Selections for November 2017

The epitome of Rioja

2013 BARON DE LEY ‘Varietal Tempranillo’ – Rioja, Spain

That title does a good job of explaining this beautiful Spanish wine.  “Baron de Ley” is the producer, residing in a monastery built in the 1500’s.  “Varietal Tempranillo” tells you more obviously than usual that this is made from the Tempranillo grape.  “Rioja” is the place in northern Spain from which come the most elegant expressions of that grape.

Yes, “Rioja” is often all that appears on these labels with no further explanation.  Know that nearly all Riojas you see are based on the grape this country would call its most noble.  Tempranillo is to Rioja as Cabernet Sauvignon is to the Napa Valley; each subsists on the other.  Over the years we have shown you the grape as expressed by other places.  Ribera del Duero, Toro, and the vast La Mancha region all feature Tempranillo.  In those places it can often express itself more darkly and weightily.

But no region – Spanish or otherwise – extracts such a message of elegant “suaveness” from a grape that is more often monolithic and one-dimensional.  First, just observe the wine.  It is anything but purple.  Rather, a brick-red hue happens with a fair amount of transparency.  To the rookie taster this might imply weakness.  To the Rioja lover, it is honesty.  Baron de Ley’s “truth” persists in the scent:  Cedar, dusty cherries, sandalwood, and vanilla exude a mellow warmth.  These qualities are less familiar to the New World drinker more accustomed to black fruits and espresso in his or her wine nose.  Finally, on the palate the Rioja’s honesty-to-type is expressed with a soft, velvety texture paradoxically joined by a snappy tanginess.  That combination of effects is intrinsic to Rioja, indulging with soft fruit flavors while activating the salivaries with vibrant acidity.  Yes, you are meant to eat with this.  Grilled lamb cutlets would be the most appropriate match, but a burger would do in a pinch!

Bring on the Bird!

2013 CASTILLO de MONJARDIN GARNACHA – La Cantera Vineyard, Navarra, Spain

“Garnacha” is the Spanish name for Grenache, and perhaps the former name is more appropriate since the grape did in fact originate in this Iberian country.  We’ve shown you several examples over the years, realizing most red wine drinkers can appreciate the pepper and charming fruit found in this lighter-coloured wine.  If Tempranillo is Spain’s more “noble” grape, Garnacha is the more affably democratic.

This one hails from Navarra, adjacent to Rioja and very near the French border defined by the Pyrenees Mountains looming to the north.  The winery, which used to be a resting place for pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostella, produces good Tempranillo and Bordeaux-exported Merlot, but we thought their Garnacha would more aptly accommodate your Thanksgiving feast (pizza and pasta and anything grilled are also happy companions).

This wine was grown in Monjardin’s La Cantera vineyard.  The name translates to “quarry,” reflective of the poor, rocky soils of the place.  Only sturdy Garnacha seems to tolerate this infertile environment and these particular vines have done so for no less than eighty years.  Their meager yield:  Less than 1.5 tons per acre, economically ridiculous but necessary for this grape to show its spicy stuff.

Many inexpensive Garnachas never see oak but are less-expensively aged in vast concrete tanks.  Monjardin respected their rendition with a six-month application of used barrels.  These casks added no perceptible wood flavors; Garnacha would not approve.  Rather, the semi-porousness of the wood staves allowed for a metered admission of oxygen, calming the attitude of an inherently perky red.  This extra, not-inexpensive step takes this particular Spanish Garnacha up a notch in elegance, heading toward a Cotes du Rhone style.  We hope you notice!