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Re-Post: Best Hidden Secrets Of The Wine World: Rioja

September 28, 2012 6 comments

During 2011 I wrote a number of posts for the project called The Art Of Life Magazine – of course talking about my favorite subject, wine. The project closed, but I still like the posts I wrote, so I decided to re-post them in this blog. Also, in that project, posts were grouped into mini-series, such as “Best Hidden Secrets” you see here – I will continue re-posting them from time to time.

Also note that the series was written for a slightly different audience – I hope none of my readers will take offense in the fact that sometimes I’m stating the obvious…

“Let me tell you a secret” – how many stories started from this sentence? Adventures, journeys, discoveries, friendships and feuds, love and hate – secrets can be beginning of many things.

Secrets have special place in our lives. Secret is a hope.  Hope, anticipation and promise of unique experience. Humans always hope to find secrets – of health, wealth, attraction, eternal life. When you know a secret, you feel good – you possess  something which nobody else does. Or at least nobody from the people you know. And this is when it becomes difficult. We are social creatures, and we want to share. When we share a secret, we feel special, we feel  high above, as we share something which a moment ago was unique and exclusively ours. Then we regret we shared – ahh, that moment of weakness. And yes, you are right, there are evil secrets, those which bring death and destruction – but nothing like that belongs to this blog.

Okay, fine, I hear you. This is not a philosophical blog – this is the blog about wine and experience. But – the preamble was necessary, as we will continue from here on. Secrets (sometimes referred to as “know-how”) are everywhere, and world of wine is no exception. Are they really such a secrety secrets? Of course they are not, and you don’t need a special clearance to learn them. However, secrets are personable, and if secrets I plan to share will only make you yawn, please make sure to tell me so.

So what can be so secret about something which is available in abundance literally everywhere? Of course it would be nice to discover a secret of buying a bottle of Chateau Petrus for $100 instead of $3,500, but this is something which I don’t know myself (hey, if by any chance you do, can you PLEASE share that special knowledge with the rest of us?).

So my secrets will be about wines which will give you a lot of pleasure without the need to refinance the house. And they will be about the wines you probably never heard of. I promise you will learn some secrets, and I’m certain you are not going to regret.

Bored, tired, lost my chain of thoughts and need a drink? And even if you like it so far, it might still be a time for a drink. Get your bottle opener and reach out for that Spanish wine called Rioja. Why Rioja? Rioja is a well known wine from Spain – what makes it a “secret”? I truly believe that Rioja is under-appreciated by the wine lovers, despite two very essential characteristics: value and ability to age.  Let’s start from aging: Rioja will rival best Bordeaux and Burgundies in its ability to age. Just to give you an example, I recently had an opportunity to try 1964 Monte Real Rioja Gran Reserva (the wine was exactly 45 years old when I had it) – and the wine was still youthful, with bright fruit, very round and polished, and was not over the peak at all. Now, talking about value: how much do you think this 1964 Rioja costs today? Before we get to the numbers, you need to take into consideration that 1964 was one of the most exceptional years for Rioja in the past century. Essentially, best Riojas had being produced in 1964, 1973 and 2001. So if you would take a parallel with great Bordeaux of 1982, a bottle of wine from that vintage would easily cost you thousands of dollars. Yet that 1964 Monte Real Gran Reserva can be bought today for $220 (if you are in US, you can find it at PJ Wine store in New York) – this is an outstanding QPR (quality price ratio).

Rioja wines are typically aged in the oak barrels, and then still can be aged in the bottle before they are released. You can see all that information on the label of Rioja wine. If the wine just called Rioja, it means that it was aged in oak less than a year. If the wine is called Rioja Crianza, it means that it had being aged for two years total – 1 year in the oak, and another year in the bottle. Rioja Reserva had being aged for a minimum of 3 years – 1 in the oak, 2 in the bottle. And the Rioja Gran Reserva is aged for a minimum of two years in oak and 3 years in bottle. Also, Reserva and Gran Reserva is produced  only in good years, not always. Why all the classification? Let’s take a look at couple of Rioja wines readily available today.

