A Fine Ribera Del Duero

August 5, 2008

If I had to choose, I prefer Ribera Del Duero over Rioja as the prime Spanish region for Tempranillo. The wines are a bit more sophisticated, rounder, and I feel there is more oopmh to them than in Rioja. These words are of course sweeping generalizations as in both regions there are vastly different wines, in some cases so different that it is near impossible to tell that two wines you taste back to back are made from the same grape.

Tonight I had a beautiful tempranillo from the Ribera Del Duero. It is a Crianza, which is a quality denomination in this region. In Rioja, which is near Ribera Del Duero, the wine needs to spend at least 2 years in oak barrels in order to be called Crianza. I am not sure what the law is in Ribera, but this wine spent 13 months in new French oak. It gets that vanilla flavor that you can pick up from wine that has not been over oaked. I feel it has that perfect balance between oak and fruit. 2003 was a particularly hot year all over Europe and Spain was no exception. Because of the heat I think a lot of the wines show more fruit than normal, but the winemakers did an excellent job to balance this with the oak. You get the earthiness that is familiar to Ribera lovers, and it has a slight leathery feeling, though you really have to look for that. The alcohol content is only 13.5%, but the finish is quite alcoholy. In a good way that is. Imagine beautiful velvety red wine with a load of warmth as it goes down. Love it.

All in all I love the wine and would certainly buy it again. Especially at this price.

Name: Torremilanos Crianza, Ribera Del Duero, 2003

Rating: 8.5

Body: Medium to Full

Price: Normally ~$20, this one was $10, an absolute steal

Got it at: Dee Vine Wines, San Francisco, CA

Priorat is my favorite region in Spain. It is a wine region in Catalonia, Spain, just north of Barcelona, which consists of only 60 and some change wineries (bodegas). Nevertheless, I think this region produces some of the best wines of Spain.

Almost everything I have ever had from Priorat has been quite fantastic, though most have also been pricey. Generally they retaile for 20+ euros, most above 30. We happen to be in the US right now and my wife picked up a Priorat for about 20 bucks. We were both quite excited as that converts to about 13 euros nowdays. Wow, that is a good price. Unlike the wine, which is not the best example of this wonderful region.

Marge is from the small family winery Roquers. They produce two wines, both red, and Marge is their lower end selection. It is a blend of 50% Grenache, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Merlot and Syrah and is aged for 8 months in French and American oak. It is more or less the table wine version of your “normal” Priorat. The Marge is quite fruity, easy to drink, not very complex and quite young. I would not say this is something you can or should put away, it is drinkable as is. If you are looking for a typical Priorat this wine is not it. I would certainly call it drinkable and it is not bad for its price range, but it is not what you would come to expect from the Priorat label.

I recently tasted another example of this region at an even lower price, but for the life of it I cannot remember what it was. If I do, I will be sure to post it here as an update.

UPDATE: The better Priorat at a lower price was the Onix (2006), which retails anywhere between 11-13 dollars. this wine is an incredible steal at that price and is more representative of Priorat than the Marge.

Name: Marge, 2004, Roquers de Porrera

Rating: 7 out of 10

Body: Medium

Price: 20 US dollars

Got it at: RJ Market, San Francisco

Marge, 2004, Roquers de Porrera

My Lack of Love for Rioja

December 20, 2007

Rioja is perhaps the most famous wine region in Spain producing mostly reds, though some whites as well. The predominant red grape used in Rioja is tempranillio, which is also Spain’s most important varietal. I love tempranillo, but to me the style in which they make it in Rioja is inferior to that of Ribera del Duero, Spain’s #2 region which is actually really close to Rioja. Though I have to mention that my absolute favorite region in Spain has to be Priorat in Catalonia, north eastern Spain. Wine from Priorat can be quite full bodied, velvety, fruit forward, perhaps even more so than Bordeaux.

Back to Rioja: I have a weird relationship with this region. I like the concept of it, but I do not like the execution. First about the area. On paper everything is right about Rioja. It is a hilly area going up against a sizable mountain range which provides an extremely beautiful backdrop. Small wine villages with castles on hilltops are scattered all over, vines are planted as far as you can see, which is contrasted by cutting edge, super modern structures, such as a Sheraton Hotel designed by Frank Gehry. The area is stunning. That is until you start to engage, talk to people, eat the local food, etc. Wine regions throughout Europe tend to have really friendly, knowledgeable people and usually good food accompanies good wine. This was not my experience in Rioja. The food was mediocre (probably the worst I have had in Spain) and people are not super knowledgeable about the wines. It is a bit weird to me, but perhaps the problem is that mass tourism killed the local touch and Rioja now feels more like the Napa Valley of Europe. Not sure. If I go back, I think I will concentrate on very small cellars, rather than the big guys and hopefully I will have a different experience.

