These are my notes from the first in a trilogy of Rioja tastings at Nottingham Wine Circle. The wines for this tasting were all Gran Reservas and all came from the personal cellar of long-time Wine Circle member and good friend John Houghton, who unfortunately could not be there, as he is currently fighting a battle with cancer. Get well soon, John!
1. Vina Marro 2003 Bodegas Domeco de Jarauta
1. Vina Marro 2003 Bodegas Domeco de Jarauta
100% Tempranillo. Modern, meaty, thick and concentrated - a bit soupy, in fact. Also a touch hot and jammy and ultimately a bit simple. Not brilliant.
2. Vin Alarde 2003 Berberana
Smells a touch more authentic, even Bordeaux-like. More restrained and "winey", meaty, leathery, restrained fruit ,with slightly drying tannins and a hint of bitterness, though not overly so. Creamy, woody and really quite drinkable, without really singing.
3. Lan 2003 Bodegas Lan
This doesn't smell like Rioja. In fact, I'd be in Italy if I didn't know what it was. The nose is actually a bit dumb, whilst the palate is rich, concentrated and tannic, but with a core of sweet-edged fruit. Modern Rioja personified and frankly a bit boring.
4. Usoa Bagordi 2001 Bodegas Bagordi
Again, woody/oaky and a touch of brett and SO2. Savoury. The palate is rich, fruity and savoury, but with stalky/chalky tannins and too much extraction for my liking.
5. Marques de Murrietta Finca Ygay 2001
This is not necessarily what I expect (or at least used to expect) from Murrietta. Quite perfumed and floral, with some nice raspberry and cherry fruit and a touch of marzipan, whilst at the same time meaty/savoury. The palate is high-toned and super-fruity, but is also super-ripe and very concentrated. Admittedly more subtle than some of the wines above and it could turn into an attractive wine with age, but I'd say it needs another 10 years or more to really sing. A halfway house between traditional and modern.
6. Prado Enea 2001 Bodegas Muga
Eaily the best wine so far - perfumed, savoury and fruity. Subtle oak and simply gorgeous acidity and grippy but fine, spicy tannins. Still on the young side, but with lots of subtlety and elegance and enormous length. Delicious already, but should be magnificent in 10 years.
7. Coto de Imaz 2001 Union Viti Vinicola
Meaty, savoury, minty, earthy nose with notes of bramble. The palate is a bit sweet, confected and simple, lacking structure and acidity. It isn't a bad wine, but neither is it one I would choose to drink.
8. Marques de Caceres 2001 Union Viti Vinicola
Simple stuff. Smells a bit winey, but not in any way interesting. The palate has plenty of fruit, but is a bit soupy, with harsh tannins and sticky-out acidity.
9. Viña Real 1999 CVNE
This is much more like it. A herby, spicy, savoury nose, but attractively fruity and elegant. Subtley oaky, with bright red fruit aromas. Almost Burgundian in style, with delicate fresh and crystallised red fruit flavours and lovely acidity. Already multi-dimensional, complex and a delight to drink, but with plenty of room for further evolution. Cracking wine.
10. Imperial 1999 CVNE
If Viña Real is Burgundian in style, then this one is Bordeaux - and consequently (for me at least) the less enjoyable of the two. But it's a close call, for this too has plenty going on, with a tight but complex structure and lots of fruit, tobacco and spice. Long and elegant, with a great future.
11. Viña Albina 1998 Bodegas Riojanas
Aromas of toasted brioche, pepper, balsam, savoury and spice. The fruit is a little muted on the nose, with subtle hints of bramble, but the palate is rich and expansive, without being overpowering, with excellent fruit/tannin/acid structure. Slightly savoury, with a nice sweet and sour finish.Long and really very good.
12. 904 1995 La Rioja Alta
A smoky, red pepper, tobacco and sour fruit nose - instantly appealing. The palate is at the same time rich and delicately stuctured, with rich fruit, exotic spices, appealing oak nuances and a lovely prickle of mouth-watering acidity. It is quite a contrary wine - essentially light and airy, but with considerable concentration and massive length. Superb wine, which may still evolve further, but is just perfect right now.
13. Campillo 1995
Oh dear - back to modern. Smoky, savoury, rustic and dark, with plenty of bramble and blackcurrant fruit - and totally boring. Not faulty - just boring.
14. Conde de Valdemar 1994 Familia Martinez Bujanda
A raisiny, porty, almost oxidised style - almost as if the grapes were too ripe when harvested. Lacks freshness and acidity. Mushrooms and Marmite. Old, tired and over the hill.
15. Monte Real 1994 Bodegas Riojanas
A lovely evolved colour, with orange tinges. Complex aromas of incense, spices, soft red fruits, cedar and forest floor. A really compelling, earthy, elegant wine, with crystallised fruit and peppery flavours. It isn't particularly subtle and displays many of the "faults" inherent in classic, old-fashioned Rioja, but that is why I love it so much. Another gorgeous wine, with plenty of miles left on the clock.
16. Campo Viejo 1994 Bodegas Artisanas
This is decent, well-made wine, relatively soft and with a touch of elegance, but nothing about it that really excites.
As suggested in the title, this really was a mixed bag. It was a really good lesson in how many (though not all) of the bodegas seem these days to be aiming for a modern, super-ripe, super-concentrated style of wine, with huge fruit profiles which often teeter on the brink of soupiness - and sometimes fall over the brink. I remember many years ago that numerous journalists on this side of the pond were constantly banging on about the need for Rioja to "modernise" and make wines to suit the palates of the masses. Well shame on them, for many of these wines fit that profile all too well - and consequently are of little or no interest to lovers of the "traditional" style. I'm sure Robert Parker loves them too, but the less said about that the better.
Thankfully, a few of the wines were also elegant, delicate, complex and reassuringly traditional. Clearly, it is all about the grower, and the names that stood out for me here were CVNE, La Rioja Alta and Bodegas Riojanas, with an honourable mention for Muga (about which more in Part 2).