E Wine of the Week
By Bruce Cochran
International styles gaining in popularity
This week we’ll explore a wine region known for reds, a place whose style has transitioned in recent years from older, paler and drier to younger, darker and deeper. It’s also a great place to eat.
If you’re in Little Rock on Wednesday, that’s the date for the next eWine Sampling, at Cajun’s Wharf in Little Rock. Taste five wines for $10. No reservations needed, just drop by and taste at your own pace. Go to brucecochran.com for details.
Try a new wine this week!
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, “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, plus vanilla from the oak barrels, this is a New World style from today’s most exciting Old World country.