Posts Tagged ‘Rioja’

Vibrant Rioja – Grand Tasting

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

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!


ignition interlock device

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

So much to blog, so little time to do the actual blogging.  I guess that is why Twitter has become so damn popular of late.  I attended the Rioja grand tasting on Tuesday and tasted some wonderful TRADITIONAL style Spanish wines.  And Wednesday night, after a prolonged break, our wine group resumed our tour of Burgundy.  It was the grand finale (for now) of reds – Vosne Romanee!  Next up, Chablis.  I will do my best to blog about them sooooon….

But I’m posting tonight simply to share an interesting tidbit I was just made aware of by Megan of Wine & Spirits Daily.  Apparently, an alliance of 11 car companies are asking congress to mandate the installation of ignition interlock devices on all vehicles within 5-10 years.

In case you, like me, had no idea what an ignition interlock device was, here it is as per good old Wikipedia…

An ignition interlock device or breath alcohol ignition interlock device (IID and BIID) is a mechanism, like a breathalyzer, installed to a motor vehicle’s dashboard. Before the vehicle’s motor can be started, the driver first must exhale into the device, if the resultant breath-alcohol concentration analyzed result is greater than the programed blood alcohol concentration — usually 0.02 or 0.04 per cent, the motor will not turn over.

I’m not sure whether to applaud this as it will seemingly prevent reckless selfish drunks from entering our roadways OR freak out that big brother is coming….

Happy stay at home or get a designated driver wine tasting!


What a Day! 2 Wine Tastings!!

Saturday, October 18th, 2008

I went away (within Israel) for the sabbath to a friend of the family.  A wonderful woman and great cook it is always a nice shabbat when spent with her and her family.  But it doesn’t hurt that she lives next door to a fabulous winemaker, who is also a brilliant & warm man and whom I am fortunate to call a good friend.  After attending early services (started at 6:20AM – YIKES) we had a “kiddush” in the sukkah of the winemaker friend.  For those of you familiar with the word kiddush when referring to the blessing over wine, I’m using the word here to refer to “a ceremonial meal served … following the recitation of kiddush at the conclusion of services, in which refreshments are served. Traditionally, this often includes cake, crackers, and fish.”  BUT, this was no ordinary kiddush…and not just because we started drinking at 9AM…

wine_tastingThis was a wine tasting kiddush, and the winemaker friend and his amazingly hospitable wife prepared all kinds of salads (made from home grown tomatoes, lettuce, eggplant and herbs), quiches, cheeses, cakes, etc to go along with the truly FABULOUS wines we were about to taste.  There were 7 of us around the table and we were in for quite a treat.  Since it was Sabbath I did not take tasting notes, but it is a day and wines I will not soon forget.

The first wine we opened was a 2006 Chateau Lafont Menaut Pessac-Leognan Bordeaux Blanc.  Crisp, minerally, refreshing…great start!

Normally we might save special wines for the end, but we were about to open some elegant aged Bordeaux.  And while they were the “stars” of the night, they are also wines that are not nearly as robust as they were in their youth, leaving them susceptible to being overpowered by younger, more tannic (and robust) wines – which is why we tasted them first.

So following the Bordeaux Blanc we opened a 1998 Chateau Monbousquet St. Emillion Grand Cru.  WOW.  At 10 years old, this Bordeaux tasted young!  Excellent fruit and plenty of tannins.  Some plums, great earthiness and a hint of mocha. 

Up next was a legend.  Maybe not from a legendary vintage, but…a Chateau Latour.  The 1981…yes, I said 1981 Pauillac Grand Vin de Chateau Latour – what a treat!  We were concerned that the wine might not be alive and drinkable, but fortunately we underestimated the staying power of good Bordeaux.  Very much alive, this wine started off tight, showing nice prune & leather characteristics, eventually opening up to show fruit – all packaged nicely, silky soft and round.  Its tannins and acid had dropped out over time, and this wine was quite soft.  Maybe not everyone’s preferred style, but undoubtedly a special wine.

