I have a confession to make. In the 1990s Los Molinos, a cheap Spanish red from the local supermarket, was my favourite. I didn’t spend much on wine in those days, couldn’t afford it really, and thought of Los Molinos as a more than adequate and affordable wine. It had a smooth, warm, almost sweet vanilla taste hitherto unknown to me. Though interesting at the beginning, and highly appreciated for some time, I soon grew weary of that surplus of oak. So much so, that I avoided all wine Spanish for almost two decades.
Now rumour had it that Spanish wines had improved, that some producers had reduced the oak, either by shifting from American to French oak or by using older barrels. Though these rumours didn’t make me rush to the shop, they slowly warmed me to the idea of giving Spanish reds a second chance. What better opportunity to do so than in Rioja, during the DWCC, the (not exclusively) European wine blogger’s conference of October 2013?
It was my first conference, my first visit to Spain and an unusually long break away from my working duties, summer holidays aside. I had a marvellous time.
But it’s all about the wine, isn’t it? So what about those Riojas? Still avoidable?
Let me start by saying that I didn’t taste wines of small wineries, but only of a few bigger and quite famous Riojan companies, so I can’t give you an overall view. Having said that, I can assure you that Rioja has a lot to offer. Rich, full-bodied wines, velvety mouth feel, dark red fruit (stewed plum in older Rioja’s), liquorice. They make a great pairing with game (the hairy variety), beef, and sausages. Let me present a few of the red wines I tasted during the conference, in alphabetical order (the whites are a different story altogether, coming up soon).
- Bodegas Baigorri, Garnacha 2010 (100% Garnacha): My favourite of the quality red wines I tasted during a sumptuous lunch at this intriguing winery. Fruity, harmonious, elegant.
- Bodegas LAN, LAN a Mano 2009 (80% Tempranillo, 15% Graciano, 5% Mazuelo): Dark-purple coloured wine of their own grapes. Full-bodied, round, spicy, dark fruit. Not so good for one’s ecological footprint (ridiculously heavy bottle, “for marketing’s sake”, the winemaker told us), but otherwise uplifting.
- Bodegas LAN, Culmen Reserva 2007 (85% Tempranillo, 15% Graciano): Dark-coloured wine of 40-60 year-old vines. Sweet attack, dark, ripe fruits, nutmeg, soft tannins, liquorice. Excellent.
- La Rioja Alta, Viña Ardanza Reserva 2004 (80% Tempranillo and 20% Garnacha): This traditional Rioja isn’t released every year. 2004 is now available. Dark fruit, almost stewed plum, spicy, soft tannins, smooth. Superb. One of The Telegraph’s picks for Christmas (with pork!).
- Luis Cañas, Reserva 2007 (95% Tempranillo, 5% Graciano): They have of course wines that are older and more full-bodied than this ‘simple’ reserva, but I liked this one best at dinner on the premises of this hospitable winery (we were welcomed with a Basque dance).
- Marqués de Riscal, Barón de Chirel 2006 (80% Tempranillo, 20% Other): “Other” is Spanglish for Cabernet Sauvignon, a grape that, after a period of experimenting, is now forbidden in the Dutch way (i.e., forbidden but tolerated): the grapes of existing vineyards may be used, but not mentioned. Riscal’s experiments with Cabernet Sauvignon and other non-indigenous grapes date back to 1862. This 2006 is a bit alcoholic in the beginning, elderflower berries, plums, chocolate, smooth. After a while the alcoholic note disappears and in comes more fruit, spices. My Riscal favourite.
- Marqués de Riscal, Finca Torrea 2007 (Tempranillo and Graciano): Modern-style wine. The smell reminded me of fermenting crushed grapes. Smooth, fruity, soft tannins, a little wood. (The 2010 is sharper and a bit alcoholic.)
Not so bad, eh, these Riojas? Quite marvellous, actually. Though I’ll continue to treat them with care (they are not house wine material), red Rioja’s are definitively back on my list of wines to look out for. Still. When tasting, I spit. I have spitted out many a fine wine as you can see, even one of € 240 a bottle (Riscal’s Frank Gehry Selection 2001). The only glass I swallowed during this conference was the one presented to announce next year’s host of DWCC: a Swiss Pinot Noir. Cheers.