La Rioja – Wine Tasting @ Astor Center in NYC

I attended the La Rioja Wine Tasting at the Astor Center yesterday. I had some nice wines, 1 standout wine (which I will get to) some nondescript wines and one or two corked wines. But what is more important to me is HOW this tasting was conducted. Held at the very professional “study” in the Astor Center this FORMAL tasting was led by a Rioja winemaker who was familiar with all the wineries whose wines he was discussing (but maybe not intimately familiar with all the wines as it turned out).

Astor Center “Study”

The itinerary for the tasting was broken down into 4 formal tastings and a reception with food served by Rioja chefs at the closing.

The first session was a tasting of several (not sure of the exact number as I missed this first session) Crianzas from Rioja.

The Second session was a tasting of 9 Reserva & Gran Reserva Riojas, including an ’03, an ’02, and five ’01 reservas & an ’01 & ’98 gran reserva.

The third included 9 “modern” or “vangaurd” (not my words but the session leaders’) wines, including an ’03 & two ’02 Reservas as well as 6 wines from 2002-2005.

The final session included 3 whites (2 dry & 1 semi-sweet) made (primarily) from the “Viura” grape (the second dry white being a 1998 Lopez de Heredia Vina Gravonia that had that “controlled oxidation” thing going on), 2 organic reds & 2 OLIVE OILS (first time I ever participated in a formal olive oil tasting.

But again, while the wines were all over the board in terms of quality (in my very humble opinion) I am not writing specifically about wines here. It was the quality of the tasting itself that stood out most to me. As I’ve mentioned, the sessions were led in an impeccable environment (the “study” is set up the same way as the classrooms in the wine building at the CIA in Napa where I took a class) including sinks for water & spitting, a light to examine the color/clarity of the wine, paper towels (should the need arise) and table space sufficient for note taking. Oh yeah, the furnishings were all white & the room had video screens & audio speakers set up in case one of the 36 (max capacity) guests had trouble seeing or hearing the speaker.

I can not express how conducive this environment is to tasting. While I know that obtaining such an environment for an every day tasting is highly unlikely, I really do want to recommend attending a session in such an environment should the opportunity arise.

Another item I want to point out that I think added to the tasting was the ability to re-taste the wines a second time after going through them all once with everyone else. The pours were a full 2 ounces each which allowed the tasters to taste the wine once as the speaker was speaking (he was talking in Spanish which sadly I do not understand – but it worked out well as I was not influenced by whatever he may have been saying) and then a second time at the end of each session with whatever was left in the glass. I found this especially rewarding at the 3rd (“modern”) session where the wines really opened up in the glass between the first and second try.

Back to my favorite wine of the day, it was the 2001 Castroviejo Reserva made of 90% tempranillo & 10% graciano. This clear light red to brick color wine had a VERY interesting nose. Reaching a bit here I admit, but I picked up what I would call cherry bubble gum & possibly some dried bing cherries (I recently bought a bag of these so admittedly it is in my head) with some nice cedary oak. On the palate it showed nice forest berries, subtle minerality, had chunky tannins & a medium to long finish. I did have a small bit left in my glass and on the second try (about 30-40 minutes of glass breathing later) it showed HUGE oak on the nose and a bit too much acid on the palate but I won’t let that take away from my appreciation of the wine the first time around.

That is all for today. Until next time, Happy FORMAL &/or RIOJA wine tasting!


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