Rockin Rioja! Mystere Wine Club tasting of Rioja wines from 2001 onwards

Readers of the blog will know I am a Rioja nut. It was my first love wine wise (a La Rioja Alta – Vina Ardanza being one of the wine that really opened my eyes as to the merits of drinking wine for pleasure rather than merely as a means of getting drunk) and is a wine region (great to visit) that will always be close to my heart.

I, therefore, jumped at the chance of choosing wines for and leading the first Mystere Wine Club tasting of 2019 on wines from Rioja. The Mystere Wine Club cellar is a thing of beauty and I really struggled to pin down a mere 8 bottles for the tasting. After much deliberation and changing my mind about 20 times, I got my final eight.

A nice selection of producers, areas within La Rioja (with wines from all three Rioja areas in the form of Alta, Alavesa and Oriental) and vintages (spanning 14 years), all promised an interesting tasting. I split it between reds and whites, with the reds dominating (6 out of eight wines) as is the case in terms of production levels of red and white in Rioja.

The Spanish have a saying of ” Si no es tinto, no es vino” which is basically “If it ain’t red, it ain’t wine”. This short changes many of Spain’s excellent whites, not least, the very underrated whites wines of Rioja. These can be truly great wines, with the likes of R. Lopez de Heredia’s Vina Tondonia Blanco (reserva and the, truly mindblowing, gran reserva) and Marques de Murrieta’s Castillo Ygay Blanco, but our budget didn’t stretch to the latter by some margin. The 1986 vintage of the Ygay (only just released) goes for £500 plus a bottle and the Vina Tondonia Blanco Gran Reserva 1964 goes for a wallet shredding £821.89.

The wines

A fine line up for the first 2019 tasting of the Mystere Wine Club I thought, but I have to admit I was a bit nervous as to the reaction of the members to some of my choices. Club members don’t tend to pull their punches if they are unimpressed by a wine.

Granja Nuestra Señora de Remulluri SA – Remelluri Blanco 2011

First up was one of my favourite white wines from Spain (and indeed anywhere) in the form of the Remelluri Blanco from Granja Nuestra Señora de Remulluri SA in La Rioja Alavesa (actually part of Pais Vasco/the Basque Country). This wine was from my collection rather than the club’s cellar.

From the stable of Spanish wine superstar “Telmo” Rodriquez (you know when you have made it in the wine world when you are known by only your first name), this wine is about as far from a traditional white rioja as you can get. It is a field blend of 9 different grapes (there is much debates as to what these 9 are, with seemingly little online consensus), which to my mind give this wine a distinct Rhone feel.

On the nose it had lovely aromas of wild flowers, stone fruit, quince and pears. Seductive stuff to say the least.

On the palate it had a beautiful freshness to it, that belied its age, a crisp yet honeyed fruitiness and a touch of warming spice (ginger).

Luscious is the word that comes to mind when describing this wine and this is, in my opinion, one of Spain’s greatest, unfortified, white wines

A big hit this wine with club members, which was gratifying for me as I have promised them that an additional white was worthy of inclusion and had raved about how good it was. It is always nice to have others (who know what they are talking about) vindicate your view on the merits of a particular wine.

A beautiful and very versitile food wine this. I had the 2014 vintage

with a fab meal at Mirador de Ulia

in Donostia San Sebastian last Summer.

Price: €65 (£57 – I paid £47 for my bottle a year or so back)

R. Lopez de Heredia – Vina Tondonia Blanco Reserva 2005

Next up was a wine that is about as traditional as rioja gets.

Vina Tondonia Blanco, from arch traditionalists R. Lopez de Heredia in Haro (La Rioja Alta), is seriously old school and what I would call a marmite wine (there is no middle ground, you either love it or hate it).

Made from 90% Viura and 10% Malvasia, this wine is aged in really old oak barrels for 6 years and has only recently been released for sale.

On the nose there are signs of oxidisation (intended here, rather than a fault), that are almost sherry- esque, with rich citrus (orange) notes in term of fruit and blossom. On the palate it is very dry, with a lovely nuttiness (almonds verging on marzipan) to it. I also got a touch of salinity. Lovely wine and an interesting contrast in style to the Remelluri.

You may love or hate Vina Tondonia Blanco (split the room a bit this wine), but you have got to try it at least once. I have a stash of this and some older vintages including gran reservas (stuff is really built to age and the 1964 gran reserva is apparently still drinking beautiful – so I am told as I can’t afford it😭) and I am very much in the “love it” camp.

Price: £28- £30

Bodegas Palacio- Cosmo Palacio “1894” 2014

This winery is situated just outside the picture postcard town of Laguardia in La Rioja Alavesa, with the wine named after the year the winery was founded.

Made from 100% tempranillo and aged for 15 months in French oak, it had a nice nose with red (plums and cherries) fruit and some floral tones. On the palate it felt young with some quite grippy tannins and dark, but unripe, fruit. The consensus of opinion from members was this felt a bit commercial in nature. My view was it was pleasant enough and I would be very happy if someone bought it to a dinner party, but it was bit pricey for what it was.

This wine won a Decanter Platinum Award and scores very highly with the critics such as Penin, which surprises me a bit and begs the question ” What do I know?”. Perhaps my palate is missing its nuances, but I thought the price to quality ratio was a bit off.

Price: €55 (£49).

Vinedos de Paganos – El Pundito 2011

An old favourite of mine this, having visited the winery in Paganos in 2013 (they treated us grandly).

Made from 100% tempranillo from vines planted in 1975, this wine is the aged in French oak for 16 months

Beautiful winery, with El Pundito being their second wine (La Nieta, from a single 1.75 hectare plot, is the top one). I have this wine (the 2011) in Bilbao at Casa Rufo a couple of years back (with a txuleton).