Our third red of the morning was a negociant wine. The 1996 Tardieu – Laurent Hermitage made mostly (or entirely?) of Syrah was very interesting.  A 12 year old wine, I found it to be high in acidity.  The acid will usually drop in a wine as it ages, so this surprised me.  But I was told that 12 years is not old for Hermitage, and that it would soften with further aging.  It did have a nice minerality and some subtle mocha aromas.  A wine (Hermitage) I will definitely be re-visiting…

At this point it was getting a bit late (11AM and apparently people had lives to get to – you believe that?!) and with 3 wines left we opened up the 2 baby reds of the bunch.  A 2003 Artadi Pagos Viejos Rioja and the 2001 Grant Burge “Meshach” Shiraz.  These were fruit forward style wines.  I don’t remember much about the Rioja aside from its up front fuit and nice earthiness.  While the Meshach Shiraz was HUGE.  It actually reminded me a bit of a California Zinfandel.  It had BIG fruit and an almost sweet taste.  But this was not a one-dimensional wine.  It showed pencil shaving & cigar box aromas.  Was well structured (especially for such a big wine) and went quite well with the cakes which by this time had been served.

A final treat was a dessert wine from Alsace.  The Domaine Bott-Geyl Sonnenglanz Grand Cru Alsace dessert wine, made of Pinot Gris (and apparently given a 98 by Robert Parker) was a deliciously sweet treat.  Its acid was present, which prevented any cloying sweetness, but it was so well integrated it was almost as if it wasn’t there.  Very tasty and a special wine to finish things off with.

Assuming I haven’t lost you yet, there was another tasting.  This one at a more normal hour (7PM).  After the Sabbath I drove into Tel Aviv to meet up with a friend who I may work with on my Israel Wine Project.  He has a beautiful apartment in a hopping part of the city and he had about 8 people over for some Israeli wines.  I brought some bottles of local Israeli boutique wine and we had a lovely time.  I talked a bit about each of the wineries, told them about the wine makers, and we then tasted the wines together.  A lite Carignan based wine was casually enjoyed.  A Sangiovese/Syrah/Cab Franc blend was intriguing and determined to be a great food wine.  While the king, a Cab based wine (with 10% Merlot) was thoroughly enjoyed and drunk to the last drop. 

Happy TWICE A DAY Wine Tasting!


Wines from Spain & my evolving palate

Tuesday, October 7th, 2008

I (briefly) attended a “Wines from Spain” wine tasting today.  I enjoy these tastings as they provide me with the opportunity to continue my palate training.  But given how busy I have been lately I went today primarily to see a friend I have not had the chance to see for a few months.

wine from Spain

Shortly after arriving my friend lamented that he did not care for any of the wines he had tasted thus far.  Too big, fruit forward and in his opinion lacking structure.  Having not yet tasted any of the wines I agreed with him that I had seen a trend of younger winemakers making wine in a more fruit-forward & extracted style.

To take one step back I must admit here, as I admitted to my friend, that I once very much enjoyed these BIG, fruit forward wines.  At the time I very much liked the way the big fruit gave the perception of sweetness, almost as if I were taking a big bite out of a handful of blackberries.  However, as my palate has evolved, I am presently a bit more into restrained wines whose fruit are (in my opinion) in better balance in the wine.

SO, we went to a few tables and tasted some wines.  I did come across an old style Rioja – an earthy wine wine with some age and restraint – one that is definitely not fruit forward.  In general, good interesting wines, but maybe too little fruit???  I also came across some of the aforementioned fruit bombs – big heavily extracted, almost Australian Shiraz style wines – not my thing these days.  BUT, I also did find some wines that possessed fruit, but the fruit seemed well integrated.  No, these are not the wines people often think of when thinking of classic Spanish wines, but it is a style that has become popular and that sells.  And these wineries do need to consider the bottom line.

So, whether you like earthy, subtle Spanish Rioja’s, big fruit forward new world style wines, or some combination of the two, taste wines when possible and you will find a wine from Spain that will suit your unique taste preference.

Happy (whatever style you like) Spanish wine tasting!


