Celebrate the arrival of Spring with Rioja!!!

IMG_20171205_183117_328

I have a soft spot for the wines of Rioja. When I first got into Spanish wines, I started drinking wines from the south. However, with time and tasting experience, I went further north in Rioja  searching for  the elegance and harmony that only continental climate wines can provide.

Spring is a difficult time for me. I suffer from something called seasonal affective disorder (SAD). While most people get the winter blues because of the cold weather and the dark days, for me is the opposite. When I have my down days, I cheer myself up with music, light walks and of course making food and drinking wine.  Before I was a wine lover, music was my passion. I am able to enjoy all kinds of music but I am specially fond for vocal jazz and flamenco.

20170726_180934_HDR

One of the advantages that Spring offers me is that I can cook more outdoors using the BBQ. I love grilling all kinds of meat in a hot BBQ from marinated plumper chicken breasts to fancy cuts of reds meat such as Filet Mignon or Flank Steak. In the weekdays, I use the gas BBQ but on the weekends with more time I turn to the charcoal grill.

Rioja has a perfect affinity for BBQ meats. Basically, you want a wine with enough power to work with a chicken leg with a sweet and spicy BBQ sauce or a well-charred steak. Something big but not too much overpowering, not too dry and austere, and the most important factor: easy to drink.

Here are my top five Riojas to get you started for BBQ season:

ijalba

Ijalba Graciano 2015. SAQ # 10360261,$21.50

On the nose aromas of graphite, dry blueberries and black seaweed. On the mouth, fresh tasting with an excellent balance between concentration and acidity. Lovely flavors of sandalwood and black licorice complemented by firm and muscular tannins. Drink now or keep for the next 5 years.

riscal

Marqués De Riscal Reserva 2013. SAQ # 10270881, $24.40

Fine tuned nose of cassis jam, wild oregano, iron and licorice. On the mouth, quite structured with a good acidity and chunky tannins. This reserva from Riscal shows a modern interpretation of this traditional Riojan producer.

caceres

Marqués de Caceres Reserva 2012. SAQ # 00897983, $22.55

Lovely nose displaying resonant notes of wild blackberries with balsamic nuances of licorice and star anise. Silky with fine tannins and long flavors reminiscent of spice bread pudding. Best reserva that I have ever tried from this producer.

faustino

Bodegas Faustino, Faustino I Gran Reserva 2005. SAQ # 10483026, $28.45

Textbook classical Rioja aromas. On the nose, predominant notes of vanilla, tobacco with cloves leading to a crescendo of ripe strawberries and raspberries. On the palate, it has an incredible depth of flavours and elegance. However, it needs to be decanted for a few hours to show its best. Drink now or keep for the next decade.

valpiedra

Finca Valpiedra Reserva 2010. SAQ #  13566687, $31.50

Powerful with nuances of espresso, smoke, dark chocolate leading to  fig and cassis jam aromas. Very suave with finely woven tannins. Long finale.

Happy Arrival of the 2018 BBQ season!!

 

 

Araex, Superheroes of Spanish wines.

When I received the press tasting invitation, I had no clue who was Araex wine group. Even when I was living in Spain, I never heard about the company. By doing a bit of digging, I discovered, they are driving force of some of my favorite Spanish wines.

Image result for justice league

In a sort of way, Araex remind me of one my favorite comical superhero teams, the justice league. In 1993, Javier Galaretta brought together a band of talented from Rioja Alavesa to spread the good word of Rioja domestically and abroad. Later, other winegrowers joined forming one of the most important independent wine associations in Spain. Araex exports in 70 countries and sells more than 11 million bottles in the international market.

Araex is the poster child for the Spanish wine industry. In 2001, they were named best export company by the Ministry of Agriculture in Spain and in the same year, another sister company was created to accommodate more members: Spanish fine wines. In 2013, they did it again by creating The Grand Wines Premium to accommodate new product lines and innovation.

