Purple Palate Blog

Day 5 – Rioja with a Riojan

Up early for a jaunt to the market to grab some veggies. Couldn’t find the market, but had a nice walk over the Ebro River and around the old town of Logrono anyhow.

Had arranged to have a half day tour with a local Riojan Jose of Rioja Tasting Travel. This would have to be the best commercial wine tour I have ever had.

I went in with a view to gaining some local knowledge to assist in sourcing for the store. I ended up with a plethora of usable knowledge regarding the political involvement, labeling, the increasing modernist movement, and the influence of geography on the of wine of this region. Most of this before I tasted a single drop.

Jose drove us through stunning scenery through the Medieval town of Laguardia and onto Haro for tastings at LaRioja Alta (a French influenced Centennial winery) and into Roda, a young winery with a more modernist approach.

We tried two Reservas at LaRioja Alta. The first was a 2009 Tempranillo Mazuelo blend. It showed medium ruby colour, medium intensity black fruit with herbal character. It was dry with medium plus rounded tight grained tannin, and a medium plus intensity of flavour. The Mazuelo (aka Carignan) bought an increased acidity and tannin to the wine.

The second was a 2009 Tempranillo Garnacha blend. The Garnacha bought lifted red fruit and aromatic character. This made it a far more fruit forward wine.

Both wines showed integrated tannin and tertiary character. While both were solid examples of what Rioja is know for, neither leapt out of the glass for me.

We walked 50 meters up the road to Roda, where we tried a 2015 Tempranillo Graciano blend. Whilst it showed lovely fruit, it lacked the depth of flavour I really enjoy. Having said that it was eminently drinkable.

The next wine we tried was a 2011 Reserva Tempranillo Graciano blend. 2011 was known as an excellent vintage for Rioja. For me, this was the wine I expect to find in Rioja. It was big and rich with well rounded tannins, bright red fruit, with an undercurrent of dark brooding black fruits. The wine is complex, persistent and overall outstanding. This type of wine shows what Rioja can do.

I was really interested to hear about the modern style starting to pervade Rioja. It harkened back to my time in Italy, and especially in Barolo, except completely reversed. In Rioja, the modernists are aiming for an expression of the grape, therefore using large format oak, and even clay in some instances to express the grape only. Where the traditionalists are more interested in the blending and winemaking. Whereas Italy is the reverse where modernist = focus on oak in winemaking.

Back in the car and off to Cuzcurrita De Rio Tirón where Jose showed us into an amazing old winery which has stopped producing around 30 years ago. He then casually announced that he and his beautiful wife had bought the derelict space, along with the tunnel over the road about a year ago. They then spent 3 months restoring the space, including shoring up the tunnel where it had collapsed, and up cycling the old barrels into new ceilings, stairs and wine glasses racks. An absolutely fantastic place. He has also purchased the adjacent property and is in the process of setting up a wine bar to showcase his favourite wines.

He lead us into the tunnel to try a Maturana off the barrel. I had never had the opportunity to try this grape, which is almost exclusively used in blends as a colour stabiliser for Tempranillo, and to add herbal and green characters to the blend. By itself, it showed good depth of colour, strong herbal notes of sage and thyme, underlying black fruit, and vegetal characters, especially green peppers. This would be an excellent food wine.

Jose then treated us to lamb cutlets with chorizo and fresh tomatoes and Spanish omelette inside a gigantic barrel back in the winery. Jose cooked the meat over coals made from vine cuttings, delicious. Washed down with a fantastic Garnacha.

Dropping us back to our digs, we promptly fell into a food coma.

See you tomorrow…

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