Very good then, I was keen to see how it had developed.

On the nose this was a big hitter, with pungent aromas of ripe black fruits (blackberries), vanilla, tobacco leaf and cedar wafting up from the glass. It has definitely opened up a bit since I last tasted it.

On the palate it had the same big presence, with leather, dried meat, and oodles of ripe sweet blackberry. As it lingered, there was licorice and spice (touch of star anise) in the mix.

This wine had matured nicely since I last drank it, but has years left in it and I think it will get better and better over the next 5 years or so. Very pleased I have two magnum of the 2006 of this wine in my wine room (may well be time to crack one open, ideally with a big hunk of prime beef).

Price: €45.25 (£40)

BR&VS – Macan Classico 2010

The BR and VS stand for two of the great names in the wine world in the form on Baron Rothchild and Vega Sicila. Here they have formed a joint venture producing two wines (in the Bordeaux style, a grand vin and a second wine) in the village of San Vicente de la Sonsierra in La Rioja Alta

The Macan Classic is their second wine and is 100% tempranillo matured in French oak barrel for 16-17 months

On the nose I got more red fruits than black, with a distinct whiff of coconut, licorice and tobacco (some members mentioned bacon fat, but they must have a finer nose than me as I didn’t pick that up). On the palate, it didn’t quite live up to the promise of the nose with the tannins still quite tight and it had an overall feeling of immaturity to it. Felt young in the mouth, with a distinct cherry core. Nice, but I thought it still needed a bit more bottle time to reach its full potential.

Price: £ 38.60 (duty paid).

La Rioja Alta – Gran Reserva 890 2005

Named after the winery’s date of foundation (1890 – they lost the one to avoid confusion with the year), this is truly one of the greats of Rioja.

Couple that with the ” excellent” classification of the 2005 vintage in Rioja and the fact that this 2005 890 is only the third vintage of this wine ever to get the La Rioja Alta “Selección Especial” moniker (2001 – have a bottle of that currently on the way to me – and the great 1964 vintage being the others – tasted the latter a few years back and was a bit disappointed, but could have just got unlucky with the bottle – expectations also too high maybe) and the potential of this wine is enormous. It is certainly a wine that the critics have gone wild over (and thus is hard to get hold of and getting harder with prices going North rapidly).

So did it live up to the hype. In a word, yes. This wine (made from 95% tempranillo, 3% Graciano and 2% mazuelo and aged 6 years in American oak) was, despite only just having been released for sale, absolutely singing.

On the nose there were intense aromas of sweet plums, exotic spices, tobacco and rich leather notes. I even got a walf of lavender in the mix. Absolutely gorgeous nose.

On the palate, I got hedgerow fruits, and spice (vanilla and star anise), with a nice slake of acidity and well integrated tannins. Great length to this wine, with the fruit taking a back seat and the spice really coming though as it lingered on the palate for an age. A wine with huge amounts of complexity, yet precise and elegant in nature.

Already lovely, this wine is just starting to spread its wings and when it hits its “a point” maturity wise it is going to be truly stunning.

Not cheap, so is it worth the money? In my view undoubtedly so. A truly great rioja and one that will just get better and better over the next 10 year.

Price: £138

La Rioja Alta – 904 2004

In theory the baby brother of the 890 (I often perfer it to the 890 and it is a lot cheaper), the 904 is named after the year the winery merger with Bodegas Ardanza (with the 1 being lost), this wine is an old favourite of mine. The blend is 90% tempranillo and 10% graciano, spending 4 years in American oak barrels (so 2 years less than the 890).

On the nose it had a distinct aroma of coconut and chocolate (I called it bounty bar), with vanilla and almost candied fruit. On the palate, it was a bit shorter than the 904, with pleasing notes of coffee, spice, aniseed and sweet, candied, fruit.

Great wine, just not as good as the 890 (lot cheaper though).

Price: £63.80 (duty paid)

Bodegas Vinicola Real – 200 Monges 2001

Final wine of the night was the one and only wine from La Rioja Oriental (previously Baja – no idea why they changed the name, I think the new one sucks if I am honest). A blend of 85% tempranillo, 10% Graciano and 5% garnacha, aged in a mix of French and American oak for 24 plus months, this perhaps suffered coming after the 890 and the 904.

On the nose I got black fruits (cherry), licorice and a touch of coconut. On the palate, there were some nicely integrated tannins, black fruits and vanilla.

From the stellar 2001 vintage, the thing that really stood out was how young and fresh it felt. Hard to believe it was over 17 years old.

Nice and in less esteemed company it may well have shone brighter, but here it lacked the complexity and the wow factor of the 890 and 904.

Price: £40.86

The verdict

A fantastic tasting, with two polar opposite whites and a fine selection of contrasting reds. The stars of the show were the wonderful complex and “different” Remelluri Blanco and the two stellar La Rioja Alta wines, which show just how world class rioja wines can be.

My top three wines (which concurred with the club members’ view), discounting price, were as follows

1) La Rioja Alta 890 2005; 2) La Rioja Alta 904 2004; and 3) Remelluri Blanco 2011.

Great that a white came in the top three I thought.

If you bring price into the equation, my top three would be the same three in a slightly different order (due to the price of the 890 being over twice as much as the other two podium wines):

1)La Rioja Alta 904 2004; 2)Remelluri Blanco 2011; 3)La Rioja Alta 890 2005.

Another fine Mystere Wine Club tasting and worth pointing out that new members are always welcome.

Next up (me leading again) on the 6th February is a tasting of the relatively unknown garnacha wines of the Sierra de Gredos. Looking forward to that one.


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