Friday, April 11, 2008

Dinner with a Rioja classic and Priorat up-and-comer: Lopez de Heredia, Buil & Gine at Orson

Boy was I looking forward to this. On Wednesday night, K&L, along with a few people from one of our distributors, Winewise, their Spanish importer and the good folks at Orson, hosted a dinner with what are undoubtedly some of the world's most distinctive, elegant and age-worthy wines. Of course I am talking about the wines of Haro's own Lopez de Heredia. Standing in marked contrast were the evening's other featured wines from Buil & Gine in Priorat/Montsant - big, bold and fruity, yet still not at all overly ripe. A similarly remarkable contrast was Maria Jose's beautifully told anecdotes about the 100+ year old history of Lopez de Heredia, her succinct summary of what the wines are about, and the reactions they elicit in tasters, compared to Xavi Buil's friendly, low-key explanation of his relatively new wine ventures in Priorat, Montsant and Toro. There was even some friendly joking between Maria Jose and Xavi, about the differences between their wines and respective regions. Later I would learn that the two of them have travelled together before, are good friends, and enjoy presenting their wines together to provide a unique side-by-side comparison to anyone interested in learning about Spanish wine. The menu:

Chicory salad, apple hazelnut, lengua
1.) 1981 Lopez de Heredia 'Vina Tondonia' Blanco Gran Reserva Rioja
2.) 1997 Lopez de Heredia 'Vina Tondonia' Rosado Crianza
3.) 2006 Buil & Gine Rosat Priorat

Yeah, so basically we decided to flash the wine of the night during the first course! Of course that would be the '81 LdH Blanco Gran Reserva. As any of you who have had this wine know, words truly fall short. It is a beautiful, deep golden color, with deeply pitched stone fruit and orange aromas that become increasingly complex with air. On the palate, there is so much nuance and texture. A wine that doesn't blow you away at first sip, it just demands your attention throughout the experience. Silent, insistent, and ready to school you on what wine is all about. The delicate flavors and silky texture combined well with the velvety, fatty lengua, as well as with the hazlenut in the salad - a tiny but inspired detail as LdH whites often times have a nuttiness to the finish that goes well with - you guessed it - nuts. The julienned apples and chicories were light, bright and crunchy, a perfect contrast to the more decadent texture and flavors of nuts, lengua and Tondonia. You better believe that I made sure to save a bit of '81 Tondonia to re-visit later in the evening, and of course it only got better - at its most vibrant and youthful at the end of the evening. Unfortunately, as distinctive a wine as the '97 Rosado is, it was inevitably overshadowed by the white. It continues to improve each time I have it though, with more open-knit red and Sicilian orange fruit to match the beautiful, coconut inflected nose. the '06 Buil & Gine Rosado was a deep pink; there is gamay somewhere in the world with a lighter color than this wine. Fresh, fruity and simple, it is a bit of a fruitier rose than I usually prefer, but still would hold much appeal for many folks.

steak frites bordelaise with greens
4.) 1985 Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Gran Reserva
5.) 2004 Buil & Gine 'Baboix' Montsant
6.) 2001 Buil & Gine 'Baboix' Montsant

Let's start with the food. I love steak, I love potatoes fried in the french style, and I devour all types of greens. So for me, this dish was a winner! It demonstrates what Orson does best: simple, fresh food, prepared from terrific ingredients that are not overly complicated by fancy sauces, cute presentations, or methods which effect chemical changes. As for the wines, on this particular evening I think that the Montsant wines, especially the '01, took the prize over Xavi's Priorat. The '04 Baboix has lots of dark fruit and tannic grip on the finish. It's bold and a bit monolithic now, but should mellow and drink nicely after another 3 years, at least if the '01 Baboix is any indication. I love the flavors that maturing, carignan based wines take on with some age, berryful while preserving a sort of spicy freshness. This wine matched well with the beef, but would have been even more ideal with something a bit more assertive like lamb with lots of herbs and garlic. In introducing her '85 Tondonia Gran Reserva, Maria Jose reminded attendees that Tempranillo is, in her words, 'the flavor of Spain.' I would agree. She also mentioned that the tempranillo grape is thought to be Pinot Noir that was first introduced by monks along the route of the St James pilgrammage across the northern portions of Spain. It was fun to hear about how the French taught her great-grandfather how to make great wine, a tale of cooperation between the French and Spanish that is oft-repeated in other Rioja bodegas histories, as the Bordelais vignerons sought to continue their work in the late 19th century, even as phylloxera was destroying their vines. Back to the '85 Tondonia...the wine is very similar to a mature red burgundy, just as Maria Jose mentioned. I remember really liking it, though that's about the amount of detail I can go into - there was little time to focus on this wine since I had pouring responsibilities, as well as the requisite 'shop talk' with a customer at my table. I really lucked out with my table by the way - Maria Jose, as well as two couples who were both really nice and excited to learn about the wonderful wines in front of us.

