Vibrant Rioja – Grand Tasting

This past Tuesday I stopped in at the “Vibrant Rioja” Grand Tasting.  The tasting was help this year in NYC’s “City Winery”.  There were over 50 tables, each representing a different producer,importer or distributor of Rioja wine.  Each table seemed to have at least 4-5 wines, and some had even more.  There were reds, whites & rose.  And though I did not come across any, I’m sure there was some sparkling Cava as well.

I ended up spending a bunch of time speaking with industry contacts while I was there, so I did not taste as much wine as I normally try to taste, but the experience as always was invaluable.

One observation made by some of those had to do with the venue.   City winery is being run professionally by some very hard working people.  It is an amazing facility that blends food, wine & music.  The people at City Winery have aggressively sought out those who organize wine tastings such as Vibrant Rioja in an effort to hold any such event at the venue.  While this seems to make a lot of sense, there seems to be one problem.  Wineries, and fermenting wine has a strong smell.  And while about 90% of the exhibitors were in an area of the main hall with little or no foreign aromas, there were a few exhibitors in the tank room.  In the future I hope they learn that as cool as the tank room is, it is no a place to taste wine as the foreign aromas introduced really prevented the wines being poured in the tank room from showing well, and the exhibitors in that room were rather upset about this.

The second observation had to do with the style of wines being poured.  Spain, and Rioja in particular, has seen a renaissance of sorts of modern styled winemaking.  So in theory, we are seeing an old world country producing new world style wines.  However, it appears that there may be a backlash taking place as I was quite pleased to see exhibitors, young and old, pouring wines that many would consider to be more “traditional” in style rather than “modern”.   Both styles have their appeal and respective fans.  There certainly is a large customer base who prefer the BIG, fruit forward, modern style.  But I think that what makes the wines of Rioja unique and quite special are those wines made in the classic or traditional method, and I was pleased to taste many such examples.

Which is a great segue into a few quick wines of note.  Though I ended at this table rather than starting there, no Rioja tasting is complete without representation from R Lopez de Heredia wines.  And sure enough, the good folks at Polaner together with a representative from the winery were there to pour some wines.  I tried an ’89 Tondonia White Reserva that was showing the characteristic oxidation, with good acidity and little fruit.  A ’98 Tondonia ROSE Gran Reserva that had a slight oxidation, floral aromas and a crisp acidity.  And a bunch of reds, of which I most enjoyed the 2001 Bosconia Reserva which was subtle and food friendly with lite fruit, crisp acidity and lots of character.  And the ’85 Tondonia Gran Reserva which had a light orange brick color, tart berry aromas, and a palate that was light, crisp and lively, with berries that was both elegant and complex.

Near the Heredia table, I quickly tasted a bunch of wines from Bodegas Las Orcas.  These wines were all made in a traditional style and were showing quite well.  The 2000 Pagos de Valde, a wine whose fruit was hand harvested from a single vineyard, was subtle with good tannic structure, subtle fruit, and a soft and food friendly palate.  While they had a specially marked bottle that I was told was a 1996 reserva.  But not any reserva – this wine was aged in stone. I asked if he meant concrete, but I was told that it was actually stone cut into the side of a mountain.  Pretty cool huh!?  The wine itself was a touch oxidized, but it was also uniquely interesting and worth checking out – if you can find it.

The Bodegas Breton 2001 Lorinon Gran Reserva had some sediment and a minty-leather nose, with light red fruit flavors and good acidity.  The Maques de Riscal 2000 Gran Reserva Rose had an orange-pink color with lovely pink grapefruit and pomelo aromas.  I loved its nose, and was amazed byb the long finish though I wish its acidity was bit livelier.  Another rose’ I enjoyed was the Bodegas Don Sancho de Londono Cortijo 2008 Rose, which at the price (retails for about $10) is a great buy.   It has  a pretty reddish pink color with a BIG RED like cinnamon gum nose.  It was crisp and refreshing.  Yummy!  SO many wines to write about…I feel like I am leaving out lots of winners.

The last wine I want to mention was the Castillo de Cuzcurrita Senorio de Cuzcurrita 2002 made from 100% tempranillo.  I thought this wine was great.  It had cola, raspberry, earth and tar on the nose.  It cherry cola flavors were revealed in a wine with silky tannins, and well rounded mouth feel, and a pleasant and long finish.  terrific!

In all I was quite impressed.  I look forward to trying more from Rioja and while many out there might not agree with me I hope to see a return to the roots of Rioja (good name for a tasting) with more traditionally styled Riojas hitting the market.

Happy Traditional Rioja Wine Tasting!


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