Category Archives: Rioja

“The Wine Regions of Rioja” – A Comprehensive Book

Red wines from the Rioja region of Spain have always been great bargains.  Both current vintages and older vintages that can age well.  When the Wine Media Guild organized a tasting and lunch featuring Rioja, I decided to attend in order to learn more about the wines.

The speaker was Ana Fabiano, a leading authority on the wines of Rioja and the author of a very comprehensive book, The Wine Regions Of Rioja.  Ms. Fabiano told us that the Rioja wine region extends out of the La Rioja area and into Álava in the Basque country in the northwest and Navarre in the northeast. There are three subdivisions:  Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Baja. Each has its own geography and characteristics, but the terrain, including rivers, valleys and mountains, unites the overlapping regions and subregions.IMG_3009

All of Rioja’s vineyards are in the Ebro River Valley or one of its tributaries, but the soil and character vary greatly. Some vineyards are on terraced slopes of the alluvial plains and others on the iron-rich soil of the mountains. The Ebro is the longest river in Spain and Spain is the most mountainous country in Europe after Switzerland.IMG_3002

In the last 15 years more new Bodegas have been founded in Rioja than in the last 150. It was the tradition to use American oak in Rioja but many of these new producers along with some older established ones prefer to use a combination of American and French oak.  Ms Fabiano divided these producers into two groups which she calls “Classics” and “Modern Classics.”  Ms. Fabiano said that by law all the barrels used in Rioja must be 225 liters (barriques) and some bodegas still employ coopers on site.

Rioja law also requires that only indigenous grapes are planted in the vineyards of Rioja. The red grapes are Tempranillo, Garnacha Tinta (Grenache), Graciano, Mazuela and Maturana Tinta.

For more information on Rioja I recommend Ms. Fabiano’s book The Wine Region of Rioja.

The WinesIMG_2994

Dinastia Vivanco Crianza 2008   Vineyards are located throughout the Rioja Alta area. They are 500 meters above sea level and the soil is mostly ferrous clay and marl. There are 3,000 to 3,600 vines/hectare and the training is bush and wire method. The manual harvest is carried out in October using small crates, which are stored in cooling chambers for a minimum of 30 hours. Alcoholic fermentation is in French oak vats for 13 days. Malolactic fermentation is in large French oak vats. The wine is aged in French and American oak barriques that range in age from 2 to 5 years for 16 months. After 6 months in bottle the wine is released. The wine has nice red berry aromas and flavors, with a touch of toast and a long finish. This is a wine that can be drunk now but could last at least five years or more. $18

By law Crianza must be aged in oak for at least one year and must be two years old before it is releasedIMG_2982

Muriel Reserva Bodegas Muriel 2005  Hand selected, the grapes come from vineyards in Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Alta. The soil is a a mixture of chalk, sand and clay. The vines have a medium age of 40 years and are grown using the traditional gobelet (bush) system. The 20-day fermentation and maceration take place in temperature controlled stainless steel vats with daily pumping over in order to achieve optimum color and tannin extraction. Malolactic fermentation is conducted in stainless steel tanks and the wine is racked twice before going into oak barrels. The wine is aged in American and French oak barrels for 24 months with three rackings. There is further bottle aging for two years prior to release.  The wine has red and blackberry aromas and flavors with a touch of spice $22IMG_2983

Rioja Bordón Reserva 2007 Franco- Españonias made from 80% Tempranillo, 15% Garnacha and 5% Mazuelo.
After the selection of the fruit, there is a soft crushing of the berries. After completion of the alcoholic fermentation and malolactic fermentation, the wine is put into American white oak (Ohio and Missouri) with a light to medium toast. The wine remains in barrels for 18 months and every six months there is the traditional racking barrel to barrel and then 2 years in bottle before release.  It has nice red fruit, sweet spices and a hint of toffee. I had this wine a few weeks previously and liked it.  It was showing even better at the tasting. A bargain at  $15

By law Reserva must be aged in oak for one year and two years in the bottle before release.IMG_2985

Bodegas Ontañón Gran Reserva 2001 95% Tempranillo and 5% Graciano. The grapes were delivered in old comportillos (grape baskets), carried down the mountain slopes from the vineyards on the backs of mules. This tradition primarily evolved as a practical measure so that neither the winemakers nor their mules had to carry the year’s harvest up the backbreaking steep cliffs, but it also mirrored early gravity-flow systems. Iron and mineral rich soil with calcareous deposits. The wine spends 36 months in American and French oak and 24 months in bottle before release.  $34IMG_2984

