At a recent dinner, I was tasked by a couple of friends to bring Spanish wines that were off the beaten path. The challenge: one of these friends is fond of red Rioja while my other friend dislikes it. Worse yet, they had been disenchanted with their previous selections hailing from the Iberian Peninsula. I thought I would throw them a curve ball. I selected two reds, an “unknown” wine from Rioja (Loriñon) and a wine from an “unknown” region (Calatayud). Obviously, in this particular ocassion, the “unknown” applied to my disenchanted friends.
Loriñon Rioja, from Bodegas Brenton, is made in a classic old world style. For starters, the fruit used for this particular Loriñon wine comes from vineyards located in the Rioja Alta, at the highest elevation in the region. Typically, wines from Rioja Alta are bright and earthy, making them exceptionally food-friendly. Furthermore, this Crianza has been aged in american oak barrels adding an element of elegance and age-ability. This peculiar bottling offers aromas of freshly crushed fruit and spiced with fantastic oak undertones. Although I love oaky Riojas, this iteration is well balanced such that one could taste the layers of fruit, minerals, spices and oak working well together. For the uninitiated, the predominant grape variety in Rioja is Tempranillo. According to the Wine Bible, a typical Rioja wine may contain around 60% Tempranillo, %20 Garnacha and smaller percentages of Mazuelo and Graciano grapes. In terms of the maturing of the wine, crianza means (literally “nursing” in this context) that the wine was aged no less than 12 months in oak barrels and 12 additional months in the bottle. In case you wonder, Reservas are aged 24 months of which at least 12 months must be in oak barrels and an additional 12 months in the bottle prior its release. Grand Reservas are aged 5 years, spending no less than 18 mont in oak barrels and 36 months in the bottle. By the way, this wine paired very nicely with grilled lamb rubbed with rosemary and garlic. I decided to decant this it because at first, it was tight, despite its age. After two hours in the decanter, it got better and better sip after sip.
This Claraval wine is from Calatayud, a relatively new and small DO in the Province or Zaragoza, acquiring DO status in 1980. Although there are seven authorized grapes in Calatayud (Garnacha, Mazuelo, Tempranillo, Monastrell, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah) to make red wines, the most relevant grape variety in Calatayud is by far Garnacha. This 2006 version consists of 50% Garnacha, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Tempranillo and 10% Syrah. This wine is rich, loaded with notes of chocolate, charred fruit, leather notes. It finishes with a core of cherry and blackberry fruit that it is almost impenetrable. At first, I was tempted to pair it straight up with the lamb, which it actually worked well. However, I thought that after aeration, the perfect partner food-wise was Jamón Iberico and manzanilla olives. In either case, please do not believe me. The truth is in the bootle. Try it!