but the tannins were able to cut through the tight sinuses Michelle had. My thought is to stick with the 9.99 offering for the value.
Muga Rioja Reserva 2002 ($23.99 at Party Source)
Mark shared an interesting story about Muga. Apparently, Muga prefers to use midwestern oak when making their wines. So the preferred oak is not just American, but specifically Kentucky and Ohio. The nose had heavy blackberry and other berry characteristics, with a nice smooth and relaxing flavor. The finish was all berry and no alcohol at all. This was a nice smooth wine that is fined with egg whites. For a wine that Mark referred to as the worst vintage in the 2000, this one was my favorites of the tasting.
Ramirez de la Piscina Gran Reserva 1998 ($32.99 at Party Source)
This Gran Reserva was the oldest vintage we tasted. Gran Reserva indicates the wine was aged at the winery for at least 10 years with 30 months in used french oak. This aging gave the wine a brownish tint and a nose of leather and cedar. This 100% Tempranillo, released within the past year, is once again at it’s peak. The aging gave this wine a flavor of raisin and just an overall well rounded flavor.
Remulluri Rioja 2001 ($30.99 at Party Source)
I was looking forward to another display of what the Spanish 2001 would bring us. However, I was not impressed. I found this to the the most peppery and least structured of the wines we tasted. I think we tasted it exactly when it should be tasted but after the last 4 wines I found it wanting. The nose was all green peppers and really came in a lot stronger, yet the flavor was almost too juicy for me. It grew on Michelle as she drank it and she ended with a better impression than I did.
Shel (with sinuses):
San Vicente Rioja 2001 ($46.99 at Party Source)
The last wine of the night received a 93 from Robert Parker. We noted this as the biggest and boldest of the wines. It should last for at least another 7 years at the same level. The nose was once again cherry and leather with a hint of chocolate to distinguish the flavor for me. Michelle noted a light finish, where as I concentrated on the velvety nature.
A few final thoughts from Mark on Spanish vintages, through 2003:
94-96, 01 – Good
98,99,00 – Okay years
Other Years – Can be tricky based on the producer.
As of right now,I have not had a bad 2005 from Spain and I have been trying a wide selection of locally available offerings from that year.
As an added bonus, here’s a quick review of the 2005 Muga White, which we picked up after the tasting but was not included in the session. This had nice light Spring/Summer characteristics with smell of apples, lemon and a light grass. The flavor had a very light oak flavor while Michelle tasted vanilla along with some lemon holdover. The finish was crisp with a slight lingering oil feel. I wanted to make sure I included a white wine to complete our view of the Rioja region of Spain. It’s a good patio wine.
Any other suggestions from Rioja? Other areas of Spain? What else are we missing or should look at for this newly exposed area of the wine producing world?
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