20171003_122308.jpg

Sebastien Richard, export manager of Araex

If every wine domaine would follow the mision and values of Araex, Spain would be ahead of Italy and France in the fine premium market. The country has everything going for themselves: good prices, excellent terroir and climate. This was a good part of the discussion that I had with Sébastien Richard, the export manager of Araex in his recent passage in Montreal. The invitation was a courtesy of their Quebec importer LBV International

20171003_123218.jpg

I tasted a fantastic quartet of Spanish whites that demonstrate the potential that the country has in the category. A Val de Vid Verdejo 2016 ( SAQ # 12260281, $14.80 ) from Rueda: pure, delicious green apple and orchard fruit. On the mouth, straigthfoward, fresh. Nothing complicated about this wine with a ridicolous price. Please, bring me a bowl of steaming clams to have with it!!!. 

Rias Baixas is one hottest places to make whites in Spain. This Pazo de Senorans Valdosares 2016 ( SAQ #  00898411, $23.45) excites me with its vibrant tropical fruit notes. Round and crisp with a good lenght. Harmonious with subtle mineral nuances. I will have anytime a seafood risotto with this wine. A different character, the Val de Vid Verdejo 2016 was richer and riper with a creamier and floral side. A fleshier and longer wine, this could be the wine that I have been loking for to have with grilled halibut and braised cippolini onions.

Image result for twilight zone gif

The Pazo de Senorans Seleccion de Anada 2009 ( Private Importation, $74.00. Case of 6) was something very special. I have never had an Albarino aged in wood. Its something out of the twilight zone. Marked by apricot jam, membrillo and barlett pear, it is super dry and structured. Very tight with a ravishing acidity, it took for a ride in the palate with its pockets of bursting fruit. I can have this wine anytime with poultry cream based dishes.

20171003_131604.jpg

Moving on the with the reds of the portfolio, I had a magnificent Ribera Del Duero. Valtravieso Esencia 1 2015 ( SAQ # 12886849, $19.50) has a magnificent complex nose bringing to mind spices, dry black fruit with subtle roasted herb nuances. The structure and flavor profile brings to me mind a left bank Bordeaux from St-Estephe. Fleshy, nervy with a tarry tannic expression. Hard to believe that under $20, we can find Ribera del Dueros at this quality.  Wood is very well integrated. On a chilly day, I will have this wine with an oxtail stew.

The Valtravieso Crianza 2015 ( Private Importation, $24.95, Case of 12) shows the greatness that Ribera del Duero can obtain. Pronounced aromatic complexity. Leather, smoke with cinnamon, licorice and mineral dust. Great palate. Powerful, yet fine tannins and very balanced. This wine echoes a Valbuena Vega Sicilia. Buy this wine by the case and aged it for a least 15 years. Should be great with braised beef ribs.

Moving on with the Riojas we had the wines of Baigorri. I had a crianza 2014 ( Private Import, $27.61. Case of 12). Too powerful for my taste, it had a very pronounced wood nose with extracted jammy black fruit. However, on the palate, it had a good acidity and the finale show a bit of drying tannins. Maybe, it needs some time in the cellar to come all together. For sure, it will please the fans of modern Riojas. A wine of this caliber, needs sanguine meat cuts grilled on a charcoal BBQ.

We finish off with the Baigorri Reserva 2009 ( Private Import. $34.75, Case of 6). Very deep and profound with  hardcore notes of wild black fruits, spices, and new wood. Showing a bit of evolution, it was mindblowing with flavors bringing to mind summer truffle, blackcurrants, dried leaves and tamari sauce. Hard tannins but a  great balance. Would have this wine anytime with pulled beef sandwiches.

 

 

A pleasant encounter with Bodegas Beronia

wp-1488857403518.jpg

Thousands of years ago the Rioja region was inhabited by the Berones; warriors who called their land Beronia. In 1973 the winery Bodegas Beronia was founded; named in tribute to the fighters of this beautiful land. It was founded on a passion for fine food and high quality wines and is now famous for red wines.

wp-1488857474177.jpg

This is what I learned in a recent encounter with  Matias Calleja Ujarte, the technical director from Beronia in a recent passagein Montreal. Senor Calleja was in a road trip with Cristopher Canale-Parola, the Area Manager for Canada for Gonzalez Byass. Beronia form part of this celebrated  family of wine domains since 1982

Beronia is famous for the experimentation with different types of oak. Matias was one of the first wine makers to experiment with an assortment of barrels and types of wood from different countries. He was also one of the first to try mixed oak barrels using French oak heads and American oak staves. Since 1973, the efforts of Matias has helped the signature style of Beronia, a mid point between the traditional and modern Rioja.

