Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES October 12th

The Reds Issue: Rioja and Cabernets

By Sara d’Amato with notes from David Lawrason

Sara d'AmatoA nervy chill is finally in the air and big reds are on the VINTAGES shelves in abundance. While Michael Godel and John Szabo were exploring Tuscany last week, David and I tasted through the selection available to us at the press tasting lab. Although there were very few whites presented to us, in fact the fewest we can remember, this week’s double feature of Rioja and cabernets were fully on display. Before launching into to our global cabernet picks, as well as other red gems, here is a guide to the wines of Rioja – what to look for and what to expect.

The traditional Spanish DO and DOCa terms are used to designate the most restrictive of classifications that guarantee quality in the country and are under the envelope of the PDO tier. At the top of this quality pyramid are the wines designated as DOCa and there are only two wine regions that can use this status: that of Rioja and Priorat. Thus, when you see the DOCa symbol on the label (Denominación d’Origen Calificada) you can expect high standards.

Rioja Oak Barrels

A shift in quality emphasis from oak-aged influence to a more site-specific formula.

Oak is a big part of the character of Spanish wines, even leading to the use of terms such as Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva, all designations of quality that denote the use of oak. Crianza being the least amount of oak use and Gran Reserva the most. At the Gran Reserva level you can expect a red to be aged for 5 years prior to release with at least 2 years in barrel and 2 years in bottle. This differs from Reserva where the total minimum ageing requirement is 3 years with at least 1 year in barrel and 6 months in bottle for red wines. In Rioja, there has been a traditional preference for the use of American oak in contrast to their southwestern counterpart, Ribera del Duero that tends to use more French oak. At least, that is what we have been taught for quite some time. Flux is upon Rioja now with a big shift towards terroir-driven quality as opposed to oak-aged driven quality. In addition, the delicacy of French oak ageing is on the rise in the region, a response to consumer demand for fresher, more fruity wines.

Renewal in Rioja

A Burgundian inspired model has been the basis for a shift in the Rioja Consejo Regulador who announced a change in the regions classification systems over the past couple of years. One of these changes involves the use of the name of the village/municipality (all 145 of them) where the grapes are grown to be printed on the front label. The idea here is to increase the focus on vineyards and villages of exception. This decision has met with some controversy by proponents who believe that strength comes from blending across regions. Despite some resistance, the forward-thinking changes have been largely praised as a means to encourage quality production.

Sparkling wine gets an upgrade in the region as well with a new designation “Espumosos de Caidad de Rioja” (under the Reserva classification) which could prove a high-value competitor to Champagne. There is also a new rank on the ageing classification scheme for bubbles called “Gran Añada”. At the Gran Añada level, the wines must have at least 3 years on the lees and vintage dated wines must be hand-harvested. On the pink side of the spectrum, rosé get more versatile and gains a competitive edge with a new allowance permitting lighter coloured wines to be produced. There is certainly excitement in the air and thus it is about time for a regional VINTAGES focus on Rioja.

Xavier 100% Côtes Du Rhône 2016 


Buyer’s Guide October 12th: Rioja Picks

Urbina 1998 Especial Reserva, Rioja, Spain ($39.95)
Sara d’Amato – Great Spanish reds are aged to perfection, in ideal circumstances ready-to-drink upon release, and here is a fine example of such a find. Lively yet harmonious, this Especial Reserva is notably under-priced.
David Lawrason – It’s hard to imagine finding such a fine mature wine from any other region at such a good price. Now almost tawny colour, this remains very much alive with currant/cherry fruit, lifted rosemary, tobacco and cedarwood. It is warming and energetic.

La Rioja Alta Viña Ardanza 2009 Reserva, Rioja, Spain ($54.95)
Sara d’Amato – A classic, old school Reserva level Rioja with fully resolved tannins but an abundance of fruit. There is a Never Ending Story quality to the length.
David Lawrason – This is drinking beautifully at ten years, with a collage of classic aromas including cherry/currant fruit, cedar/pine, fresh herbs, tobacco and maturing leather. It is medium weight, smooth and warming with great acidity. Such presence here!

Cune 2012 Gran Reserva, Rioja, Spain ($28.95)
Sara d’Amato – Rich and potent, but nicely leathery, this is a good example of oak integration and purity with stylish appeal. Elegant, nuanced and layered.
David Lawrason – From one the great traditional houses, this is an elegant wine. Not a powerhouse aromatically, but so nicely discreet with ripe cherry, vanilla, dried wood and tobacco nuances. It is medium bodied, smooth and texturally refined with easy tannin and gentle warmth.

