Do you remember when you were young, thinking and acting like your parents were idiots? You might have even thought that they didn’t understand you, that nowhere within their combined realms of experience, were circumstances that resembled yours. I thought like this, and was therefore an idiot. I don’t necessarily think that the old ways are always best, but when you’re young, what do you know?
Evolution and ageing
The wines of Northern Spain, specifically Rioja and Ribera de Duero have evolved by way of blending and, in the case of the best wines, long ageing. Nowhere else in the world is a producer’s identity so wrapped up in the idea of long wood ageing. Vineyard and even regional expression is secondary. You are tasting an estate, a tradition, culture, process – an idea.
It has often baffled me how such a thing as fashion could influence your tastes. Surely taste is dictated by nothing more than, well, your taste. Spain and Rioja in particular has seen traditional practices challenged by many, quite often foreigners. Newness and fashion for its own sake is perverse, as there is no improvement, just a forcing of ideas. Only youth has this impetus, this need to challenge.
Threat from the north
For newness, think French. The growing obsession with the expression of self and of individual vineyards and villages, has come from north of the border. I’m not against the idea of vineyard expression, but Rioja and Ribera del Duero have made a style of wine that is not Burgundy, or from anywhere else. It is unique.
Burgundy evolved under its own steam and the reason for its greatness is their remarkable wines. That one vineyard tastes different from another goes without saying, but we wouldn’t be drinking them if the wines were not delicious. The old connoisseurs were not interested in expression, but the appellation. The appellation denoted quality and to a large degree taste. After a time, you knew if you preferred a Gevrey to Vosne or a Bonnes Mares to a Richebourg. In its purest form, what does it matter if a wine reflects the pebbles it’s grown in?
A tale of history
One of the many reasons why I was attracted to wine, was that every place was different – the people different, the history was different, everything was different from one place to the next. Reading some practice questions for the Master Sommelier Exam is humbling. I would have failed, miserably. But what this accumulation of wines tells us is bugger all about anything, except to do with wine. That’s the idea I suppose, one doesn’t ask a Sommelier about christian minorities in Logrono, or the Dukes Of Burgundy, top performing bullfighters, or if Diego el Cigala’s Mexican flamenco is indeed flamenco or why Napoleon fell out of love with Josephine. But it is these stories, histories, culture and circumstance that enhance the entrancing taste of wine and fire the blood. How about those rocks and soils eh?
The true taste of Spain
Identities are fluid, and everything changes. As a native of Sydney, I’ve witnessed relentless change, the destruction of memory, of culture and identity. But I’m from Sydney, that mongrel city. Rioja will no doubt change too, with more and more Frenchmen and no doubt others forcing change and forging new identities. I just hope their wines taste of Spain, if not, they are nothing but colonists.
The wines of Bodegas Akutain, Valenciso and Pesquera are for me at the heart of the taste of Spain. I’m not saying these are the only expressions of Spain, but when we open a bottle, my memory slides to the hot days of the Corrida, the hard stares of Extremadura, the dark haired beauties of Seville and the wild sensual carnage of Barcelona. I don’t care if the vineyard had rocks or clay, or sand, I just want a taste of Spain.
There is hardly any development, well, there is some, but considering the age, remarkable. If you were under the impression that Tempranillo doesn’t age well, you would be incorrect. Tasting a raft of 2007 Bordeaux’s recently, some of them 10 times the price, it had me wondering why we don’t drink more Spanish wines. Aromatic, with cigar box, cut flowers, cherry cola, blueberry and tobacco. Plush palate, quite open, it must have been really chewy when it was young! Some creaming soda, vanilla, sweet cherry, five spice, cocoa and bay leaf. Terrific tension between primary and tertiary notes, and the tannins and acidity still have plenty of stuffing for a longer haul. Absolute bargain. Waters Wine Co
Perhaps a little less plush than than the Pesquera Crianza’s, with more earth and ferrous notes. It’s not rustic, a little less fine perhaps, but I love it’ burliness. Spice laden, dark fruits, some crunchy red ones too. Lavender wood, smoke and bay leaf. Presence of chew, the tannins a rougher velvet, and a vibrancy that suggests coolness. So much interest and typically versatile. Waters Wine Co
A real mouthful of warm, fruit-coated deliciousness. Just about the richest Crianza on the market. Seductive dark fruits of cassis, plum and dark cherry. Lavender, cola, sweet liquorice, dark chocolate and coal. Still there’s vibrancy, almost playful, amongst the weight and heft of forceful, hessian-like tannins. Balanced and long, and the overall impression is that a couple of decades will see those tannins become velvet. Wonderful wine, so potent in its expression. Waters Wine Co
The most sweetly fruited of traditional Rioja, with rich cassis, raspberry, morello cherry, sweet vanilla, sandalwood and oiled leather. The oak is perfectly integrated, so often it’s raw in traditional Rioja upon release, but not here. Flavours folded, glistening, melting tannins ever present, that soften towards the close. Higher toned than other recent releases, but still that deep core of dark fruit. It’s very hard to resist now, so drink some now, and one a year for at least twenty years. A very seductive evolution. Waters Wine Co
Aged in neutral oak, this is brimming with bright fruit, but you can still see some tertiary notes, denoting traditional Rioja. Fruit driven and medium bodied with blackberry, plum, raspberry, tobacco, aniseed and cut flowers. The fruit is sweet and tangy, buoyed by sandy, grippy tannins and mouthwatering acidity. An absolute delight to drink. One for the table. Waters Wine Co
One of the finest traditional Reservas on the market and incredible value. If this was Bordeaux or Burgundy, the price would be much higher. Blackcurrant, plum, cranberry, raspberry, aniseed, tobacco, vanilla, violets and cola. Medium to full bodied, incredibly fresh and vibrant, certainly firm and serious. Flecks of savoury spice, dried fruit and firm mineral tannins. I love the interplay between the fresh pure fruit and the tertiary notes. It’s as if you have the best of both worlds – a mature wine and a new vintage. Such a “European” wine, poised and restrained. Will be very long lived. Waters Wine Co