Wine Reviews

5 Impressive Wines for Rediscovering Rioja, Spain

Spain produces the finest value wines in the world.

If you've been paying attention over the last 15 years in the wine business, you've seen the rise of 'modern-style' Spanish wines.  This rich and flavorful reds and white wines are notable for two major characteristics.  Luscious international-style wines and stunningly low prices.  In fact, if you are drinking wine under $10 a bottle, it is criminal if you don't buy mostly these wines.

And then there is Rioja.  Strong, austere reds that taste of tobacco, leather, and the entire spice red with a touch of red fruit.  This is Spain's classic region and the wines are as old-school as you can get.  

Here are 5 wines worth seeking out from top producers in Rioja.

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The Spanish tend to age their wines before release, so all of the following wines are available in the American market with these vintages.

Muga 2009 Rioja 'Selection Especial' Reserva.  92++/100 points.  $44.99 Oh Retail.

Very young with a long life ahead.  Strawberry jelly and gentle mocha on the nose.  Caresses the mouth with light toffee, cream, and spicebox.  Cherry fruit that darkens and becomes more tannic as it stays in the mouth.  Great for grilled meats.

Ramirez de la Piscina 2001 Rioja Gran Reserva.  93/100 points.  $39.99 OH Retail.

The value wine of this list.  A superstar vintage and a wine with 10+ years of bottle age.  Tawny colored rim with a red pitt.  The tobacco of a nice cigar with baking spices on the nose.  A light Rioja with finesse.  Gentle, elegant, feminine fruit.  Seduction.

Muga 2001 Rioja 'Prado Enea' Gran Reserva.  96/100 points.  $69.99 OH retail.

A masterpiece!  One of the finest Rioja's I've ever tasted.  Very spicy with an almost port-like intensity to the plum fruit.  Rich red color.  A complex series of flavors in a velvet texture that also is supremely spicy.  Classic.

La Cueva del Contador 2002 Rioja.  92/100 points.  $105.99 OH retail.

2002 was a very difficult vintage throughout Rioja and this is a very impressive wine considering what Contador had to work with. Dark color and dark plums and dusty aromas.  A smooth jelly of green pepper and red plums.  Very impressive body and richness with a dash of spice on the finish.

Remirez de Ganuza 2004 Rioja Reserva.  93/100 points.  $96.99 OH retail

Dark, smoked black fruit in a layered and opulent package.  Enough barnyard aromas to remind me of funky old Burgundy.  A blue/black smokiness finishes off this excellent wine.

 

These wines lack the fabulous low prices of the more modernist Spanish wines, but there is an argument to be made for classic, aged wines of very high quality.  In fact, if you compare the prices of old Rioja to that of ten-year-old Bordeaux or Napa Valley Cabernet, you may decide that these are still some of the finest values in fine wine.

But save me some 2001 Prado Enea.  I really liked that one.

St. Innocent 'Momtazi' Pinot Noir - Vertical Tasting - 2007, 2008, 2009, & 2010

When St. Innocent Winemaker Mark Vlossak traveled to France, he noticed that many of his favorite wineries had one thing in common.  They all used Biodynamic farming.  So he began to search Oregon for some good Biodynamically farmed Pinot Noir.

This radical extension of the organic movement looks at the whole health of the vineyard, using organic practices, and also incorporated much pseudo-scientific thought.  Many have compared it to holistic medicine.  I don't agree with much of biodynamics, but do agree with Vlossak in the quality that this ideology often produced.

Vlossak purchases fruit from the biodynamically farmed Momtazi vineyard for St. Innocent and I knew that I had to try these wines.  Luckily for me, my Ohio distributor had four vintages in stock and I was able to throw a vertical tasting of St. Innocent Pinot Noir 'Momtazi' 2007-2010. 

It was no surprise that the wines were of excellent quality, but what surprised me was how the biodynamic farming seemed to moderate the effects of some extreme vintages. 2010 was one of Oregon's coldest ever and 2009 was one of the hottest ever.  Yet the heathy Momtazi vines seemed to not let the wines vary significantly.

Similar things happend with the phenomenal 2008 vintage and the 'Meh' 2007 vintage.  The wines were brought together stylistically.  Was this the health of the biodynamics?  I don't know the answer to that. 

For great discussions of Biodynamic winemaking check out my video interview with Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyard or my video interview with Rebecca Work of Ampelos.
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So let's get to the wines themselves.

St. Innocent 2010 'Momtazi' Pinot Noir.   92/100 Points.  $39.99 OH retail

A light pink-red color.  Bright red fruit nose with red apple skins.  Delicate red berry cream on the palate with a gentle texture.  Pleasant and undemanding, but still a super achievement.  Graceful, if even a little whispy at times.

St. Innocent 2009 'Momtazi' Pinot Noir.  89/100 Points.  $39.99 OH retail

Color is noticeably darker than the 2010.  More intensity to the aromas, but less depth of flavor.  Red plums, cherries, red dust on the palate with some oak and a strange citrus.  Can feel some awkward alcohol. 

St. Innocent 2008 'Momtazi' Pinot Noir.  91/100 points.  $39.99 OH retail.

Dark purple-red.  Aromas of intense red and black plums with brightness to the character.  Soft and silky with dark black fruits and (for the first time) some tannins.  This is young and tight with pronounced tannins, but just wait a few years. 

St. Innocent 2007 'Momtazi' Pinot Noir.  90/100 points.  $39.99 OH retail.

Brick red color.  Floral aromas with light herbal notes.  Palate is red and meaty with some warmth and hints of emerging herbs. 

In conclusion, there are some delicious wines here at pretty reasonable prices.  I'll definitely be looking for the 2010 'Momtazi' again.  The Biodynamic Winemaking thing is still up in the air, but all if you want is excellent Oregon Pinot Noir, you might find this something that works well for you.