Flicking back through the archives, I am surprised to see how many WTNs I have written on Rioja drunk at home as well as on those met at sip and spit tastings. Digging out some of these notes, I make a rough split of their styles between gradations of modern and traditional. All styles have provided some highly enjoyable examples. I am intrigued by Victor's comment that after decent ageing there is a convergence in style between well made examples of the modern and traditional styles; I have not got his broad and deep experience but I can well imagine some of the moderns noted below,e.g. Contino Reserva 1996, coming to resemble some of the fine old Riscals, Imperials, etc. which I remember well.
Rioja Finca El Bosque 2001 – Sierra Cantabria was built with steroids and was contained in a appropriately body builder bottle. Nevertheless the wine was very good with rich complex aromas of sweet dark fruit laced with just a hint of vanilla which just avoided being jammy and a very full powerful body with impressive but beguiling substance, depth and structure. Wood ageing was not at all obtrusive and my main criticisms are upfront shape on the palate giving a somewhat short impression and a tendency to overwhelm the food; 16.5/20+. (Dec 30, 2009)
Rioja Colección Privada 2000 – Sierra Cantabria (Eguren) – Alc. 14%.
The grapes were hand-picked slightly over-ripe Tempranillo from vines more than 50 years old. 50% of the vinification was by “maceración carbénica” and (2006 vintage data) the wine was matured for 18 months in new barriques, of which 50% were French oak and 50% American.
C: Deep ruby/red.
N: Not particularly strong but rich and concentrated essence of sweet cherry and some liqueur.
P: Medium/full bodied with softly caressing and slightly creamy round fruit with, like the nose, quite subdued but attractive aromatics and enough gentle grip for balance. This wine is “modern” in its fruit expression but after 9 years its aggressive sounding oak treatment has integrated very well leaving only those creamy touches. This is easy drinking and not very complex and challenging but I enjoyed it perhaps more than yesterday’s Murrieta 87; 16/20++. (Jan 24, 2009)
Rioja Contino Reserva 1996 – Viñedos del Contino – Alc. 13.5% .
C: Red of medium intensity.
N: Hints of reduction at first but these dissipated after 30 minutes or so in a decanter. Delicious complex of round red sweet fruit with a lot of cherry and touches of liqueur, vanilla and cedar.
P: Velvety, harmonious and classically shaped with rich round fruit with perfectly judged nudges of smooth acidity and discreetly ripe tannic structure to give elegance and balance. A lovely wine; 17/20++. (18th January 2009).
Rioja Contino Reserva 1994 – Viñedos del Contino – Alc. 13% - was finer, sweeter, fresher, more subtle, ingratiating, elegant and complex adding notes of cherry and kirsch to the strawberry, plum and vanilla aromas of the preceding Rioja “Osca Tobia” 02 but was, surprisingly, more subdued in aroma, slightly lighter in body and less full in fruit than the Tobia and much less so than a Contino Crianza 1996 – see below. (I wonder whether this slight undernourishment did not come from a defective cork which was moist up to the top though there was no sign of leakage.) Distinguished and very enjoyable, though; 16/20. (8th December 2008)
Rioja Contino – Consecha 1996 – Viñedos del Contino – Alc.13.5% - was brought up when the preceding and delicious Lascombes ’90 disappeared so rapidly. We were immediately struck by the weight of full ripe fruit with a lot of sweet dark cherry and the resolved structure and good length but the after-taste veered towards jamminess and cloyed somewhat in contrast to the clean and classy fragrance of the Lascombes; just about 16/20. (4th August 2008)
RIOJA CONTINO CONSECHA 2003 – Viñedos del Contino
C : A healthy deep mauve. N: Ripe plum with hints of sweet cherry. P: Full with robust ripe fruit, some freshness, similar aromas to N and good structure, length and support at the rear of the palate. This wine showed none of the cooked, candied notes which disfigure a lot of 2003s from France and Italy and represents good QPR at approx. €15. I will probably buy more (I did). So accessible that I fear that it may not age well (Victor disagreed) but it is very nice indeed right now; 15.5/20++. (3rd June 2007)
Rioja San Vicente Tempranillo 1999 - Senorio San Vicente.
N: Complex dark fruit with sweet cherry notes to the fore lined with some unobtrusive vanilla.
P: Smooth, rich, velvety and well shaped with very attractive fruit, polished structure and good length; again the vanilla notes were present but well integrated. A very nice Rioja but perhaps missing a touch of genius; 16/20. (Dec 23, 2007)
Rioja San Vicente Tempranillo 1994 - Senorio San Vicente
N: Clearly belonging to the same family as the previous but with the fruit a bit darker and the cherry veering to kirsch.
P: Darker fruit than the 1999 and perhaps more complex but also more disjointed and less velvety and integrated with at a slight hollowness in mid-palate which seemed to fill in somewhat towards the end of the bottle. I was expecting more from this “great” year. Perhaps there was subliminal TCA or excessive oxidization from a cork which was within weeks of beginning to weep; 15/20. (Dec 23, 2007)
Rioja Reserva 2004 – Herederos del Marqués de Riscal – Alc. 14% - (approx. €15) (from Jan 25, 2009)
Bob’s WTN on the 2001, which I tried and noted a couple of years ago, pricked my curiosity about this offering from the reputedly excellent 2004 vintage. Let me say straight away that I enjoyed it a lot more than the 2001 at a roughly similar stage in its development based on my memory and notes.
C: Red of medium intensity.
N: Attractive notes of strawberry, plum, gentle spices and a discreet lacing of vanilla.