We tasted a number of wines available in the Canadian Market. For me the highlight of the tasting were the different samples of wines made with American and French wood that illustrated well the expertise of Beronia in the area of wood aging. Not to forget the legendary 1973 Gran Reserva that we tasted. This was a very much alive wine and makes wonder if Rioja could ever again make wines with this track record of longevity.

Another interesting wine tasted was the Rueda bottling. Gonzalez Byass has decided to invest in Rueda to demonstrate the potential of the area. The project has been led with Matias and Beatriz Paniagua. I was very surprised to learn by Matias that their Rueda is a 100% monovarietal Verdejo, something that it is rare to see as most Ruedas are blended with Sauvignon Blanc. Like I said before, the inclusion of Sauvignon Blanc blurs the character of the Verdejo and in consequence the terroir of Rioja.

Wines tasted

Beronia Rueda Verdejo 2016 LCBO # Vintages: 461327. 2015 was retailing at $11.25. In Quebec, private import by Univins

Lots of green apple, pear and lemon yogurt character with delicate herbaceous nuances. Medium body, refreshing with flavors of confit grapefruit. Very harmonious finale. The wine to have with crab cakes or fried calamari.

Beronia Tempranillo 2014. LCBO # 243055. 2013 was retailing for $13.95. Available soon in Quebec

Cofee, chocolate and prunes in brandy. Noble tones of wood. Full body with supple tannins. Flavors of cherry bomb and halzenut cream. Long. Pair with beef stuffed peppers. Amazing quality for a joven wine, steering toward a crianza.

Beronia Reserva Roble Americano 2014  ( Experimental sample)

Lots of spiced black fruit and irish cream. On the mouth, structured with a medium acidity and fleshy tannins. On the palate classic american oak flavors such as coconut and orange peel. For many, the flavors of American oak could be an adquired taste but I enjoy fondly the style

Reserva Roble Frances 2014 ( Experimental sample)

Very spicy nose.  Vanilla and Cinnamon with mineral nuances such as iron and black damson plums. On the mouth, fruit driven with tannins quite accessible. Well balanced.

Reserva Roble Mixto 2014 ( Experimental sample)

Intriguing nose with cloves and chinese orange. Cola and black fruit. Balanced with a round texture. Very elegant. The best of both worlds

Beronia Reserva 2012. SAQ # 11667231. $20.55. LCBO Vintages: 50203. $20.95

On the nose, smoke and espresso beans. Nice minerality. Voluminous in the mouth with earthy and elegant flavors. Tannins needs a few years to be resolved. One of the best reservas available in the Canadian market. Pair it with braised deer with vegetables.

Beronia Gran Reserva Rioja 2008. LCBO Vintages: 940965. $37.95

Sour cherry, dark olives in brine, prunes in eau de vie. Structured with mature tannins. Well balanced and elegant. Pair it with grilled lamb chops.

Beronia Gran Reserva 1994.

Very earthy showing a stream of tertiary aromas. It actually brought to mind mushrooms, fish sauce and other vegetable nuances. Some of the participants though that the wine was corked but what it actually needed was some time to open it up.

Beronia Gran Reserva 1973

Gorgeous wine. Full of live and vitality. Tones of coffee, moka with dry orange peel. On the mouth, very subdued with retronasal flavors of bark wood. Fully mature tannins. Amazing wine. It was verging towards an old noble Burgundy.

 

 

Wine and Health: Rioja Congress 2017

wp-1487295667697.jpg

Today is a pretty good day. First, because this eternal flu seems to be  going away. After many days drinking water and little wine, I can finally go back slowly to my regular drinking habits. and also my writing too.  Since my sojourn in Spain, I developed a good habit of having wine on a regular basis with my meal.

