Vineyard in Rioja
Vineyard in Rioja

On Tuesday, September 18, 2018, I attended a Rioja wine tasting event sponsored by Southern Glaziers Wine & Spirits in partnership with Rioja Trade. To sum it up WOW! There were 15 pouring stations providing some of the highest quality and most expressive Riojas I have ever tasted. It was like being on a private tour of Rioja Vineyards. In addition, the Glazier team of Sommeliers were on hand providing their insights as well as providing educational information to the attendees.

If the wines were not enough a large table of Tapas was provided by Nora’s Italian Cuisine and the hit had to be the Iberico carving station provided by Fermin Iberico. Rioja wine,  Iberico ham; my taste buds went into sensory overload. Best pairing?… impossible to pick!

Now if that was not enough, Glazier put together a Library Wine table that has to be one of the most comprehensive compilations of any country ever put together in Las Vegas. It was listed as “Back Vintages: Taste Through Rioja History” The wines were clearly recognizable with some classic years present. Standing around this table, it was clear from discussions that those that were tasting, knew the vintages and were very appreciative of the wines. I saw several SOMM pins and the discussions were of interest to me as some had been to several of the Vineyards. Many were explaining the profile to those newer to Rioja. Others were profiling among themselves.  Since I have started my SOMM journey I learned a lot about Rioja by interacting with them.

The following were provided and do not need any of my tasting comments; the list speaks for itself.

1970 Bodegas Bilbainas “Vina Pomal” Reserva

1973 Bodegas Coral “Don Jacobo” Reserva

1982 Beronia Gran Reserva

1988 Vina Real Reserva

1991 Faustino Gran Reserva

1997 Contino Crianza

2001 Bodegas Ontanon Gran Reserva

2005 Marques de Riscal Gran Reserva (My favorite! Have some more recent vintages in my own cellar)

2009 CVNE “Imperial” Gran Reserva

2009 Ontanon Crianza

It should be noted that Rioja wines are an incredible value with all levels reasonably priced. Given that they age so well, they are ideal for a new wine enthusiast to purchase and lay down for several years. The benefits will pay off in the future when they see the increase in value but know the price they paid earlier. I have always liked the “buy six and drink one now”. This gives a sample of what the wine is now and notes taken can be reviewed in 5 years when they are again tasted.

A lot of the lesser expensive wines are great to keep on hand when a meal just screams; this needs a Rioja. I think that the Rioja wines do not get as much credibility as the Bordeaux and Napa’s even though the standards and guidelines are as stringent and specific. 

The following are the authorized classifications:

(This regulation is part of the Control Board of the Rioja denomination. There are however many wineries which decide to follow for certain wines their own aging process.) This does not make them bad wines.  

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I managed to visit all the stations and the following are the ones that I enjoyed the most. 

I’ll give a little background on each of the Vineyards in addition to the specifics of the wine so you can plan your future travel to Rioja.

Highly regarded for distinctive and age-worthy red wines, Rioja is Spain’s most celebrated wine region. Made up of three different sub-regions of varying elevation: Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Baja. Wines are typically a blend of fruit from all three, although single-zone wines are beginning to gain in popularity. Rioja Alta, at the highest elevation, is considered to be the source of the brightest, most elegant fruit, while grapes from the warmer and drier Rioja Baja produce wines with deep color and higher alcohol, which can add great body and richness to a blend. 

Fresh and fruity Riojas labeled Joven, (meaning young) see minimal aging before release, but more serious Rioja wines undergo multiple years in oak. Crianza and Reserva styles are aged around six months to one year in oak, and Gran Reserva at least two (plus three years in bottle), but in practice, this maturation period is often quite a bit longer—up to about fifteen years. 

Map of Rioja Wine Regions
Map of Rioja Wine Regions

Bodegas Palacios Remondo is based in Alfaro in the Rioja Baja. This old family firm has been revitalized by the arrival of Alvaro Palacios who has already made his name, starting from scratch, with his extraordinary Priorato wines. He is now intent on bringing the family Rioja company into the front line. The wines are made from their own vineyards, a rarity in the Rioja region. Palacios is deeply committed to organic viticulture and natural winemaking practices, such as the use of organic fertilizers in the stone-covered, clay soils. All wines are unfiltered and clarified only with egg whites, no exogenous yeasts or commercial compounds are added to the wines and sulfites are kept to minimum levels. His vineyard and its surrounding environment result in wines – La Montesa, Propiedad, Plácet Valtomelloso and La Vendimia – that express the true nature of the estate’s soils.

