Iberia, here we come………..

Name a country & it conjures up stereotypical images of local gastronomy – think France & fine wines, India and curry, Britain and Fish & Chips, Hungary and Goulash, Spain and………Paella & Jamón. Right? Spain and wine did not really make a profound connection for me. It seemed like an “also-ran” in the crowded world of wine today. Turns out I was wrong.

A little research revealed Spain has a long history of winemaking – as long as frontrunners France & Italy. It is today the third largest producer of wine in the world with more acreage under grapevines than any other country.  The modern story of Spanish wines follows big investments in the industry after 1986 when Spain joined the EU. Investments to the benefit of the quality & style of its wines.

Our choice for the Indie Wine Clubs last gathering was a tasting of Riojas. A little background on this wine that is more frequently spotted on store shelves than even a couple of years ago is in order.

Rioja and Ribera del Duero, major wine producing regions of Spain, are famed for some outstanding wines based predominantly on the Tempranillo grape, occasionally blended with Garnacha & Tinto Fino. History explains the influence of Bordeaux style on Rioja wines. During the1870’s Phylloxera blight which almost decimated the wine industry in Bordeaux, many winemakers relocated to Rioja, establishing their own wineries and influencing how Rioja wine was made.

Our task this time was to taste two red Riojas & distinguish a Crianza from a Reserva in a blind tasting. What are these names? Well, a Rioja wine is either Crianza, Reserva or Gran Reserva. Indicating increasing level of price and quality – as defined by body, flavor intensity and aging.

 As the corks were pulled on a 2006 LAN Rioja Crianza ($ 11.99) and 2005 Marques de Riscal Rioja Reserva ($ 18.99), the task of distinguishing the Crianza and Reserva  turned out to be easy. The difference was glaring, if not embarrassingly obvious – for the Crianza that is.  The complexity and nuanced aromas of the Reserva were a clear giveaway to its superiority. Let’s just say all 12 members of the club got it right.

The Crianza was rather banal but inoffensive, light bodied in a way that suggested “watery” or limp. There are some delightful Crianza’s out there that are great everyday, affordable wines. This one was decidedly not that kind.

The Reserva, on the other hand, was fruity but dry, gently aromatic with hints of leather & tobacco, soft understated tannins, light to medium body, rounded and with surprising subtlety. I am tempted to go poetic and use the word “shy” – too modest to show off & revel in its beauty. It certainly did not display the volume of its French influence – Bordeaux.

This regional exploration was a delectable surprise. I suspect the discovery of Iberian wines will continue.

Until next time………….Hasta Luego

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