Rioja Tasting with the wine group

Friday, February 29th, 2008

The wine group I have previously mentioned that I get together with 2-3 times a month (on a good month) to taste wines with met last night. We tasted Rioja’s, and were treated to some older vintage wines last night. Our esteemed host was able to pick up 3 Rioja’s from the famed “Lopez de Heredia” winery and 4 others.

Of the 3 Heredia’s we had a ’99, an ’81 and a ’73 – what a fabulous year! We were all truly amazed that these older wines were still alive – which they were. How alive however became somewhat of a debate. More on that later. Before tasting the wines we were forewarned by one of the members that aged Rioja’s are soft & elegant and not the rich, big, concentrated wines we might expect from Spain. He was absolutely right as the ’99 Heredia was so soft & smooth I almost found it to be too much so. I wrote down that it was elegant, but that was partly because I wanted to write something nice (and seem sophisticated) so as not to write that I found it to be a bit boring – which I think would have been more accurate.

The ’81 however was a treat. Very complex. The others thought I was nuts as a few of them had finished their taste of this wine before I even tried mine. But I found so much going on in the nose that I was simply not ready to move on to tasting the wine. It started off with dried/jammy fruit. Moved on to tart berries. And then evolved onto what at first seemed like milk chocolate then became more bittersweet chocolate & finally struck me as rumball like. On the palate this wine was again very soft & elegant (there is that word again). the only disappointment was a finish that I thought could have been longer, but the finish on some of these wines was better the second time around.

The ’73 Heredia was very clear orange almost brown in color, with an almost clear rim – really showing its age. The nose started out with some off smells of rubber or corkiness but blew off somewhat to reveal a tarry earthiness, some subtle berries and even a little jammyness. On the palate this wine was very much alive as it was soft and silky with a slightly acidic and tart berry flavor.

Aside from the 3 Heredia’s we had a Crianza, 2 Reserva’s & 1 Gran Reserva. We did not conduct this tasting blind but I was not really paying much attention to name/label/status etc. That said, it was the Gran Reserva, a 1998 Muga Prado Enea that I enjoyed the most of the 4. This ruby/purple colored wine had A LOT going on in the nose. And it evolved in a short time in my glass. It began with hints of fruit and earth, and then showed some of the Piny-ness I have been detecting a lot lately. From there I sensed some oak, but there was more – and it was driving me a little nuts as I had a hard time figuring out what it was. And then it hit me. COLA – it was part flat cheap Cola, part Cherry cola. Real interesting & complex. On the palate it showed cherries (Bing cherries even), some mocha and was both mouth coating & silky smooth. Again, I was somewhat disappointed by what I thought was only a medium length finish. BUT, on the 2nd tasting of this wine about an hour or so later all the fruity, floral & cola aroma’s were still there while the finish this time was NICE AND LONGGGGG……

Back to an issue I eluded to earlier. The issue of how “alive” these older wines were. I suppose that their life was less of a debate then how to treat these senior citizens. I have always learned that older wines that once possessed a strong backbone – good acidity & strong tannins – are age worthy but as they age they soften, both in structure and mouth feel.  The soft smooth mouth feel is one of the things that makes these ageable wines so desirable. But their age also has left them with little protection from the environment. Yes they can be decanted, but I learned that this was to remove any sediment buildup – not to be done vigorously to aerate (as is done with younger wines) as the aeration will hasten their imminent deterioration.

This deterioration is what I found with the ’73 & VERY SADLY with the ’81 Heredia. Now mind you, this is not a knock on the wines. These wines were both very much alive when we first had them. Just that extended decanting and then enough exposure to oxygen (to me) allowed these wines to lose whatever aroma’s they had left. On the palate they were both still OK, but I was disappointed that they really seemed to die.

It was a debate as our host and some others felt that this was simply how these older wines were, and that it did not suit my taste. Something which is a distinct possibility. Either way, overall the night was a treat as I had a chance to try the oldest wines I have ever tried. And becoming more familiar with aged wines is something I hope to be fortunate enough to continue to do.

Have a wonderful wine-weekend & Happy Spanish Rioja wine tasting!