Friday, March 6, 2009

Learn about Rioja Wine

There's no doubt, Rioja wine from Spain is hotter than ever, but if you're like most folks, the label looks as bewildering as a chart of elements. The folks at Campo Viejo have helped me break it down.

Tempranillo is the primary varietal used in Rioja wines, followed by Garnacha (aka Grenache in France), Graciano and Mazuelo. Rioja's quality wines are classified either Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva. Each denotes a minimum aging requirement in oak barrels and in bottles.

The youngest Rioja style is the Crianza which spends a minimum of 12 months in barrel and 12 months in bottle before being released to you. This is your easy drinker and a popular choice for house wines in Spain. It's also usually the least expensive option of the three classifications because the costs are lower.

Reserva wines also spend a minimum of 12 months in barrel but 24 months in bottle. It's usually an earthier style than its Crianza counterpart and is a bit more lush vs. bright.

Gran Reservas, the granddaddy of them all, comes from the most select grapes and spends 24 months in barrel and 36 months in bottle at minimum. These wines are not necessarily the most full-bodied of the wines though.

I highly recommend the Campo Viejo Gran Reserva from Elena Adell, a female winemaker, who you know we always love to support. It's a steal at $20 for this kind of depth with black fruits, earthy oakiness and dried spices. (buy here)

2 comments:

Robert McIntosh said...

Great to see commentary on Rioja, thank you.

I'd only like to take issues with one minor thing. A proper "Gran Reserva" is unlikely to be the most full bodied. Quite the contrary. Having spent all that time in barrel and bottle, a proper Gran Reserva is lighter bodied and often ligher in colour, than a Reserva.

What you will get are lots of "tertiary" aromas (a fancy word for things that come from ageing and not fruit or barrel). These will be the leather, balsamic, and vegetal (in a nice way) notes.

Gran Reserva, although the 'top' designation, is not necessarily for everyone, but is very rewarding to those who like wines with some age. If you are new to Rioja, I definitely recommend you start off with a good Crianza or Reserva first, and build the anticipation for exploring Gran Reservas

Hope that helps too.

Anu Karwa said...

Thanks for the clarification, Robert. Very helpful.

How to Pick a Summer Wine: The Gentler, Lighter Side of Wine

Summer’s soaring temps beg you to step away from heavy Cabernets and check out the gentler, lighter side of wine. When choosing the perfect summer wine for your outdoor engagement party or wedding, think light, crisp, refreshing--and because people tend to drink more in the heat--lower in alcohol. Nothing more prettily suggests summer than a dry (i.e. not sweet) rose. Avoid the simple, syrupy versions and try French roses from the Mourvèdre grape or roses made using the Saignee method for more complexity. Pick wines from countries where you imagine the locals sipping leisurely at sidewalk cafés while basking in the sun, like Spain. A Spanish fave is Albarino from the Rias Baixas region. Made to drink young, Albarino is a crisp, white wine with intense fruit, lively acidity and generally a lower level of alcohol. It pairs perfectly with summer foods from seafood to grilled vegetables. But you don’t need to swear off red wine for summer. Look for light bodied wines like Pinot Noir from Oregon or a Valpolicella from Italy, both capable of standing up to barbequed foods. And don’t be afraid to put a slight chill on your red wine. It is summer after all!

Rías Baixas Albariño from Spain, “Exceptional with Everything” Oh Really?

There's nothing we love more than a challenge. It's in our makeup. We're two women, thirties. One Indian. One Filipina. The first, founder and CEO of a business in the arguably male-dominated wine world. The second, building experience to be a future proprietess of a wine store. Add to this: In New York City. So when presented with the opportunity to play wine and food critic for a night—to pair Rías Baixas Albariño wines, proclaimed to be "exceptional with everything" with Mercat’s offerings —it is impossible and simply against every ounce of who we are, to refuse.

Mercat means “market” in Catalan, the language of the northern Spanish region where owner, Jaime Reixach, is from and where the restaurant’s menu draws its inspiration. The albariños we’ll be drinking also originate from the northern region, and so we’re already anticipating more perfect wine pairings than tragic mismatches.

It’s a beautiful warm Thursday night—and we are tasting two Albariño wines: Alba Rosa from Martinez Serrantes and Pazo San Mauro, both 2006 vintages. We take our time with each wine—assessing them alone and then side by side. At the end, we agree that both are delightful: the Alba Rosa is sparkling with surprising depth while the Pazo San Mauro would bring life to our springtime picnic. Further, we imagine that if each wine were to be personified, they might just be these two ladies, described as such:

Alba Rosa Martinez Serantes Albariño | Scarlett Johansson: "Sparkling with surprising depth"

Alba Rosa Martinez Serantes Albariño | Scarlett Johansson: "Sparkling with surprising depth"
This golden blonde hued wine gives an almost effervescent quality that shoots racy brightness into your mouth. It has the usual grassiness and citrus qualities one expects from this wine. The reason why this wine fits Scarlett most is because it has the quality of lightness but comes with surprising depth of character and fullness in body. The comparison would be perfect were the wine to show great legs, but its light-bodied, lower alcohol nature doesn’t allow it.

Pazo San Mauro Albariño | Cameron Diaz: “Livens up your springtime picnic”

Pazo San Mauro Albariño | Cameron Diaz: “Livens up your springtime picnic”
Cameron would be a fun addition to any springtime outing. Her lightheartedness would make everyone smile and this wine does the same. The light yellow straw color gives way to granny smith apples, peaches, melon, and citrus scents that jump at your nose, smelling like springtime in a glass. This wine begs to be explored further. The crisp and pleasantly tart apple is balanced with pear and makes it the perfect brunch wine.
Now, we move on to the heart of our challenge: Exceptional with everything? Oh really? How do these two beauties handle themselves in company? After the three and a half hours of glorious sipping, chewing, and chatting, among ourselves and the restaurant staff, here are our findings:

No surprise, our lovely wines get along splendidly with their classic and traditional partners: we have raves for the nicely seasoned patatas bravas—not too spicy, not too garlicky—and the padrones/blistered shishito peppers, the char and oil offset by the tartness of the wines. One of us goes wild for the Canelons de Verdura/eggplant wrapped spring vegetables, manchego, and cranberry reduction. And then Chef Lowder sends over Trencat d’Ous/mushroom with salsa verde topped with a fried egg, which again, goes splendidly with our wines. Even the suckling pig/Cochinillo, which we think will surely clash, in fact becomes the surprise of the evening. Like the beauty and the beast, our wines and the pig make an unlikely but harmonious pair.

We ask ourselves for the last time: Rías Baixas Albariño from Spain: Exceptional with Everything?

If not for being the gluttonous bottomless pits that we are, we would certainly have answered YES with an exclamation point. But since we order those two desserts—Torrades Sta. Teresa/fried bread with lemon yogurt and Pa Amb Oli Xocolata/bread, olive oil, and chocolate, our answer must be: Almost. These two desserts with our two Albariños — are disastrous.

Rías Baixas Albariño from Spain: Exceptional with almost Everything.

--Anu Karwa and Marie Estrada

Visit http://www.riasbaixaswines.com for more info on Rías Baixas Albariños from Spain
 

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