Monday, April 26, 2010

Land of A Thousand Wines: In Search of a Theme

The Vibrant Rioja Professional Seminar titled Land of a Thousand Wines: A World of Wine in a Single Spanish Village, held at the beautiful campus of the UCF Rosen School of Hospitality Management on Tuesday, April 20th, was less expansive than advertised and missed the value-enhancing opportunity to tie the wines tasted into an overarching regime.

The low-keyed presentation to a group of industry professionals was led by Mr. Adrian Murcia.  After brief opening remarks we launched into tastings of the assembled wines to include: Marques de Caceres Blanco 2008, Rioja Alta (100% Viura); Marques de Riscal Rosado 2008, Rioja Alavesa (100% Tempranillo); Ugarte Cosecha 2007, Rioja Alavesa (80% Tempranillo, 20% Garnacha); Beronia Crianza 2006, Rioja Alta (84% Tempranillo, 13% Garnacha, 3% Graciano); Juan Alacorta Reserva 2004, Rioja Alta (85% Tempranillo, 10% Garnacha, 5% Mazuelo); Marques de Tomares Reserva 2001, Rioja Alta (85% Temapranillo, 10% Mazuelo, 5% Graciano); and Tobia Cosecha 2007, Rioja Alta (100% Graciano).

In his opening remarks, Mr. Murcia had pointed out that Spain is subjected to three climactic influences: Mediterranean, Continental, and Atlantic.  Rioja DOCa, the wine region, is unique in that it lies at the confluence of all three climactic influences.  Because of ancient plate tectonic activity, Rioja lies in a depression and this allows for a Mediterranean-dominated climate but also allows for the flow of cool Atlantic air, especially in the northwestern portion of the region.  The Atlantic air cools the grapes and provides the diurnal temperature differential that is so advantageous for grape growing.  The Vibrant Rioja team could have used these facts to construct its "world view" and selected wines for tasting that would highlight this world view.

Rioja DOCa, the wine region, does not fall fully into the political unit called La Rioja.  Rather, elements of the region spill into the political units of Navarra and Alava.  The seminar leaders could have used this  construct to define its world view and present wines from these areas to illustrate the point.

The Rioja region lies on both sides of the 142-mile-long Rio Oja.  The Vibrant Rioja team could have used this fact to define its world view and presented wines which bolstered that view. 

According to the Vibrant Rioja website (see link below), the Rioja wine region is further divided into three sub-regions (see map below) -- Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa, and Rio Baja -- each having its own climate and terroir.  According to Wines from Spain, the soil types vary from calcareous clay in Rioja Alavesa to calcareous clay, some ferruginous clay and alluvial soils in Rioja Alta, to ferruginous clay and alluvial soils in Rioja Baja. According to Vibrant Rioja, Rioja Alta produces full-bodied, medium-alcohol wines, Rioja Alavesa produces lighter, aromatic wines, and Rioja Baja produces wines that are deeper in color and fruitier in taste.  The team could have used these facts as the construct of its world view and provided wines for tasting that would showcase these facts.

Within the corpus of Rioja winemaking, there is an ongoing debate between the traditionalists and more modern winemakers.  The traditionalists favor the use of American oak and age their wines for a long time while the modernists use French oak and ferment and age for shorter periods.  The team could have used this dichotomy to construct its world view and present associated wines.

In his presentation Mr. Murcia defined a classic Rioja wine as having elegance and a seductive quality.  It exhibits characteristics of tobacco, leather, cedar, leaves, dark fruit, dark chocolate, and cigar box.  The team could have used this definition as its world view and then presented wines that supported this view as well as non-conforming wines.

Rioja is a multi-faceted wine region and professionals who are tasked with selling it in the marketplace require as many tightly focused aids as can be provided.


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  2. I was interested in learning more about the diversity of soil types, different microclimates and how they affected the native grapes in the region(maybe I missed it)
    In addition, I wanted to hear more and understand the philosophy of how some of the rioja producers choose to age their wine for up to ten years in American oak...I did not

  3. A very informative CD was handed out at the conclusion of the seminar and it did treat some of the topics you mention. Please note that the comments in this post refer to the seminar and not the wine dinner which followed. A post relating to that event will be filed separately.