When I was living in Madrid, I used to live on Fernando Catolico street on the quiet residential district of Chamberi. I rented a room with breakfast and supper included. Lunch was on my own and also wine. By trial and error, I discovered this wonderful little restaurant just 5 minutes away from my flat. Restaurant La Tuna on the 68th civic number of that street. It is a family owned operation. I think the family came from the La Mancha wine region. What I definitely know is that they were a family of vinegrowers.

wp-1487295215118.jpg

Food at La Tuna was not exactly gastronomical fare, more in the lines of comfort food. The menu will change daily but it rotated a few weeks or so. For 3 plates and a bottle of wine, they would charge 10.00 Euros. That was a sweet deal. I used to have lunch, almost every day. Friday was my favorite. They used to serve homemade breaded chicken escaloppe with a hearty portion of french fries. For starters, there was a magnificent lentil soup with chorizo bites and for desert there was always a classic Spanish dessert such as Crema Catalana.

The wine used to be pretty acceptable. It was a mostly a blend of Cencibel and Tempranillo, fruity and rustic with a brawling acidity.  The kind of wine that you would gulp it down.

wp-1487290560524.jpg

Drinking wine on a regular basis, is always a good thing. While browsing the Spanish wine news, I just found out that the VIII International Wine Health Congress will be celebrated in Rioja.  This is a congress in which the latest findings of  wine consumption on health will be discussed. If you want to read the whole article, you can check it out at the Spanish newspaper, El Mundo.

These are the points that there will be discussed:

  1. Personalized diets according to age group
  2. Diet effects over gene transmission. For instance, how the food diet of grandparents affect their grandchildren.
  3. New focus studies over wine polyphenols.
  4. New protective elements of wine.
  5. Wine effects over intestine microbiology
  6. Wine and the mediterranean diet.
  7. polyphenols effects on diabetes.
  8. Wine polyphenols effect on diabetes.

This congress is a shining light while many European health policies consider wine simply as an alcoholic beverage and not as a food. Along our shores, in a study done by celebrity Chef Ricardo and Leger Marketing reveals that Quebecers are the largest wine consumers across Canada. whatever this Congress effects would have any impact on the Canadian scientific community is to be seen. Already, they are skeptical about the positive effects of wine consumption.

This is a time of Bonanza for Spanish wine sales in Canada. According to the news agency EFE, in the first six months of 2016 alone, sales increased to a healthy 10 percent for a value of some $45.7 million. Interesting fact, is that much of the growth occurred in the Ontario province, which is the second largest market after Quebec. For the full press release of EFE, click here.

However I am confident that much of the growth of Spanish wine sales will come from Quebec in the near future. As I write this, the SAQ ( Quebec Liquor Board) continues in their cost saving program for wines of the regular catalog to regain parity with the LCBO. This is wonderful opportunity for the Spanish wine industry. However they have to act fast and not sleep on their laurels.

Good, tasty and friendly wines for your pocket

wp-1487289957100.jpg

Nobella Viura 2016. SAQ # 12698311. $8.00

It is still quite possible to drink Spanish wine, even if you are very limited in your income. Simple yet with delicious fruit orchard notes. Medium body and fresh. Nice white to have with a quick fish dinner on monday night. Nothing complicated, just pleasure.

wp-1487290131565.jpg

Ijalba Solferino Rioja 2014. SAQ # 13004449. $15.05

Ijalba does it again with this organic blend of mostly Tempranillo with Maturana. Solferino grapes are pressed by foot and is made with the carbonic maceration style. On the nose, this Rioja is very expressive of ripe red fruits, with a hint of licorice and church incense. On the mouth, very round and friendly with flavors bringing to mind more red fruits and red licorice. Soft tannins with a medium-long finale. Possibly the best value in the Spanish category at the SAQ

wp-1487290007309.jpg

Solaz Tempranillo-Cabernet Sauvignon 2014. SAQ # 00610188. $11.05

Simple aromas of dark plums, toasted wood and dry italian herb spice. On the mouth, easy-going with a medium acidity. Savoury and vinous with a rather short finale. Its a good choice to have with a chicken club sandwich.

 

Vina Ijalba-The Quintessential Rioja wine.

The Ijalba Family

Readers of my blog may be familiar with the wines of this emblematic Riojano producer. I had a chance to taste many of their wines since the creation of this blog. So today’s post is like a visit to and old friend.If you are new to my page, you are about to discover some pretty darn unique wines. If you are a regular, my post will be like a review

My first encounter with Viña Ijalba was about 15 years ago. Back in 2002, I was a wine rookie living in Madrid looking for a top quality Rioja producer with a price range to fit in my student allowance. In an obscure tasting of countless Rioja wines at the UEC ( Union Espanola de Catadores), the Ijalba wines really stood out for their clarity of fruit, elegance, freshness and discrete use of oak.

