Friday, October 24, 2008

Rioja - Palacios, Remelluri and de la Marquesa

I was fortunate enough to be taken to Rioja at the beginning of the week for a brief visit. Organised by Wines of Spain and the Consejo Regulador DOCa Rioja a small group of sommeliers and wine buyers from the UK and one from Sweden were shown around six bodegas across Rioja.

I wasnt sure what to expect at first, when I saw the itinerary for the trip. I decided to not research the wineries in order to go with an open mind to them and not form any pre-judgements. Im glad that I did, for they each had something unique to offer, whether it be in their physical wineries and their methodology, or in their wines that we tasted, and after visiting six different bodegas and tasting something like 50 wines over the two days, its fair to say that its opened my eyes to Rioja as a wine and a region.

We started off with Bodegas Palacios in Laguardia. After being shown around the winery and its cellars, we were given a tasting of eight wines, all quite good, if rather average. The whites were certainly fresh and vibrant, and the reds all starting off with a slightly milky aroma - its the lactic acid our host proudly proclaimed, typical of tempranillo. From that we can deduce that their wines all undergo malo-lactic fermentation in the barrels. Off the six wineries we visited this was possibly the least inspiring, but it was interesting to see their perspective on the methods of production and it certainly is a winery with a long history.

From their we headed up to Labastida up in the Cantabria hills to visit Granja Nuestra Senora de Remelluri. This was certainly the most beautiful of the bodegas we visited.

Im a big fan of the white that they make, an amazing blend of about nine varieties - Garnacha Blanca, Malvasia, Moscatel, Marsanne, Rousanne, Viognier, Chardonnay and Viognier and finally Sauvignon. So I was really looking forward to this, and the good news was the sun was out, we were having lunch here and the reds were every bit as good as the white. They make four wines - the Blanco, a Reserva, a Gran Reserva and a Reserva Especial - the Coleccion Jaime Rodriguez, named in honour of the owner. All were astoundingly good, but for me the two standout wines were the blanco and the gran reserva. The gran reserva is a blend of 85% Tempranillo, 12% Garnacha and 3% Graciano, richly spiced and concentrated it seemed to last forever on the palate, its flavour greatly complementing the lamb chops grilled over a flame from vine trimmings. After a delicious lunch served in the winery, we took a stroll around the vineyards in the late summer sun, down to an ancient cemetary carved out of stone in the earlier life of the farm as part of an old monastery, the remains of which survive at the top of the mountain looming over us. Looking at the carved shapes in the stone, we got to thinking either the indiginous peoples were very small or the infant mortality rate was exceptionally high. They were tiny.

We left Remelluri as a tv crew was setting up to film a celebrity chefs program as he strolled through the vineyards of Remelluri discussing ingredients and picking fruit. Our destination was the Bodegas de la MarquesA in Villabuena. This was a smaller, family run bodegas trading under the name of Valserrano in the UK. Now in the hands of two brothers, Pablo and Jaime de Simon, one the oenologist and the other in charge of marketing/sales. The winery was probably the smallest of the six that we visited, but had one of the largest ranges of wines to offer. Jaime, the oenologist, proudly makes use of many of the traditional varieties and as such they offer a range of single varietal wines - mazuelo and graciano which were both amazingly different from what one would expect. The Mazuelo had a dark inky colour with a strong violet character on the nose. There was a licorice root element to the finish and a rounded warm spicy end note. With a year in a mixture of mainly french oak, the wine has a well balanced oak influence - vanillin, cedarwood and nutmeg like flavours, and well drawn out silky smooth tannins.

The Graciano by comparison had a much more herbaceous character with dark black tea and green leafy aromas, a touch of roasted nuts and defined dark soft fruit flavours. The tannins seemed bolder than the mazuelo, a little harsher on the gums, but the length was longer, more intense and a touch smoky on the finish.

Then it was time to leave and move on to our next winery. This was such a cool winery I want to give it a seperate post.

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