Thursday, September 27, 2007

¡¡¡un monton de rioja!!! (pt.2 of 2)

Los 'everyday drinkers'

Ramon Bilbao 'Black Label' Rioja Crianza 2004 - In terms of the softness and supple nature of this wine, and to a lesser extent the flavor profile (which consists of simple, upfront blackberries) this is fairly representative of a joven style Rioja. Definitely an anonymous character to it (i.e. I would possibly call it out as a Rioja if tasted blind, but maybe not). Then again for a product that is produced in the millions of bottles you could do worse, a lot worse. I would definitely suggest this for Spanish themed parties where the guests enjoy drinking wine but aren't necessarily too picky about what they drink. In other words this is good stuff for folks who aren't regularly seeking out and taking note of new tasting experiences in the world of wine.

Martin Codax Ergo Tempranillo 2005 - There is a bit more acidity and more of a traditional aspect to this wine. One can taste the American oak. Martin Codax is not the name of a producer, but rather a brand developed by a cooperative based in Galicia. You may recognize them from such widely distributed Albariños as Martin Codax and Burgans. This is decent stuff, cherries, spice and a touch of a sweet balsamic, brown sugar aspect to the finish.

Viña Izadi Rioja Crianza 2003 - 90% Tempranillo, 5% Garnacha, 5% Mazuelo from Rioja Alavesa. The most serious Rioja of this line-up, Izadi shows more structure and is a definite step up in quality from the former two. Red cherry fruit with a broader range of American oak spice nuances including coconut and nutmeg. I like this wine a lot for the money.

Los vinos de 'alta expresion'

First a primer on 'alta expresion.' This movement is generally defended by its proponents (and by the media who have dutifully conveyed their message) as a way of making wine of the finest quality, through such principles as having small yields, producing wine from single vineyard sites, employing a green harvest, using new French oak for a shorter aging period instead of the more traditional American oak for a longer one, etc. All of this is apparently a reaction to the traditional style of Rioja which is lighter in color, lower in alcohol, and, for lack of a better way of putting it, less heavy on the palate. So whether in Bordeaux or Barolo, you've seen this play out in other wine regions as well.

Without a doubt, there are surely 'alta expresion' producers in Rioja who are passionately pursuing the production of better wine. The cynic, however, might note the very high prices of many of these wines, and the fact that many of them do not taste remotely Spanish. He or she might also note that in the '90s and into the '00s Spanish wine exports to the US were increasing by leaps and bounds, aided by what some in the trade call high QPR (quality to price ratio). This is often times code for a high point rating (say 90 pts) accompanied by a low price. At the time there was a void in higher-end, higher pointed Spanish wine. All of a sudden, everyone was rushing to fill the demand of exactly these types of wines. That's my understanding of how it went down, though I'd certainly welcome any other opinions and even more so facts from folks who remember how things were at that time.

Abel Mendoza Selection Privada Rioja 2004 - The roast coffee on the nose is a positive indication of new French oak. There are also some dark fruits there as well. On the palate there is a tight core of dark cherry fruit, with good acidity. Again, the word is tight. This one did not strike me as being over the top, and it would be interesting to track its development over a decade.

Bodegas Sierra Cantabria Coleccion Privada 2003 - More dark fruits and wood on the nose. There is a very fat, rounded palate impression with flavors of plum, iron and a hint of beef blood. It's like a heavily extracted, modern right bank Bordeaux. This is the type of wine that I'm referring to when I say 'remotely Spanish.'

Artadi Vinas de Gain Crianza 2004 - Definitely one of the more popular of the vinos de alta expresion, surely due to its high 'QPR' (93 pts, about $24 retail). Located in Rioja Alavesa, Artadi's other Riojas include the highly coveted 'El Pison,' or what winemaker Juan Carlos Lopez refers to as the 'Musigny of Rioja.' I must admit that, though this wine reveals little more than oak at first, it does open up after an hour or so of decanting. There is, once again, the tight core of black cherry, with some roasted coffee and clove notes. More intriguing is the sense of minerality that this wine conveys, despite all the apparent new oak. Maybe I've been influenced by all the press on Artadi. Though I don't have any experience with the Pagos Viejos or El Pison, Vinas de Gain strikes me as an interesting, albeit muy moderno wine. Is Artadi the Dal Forno, or perhaps Luciano Sandrone, of Rioja?

And back to the old school, 1968 Vina Valoria Rioja Reserva

This is the oldest Rioja I have had the pleasure of tasting. I suspect that sooner or later I will get around to '64 LdH Tondonia though. Still hanging in there, though not for too much longer, this wine was still a nice brick color, with dusty, slightly muted cherry aromas. Delicate on the palate, with subtle dark cherry fruit and a touch of cocoa powder. At least one person with whom I was tasting the wine thought it to be 'washed out' while others thought it was great. I think that, to my palate anyway, the truth lies somewhere in between for this traditional Rioja.

I definitely look forward to posting more about Rioja in the future. It's a classic example of the traditional vs modernist approaches. And I must admit that, though not as compelling, distinctive, or exciting as the best of the traditional wines, 'alta expresion' done right, and priced fairly, is not nearly as bad as many new school Bordeaux, or super Tuscans, out there. The jury is still out, however, on how these wines age. Check out this article written by Spanish wine guru (and Spain resident) Gerry Dawes.


manuel said...

'68, the generally unfortunate year of my birth... And yes, I turn 40 next year.

Try '68 Monte Real Gran Reserva or '68 Castillo de Ygay... Those are very livel wines. Haven't had that Valoria. Should find one and add it to the line up of Rioja, Barolo, Barbaresco, Napa Cab and Vega Sicilia being developed for next year...:-)


Joe M. said...

Manuel -

Thanks for the recs (now I've got to a.) save up some $ and b.)track those wines down. Didn't even see them at Astor when I was in the city recently, and by the looks of it Astor has more old wine than any other store I've been to.

You should try to find some '68 Inglenook Charbono. An excellent wine from your birthyear.