Cheese plate: Fiore Sardo and Pepato
7.) 1976 Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Gran Reserva
8.) 1981 Lopez de Heredia Vina Bosconia Gran Reserva
9.) 2001 Buil & Gine 'Joan Gine Gine' Priorat

As I mentioned before, I preferred the Montsant wines to this Priorat, which seemed to be showing a bit of an acetate character on the nose. It was unfortunately not the best bottle, as I have enjoyed this wine on a separate occasion a few months ago. The '76 Tondonia was very sturdy, meaty, dark fruited and more Bordelaise in character than any other LdH wine I have had to date. Probably a reflection of the hot vintage. Still a terrific wine, just a little bit lower in acid than usual, and probably my least favorite of Maria Jose's wine this evening. Of course that is a relative statement, it would most likely be my WOTN compared with virtually any other wines on any other evening. '81 Bosconia has a higher percentage of Tempranillo than the Tondonia, and it is still a bright, slightly taut, lively, spicy wine that I'd love to try in another decade. Apologies again for the short tasting notes, I was working and did not have the time to formulate, either in my head or on paper, more specific thoughts. Not to mention the fact that Lopez de Heredia wines typically defy description.

Some thank you's are definitely in order:

To Chef de Cuisine Ryan Farr, Executive Chef Elizabeth Falkner and the staff at Orson for doing one of the best jobs, soup to nuts, I have ever seen at an event such as this.

To Hiram Simon for partnering with us and giving us the opportunity to promote these wines to our customers

To Bryan Brick, for having the cojones to put together a dinner that doesn't involve Bordeaux and doing a great job seeing it through

To Maria Jose Lopez de Heredia and Xavi Buil for travelling such a long way to promote their wines and meet with people day in, day out during their US tour (trust me, it's not easy)

Finally, to all the customers who spent an evening with us and continue to support us, as well as what Maria Jose, Xavi and many others like them do for a living.


Brian said...

Thanks for the great notes. I'm only now discovering Rioja. Based on your notes, the 1998 Tondonia we t4ried the other week was probably too young, but it was still delicious!

Joe M. said...

Thanks for checking out the post. There is a lot of great wine in Rioja to discover so I'm glad that you are exploring. You are right, the '98 Tondonia Reserva is a bit young, but certainly enjoyable now. It will be more interesting in another several years. For drinking earlier, the '99 Bosconia Reserva is really tasty.


cornuto said...

A few quick comments. The service, presentation, and setting were all top notch. The food was OK if underwhelming (in both quantity and creativity). The LdH wines were fabulous, with the exception of our bottle of Rosado, which was corked (this went undetected as far as i could tell). Can't find my notes but i loved the 81 Tondonia blanco and found the 81 Bosconia to be remarkably young and full of potential. The various Tondonias were lovely as well. Didn't care for the Buil & Gine wines and despite Maria Jose's explanation they seem to be strange bedfellows.

Joe M. said...

Thanks for the comments. Sorry about the corked bottle of rosado. We simply had Maria Jose taste and/or sniff every bottle before service and I guess this was one that she sniffed and didn't taste. I was thinking to myself, however, how amazing it was that there was not a single corked bottle of LdH out of nearly 30 total bottles of wines.

I agree with you that the portions were on the tiny side but respectfully disagree on the quality of the dishes. They were not overly creative, but I find that, as a rule, simpler foods with older wines is a good rule to follow; usually the wine shows better this way. Incidentally I have recently been back to Orson and did enjoy some more creative fare, though they still truly are dishing out some small small plates.

Thanks again for the feedback. And thanks for attending.