An outstanding Spanish wine tasting – part 1 (Rioja)

I recently attended a wonderful Spanish wine tasting, with each wine presented blind.  I don’t drink nearly enough Spanish wine as I should, which in part, I think, is a function of access and living in Australia.

Here are my notes on the Riojas among the mix.  But first some key points on red Rioja.  It is divided into three subregions – Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Baja.  Tempranillo ripens well on the clay and limestone slopes of Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa, which share a similar climate.  Rioja Baja is warmer, with more alluvial soils and iron rich clay, and is broadly more suited to garnacha.

Rioja labelling terms are less obvious.  The task, and it is a task, of working out what exactly the differences are between the rules applicable to Joven, Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva wines in each particular Spanish appellation continues to defy ready recollection.  From what I read, in Rioja, (red) Reservas need to spend 1 year in barrel, and 2 years in bottle, while Gran Reservas require 2 years in barrel and 3 years in bottle.  Such long prescriptions of time spent in barrel is controversial, but that is for another day.

2001, 2004, 2005 and 2009 are each identified as “5 star” vintages in J Barquin, L Gutierrez, V de la Serna, The Finest Wines of Rioja and North West Spain, 2011 (University of California Press).  Notes on the wines tasted follow.

Bodegas Franco-Espanolas Royal Reserva 1970, Rioja
There is something quite special about tasting a 46 year old wine.  The cork promptly returned to dust at the first available opportunity after its long wait for release.  The contents however were still sound.  Entirely tertiary in character, the aromatics had nutty, soy, lactic and leather reminders, with some toffeed characters at the edges.  The palate was full bodied, with an expression of coffee and walnuts and no perceptible acidity.  A remarkable experience.

La Rioja Alta Cosecha Gran Reserva 2004, Rioja
This wine has aromatics of redcurrant, liquorice and some volatile acidity (VA) characters.  The palate is full bodied, with low acid, and lactic, leather and soy characters.  The length is long, and this is a very satisfying wine.  Rating: Very Good to Outstanding

Herederos del Marques de Riscal Gran Reserva 2001, Rioja
The Marques de Riscal provided a particularly intense expression of Rioja.  It has aromatics of soy and resonant licorice overtones, with some VA notes.  The palate is full bodied, the length long and supplemented with licorice flavours and huge tannins.  I had a question as to the alcohol balance in this wine and its soaring intensity.  It’s 14%abv for the record.  Rating: Good to Very Good

Vinedos del Contino Reserva 2009, Rioja 
This wine will show its best with decanting.  It has classic Rioja aromatics of balsamic vinegar, redcurrant and soy.  The palate is towards full bodied, with flavours reminding of licorice and bound together by quite firm tannins and long length.  Return to in 5 years.  Rating: Good to Very Good

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