By Bruce Cochran
This week we’ll look at one of my favorite red wine blends, from one of my favorite wine regions. It’s like a Bordeaux, but it’s not from France.
I’m in South America this week, so there will not be an E Wine of the Week column next week.
In the meantime, one of my most impassioned pleas has been answered, and very well. I’ve long been a fan of a white wine from Tuscany called Vermentino (that’s the grape name), and I finally found it. It’s available by the glass at Ciao Baci restaurant (tel. 501-603-0238) in Little Rock’s Hillcrest neighborhood and it’s excellent—just what I remembered from Italy. And what a nice place to enjoy it. They’ve been selling about a case per week!
I’ll toast you all from the top of the Andes!
Aside from Sherry, Rioja is Spain’s best known wine region. This part of northern Spain is unofficially—but unabashedly—Basque, a place known for great food and wine. Traditionally based on the tempranillo grape, with a little blending involved as well, Rioja’s reds can sometimes resemble Bordeaux, other times California cabernet, and still occasionally a pale, tired wine that most Americans don’t like. Let’s talk about the first two styles, since that’s what we’re seeing today.
Modern Rioja producers have embraced the “international” style of deep color, rich fruit and French oak, though American oak is popular there, too. Part of this new style is a result of fewer years in newer barrels, which helps retain the color and fruit.
There are three Rioja subregions:
Baja—the lower, eastern part, where the wines are heavy but often clumsy.
Alavesa—the middle part, often exhibiting a style that combines fruit with finesse. This area lies in a protected valley between the Ebro River—Spain’s largest—and the looming mountains of the Sierra Cantabria. Alta—the highest part of the region, where the wines often tend toward elegance.
Bodegas Campo Viejo was born when two small Rioja estates merged in 1959. The name comes from a block of vineyard next to the original cellar with very old vines that the winemakers called “Old Friend” – Campo Viejo. Today, grapes are also sourced from throughout the subregion.
The Crianza (meaning two years of age, one in oak) is 75 percent tempranillo, 20 percent granacha (grenache, the Spanish claim it’s originally from their country), and 5 percent mazuelo. Whole grape clusters are 100 percent gravity fed, without undergoing any type of pressure. This gentle winemaking process also makes it possible to obtain fruit without bitterness from the skins. Predominately aged in American oak, with a little French oak as well. Deeply colored, with nose of red and black berries with aromas of vanilla from the oak barrels, this is a New World style from today’s most exciting Old World country. (Retail: around $15)
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