Bodegas Faustino Gran Reserva 2000 made from 85% Tempranillo, 10% Graciano and 5% Mazuelo. Maceration lasts for 27 days. The wine spends 28 months in casks, 80% American oak from West Virginia and 20% French oak from the Vosges. This wine was drinking very well with hints of spice, toast, leather and subtle fruit.  $38

By Law Gran Reserva must be aged two years in oak and three years in bottle before release.IMG_3006

Bodegas F. Paternina “Conde de los Andes” Grand Reserva 1982   Made from Tempranillo and Mazuelo and spends 30 months or more in wood. This is a wine that is aging very well. It is a complex with hints of spice, leather a long finish and pleasing aftertaste.  $84

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Easter Dinner with Friends

Easter 2013

Every year for Easter dinner, Michele makes roast leg of lamb.  This year, however, she decided to make chicken because one of our guests does not eat red meat.  The Pat La Frieda chickens that we buy at Eataly in NYC are expensive but very flavorful and perfect for the way Michele prepares them.  She stuffed them with herbs and roasted them on slices of garlic-rubbed ciabatta bread to catch the chicken juices.  The chicken and the crunchy bread are eaten together.  For an appetizer, there was a salmon mousse, perfect with the Champagne.IMG_2970

The first course was a timbale of rice and eggplant.IMG_2969

The WinesIMG_2976

Cuvee Dom Perignon 1988 made from equal amounts of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The grapes come from five Grand Cru villages and one Premier Cru village. Ed Mc Carthy supplied the wine and this is what he says about it in his book Champagne for Dummies – the wine’s “…trademarks are its exquisite balance, its creaminess, its elegance, its very fine tiny bubbles and it complex flavors.” He was also right on the mark when he said, “With age, Cuvee Dom Perignon develops aromas and flavors of toast, coffee and honey.” He said that 1988 was a great vintage.IMG_2975

Billecart-Salmon Cuvée Elisabeth Salmon Brut Rose 2000 Made from 58% Pinot Noir and 42% Chardonnay. It was light salmon like in color, light bodied for a Rosè , fresh, delicate and elegant. I should have served the Billecart before the Dom Perignon, as the Dom was a bigger wine.IMG_2973

Chateau La Mission Haut Brion 1988 (Graves) 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc  The wine spends 18 t0 22 months in oak barrels of which 80% are new. Classic Bordeaux and could have used a few more years of bottle age.IMG_2977

Latricières-Chambertin Grand Cru 1971 100% Pinot Noir Domaine Louis Remy. This was classic Burgundy showing no signs of age and went very well with the chicken.IMG_2972

Barolo Riserva 1967 Borgogno 100%  Nebbiolo -the wine was decanted and topped from the same vintage and recorked in 2005. This wine was beginning to show some age but was still showing very well. It is interesting to note that Sheldon Wasserman in his book Italy’s Noble Red Wines (1985) gives the 1967 vintage 2 stars and says,  “For the most part there is no reason to hold them any longer.”

A few days earlier I had a 1958 Borgogno that was in perfect condition and even seemed young and had not been recorked. There are no great wines, only great bottles of wine. This was served with the timbalo of eggplant and rice.IMG_2971

Rioja “Viña Tondonia” Rioja Alta 1947 R Lopez De Heredia 75% Temparillo, 15% Mazuelo and 10% Giaciano all from their own vineyards. The soil is alluvial clay with a high proportion of limestone.  Harvesting takes place in October and is by hand. They use French barriques along with barrels ranging in size from 60hl to 240hl. The oak comes from the Appalachian mountains in the U.S.A. This is one of a handful of wineries that make their own barrels. They use oak casks to ferment the wine as they use completely natural traditional methods of wine making. The wine is aged in barrels for 10 years, racked twice a year and fined with egg whites. The winery is over 136 years old.

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Filed under Barolo, Burgundy, Champagne, French Red, Italian Red Wine, Italian Wine, R Lopez de Heredia, Rioja

The Spanish-French Connection in Rioja


The word Bordón means a pilgrims’ walking stick, exclaimed John Perry, Export Area Manager for the Bodegas Franco-Española winery in Rioja. He explained that during the Middle Ages, one of the most popular destinations for Christian pilgrims was Santiago de Compostela and the shrine of St. James the Great, one of Christ’s apostles. The main route to the shrine went right through what is now the property of the Bodegas so their red wines were called Bordón in honor of the pilgrims who followed this route.