The winery was founded in 1975 and currently has 80 hectares under their wing, farmed organically. Ijalba has indeed, gained much acclaim both within Spain and internationally for their incredible result with organic viticulture, as well as their expertise of obscure varietals. These wines, almost in extinction are amongst the few modern Riojas that contineue to impress me with their balance and style, without sacrificing Rioja “personality”. The winery was the first Rioja winery to convert to organics, and a peculiarity  for the region, is that all grapes used for the wines are 100% estate-grown.

Ijalba contiues to  set the tone for environmental awareness in the region, from its organic production to its extensive re-cycling and environmental certification for the winery.  Originally, the vineyards were all planted in abandoned  quarries, which justify the remarkable minerality they are endowed with, especially their bolder reds and, in particular, after some bottle age. The estate’s other distinction is the championing of the less-known varieties of Rioja such as the two Maturanas  and Graciano.

Wines available at the SAQ:

Viña Ijalba 2014 Graciano. SAQ # 10360261. $21.95.

Ijalba’s mission statement is to resurrect the traditional grapes of Rioja, and this wine  from their  20 hectare Graciano vineyard (the largest in the world) has been the flagship since they premiered the varietal bottling in 1995. Growers renounced  from Graciano because of its problematic low yields, but the freshness  and mindblowing perfume of the grape are an important part of what makes Rioja blends distinctive. 2011 brought to this wine an unexpectedly lush texture and seductive blackberry flavour.  Compared to the 2012, the 2014 is heftier with well endowed woody aromas.  In the mouth, it has that trademark clarity of fruit with a dark seduction on the palate.

 

This wine was outstanding with a dish of homemade smoked ricotta ravioli in a tomato sauce. The bold structure of the wine was molding the acidity of the sauce in the palate while the minerality of the Graciano was a dandy complement smoothing out the pungent flavours of the ravioli.

Ijalba Reserva 2012. SAQ # 00478743. $21.35

As always a careful blend of the oldest tempranillo and Graciano from Ijalba. Very spicy nose bringint to mind balsamic notes with a mix of red and black morello cherries. In the palate, powerful  but with  a firm structure, good acidity to keep in checks the wine.

 

Simply, a match made in heaven. You may think that a glass of white will work best. But I find that the spices and bold flavors of the seafood in the paella go hand to hand with the aromatic notes of the wine. In addition, the crispy texture of the rice, subtle the rough edges of the wine.

Sierra Cantabria and Muga, two great Riojan producers

image

Perhaps, my favorite wine region of Spain is Rioja. I hesitate because Ribera del Duero gets into my heart as well. Regardless, I just love the classic wines of both regions.

Since 1870, the Eguren family has been growing grapes and making splendid wines in one of the most important properties in Rioja. Sierra Cantabria go back in history since 1957. They have 90 hectares of vineyards with an average age of 35 years. They are located between the River Ebro and the Sierra Cantabria mountain range. This mountain range shelter the vineyard from the cold winds from the northern winds creating a specific microclimate for vineyard growing and which provide a distinguished personality to their wines.

image

Sierra Cantabria

Voir la photo agrandie du produit. Cette photo s'ouvre dans une visionneuse et peut comporter des obstacles à l'accessibilité.

Reserva 2008

( 100% Tempranillo aged for 18 months in French and American oak )

Big nose. Lots of cassis, spices with a good dose of new oak. Powerful yet very refined. Fine tannins. Will age well for 5-7 years.

Gran Reserva 2005

( 98% Tempranillo and 2% Graciano from vineyards older than 30years. Age 24 months in American oak barrels)

Evolved nose. Red currants and incense. Full body. Austere structure. Linear phase, even in a closed phase at the moment. Flavors bring to mind, smoked cigar tobacco and flowers. Tannins not yet fully developed. Give it another 5-7 years to come around.

Voir la photo agrandie du produit. Cette photo s'ouvre dans une visionneuse et peut comporter des obstacles à l'accessibilité.

El Bosque bottling is a single variety Tempranillo.The grapes come from Finca El Bosque, a small property of 1,5 hectares that has old vines more than 40 years old in clay-limestone soils with gravel and rocks on the surface. 