At any rate, the wines are not necessarily bad, but I guess I could say Rioja is not my style. There are four different categories of Riojas: Rioja (no special notation), Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva. The plain Rioja spends less than a year in oak, the Crianza spends at least one year in oak and is aged at least 2 years, the Reserva is aged in oak at least one year but is at least 3 years before it hits the market, and in order to label wine Gran Reserva, wine makers have to age it for at least 2 years in oak and 3 years in the bottle. There is also the traditional style, which tends to be lighter as they use large oak barrels which are not necessarily new. The modern Rioja is more full bodied and fruit forward and is aged in French barriques, though some wineries also tend to like American and to a smaller extend Hungarian oak barrels.

Today’s example is a modern Rioja, the Bai Gorri Reserva 2002. As many Riojas I have tasted, this one is fairly high in acid, more strawberry-ish than black fruit and quite earthy. The finish is long and bitter, absolutely not gentle. This Bai Gorri is drinkable by itself, but I would vastly prefer it with some Iberian ham and cheese to help with the acidity. I think that would probably be the best pairing for it.

By the way, on the topic of Bai Gorri, this house also has an amazingly modern headquaters (I cannot find a more descriptive name for their complex). It is glass on all 4 sides top to bottom with huge letters Bai Gorri written all over them. It seems to me wineries in Rioja compete with each other on who can make a more extravagant architectural statement. This one is a great example of it, but if you are in the area you have to also visit Ysios, probably my favorite of all. Also, Ysios has quite nice reds at relatively affordable prices.

Name: Bai Gorri Reserva 2002

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Body: Medium to Full

Price: 16 euros

Got it at: Wine store in Laguardia, Rioja, Spain

Bai Gorri Reserva 2002

House Wines in Spain

December 8, 2007

While I am writing about a specific wine here, this post is about a general topic. And the topic is that house wines in Spain suck. They do. House wines in some parts of Europe, Italy in particular and to a large extent Hungary, tend to be good. In Italy I have tasted house wines at rock bottom prices that were better than many on the wine list. In fact, it is really hard to get a bad house wine in Italy, north or south and for a casual lunch and even for dinner, I would highly recommend going with this inexpensive option.

This is not the case with Spain. I have yet to have decent house wine in Spain. Admittedly they are cheap, but they taste like it too. Case in point is the table wine (Vino de Mesa) named Donate from the cellar Cosecheros Embotelladores. I tasted this wine in Toledo, the former capital of Spain, just outside of Madrid, along with lunch. The lunch was the daily menu of three courses at 10 euros, including a half bottle of red wine. Now I admit at these prices (essentially free) I should not expect Vega Sicilia, but I would prefer that the wine was a bit better and the menu was 12 euros. Spain, look at how Italy is working this one! You guys produce some of the best wines in the world, please make sure your house wines also meet at least minimum quality standards. That’s it, I just needed to get this off my chest.

Name: Donate, Cosecheros Embotelladores, NV

Rating: 5 out of 10

Body: Light

Price: Almost Free

Got it at: Restaurant in Toledo, Spain

Donate, Cosecheros Embotelladores, NV

Mysterious Organic Stuff

October 30, 2007

I admit I generally dislike organic wine. This is in spite of the fact that I vastly prefer organic food to generic stuff you get in supermarkets. The reason I dislike organic wine is because I have never had a decent one out of about 15-20 kinds I tried, ranging from well known labels such as Bonterra to obscure ones from unknown (at least to me) French regions. They were all extremely mediocre at best.

So the other day we are shopping at this organic store, Napos Oldal, in Budapest and there is a wine rack full of wines I have never seen before. Just for sh**s and giggles I figured I would pick up the cheapest bottle and if it tasted vile I would just pour it down the drain. I proceeded to pick up the bottle without even really reading the label. When I got home, I found out that the wine is non-vintage!!! A great place to start I thought to myself…

So one night I pulled the cork on this beast called not sure what. The only thing written on the label is Roble Camino. I guess Roble means oak and indicates that the wine spent some time in oak, but not enough to be labeled crianza (which is aged at least 6 months in oak and a total of 2 years). Don’t ask me about the varietal, I have no clue, but low and behold, the wine was OK. It was one of the better, if not the best organic wines I have had. It was smooth, with a touch of oak, very nicely flowing, not much complexity, but definitely did not stop early on the finish. While I would not call this great wine, it was one of the biggest surprises this year. I would buy it again but the store no longer carries it.

Name: No clue 😉

Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Body: Light to Medium

Price: approx. 7 euros

Got it at: Napos Oldal, Budapest, Hungary

Roble Camino