John Perry

John Perry

John led us through a tasting of the wines of the Bodegas Franco-Española and told us that the winery was founded in 1890 after phylloxera devastated the French vineyards and many French producers moved to Spain. In 1890 Frederick Anglade Saurat, of the Bordeaux firm Anglade, founded— along with other Spanish partners–Bodegas Franco-Españolas. By 1922, Bodegas Franco-Españolas, which translates in English as French Spanish Wineries, became entirely Spanish owned. Carlos and Rosa Eguizabal now own the winery and the third generation of the Eguizabal family currently manages the winery.

The winery is located in a long valley in the Northern- Central part of Spain.  Bodegas Franco-Españolas’ wine has a very special microclimate defined by two mountain chains, north and south, and the Ebro River, that crosses it from west to east. Bodegas Franco-Españolas farms more than 200 acres of vineyards and also collaborates with farmers with whom they have had long-term relationships.

The wines are a great bargain with one of the best price-to-quality ratios I have ever seen from any producer.IMG_2849White Rioja “Diamante” 2011 the grapes are destemmed and put into stainless steel tanks. Skin contact takes place for 14 hours at a low temperature then the juice is separated from the solids and fermented separately.  Fermentation is stopped by lowering the temperature so that the natural sugars are maintained, one of the characteristics of this wine.  The nose is slightly floral with highlights of the ripe fruit. The palate is smooth and creamy with a touch of sweetness. $12

John pointed out that in the beginning Rioja meant white wine and there was a high tax on it. Producers added red wine (tinto) to make a blush wine to avoid the tax and this is how red wine developed in Rioja. John said the Spanish word for this is clarete. In the beginning producers were using native Spanish red grapes and using Bordeaux production methods. With a high tax on white wine and producers from France coming into the Rioja region, it is no wonder Rioja is now known for its red wines.
John said that phylloxera did not attack the Spanish vineyards until 1920.IMG_2851
Rioja “Royal” Bordón 2010 The wine is made from 80% Tempranillo, and 20% Garnacha. Seventy-five percent of the grapes are destemmed and fermented in the traditional method and 25% by carbonic maceration, which allows for a fruiter wine.  After this the wine rests in white American oak from Ohio for 6 monthd. Every six months the wine is racked and then put back into the barrels. It is then aged in American oak barrels for 5 months.  There are fruity aromas of red berries with spicy notes. This is a very easy wine to drink. $10IMG_2854Rioja Crianza Bordón 2008, made from 80% Tempranillo, and 20% Garnacha
After the selection of the fruit a soft crushing of the berries takes place. When the alcoholic fermentation and the malolactic fermentation are finished the wine goes into American white oak (Ohio) medium toasted. The wine remains in barrels for twelve months and every six months there is the traditional racking barrel to barrel. It is then aged for 15 months in American oak followed by a minimum of 15 months in bottle before release. The wine has aromas and flavors of raspberry and plum with a hint of oak. $13IMG_2853
Rioja Bordón Reserva 2007 made from 80% Tempranillo, 15% Garnacha and 5% Mazuelo.
After the selection of the fruit, there is a soft crushing of the berries. After completion of the alcoholic fermentation and the malolactic fermentation, the wine is put into American white oak (Ohio and Missouri) with a light to medium toast. The wine remains in barrels for 18 months and every six months there is the traditional racking barrel to barrel and then 2 years in bottle before release.  It has nice red fruit, sweet spices and a hint of toffee.  $15

John said that they age all of their wines longer than legally required – both in barrel and in bottle. All barrel aging is done in American oak. He said that Rioja was always aged in American oak and that they had to be 225 liter barrels. Crianza must age 1 year in oak. Reserva must age 2 years and I year must be in oak and the Grand Reserva must age 2 years in oak and three years in the bottle.

Rioja Grand Riserva Bordón 2004 made from  80% Tempranillo, 10% Garnacha, 5% Mazuelo, 5% Graciano.  The wine is aged in American white oak barrels for three years and the maturation continues for an additional three years in the bottle. The Gran Reserva is released only in excellent vintages and only when the desired bouquet and character is fully evident. It is a complex wine with aromas of plum and spice.  On the palate, flavors of mushroom, raspberry and black pepper with hints of spices and pomegranate. 2004 was an excellent vintage and this is a wine that can age. $25

When the tasting was over John added that the Bodegas Franco-Españolas’ motto is “Quality and Honesty” and that the winery strives to uphold the traditional production of certified-origin Rioja wines and continues to seek the utmost quality in winemaking.


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Filed under Bodegas Franco-Espanola, Rioja, Spanish Wine