In my October 3, 2018, blog article (read it here) I discussed Spanish Rioja (re-oh-ha) wines. At a lunch meeting several weeks ago with LEX 530 Wine Director Stan Minden and Chris Oliver, General Manager at Café Navarre, we tasted a couple of bottles of different Rioja to discuss the wine for this article.
The two bottles were excellent and certainly worthy of discussion in this article. I want to remind you to put Rioja wines on your “wines to try” list if it is not there already.
First, let us do a short refresher on Rioja wines before we discuss the wines we sampled. Rioja wines are primarily made from the Tempranillo grape. Spain is the home of the Tempranillo grape, although it is grown in many other countries around the world.
The most famous region for Tempranillo grapes is the Rioja Region in Spain. The Rioja Region is located in North Central Spain, south of the border of France and Spain. Wines from this region will have a DOCa designation sticker on the neck of the bottle. DOCa Rioja wines can be blended with other grapes grown in two or more of the zones. Tempranillo grapes are often blended with Grenache grapes.
Tempranillo’s aroma throws off flavors of tobacco, spices such as clove or cinnamon, and vanilla. On the palate you will find cherry, plum and vanilla flavors. The vanilla comes from the winemaker using oak barrels for aging which provides the wonderful, toasted note to the wines.
There are four classifications of Rioja wines. One of the main qualifications is between the different styles in oak aging. In the case of Rioja wines, the more oak, the higher the quality level.
The Rioja region has a wine control board called the Consejo Regulador DOCa Rioja. The board inspects the quality of producers to ensure the consistency of Rioja wines. The four classifications of wines in the Rioja region are: Rioja, Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva. Let us explore each of these classifications.
This is a very basic wine. It is aged a short time in oak, perhaps only a few months. It is then bottled and sold. This wine will taste really fruity because the wine is so young.
For a Rioja wine to be labeled Crianza it must be in oak barrels for at least a year, if not longer. Once it is bottled it must age another few months in the bottle before it can be sold. This is the most popular in the United States because of its pricing which is typically less than $20.00 a bottle.
The wines classified as Reserva are serious tasting Rioja wines. These wines are only produced from the best vintages. Reserva wines are aged in oak for at least a year and aged in the bottle for up to more two years. They are often aged longer than the minimum of three years and are made from specially selected grapes.
Gran Reserva wines are selected only from exceptional vintages and are aged for a minimum of five years: at least two years in oak and three years in the bottle. This wine has the most tannin structure and has the potential to age very well. Since this wine comes from the best grapes and is aged as long as it needs, most of the newly released Gran Reserva wines are around 10 years old or older. When they become available these wines can cellar for up to 30 years.
The Wines We Tasted
2011 CVNE Cune Imperial Grand Reserva Rioja
This was a wonderful Gran Reserve Rioja wine. It was a blend of 85% Tempranillo, 10% Graciano and 5% Mazuelo. The color was an intense garnet. I felt the nose was very tight when we first poured the wine. It did begin to open after it set in the glass and produced slight hints of plum, tobacco and fig. The palate was full of plum, berry fruit and earthy spice which gave way the longer the wine was open. The finish was well balanced with notes of chocolate and a little sweetness. Resolved tannins and some acidity together provided a well-defined finish.
The wine received a 97/100 points by Wine Enthusiast and 93/100 points from Robert Parker. It should drink well through 2035. Average price for this wonderful wine is $75.00 a bottle.
2009 La Rioja Viña Arana Reserva
This Rioja was also a blend, but not as extensive as our first wine. This 2009 was 95% Tempranillo and only 5% Mazuelo. This wine, like the 2011 Imperial, was powerful and wonderful to drink. The aromas on the nose were fruity as well as a little earthy with some clove and very mild cinnamon. The palate was silky with ample fruit and a hint of mushrooms. The finish was dry and offered balanced acidity, ample tannins with a fresh mouth feel.
James Suckling scored the wine at 96/100 points and stated the wine had great aging potential. This, too, was a wonderful drinking wine with an average price of $28.00 a bottle. It should age well for another 10 years.
I am serious when I say that if you are not drinking Riojas now, you are missing out on some really good wines. The wine pairs well with cheeses, lamb, pork, rice and red peppers. I recommend you get four to six bottles for your wine collection soon.
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