Hello Prince Albert! With so many diverse wine regions to explore and interesting wines to taste, wine enthusiasts often look to iconic old-world appellations to provide a baseline for quality and general affordability.
The term old-world refers to wine-producing areas which have existed for centuries or even millennia. Some of the most common old-world countries are obvious; France, Germany, Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal, while others are less-known and more difficult to find in PA like Croatia, Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary, Armenia, Cyprus and Georgia.
These older regions have also developed complex wine laws which define strict guidelines in the growing, producing, storing and selling of wines. These guidelines or regulations are often beneficial since they focus on quality, yield (which affects quality), regional style (native grape varieties), blending, aging and marketing.
A great example of these wine laws can be demonstrated in the two wines I tasted this week from Rioja, Spain. An important fact to remember about wine labels from Rioja is that they indicate the approximate age of the wine with words like Joven, Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva.
The word Joven is often not printed on the label but indicates that the wine is young with hardly any barrel age. Crianza is used for reds with 2 years of age (at least 1 year in oak), Reserva is 3 years of age (at least 1.5 years in oak) and the Gran Reserva is aged a minimum of 5 years (at least 2 years in oak). These are the basic requirements and producers will often go beyond these limitations to create beautiful, age-worthy wines.
Why does the age in the oak barrels or the age in the bottle matter for wines from Rioja? Wines develop certain flavors depending on how they are aged. For instance, wines aged in oak will take on spice, vanilla, caramel, coconut, tannins and wood flavor while bottle aging while create secondary flavors of mushroom, leather, earth etc.
Depending on their personal tastes, some wine drinkers prefer more fruit-forward wines while others may like wines with earthy or spicey elements found in oak-aged options. By using the age-description system found on wine labels from Rioja, we can choose a fruitier option like a Crianza (less oak and bottle aging) or a middle ground wine like a Reserva (some spice and tannin from oak and smooth secondary flavors from bottle age).
Finally, we are left with the big wine of Rioja: the Gran Reserva. These wines have a minimum of 5 years of age which means they have a decent punch of spice but have started to mellow out due to their age in the bottle. These bottles usually require several years of cellar-aging to develop properly but with patience and proper storage, these can become some truly exceptional bottles.
Some Spanish producers also release their wines with old-world golden or silver netting on the bottle. This type of merchandising/marketing can be found on several brands like Anciano, Marques de Riscals (which also comes in a tube) and Beronia (another gem from Rioja available in PA). These wines make great gifts which can be enjoyed immediately or held for a year or two to develop further.
A tip on what to expect at the store: Crianza-level wines $20-25, Reserva-level wines $25-50, Gran Reserva wine $40-100+. Try out a red Rioja from the Spanish aisle and taste it with some charcuterie or high-quality barbeque! Maybe we will see some white Rioja in the future?
Here are my wine picks of the week!
Marques de Riscal Reserva 2016: (Rioja, Spain). Dry red, deep ruby color with violet hues. The nose is a rush of balsamic cherry, figs, blackberries, wild strawberries and a hint of pepper. Medium-body on the palate with intense blackberries and currants. Soft cedar spice, red cherry and field strawberry are lifted by medium-plus acidity. Lingering on the finish are cinnamon, pepper, cigar box and sweet tobacco. Spices are warming while medium-plus tannins grip on. Flavorful and elegant. Pair with dried salamis, steak w/mushrooms or a Montecristo No. 4 cigar. Drinking well now but it can age and should be tasted in another 3 years. Very good!
$36, 14% ABV
CUNE Reserva 2015: (Rioja, Spain). Dry red, deep ruby color. This Spanish red has an earthy and fruity bouquet filled with forest strawberry, blackberry, toast, pepper, white mushroom, red cherry and sweet tilled earth. The first sip reveals an excellent concentration of dark fruit (plum, blkberry and cherry) and a quick burst of medium-plus acidity. This blends into silky notes of smooth pepper spice, roasted almond/hazelnut, leather and toast. Everything is accented by medium-plus tannins, creating a slightly waxy mouthfeel. Toasted oak, savory peanut shell, cigar leaf and hints of dark chocolate all linger on a long finish. Pairs well with cigars, stuffed mushrooms, dark chocolate or garlic mushrooms on prime rib. Very good! $25, 14% ABV
Cheers and thanks for reading!