Urbina Especial Reserva 1998  La Rioja Alta Viña Ardanza Reserva 2009   Cune Gran Reserva 2012

Don Jacobo 2005 Gran Reserva, Rioja, Spain ($39.95)
Sara d’Amato – Elegant and expansive. No need to wait here, this is ready to drink. Effortlessly charming with classic appeal and substantial length. Great value!

Barón De Ley 2012 Gran Reserva, Rioja, Spain ($29.95)
David Lawrason – Here’s a Rioja for fans of a more voluptuous style. This producer does not use any stainless steel – even the fermentations are done in large wooden casks. And it shows on the nose with considerable resin, vanillin and cigar and ripe almost dried cherry/fig fruit. The texture is lovely – rolling, smooth and rich with fine tannin.

Don Jacobo Gran Reserva 2005  Barón De Ley Gran Reserva 2012

Buyer’s Guide October 12th: Cabernets

There is not shortage of big reds in this release and we were particularly impressed with wines from Bordeaux and beyond. Bordeaux blends have been mimicked world-wide and despite lack the lack of caché in nomenclature like “Meritage”, blends of the new world continue to rival the best of the old world.

Château Lilian Ladouys 2014 Cru Bourgeois, Saint-Estèphe, Bordeaux ($49.95)
David Lawrason – The 2014 vintage was lighter, but not unripe, and I am finding many quite pleasant and charming. This sports fragrant ripe berry fruit nicely inset with cedar and shrubby notes. It is medium weight, quite elegant, if still firm, and quite tannic. 

Jim Barry 2016 Cover Drive Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra, South Australia ($19.95)
David Lawrason – From one of my favourite Aussie producers, this is such a well-made, integrated and balanced wine for the money. It has classic Coonawarra cassis, menthol, pepper and pencil-lead minerality – all so well-integrated.

Château Lilian Ladouys 2014  Jim Barry Cover Drive Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

Truchard 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California, USA ($41.95)
Sara d’Amato – A richly textured cabernet sauvignon, bold, intense and aristocratic. Dry with well absorbed alcohol. Classic and sophisticated with excellent length and concentration.

Bodega Piedra Negra 2013 Gran Lurton Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina ($24.95)
Sara d’Amato – This 2013 is starting to show its age but definitely not in colour as it pours a pure, inky purple. The palate offers some notes of dried leaf and meat, the tannins are moderately leathery. Offering an impressive degree of complexity for the price.

Ségla 2010, Margaux, Bordeaux, France ($68.95)
Sara d’Amato – A very full throttle Ségla showing its power here. The tacky tannins are almost fully enveloped by rich fruit. Plump and satisfying with another year or two required in bottle for best expression.

Truchard Cabernet Sauvignon 2015   Bodega Piedra Negra Gran Lurton Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2013  Ségla 2010

Buyer’s Guide October 12th: Other Reds

Chapoutier Belleruche 2017 Côtes du Rhône Grenache/Syrah, Rhône Valley, France ($16.95)
David Lawrason – Best buy of the release in my books. The aromas are not effusive but they are solid and correct with wild plum, pepper, sage and cardamon. It is medium-full bodied, firm and almost stern packing impressive concentration and depth for the money.

Schild Estate 2016 Grenache/Mourvèdre/Shiraz, Barossa Valley, South Australia ($19.95)
David Lawrason – Love the firecracker nose here – very lifted with cran-raspberry, peppery spice, vague menthol and almost chinoto-like vermouth notes. It is medium-full, a touch sweet and hot on the palate. Chill lightly.

Coriole Estate 2016 Grown Shiraz McLaren Vale, South Australia ($24.95)
David Lawrason – A very good buy and a reason to re-think Australia. This is a rich yet refined, deeply coloured shiraz with wonderful blackberry jam fruit, vanilla a hint of menthol, tobacco and pepper. It is full bodied and very smooth with fine tannin.

M. Chapoutier Belleruche Côtes Du Rhône Grenache/Syrah 2017   Schild Estate Barossa GMS Grenache / Mourvèdre / Shiraz 2016  Coriole Vineyards Estate Grown Shiraz 2016

I hope these selections prove comforting as the bite of autumn enters the picture. We will be back with more recommendations next week from beyond VINTAGES.


Sara d’Amato

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