Palacios Remondo, Propiedad: 100% Garnacha

This is what a Garnacha should be. Intense aromas appear with fine notes of red fruits on a well-integrated oak background. The palate is fresh, elegant and balanced, with plenty a long finish. This wine will age well. I went back for a second tasting on this one it was so good.

Bodegas Muriel: I have not had their wines previously. Due to the special micro-climate of the region, there is a triple influence from the Mediterranean, Continental and Atlantic climates, which helps the vines produce very aromatic and elegant wines, whose main characteristic is the potential to age.

Bodegas Muriel Blanco 2017

Light pale yellow with greenish reflections, this is a refreshingly crisp white wine. Its nose is redolent of bright tropical and citrus fruits complemented by white flowers. The palate is well-balanced acidity and a freshness that carries through to the persistent finish. 

A nice alternative to a Sauvignon Blanc.

Bodegas Muriel Crianza 2014

A bright cherry color. Very fine aging aromas (vanilla, coconut, roasted coffee), with notes of ripe red berries and licorice. The palate is wide, fruity and elegant, with a clean and pleasant aftertaste. A value wine to drink with or without food.

Bodegas Muriel Gran Reserva 2006

My favorite at this station. Medium ruby-brick color. It has an aromatic explosion of fine oak (vanilla, fine herb, and spices), very mature fruit such as raisins, as well as caramel and subtle bottle aging sensations (leather and tobacco). These aromas become more intense and complex as the wine begins to breathe. On the palate, the wine is perfectly assembled, full of velvet silkiness and finesse. A must-have for the cellar. 

Marques de Riscal: One of the most well-known wineries in Rioja, with The Frank Gehry hotel. It is one of his iconic designs. LA has the Disney Concert Hall, Las Vegas has the Keep The Memory Alive Event Center

Marques de Riscal Frank Gehry Selection 2012

marqeus hotel
Marques hotel

This is the second vintage of a wine born to become one of the most classic of the 21st century in Rioja. A wine born from some of the best vineyards in Elciego and from the whole Rioja region. In a few years, the 2012 vintage will have become legendary because it has everything needed to make a truly great wine. It didn’t reveal all its potential at first, but time will raise this vintage alongside the greatest ones. Frank Gehry is a wine which stands out for its stunning color. In terms of aroma,  it opens up and passes through the various phases. It is very elegant, with many layers. Ripeness and freshness, fruits, flowers and minerality.  

On the palate, it has everything you expect from a wine of this level: it is elegant, smooth and delicate. The mouth-feel of this wine is spectacular soft and silky. Its finish lingers and its tannins are sharp.

This is a wine to savor like a fine Cognac. It was a very memorable wine.

Marques de Riscal Gran Reserva 2005

Deep black-cherry color, almost opaque. Very elegant, complex nose, with aromas of black fruit and lots of spice. It is smooth and round in the mouth, with tannins which are firm, yet silky and very sweet and which envelop the whole palate. The finish is long, lingering, fresh and balanced with a hint of fine elegant tannins. This wine is just getting started. A  cellar must have. The cost is going to increase as people find out what a bargain it is.

Marques de Riscal Reserva 2012

Cherry-red color with spicy, balsamic aromas with notes of ripe dark berries and lightly toasted scents.

On the palate, it is full and tasty, with good structure and rounded, elegant tannins.
The finish is long and fresh, with a slight reminder of the fine oak. Nice wine to have with or without food. Maybe Taco Tuesday pairing.

Bodegas Faustino:  From Eleuterio Martínez Arzok to the fourth generation which currently leads the winery more than 150 years of tradition and expertise in the world of wine have passed.

Bodegas Faustino is located in Oyón, Rioja Alavesa and enjoys international renown earned over more than 150 years of experience in the production and aging of premium wines.