P: Harmonious and expressive, well fruited, medium/full bodied and long with some firmness of tannic structure towards the finish to encase the attractive aromas. The wood is already well integrated, the aromas are primary as is normal in the 5th year and, though there is a very slight hollowness in mid-palate at this stage of development, I am confident that the aromas will develop complexity, the tannins will resolve and the hollowness will fill in after some more ageing; 16/20 now with + potential.
On the narrow basis of this wine and Rogov’s note on the 2003, it looks as if the Riscal brand may be regaining its lustre.
And here is my note of 9th December 2006 on the 2001
Rioja Reserva 2001 - Marqués de Riscal
At the first sniff upon opening, I thought “oh dear!”. The impression was sweet and sour with the sweet being vanilla, coconut and cigar box and the sour being sour cherry, all in separate strands. Happily after 10 minutes in the glass, the aroma was better integrated with some deeper fruit coming up but the vanilla patina was still quite present.
The palate showed the same aromas with the sweet dominating the sour and was well shaped with flesh and a quite firm tannic structure and good length but, on the after-taste, dry and slightly bitter notes dominated sweet fragrance. There were hints of malt and liquorice in mid-palate towards the finish.
For me this wine did not sing but there was no difficulty in finishing the bottle. My wife liked it better than me being less troubled by the malt, vanilla and liquorice notes. It was much more drinkable than some blockbusting and oaky “modern” Riojas which I have tasted. It is probably too young now and hopefully will be more integrated and expressive in 5+ years.
Will it ever become one of those sweetly elegant and beautifully balanced Riojas which I have enjoyed in verticals of, say, CVNE’s Imperial going back to the 50s? Or is it capable of effacing my memories of (incredibly cheap, approx Pesetas 250) Rioja during my frequent visits to Spain during the 70s, when Marques de Riscal itself and Marques de Murrieta, in particular, opened up new vistas to my then Médoc orientated palate? I doubt it.
(I gave no ratings at that time but it reads and remembers like barely 15/20.)
Rioja Señorío de P. Peciña Reserva 1999 – Bodegas Hnos. Peciña – Alc. 13.5% - (€14)
At a tasting in the Spring, I was very impressed by the range of elegantly traditional Riojas from this bodega. Here is the gist what I wrote then.
It had a clear family resemblance with the 03 Crianza, which showed quite pale colour, attractive freshness and fruit dominated by sour cherry with good acidity and fine elegance, but was richer, more complex and showed more tang and grip at the same time as elegance; 16.5/20.
Succulent lamb was the ideal occasion to test again this wine where it really matters, i.e. at a meal, and this time I was even more impressed by the wine’s harmony, velvety feel, linear shape on the palate with a gently increasing crescendo towards the finish followed a fading but quite long fragrance. Oak (none new here, I believe) was beautifully managed, its use being suggested rather than tasted except for an almost imperceptible whiff of vanilla; to refer to another thread I cannot visualise a similar effect being achieved by micro-oxygenation and chips in the present state of their art. Finally the wine passed the moreish test; Germaine’s diet only allowed her one glass but, in spite of all the warnings we hear from the guardians of public health, I could not keep my hands off the bottle until it was finished; 16.5/20+++. (Aug 4, 2009)
At the Spring tasting, the 1998 Gran Reserva was even better. I’ll take a look at one of those with dinner quite soon.
Rioja Gran Reserva 1987 – Bodegas Marqués de Murrieta, Ygay – Alc. 12.5%. (Jan 11, 2009)
After my sublime experience with CVNE’s Imperial GR 87 a couple of years ago, this was something of a disappointment. In the 70s when I paid frequent business visits to Spain, Murrieta was one of the most reliably fine Rioja producers, whites as well as reds; I regret not having brought back more with me at that time. Since then, the estate has “modernised” and I am not sure about its present standing.
This note is subject to the reservation that the accompanying lamb dish did the wine little favours because it was highly salted. I should have paid attention to the creator chef’s recommendation of the much more acidic, savoury and tannic Saumur-Champigny.
C: Garnet/brick of medium depth.
N: Well developed rich round red and dark fruit with some sweet cherry and hints of vanilla.
P: Quite full, harmonious and classically shaped with similar aromas as on the nose and crisper acidity than is common in Rioja (probably helpful with this lamb dish) and gentle tannic structure; closer to Burgundy, perhaps, than the more Bordeaux like Imperial. However, it did not sing as well as the nose encouraged me to hope nor in the manner of the Imperial; just 16/20.
By way of comparison, here is a repeat of my note of 8th April 2007 on the Imperial.
IMPERIAL GRAN RESERVA Rioja 1987 – Compañia Vinicola del Norte de España. (Tempranillo 85%, Graciano 10%, Mazuelo 5% for the 1998 GR). Alcohol 12.5% vol.
For me, wines like this represent a reference point towards which Tempranillo based Riojas should aspire.
C: A beautifully transparent light/medium red with some bricking at the rim. N: Elegant, deep and complex with kirsch hints. P: Very linear, harmonious and “sweet” with a gentle crescendo to the rear of the palate followed by a long diminuendo. Complex aromas with velvety mouth-feel encased in a gently firm structure. (All traces of the prolonged wood ageing are perfectly integrated.)
This shows the same sort of elegance and harmony as many fine mature Médocs but darker and sweeter. Perhaps a ‘cello compared to the violins and violas of a Médoc. It was a perfect accompaniment for the traditional Easter lamb. However, I suspect that this style is despised by the “modernists”.
Postscript: I did not give scores at that time but it reads and remembers like 17.5/20 at least.