Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Vintage Rioja wine tasting at the Bull and Bear: Selected years, 1925-2001

The wines of Spain's Rioja region -- known and respected around the world -- owe their prominence to three factors: terroir, an affinity for oak, and the included grape varieties.  Within the corpus of Rioja winemaking, there is an ongoing debate between "traditionalists" and "modernists" with the former favoring long aging in American oak barrels while the latter favor shorter aging periods in French oak.  In order to investigate the two schools in detail, I endeavored to hold tastings of vintage wines from both schools (keeping in mind that the roots of the traditional school go far deeper in time than do the roots of the modernist school).  This post reports on a vintage traditional tasting held at the Bull and Bear restaurant at Orlando's Waldorf Astoria on Friday, March 2nd, 2012.

The wines for the tasting were sourced from the cellars of @wineORL, Ron Siegel, and Steve Alcorn, the latter two being prominent Orlando-area collectors.  The wines included in the tasting are shown ordered alphabetically by winery in the table below.  Some points of note: (i) all of the wines were red; (ii) with two exceptions, all of the wines were from centenarian wineries (wineries plying their trade in the Rioja region for in excess of 100 years); (iii) a total of 20 wines were associated with the 10 wineries; and (iv) with five wines in the mix, the venerable house of Bodegas R. Lopez de Heredia is the source for 25% of the wines in the tasting.

The tasting was led by Andrew McNamara MS and was arranged in three flights from youngest to oldest.  The youngest wines were all opened prior to the start of the tasting and allowed to breathe in the bottle. To protect against degradation of a potentialy delicate wine, the 1925 Marques de Riscal was only opened when he was ready for it to be poured.

The first flight was comprised of the the wines from the '80s and '90s plus the Vina Ardanza.  The wines were tasted in the following order:

2001 Vina Ardanza
1999 CVNE Imperial
1997 La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904
1991 R. Lopez de Heredia Tondonia Gran Reserrva
1985 Bodega Montecillo Vina Monty Gran Reserva
1982 Muga Gran Reserva Rioja
1981 Bodega Montecillo Vina Monty Gran Reserva

The first three wines in the flight exhibited primary fruit and oak with dill a common characteristic.  The Vina Ardanza was creamy and light with distinct red fruit character and was less than full-bodied while the La Rioja Alta exhibited vanilla, rhubarb, strawberry, and dill.  Things improved on the palate as we moved deeper into the flight (with the exception of the '85 Montecillo which was corked) with the Muga (graphite, iron, certain sweetness) and the Tondonia (strawberries) showing very well.  The Tondonia was elected wine of the flight.

The second flight was our '70s flight and the wines were tasted as follows:

1978 Marques de Caceres Rioja Gran Reserva
1978 Marques de Murrieta Castillo Ygay
1976 R. Lopez de Heredia Vina Bosconia
1973 La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva Cuvee Centenario
1976 Muga Gran Reserva
1970 R. Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia
1970 Faustino I Gran Reserva

The excellence that began to take hold in the wines of the 1990s continued into and through this flight.  The dill and primary fruit evident in the early wines of flight 1 had resolved into raisins and coffee in this flight.  The wine of the flight was the 1973 Rioja Alta Gran Reserva.

The final flight was orderd as follows:

1968 Vina Valoria
1968 R. Lopez de Heredia Vina Bosconia
1964 Faustino I Rioja Gran Reserva
1964 La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva
1961 R. Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia
1925 Marques de Riscal Reserva

The wines in this flight were all superb and completed the seduction of the tasting panel that had been initiated by the wines in the second half of the opening flight.  The wines were mostly well balanced  with smoke, chocolate, and dustiness on the palate being a common characteristic.  The stunner was the 1925 Marques de Riscal which ended up as the wine of the flight and of the night.  This wine was opened just prior to pouring because we were afraid that it might be too delicate to survive extended exposure to the elements; but it got better with the passage of time and three hours later it was running at top speed.  Phenomenal.  I need more of this wine.

Andrew McNamara MS, Premier Beverages and Dhane Chesson, Vibrant Rioja

This was an excellent tasting which converted all of the participants from tepid to full-throated fans of vintage traditional Rioja wines.  Dhane Chesson, Vibrant Rioja Representative, participated in the tasting and was extremely pleased at the showing of  her charges. Please visit Steve Alcorn's blog for individual tasting notes as well as for a discussion of the post-tasting dinner and wines.

© Wine -- The View From Orlando

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