An Ode to Rioja

To Spain last night, a Rioja Reserva from the cellar — the 2001 from Roda II.  The review said a “mix of old and new styles” and it was right, as there was the traditional toasty oak covered dried cherries, but the fruit was also brighter and fresher than usual, bit more Californian in style.  At almost 9 years old, this wine is in great shape with a number of years ahead of it.

Rioja is a bit of a conundrum for wine drinkers and wine lovers alike.  At one time, this was “the region” in Spain, producing that country’s greatest wines.  The reds are made from a mixture of grapes, predominantly Tempranillo and Garnacha; the whites from Viura, Malvasia and Garnacha Blanca. In style, there was always lots of oak used and very evident, particularly in the Reserva and Gran Reserva wines (to the point where the latter wines — particularly the white ones — sometimes tasted overly woody and somewhat oxidized).

It was perhaps because of that style that Rioja has been almost eclipsed in the last twenty years by other wines and wine regions, especially those from the Ribera del Duero, which featured more international grapes (including Cabernet Sauvignon for the reds).

But while prices have also gotten a bit ridiculous (way to0 many $40+ wines!), if you are careful there are still still some wonderful wines to find.  And the style, when done right, might represent the best management of oak use that I know of. I have had some Reservas and Gran Reservas that are almost voluptuously smooth and full of vanilla and herbal flavours. Not a lot of fruit, but a very complex wine drinking experience.

The whites, on the other hand, are definitely an acquired taste. More on those in another blog.

So try a red Rioja and experience the old — and the new — of wine.



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