The area is protected by Sierra Cantabria range, and has a mixture of climates that go from Atlantic and Mediterranean with soft winters and summers with a great difference in temperatures between the day and the night which is an ideal condition for the grapes to ripen.

This special wine is made by the traditional Riojan method. The production start with a pre-fermentative maceration at a cold temperature of 8ºC for 3 days.

Then, the fermentation takes place in French oak vats at a controlled temperature of 28ºC with 2 grape punchings daily for the first 8 fermentation days and once daily during the remaining 5 days.

The aging is done for 18 months in new central European and French Bordeaux barrels, with racking every 4 months.

image

El Bosque 2010

Black fruit jam and compote with lots of new and decadent wood. In addition, balsamic notes with dark chocolate. On the mouth, very powerful, concentrated and extracted but with an striking acidity that keep everything in order. Very fine, polished and silky tannins. Keep it for 30 years.

image

The Muga famy is part of the history of wine trading of the Rioja region.They started first as wine negociants and then they built up their own winery and started making their own wines. Muga has become a Spanish International brand name. Like Torres, their wines are available in more than 50 countries around the globe.

Muga

image

Seleccion Especial 2010

( Tempranillo, Mazuelo and Graciano. Aged in 24 months French oak barrels)

Very refined nose. Cassis, gunpowder, earth and oak well integrated. Full body, powerful but very refined. Fresh acidity, balanced. Nuances of dark chocolate and figs. Well endowed tannis. Young yet but accesible now. Spicy finale.

image

Prado Enea 2006

( Garnacha Tinta, Mazuelo, Tempranillo, aged in 36 months French oak)

Fine evolved bouquet. Dead mountain leaves. Tobacco cigar with roasted pepper. On the mouth, full body, powerful with chewy tannins. Ready to drink now but can be kept for an extra 5-10 years.

 

Vina Ijalba delivers the goods at La Grande Degustation

wpid-20151105_133602.jpg

Another very interesting producer from Rioja present at La Grande Dégustation de Montréal was Vina Ijalba. Ijalba has set the standard for environmental awareness in and around Rioja, from its organic production to its extensive recycling and environmental certification for the winery. They are also famous for bottling obscure indigenous varietals in mono varietals. For more information on them, you can check my previous post on them.

At the table of Ijalba, I decided to tasty  only the wines availabe on private importation. At the SAQ, you can find currently five of their bottlings. These are Genoli, Graciano, Reserva 2010 and Maturana Blanca 2013. In addition, the magnificent reserva seleccion especial 2005. Ijalba is imported by Charton-Hobbs in the Quebec market.

Tasting notes:

Aloque Rosado 2014

( 50% Garnacha-50%Tempranillo. Clarete method of Riojan vinification)

Delicious crisp red fruit on the nose such as cherry and strawberry. On the mouth, medium body, very round, almost like a buttery texture. Flavors bring to mind hints of caramelized red fruit, spices and herbs. A pleasant revelation.

Livor 2014 Tempranillo

( 100 % Tempranillo. Destemmed fruit, No wood, just 100% inox )

Very explosive nose. Smoke and licorice with exuberant black fruit in both dry and confit form. On the mouth, full body, concentrated with supple tannins but nicely balanced. To buy by the case.

Solferino Tempranillo 2012

( 100 % organic tempranillo. Aged 4 months in new oak)

On the nose, reminiscent of traditional Rioja. Aromas of American oak. Coconut, orange, vanilla. Full body with firm tannins.Very elegant and racy like a fine Bordeaux. Lots of length here.

Murice Crianza 2011

( 90% Tempranillo, 10% Graciano. 12 months bottle aging in American oak and a further 6 months in bottle)

On the nose lots of jammy red and black fruit. Also some balsamic cream. On the mouth, full body. Smooth and creamy. Elegant with ripe tannins.

Dionisio Ruiz Ijalba Maturana Tinta 2011.

( 100 % Maturana Tinta, an almost forgotten Riojan variety. 15 days fermentation in bordeaux barriques. Malolactic fermentation in new french oak and aged on its lees)

Very balsamic nose. Lots of licorice, anis and spearmint. Ripe black fruit and eucalyptus. Young with austere tannins. Excellent quality.