Rioja wine: Spain’s most noted wine mix. Rioja wine has been an established varietal since before the current era, before the Roman diaspora to the region in the second century B.C. Rioja is said to have been true to its traditional processes for over 2,000 years until some modern techniques were lifted from new age technological advances that Bordeaux pioneered, such as utilizing oaken vats for fermenting, were implemented. This happened circa 1950, and the wine has been creating a bigger stir ever since with its subtler nuances and self-sustainability. And good on them for that move.
Rioja wines are great for us on the meager budget who want to delve into wines with some actual age to them, wines with some studious back-bone. Before releasing the wines, especially when under the DOCa (Denominación de Origen Calificada), they are not distributed for purchase until several years after the vintage date [Bib. 1]. Commendable, especially taking into account that the heavy Temparnillo tilt of the wines lend towards heavy tannins that need to grow the proverbial beard. This process also lends to the wines allure, I would say; the winemakers know they have left the age of their Rioja’s being a mere table wine for an age where they are something more transformative, a wine worth presenting. At that, even a few years is far too young for such ostentatious mixes of, generally, 70% Temparnillo, 20% Grenacha and 10% Cariñena (Mazuelo)–Cariñena being known for its acidity, a good sign, I’d say [Bib. 2]. The last terrific varietal year was in 2001. If you find one, by all means pick it up, wallet be damned (yet inexpensive in comparison with other vintage wine). However, 2009 was a markedly good year–a splendid cool season–that will make for a great wine now and, say, eight or so years from now. A good indicator that your Rioja is ready: do you taste the clay soil from whence it came?
But let’s get to the instant gratification, which I’m all for.
Here are two Riojas, on the cheap with vintage flair and two very distinct styles that give us a lucid insight as to the philosophies of their viticulturists. The 2001 Gran Reserva Marques de Cáceres Rioja, with its mixture of the aforementioned Tempranillo, Grenacha, Mazuelo mix; and the 2006 Ruiz de Vińapre, Criazana Rioja, being a 100% pure Tempranillo.
2001 Gran Reserva Marques de Cáceres Rioja: $28
– Dark and inky in the glass, as is the Rioja standard.
– The most succulent nose we’ve encountered. A mass of buttery floridity, milky raspberry, honey and earth fill the deep chasms of your nostrils.
– Immediately, your mouth is coated with voluptuous tannin, voluptuous because it is smooth, deep and satisfying. You can swoosh this wine for ages in your mouth, taking in its nuances–yes, this has nuances! The finish is crisp and satisfying. Yet the wine is young; somewhere in the mid-range there is a feeling of tentativeness, something that may be brought out with some aging.
Overall: Worthy as all hell, even though it is in a higher price range than we normally pursue. Worth the price for the nose alone.
2006 Ruiz de Vińapre, Criazana Rioja: $18
– An even darker, richer gamut of ink.
– The nose is slightly aloof, but soon reveals its earthy nose.
– At first, very weak, only providing insight to its mild richness. Then it hits you, a wall of unchecked tannins, nothing that will rip your mouth out and keep it for its own insidious devices, but strong nonetheless. There is a decadent blackberry finish, but that’s about as far as you can go. Nothing about this wine is clear, just dark and young, like an bullied adolescent reading Nietzsche in the dark.
Overall: A skip. You can get much cheaper, more vibrant wines from Rioja. However, worth a consideration if you be in the need for a heavy wine with some roasted fare, say, a whale steak on the Atlantic (Yes, a Melville joke).
1. “Wines of The World,” Susan Keevil, et al. Dorling Kindersley Limited. 2004. Metro Books, 122 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY. Print.
2. Espavino.com, n.p. 2012. Web.