The great wines of Rioja Spain this week on the WineGuyMike™ Radio Show©


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Welcome to the WineGuyMike™ Radio Show© this Sunday morning.

The Rioja wine region is located in Northern Spain.  This area is only a five hour trip away from the famous Bordeaux wine region of France.  In the late 1800’s an outbreak of Phylloxera blight sent the great French winemakers of Bordeaux at that time south to the Rioja wine region of Spain.  The growing conditions and climate in the Rioja area are very similar to that of Bordeaux.  It was here they reestablished their vineyards and began producing very good wine.  Rioja wines have been greatly influenced by the French wine styles of Bordeaux.

Spain is the now world’s third largest producer of wine behind Italy and France with 2.7 million acres dedicated to vineyards.  There are nearly 800 wineries scattered throughout the country of Spain.  The majority of wine, 80% in all, is produced by just a few companies.

Spain has produced wine throughout history but in recent times has undergone significant changes.  This has occurred since Spain has joined the European Union in 1986.  There have been tremendous capital investments into Spain’s wine industry since that time.  Spanish wine industry now utilizes modern winemaking technology; they have implemented new vineyard trellis systems, stainless steel fermentors, and have installed new irrigation systems that were legalized according to Spainish wine law in 1996.

The quality and volume of wine production have benefited center and south wine regions of Spain which is often plagued by drought.  There are more than 600 grape varieties that are grown and produced in Spain.  The primary grapes used to produce the great wines of Rioja are the Tempranillio and Garnacha varietals.

In 1970 Spain established wine laws similar to those of France and Italy.  These laws were revised in 1982 and are known as D.O. or Denominacion de Origin.  At that time in 1982 there were only 25 DO’s and today there are over seventy DO regions.  There two DOC’s in Spain, Rioja and Priorat.  DOC is a designation signifying the highest quality on wine from a specific region.  The DOC wines are true and correct representations indicative of the wine style recognized under Spanish wine law for that specific region.

The DO laws control:

  1. Geographic boundaries
  2. Grape varietals
  3. Yield per acre
  4. Wine making practices
  5. Aging of wines which determines release dates wine vintages

In Spain there are more than 600 grape varieties that are grown and produced. Tempranillio and Garnacha varietals are the primary grapes found in the Rioja region.

These two medium bodied jewels of Spain play a major role in a couple of the country’s finest wines, Rioja and Ribera del Duero.  Tempranillo grapesproduce very complex wines hinting of plums, vanilla, cassis, and tobacco.

Garnacha grapes are famous for use as a blending grape in both France and Spain. Garnacha or Grenache as it is known throughout the world is medium bodied with berry flavors.  The Garnacha grape is used as a blending grape for full red wines or roses that produce fruity or berry like flavor.  This grape is also produced as a single varietal wine.

Rioja wines are available in a huge range of quality and price points making these wines appealing to the everyday wine drinker and those who collect wines for their cellars.

There are a few things you should know when you purchase a Rioja wine.  You may see the word “Jovan” on the label; this means the wine is unoaked or just slightly oaked and should be drunk young.  The word Cosecha is a Spanish term for vintage and may indicate that a wine has a little barrel aging.  Cosecha appears on a small sticker separate from the label and will also carry the DO or DOC designation.  The terminology is used by modern producers of Rioja wines that are bigger wines that deliver concentrated fruit to the nose and palate.  This is driven by current consumer market trends; we can only hope these wines do not deviate to far from the true DOC standards of the region.  Vinos De Pagos is another term you may see on a Spanish wine label.  This identifies a wine that has been produced from a single estate.

There are three designations of quality that you need to understand about Rioja wines.  Crianza means that a wine has had a minimum of two years of aging with one of those spent in an oak barrel.  This will be the most affordable Rioja wine.  A Spanish Reserva wine will have been aged for at least three years and also spent one year in an oak barrel.  The Reserva wines will generally be 3-5$ more than the Crianza wines.  The Gran Reserva Rioja wines have spent five to seven years aging with at least two of those years in a barrel.  A Gran Reserva should definitely be decanted and can be laid down for another three to five years in the bottle.

I have two very good Rioja wine selections that I share with you today.  The first is a very affordable Crianza Rioja wine, El Coto.

The 2007 vintage benefited from a harvest that produced well balanced fruit, grapes that had a good balance of acidity, color, and concentrated levels ofsugar in the fruit.  El Coto has nice light ruby color in the glass with fresh ripe fruit on the nose.  A second layer of aroma develops on the nose, you will note smoke and earth.  Good balance of fruit, acid, and tannin provide a nice mouth feel for this wine.  This wine has a simple but nice finish with just a little vanilla.

I recommend that you pair this wine with white meats and cheeses that are mild.  This wine offers great affordable value, you will find this wine for 12-14$.

2007 Marques de Caceres Reserva is a great wine that is very affordable, especially considering the quality of this wine that is beautiful to look at in your glass.  This wine displays a deep ruby color that you can see is a glass full of concentrated fruit.  The nose of the Reserva offers a unique sense of forest, flora, and some really nice spice.  On the palate this wine is lush, rich, and will fill your mouth with beautiful toasty tannin.  This very affordable wine from Rioja is complex as the layers just peel away and deliver a long lingering finish.  Find this wine for under $18.00.

I recommend pairing this wine with a great tomato sauce based meal, all red meats, salami’s, and game birds.  It will also do nicely with mature cheeses.

The 2004 Marques de Caceres Gran Reserva displays a scintillating dark cherry color in the glass.  Mature fruit, leather, very delicate vanilla spice, are on the nose of this complex refined wine.  On the palate this wine is confident, powerful, offering a full concentrated mouth feel that is simply elegant. Fruit and toast on this finish of this outstanding wine that will do well for the next 5-7 years in the bottle.  Who can wait, drink it now for under $25.00.

Pair this gem from Rioja with Lamb, beef, ragout, and my favorite Blue Cheese from the Rogue River Creamery.

"from my table to yours"

"from my table to yours"

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