Travel Tuesday: Rioja Uncorked

If you resolve to give up smoking, drinking and loving, you don't actually live longer; it just seems longer. ~ Sir Clement Raphael Freud

Thinking a moment about Freud's statement, I find a surprising amount of common sense for everyday vino-sapiens, life itself should be taken in moderation, whether it's love, cigars or wine drinking, you need to know your limits and learn to just say, "no thank-you." Which to my mind is an entirely acceptable reply to even the most gracious of hosts. It's all about finding the right balance between the (FOMO) fear of missing out and knowing, honestly, it's okay if you do.

Now that said; when most vino-sapiens think about where the wine comes from, they are thinking about the French term terroir (tare-wahr). It's a term that describes the climate which the grapes grow and thrive in, plus the various soil and sub-soil types which are often ultimately (and I say hopefully) reflected in wine swirling about in your glass.

Meandering as I did, through the captivating La Rioja wine region in the not so distant past, in many cases, I had the opportunity to see various soil types, I was hard pressed to find any two regions which were remotely alike. Each one had its very own unique character and style. The Tempranillo grape, which is the signature grape of the area, fits very nicely into each of these regions. Making for some of the most impressive wine drinking moments I've experienced at that time.

Wines, which for many are a whole different animal, especially for the folks who may have grown up around the California wine industry. The age of their wines at release is markedly different than it's in the states. That fact alone sets a uniquely high bar for appreciating quality, soul, and substance of wines, there really is no comparison, except for collectors who have socked away cases of their favorite vintages. Most wines are released as wild-eyed teenagers, whereas in Rioja, in general, their wines are released as mature adults, who've had a variety of life experiences, and came out the other side better for having lived through it.

What I found in many of the wines I tasted Rioja was just what I expected I would; a signature sense of place that jumped from the glass in the nose and wowed my palate over and over. The folks I met, had a profound abiding passion for the wine business, it was evident in each and every wine I tasted last week. While some winemakers and producers had embraced what many call the "international" style which at times stymied the flavors of Rioja's unique terroir, still others clung vigorously to the past, maintaining the more "traditional" methods of winemaking. In some cases, I believe their wines have crossed the bridge between the two and masterfully so and making that point for me with an exclamation point is the wine in today's wine review spotlight, the 2008 Sierra Cantabria "Cuvee" Especial.

Unfortunately, I could not find this current release here in the states. I encountered this wine for the first time, while at one of the many tapas bars doting local streets [sounds like topless bar] bar-hopping during my visit. But if you'd like to get your hands on 2007, I used wine-searcher to locate one store (selling for $35 USD and it was $26 at the tapas bar) that has limited quantities on hand, so act quickly.

In the glass, you’ll find dark purple, violet core, with a brilliant clear rim. The aromas jumping from the glass suggested an incredibly rich nose, offering boat-loads of blackberries, leather, herbs and earth aromas. After the first slurp, sweet American oak combines with flavors of dark chocolate, espresso, blackberries, and ripe plum, leading to a soft, plush, yet taut and complex mouthfeel. This wine finishes with a long, smooth, yet very chalky (like clapping two erasers together, inhaling some of the dust). For me, I found this wine to be absolutely delicious, lovely, yet wildly seductive, and drinking surprisingly well now, but feel free to sock it away for the future, this wine has an excellent structure one to last another five years or more.

Speaking of terroir, this wine was produced from clay and limestone vineyards in the Rioja Alavesa, one of the three sub-zones in La Rioja. This 100% Tempranillo, is made from organically grown, hand harvested grapes. It then sees 12 months aging in 60% American and 40% French oak barrels, providing an excellent example both of the Bodegas Sierra Cantabria's house style and better than most overall quality.

Miguel Eguren who I met on the trip, looks after the vineyards for Sierra Cantabria, while the winemaking is done by his brother Marcos and his son Eduardo, both of whom are producing stunning wines whether it be in the traditional or in the modern international style [aimed at the import market]. Their Bodega has been producing excellent wines under the Sierra Cantabria label for over 50 years, firmly placing their business in the sustainable column.

How can I say that, because I had the unique opportunity to sit down with a broad range of their wines from their portfolio, which included a 1965 magnum brought up from the cellar with years of dust layered on the tattered label, with some tried and true efficiency, the top of the bottle was removed, bypassing the cork. The sixty-five, was stunning, still so full of life, an impressive demonstration as to the age-worthiness of their wines. Folks, honestly you need to get to know this producer, because in this writers opinion this how you do it, viva Rioja! Remember folks when it comes to wine, it doesn't mean a thing, if it doesn't have that swing, until next time folks, sip long and prosper cheers!


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