First post for the new year! I’ve been tasting a battery of different styles in preparation for the Master of Wine exams, and will now up the posting. This is a sound tempranillo from producer Bodegas Valparaiso and the Ribera del Duero appellation. Deeply coloured in the glass, its aroma is restrained and savoury, reminding of cedar and spice. The palate is full bodied with ripe fruit, tannins and chocolatey overtones and some heat through it. Overall, this is a good value Ribera del Duero that is typical in its style. Rating: Good. Abv: 14.5%. Price: $20+. Website: bodegasvalparaiso.com.
There’s a lot of value to be had in red Rioja. This Rioja crianza is 8 years old and an 80/20 blend of tempranillo and graciano. It saw 18 months in barrel and is from an organic vineyard. In the glass, there are aromas of game, cedar, leather, spice and red fruits. The tannins are softening, the length is good, and this wine is entering its best drinking window. A lot for $30. Rating: Very Good. Abv: 14.5%. Price: $30.50. Source: Sample. Read more: bordeauxandbeyond.com.
A second Spanish wine review, also from the same producer. I wasn’t initially entirely taken by this wine – a Rioja Reserva. That said, drinking it now a couple of days after opening, I am enjoying it. For this reason, I would suggest a long decant. It has a caramel and cedar driven nose, with a mid range intensity of colour. On day 2, it is more spicy. The palate is between medium and full bodied with sour cherries and a dark chocolate overtone. Pleasant drinking. Rating: Good. Abv: 14%. Price: $30.
This wine is from Rueda in Spain, and the grape variety is verdejo. Not verdelho, which for the English speaker, is close enough to be confusing. In the glass, this is a lovely wine, with saline aromatics that remind of florals and stones. The palate is fuller bodied with soft but still fresh acidity, and that mineral, saline note carrying through. Enjoyable current drinking at only $15. Rating: Good. Abv: 13%. Price: $15.
This is an enjoyable albariño from Pazo Barrantes in Rias Baixas. Neither the name of this appellation (Rias Baixas) nor even the grape variety are particularly accessible to the English speaker, but the wine style is fresh, saline and worth seeking out. Yellow gold in the glass, the 2016 vintage has aromas of minerals, stones sea salt and some florals. It sits between medium and full bodied on the palate, with high acid, mid range length on the finish and no discernible oak. Refreshing drinking. Rating: Good. Abv: 13.5%. Price: <$20.
A by the glass purchase. Since my encounter with this Palacios wine from Bierzo (see here), I have taken the charms of mencia more seriously. Ribeira Sacra is its own appellation and specialises in reds, and mencia in particular. Bierzo and Ribeira Sacra are neighbouring regions in Galicia in the wet north western part of Spain. The “Vina do Burato” is D Ventura’s entry level wine, but it is still tasty. Aromas of red berries and earth. Good length on the palate in a balanced, medium bodied style with chirpy acidity. Enjoyable drinking. (Region: Ribeira Sacra, Galicia, Spain, Rating: Good, Would I buy it based on this tasting? Yes, Drink: now, Tasted: July, 2017)
Other vintages reviewed:
You can’t tell I’ve started tasting (for MW studies) from some lesser known (in Australia) regions can you? First, a Stellenbosch pinotage (reviewed here), now a garnacha from Campo de Borja in Aragon (inland, behind Catalonia). This wine is a 100% garnacha (grenache) and is not of shy bearing. Purple in the glass, with a deep intensity and obvious tears, it has aromatics of cherry, leaf, pepper and cedar. The palate is dry with low acidity and is a full bodied, intense version of grenache with flavours reminding of prunes, mulberries and liqueur. This is a good wine if “full on”, and stylistically reminds of a full throttle Barossa shiraz. (Alc: 15%, Region: Camp de Borja, Aragon, Spain, Rating: Good, Would I buy it based on this tasting? It has its place, Drink: now to 2025, Tasted: June, 2017)
Other vintages reviewed:
Ribera del Duero is perhaps best known for being the home of Vega Sicilia, Spain’s first growth equivalent. South of Rioja, and on the river Duero, it has for a couple of decades challenged Rioja as Spain’s leading red wine producing region. It sits between 700 to 850 metres above sea level, with a short growing season and very hot summers. In my experience, the wines of Ribera del Duero tend to be bigger and darker than Rioja wines. In this particular tasting however, only Rioja wines from great vintages were presented (for my notes on the Rioja component see here), and so the Ribera were more difficult to tell apart (tasted blind, that is). Ribera reds are predominantly tempranillo, called tinto fino in these parts.
To follow are notes on three benchmark wines from the region.
Vega Sicilia Tinto Valbeuna 5o Ribera del Duero 2001
Vega Sicilia’s “Valbeuna” is a 5 year old vintage dated wine aged in American oak, and is a blend of tempranillo and merlot. It presented with aromatics of earth, tobacco, licorice, meats and soy, and an evident complexity. The palate is full bodied with long length, and has reminders of coffee and lactic characters. (Tasted blind) it finishes with that first growth style exquisite balance; you know it when taste it. Rating: Outstanding
Alion Ribera del Duero 2001
You might think of “Alion” as the cousin of Vega Sicilia, but equally well to do. In 1991, Bodegas Vega Sicilia acquired the nearby Liceo winery and created the Alion wine, which unlike the Valbeuna is 100% tempranillo and aged in French oak. This wine also presented deliciously, but has a different expression – more primary and structured than the Valbeuna, but no less complex. It has aromas of blackberry, licorice, stones and cedar and a crunchy character to it. The palate is earthy with good length, acidity and a structural well being that suggests a long life ahead. Joyous drinking. Rating: Outstanding
Hacienda Monasterio Reserva Ribera del Duero 2009
This wine has a story too. From what I read, Pingus in Ribera del Duero was established in 1995 by Peter Sisseck as a garagiste cult style operation, with a focus on old vine tempranillo. Hacienda Monasterio was founded earlier in 2001 and has a Pingus connection with Peter Sisseck as its winemaker. The Reserva is a blend of tempranillo and cabernet sauvignon. The 2009 vintage sits at a heady 15%, and has intense aromatics of licorice, earth, raisins, clove and pepper. The palate is savoury, with an earthy structure and good length. This is a powerful wine that may worry some, but equally, it seems a valid and correct expression of its terroir. Rating: Very Good
I haven’t been entirely convinced by the mencia wines of Bierzo in north western Spain, thinking them neither one thing nor another. This wine promptly puts an end to that sort of thinking; it is resolutely stunning. From a 0.54 hectare vineyard consisting of 60 to 100 year old vines, it has aromas of blackberry, well integrated cedar, violets and florals. The palate is earthy with wonderful length and structure. An emphatic yes from me. Rating: Outstanding
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