Rioja — Spain’s vintage may be best wine you’ve never tried (by Jon Erickson)

Posted: May 9, 2013 by wynmaker in Cellars, Europe, Vinification, Vintage, Wine, Winemaking, Wineries, World wine news
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As the wine director at Jaynes Gastropub, I am constantly trying to edge people away from the common toward the lesser-known grape varieties and wines. Like pinot noir? Then try nebbiolo. Like Syrah? Then consider a blend from Provence. When it comes to the diners seeking “big” wines, such as cabernet, merlot or malbec, I have one secret weapon and that is Rioja.

Rioja can be either red, white or rosé. The red is made from what I consider to be Spain’s greatest grape, tempranillo, blended with smaller amounts of garnacha, graciano and mazuelo. Tempranillo is a variety that shares some characteristics with nebbiolo and pinot noir: thin-skinned, light in hue yet very bold with the ability to yield highly complex and utterly delicious wines. Rioja is also somewhat reminiscent of French Bordeaux, with strong oak integration, albeit American white oak instead of French wood. In the end, this wine is utterly Spanish and well worth seeking out. Here are a few recommendations:

A 2008 C.V.N.E. Vina Real Crianza is an excellent entry-level Rioja and very approachable when young. The vanilla characteristics of the American oak blends beautifully with the red cherry and berry fruits. This particular wine comes from the Rioja Alavesa region. The Vina Real Reserva is a very modestly priced wine, generally around $16 retail, from a fifth-generation producer. (Available at Bine and Vine on Adams Avenue.)

My all-time favorite Rioja producer is R. Lopez De Heredia from the city of Haro in La Rioja Alta. It makes some of the most traditional wines in the region with 135-year-old cellars filled with cobwebs, spiders and dust, the antithesis of the spit-shined and pressure-washed modern winery. Lopez, as it is affectionately called by American wine geeks, holds back vintages before release longer than just about any other producer and creates some of the most interesting wines in the world, including a 13-year-old new release rosé. The winery’s current-release Crianza is the 2005 Vina Cubillo Crianza, available by the bottle at one of the best wine restaurants in San Diego — Costa Brava in Pacific Beach. Owner Javier Gonzalez and I share a mutual love for this winery.

Read on …

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