First, 2001 La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza Reserva Especial. Just to make things more complicated, here is additional designation of Rioja wines – Reserva Especial. “Good” thing is, you are not going to find too many wines like that, because Reserva Especial is assigned only in the best of the best years – again, repeating from above – 1964, 1973 and 2001. La Rioja Alta is a very good producer with wide variety of great Rioja wines, and one can make a few blog posts talking just specifically about them. This 2001 Reserva Especial is outstanding – when you take a sip, it becomes a fiesta of flavor in your mouth – cherries, plums, cigar box, chocolate notes, all bright but not overpowering at all, with silky smooth tannins and long finish. This is the great wine, and will continue to evolve for many years to come.  The price of the pleasure – $29.95!

Here is another example – 1996 CVNE “Vina Real” Rioja Gran Reserva.  This is Gran Reserva in all meanings – while this wine is 15 years old, it needs time like great Barolo to be enjoyed fully. In the first half an hour of breathing, only tannins opened up to the point of completely puckering the mouth, and the fruit appeared after another half an hour of time. After an hour and a half of breathing, this became a nice and gentle wine with the cherry and eucalyptus notes. Great wine, again at a great price – $31.99! Considering that this is a Gran Reserva, comparable Bordeaux or Burgundy wine would cost probably ten-fold, if not more.

I did my best to share the great secret of Rioja – don’t know if I managed to convince you, but I hope at least you feel encouraged to give Rioja a try. I truly believe you will not be disappointed. In any case, there are many more secrets we are going to share – rare grapes, little known wine regions, and many other wine pleasures to be discovered along the way. Cheers!

Spanish Wine Festival, In Pictures

June 28, 2011 3 comments

About 10 days ago, I attended Spanish Wine Festival, organized by PJ Wine in New York. I can give you a summary of the event using only one word: Overwhelming. It is challenging to produce any kind of detailed summary, because there are literally no bad wines in such a well organized tasting event. There are some wines which will leave you indifferent, then there are some which are great, but not ready, and then there is great amount of wines where you go from “wow” to “wow, this is great” and to “wow” again. Therefore, I will simply give you a report in pictures. No, I didn’t get a picture of each and every wine I tried. All the wines shown below are personal favorites, and they are all highly recommended. And the good thing is that PJ Wine regularly carries most of them.

Well, let’s go.

1999 Vega Sicilia Unico and 2000 Vega Sicilia Unico, from Ribera del Duero. These are the wines to be experienced – balanced and luscious:

2006 Clos Mogador, Priorat – powerful and balanced:

Lopez de Heredia Vino Tondonia Rioja – 1976 Gran Reserva, 2000 Rosado and 1993 Blanco: 18 years old White Rioja and 11 years old Rioja Rosado – both are fresh and vibrant. Wow! And Gran Reserva – beautiful and mature wine, which will still keep going for a while.

Bodegas El Nido line, including flagship 2006 El Nido – gorgeous layered and balanced, and requiring another 10 years to really blossom:

Emilio Moro Ribera del Duero, including full Malleolus line – wines of incredible balance and elegance:

More Rioja – Rioja Imperial Gran Reserva 1995 and 1999, as well as CVNE Vina Real Gran Reserva 2001

1997 La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904, 1995 La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 890 and 2001 Vina Ardanza Reserva Especial – probably the best Rioja wines. Period. Classic and amazing.

Representing Toro: 2007 Numanthia and 2007 Termanthia, silky smooth, balanced and powerful:

More Rioja – 2004 Martinez Lacuesta Reserva, great wine from the great year:

Starring Garnacha from Campo de Borja – 2008 Alto Moncayo and 2007 Aquilon – beautiful, soft and spicy:

Jerez, a.k.a. Sherry  is coming back – take a note of it. All Barbadillo wines were simply delicious, and Colosia Amontillado was also right in the league:

I would like to thank PJ Wine folks profusely for arranging such an amazing line up of wines for the event. And if I can make a suggestion, myself (and I’m sure, hundreds of other wine lovers)  would really enjoy PJ Wine Grand Tasting event in the Fall – we can only hope that PJ Wine will be kind enough to organize one…

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