Crossing the doors of Bodegas Faustino is like stepping right into the history of wine. It is an unforgettable experience in a winery with the most extensive worldwide recognition.  Picture stepping into an immense barrel hall or in the spectacular bottle aging cellar. It is discovering a great winery where more than nine million bottles are resting!

It is discovering the essence of Rioja’s leading exporter of Gran Reservas.

Faustino Rose 2017

Faustino
Faustino

Faustino is well known and their wines are always a value.

100% Tempranillo. Clean, bright, intense strong red color with lilac rim. On the nose, intense, red fruits aromas are present. Pleasant and balanced on the palate; red fruits notes pronounced. This is your new “Porch Pounder”!

Faustino Reserva 2015

Clean, bright, cherry red developing to maroon. On the nose, very intense. Well integrated aromas, sweet barrels, and fruits hints. Pleasant entrance on the palate, elegant structure, and balance as a whole. Medium – long finish.

Marques de Caceres

marques de caceres
marques de Caceres

The worldwide renown of Marqués de Cáceres is based on the quality of its Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva wines. In the 1970s, the winery paved the way to the renovation of Rioja wines, and with the outstanding 1994 vintage, they introduced Gaudium, a great wine in tune with the times whose structure, fruity notes and power, along with its elegance, offer the lasting still gentle expression of the top-scoring Spanish wine according to specialist magazines.  

Marques de Caceres Gran Reserva 2010

This is a big Rioja. Plums, stewed fruit, balsamic and clove with a touch of oak. A good body with a silky finish. Should continue to age.

Marques de Caceres Gran Reserva, 1985,1986 & 1987  Vertical Tasting

Age has made thees wine more supple with the 1986 being the star. These are Library wines that have proven the ability of this vineyards wine to age elegantly.

Bodegas Marques de Murrieta

Bodegas Rioja Marques de Murrieta
Bodegas Rioja Marques de Murrieta

The story of the Marqués de Murrieta winery is inextricably intertwined with the history of Rioja wine. The winery’s founder, the Marqués de Murrieta, imported production techniques into Spain from Bordeaux. In 1852 he produced his first wine in Logroño, moving into the Ygay Estate in the late 1870s. Located at the heart of La Rioja, the estate is home to Ygay Castle, headquarters of the Marqués de Murrieta wineries. The castle is surrounded by 300 hectares of vineyards.

In 1983 Cebrián-Sagarriga family took up the mantle, commencing in 2007 meticulous restoration work on Ygay Castle which was finished in 2014, the year the winery reopened its doors. Visitors can now enjoy guided tours beginning in the vineyard, continuing through renovated century-old areas, and culminating in a professional tasting of the winery’s wines.

Recognized as one of Europe’s most iconic century-old industrial buildings, Ygay Castle accommodates the whole of Marqués de Murrieta’s winemaking history, a history which laid the foundations of the D.O.Ca. Rioja Designation of Origin. Inside the castle you can visit the historic production cellar, the cask aging rooms and the collection of wines from 1852 to the present, inspecting historic Marqués de Murrieta labels and documents along the way. It is a private collection of incalculable value.

Ygay Castle has become the perfect location for holding events, containing several dining rooms, a tasting room, a large comfortable lounge with a grand piano, and even a wine bar where you can try all the Marqués de Murrieta and Pazo de Barrantes wines (Pazo de Barrantes being the winery owned by the Cebrián-Sagarriga family in Rías Baixas).

Marques de Murrieta Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial 2007

Every once in a while you have that OMG wine! This is it. Age has given it body with savoury, spicy elegance. The tannins and acidity add balance and refinement. Sticky black fruits on the nose, with a cedary edge; fruit dominates, but with some prominent red and black pepper and other spices.  Black fruits and leafy herbs in the mouth including basil.  

This is a great classical Rioja for the long haul and a bargain at the price.

To sum up the experience:

First Class Wines-Gracious Sponsor- Over The Top Staff-Memorable Experience

Thank you Southern Glaziers Wine & Spirits & Rioja Trade.

Links: http://www.riojatrade.com/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rioja_(wine)

https://winetourismspain.com/wine-regions/rioja/

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Richard is a Sommelier who, along with his wife Jarlene, is a regular visitor to California's many wine regions, including those you've never heard of! He's also an aficionado of wines that are off the beaten path.

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