Wines with Soul in a World of Homogenized Fruit Bombs

"These graceful, elegant wines captivate both sensually — their polished textures feel so good in the mouth that you are drawn irresistibly to the next sip — and intellectually, by almost demanding your attention as you seek out each elusive nuance." ~ Eric Asimov

Describing what a Gran Reserva is and is not, could not be stated any better than this quote. Not only does Mr. Asimov make some excellent points about the so-called demise of the Gran Reserva style of wines from Rioja, but he also gives many compelling examples of why this great style of wine isn't going anywhere anytime soon. The amazing ability of the Tempranillo grape to taste fantastic early is enticing enough, but its real charm comes from its innate ability to age, and age well, adding unbelievable dimensions of quality, soul, and substance.

Having spent a week in the Rioja region, not so long ago, I had abundant opportunities to sample quite the variety Gran Reservas and other wines from many different producers; after a visit to one of the wineries mentioned in his article quoted above, I would have to say I heartily concur, the Gran Reserva style of wine is here to stay. If you've not popped the cork on a beautifully aged Gran Reserva for yourself recently from the likes of Bodegas Campo Viejo or one of the many other producers like López de Heredia, La Rioja Alta or Muga you are in my opinion missing the boat. But it's not just the Grand Reservas, that deserve your attention, there's plenty to appreciate in the other categories (Crianza, Reserva) as well.

Belying the serene and bucolic viticultural scene of Campo Viejo above ground is a large city like complex, underground; helping to keep their energy profile in balance. A production facility with a colossal catwalk, and sweeping views of stainless steel fermentation tanks as far as the eye can see. Barrel and bottle holding rooms stretch out across what looks like a vast home improvement store and a bottling facility rivaling that of a Coca-Cola bottler. 

Robot forklifts carry the freshly boxed cases of wine to out of sight holding pens and from my view on the sealed catwalk, workers, looking a bit like a scene from Charlie and Chocolate Factory, scramble to keep up with the fast-paced bottling line. 

One of the unheralded secrets to the fantastic quality of wine from Rioja, bottle aging, before release!

Any wine enthusiasts hitting the wine trail in Spain will want to put a visit to Bodegas Campo Viejo on their bucket list. One of the first wineries in Spain to achieve their carbon neutral status; you'll find their winery is located just outside the small city of Logroño, in northern Spain, worth the drive. 

Despite the volume of wine they produce, some 15 million bottles of wine a year, Campo Viejo manages to stay to true to their core winemaking philosophy, listen to the soul of the vineyard and let the grapes speak their truth. The vineyards around the production facility represent just twenty percent of their overall production, with the balance provided by other growers who adhere to the same principals of caring for the land, with sustainability practices.

If you think about it for just a moment, to fully appreciate the mass undertaking of winemaking skill needed to pull off producing quality wine, at reasonable prices, it's mindblowing. Admittingly, some of their wines are better than others, but there's also vintage variation, something few domestic bottles in these price points experience. Grab a bottle for yourself, uncork it with your favorite weeknight entree, and enjoy a true expression of subtlety over sheer hedonistic power. The contrast is quite eye-opening. 

In this week's 'uncorked' spotlight is the Campo Viejo 2003 Grand Reserva, hello vibrant Rioja. A bottle of wine which oddly enough, reminds of my boot-camp days, and you may be thinking, "huh, I don't get it" but hold on because here comes the explanation. Reaching way back in my past for this analogy, when I was in boot-camp which was more than a lifetime ago [ha] I was assigned to Equine Echo; where I learned a valuable lesson about raw [undisciplined] power, how it was a recipe for disaster; but focused and carefully harnessed it's a powerful tool for good things. In this case, producing a fantastic wine's that over-delivers on quality, soul, and substance, even on a large scale.

So it's with this quote; Meekness isn't weakness; it's just strength under control" ~ Otis Lockett I want to recommend to each of you, this fantastically beautiful juice for your consideration. It was my time spent in the Rioja region which helped me to reach the conclusion of finesse vs crass hedonism, this is what I love about Spanish wines and why you should as well. These wine folks is a demonstration of power under control; it's has a tremendous structure for further development and yet is stunningly approachable in the here and now. In a word the tannins are nothing but well-integrated SILK, you could easily drink the whole bottle without even thinking about it.

This is the kind of wine that makes me wish I could jump inside the empty bottle with a straw to get every last drop. It is wines like this from Rioja, and Campo Viejo specifically which not only receives the highly coveted "drink now and drink" often recommendation but also is the recipient of the lauded "highly coveted run, don't walk" buy a case recommendation.

In the glass, a brilliant garnet colored cored, slightly dulled with age like a broken in baseball glove. This wine sports nuanced meaty-strawberry and ripe plums flavors and aromas and a lively acidity that is really refreshing. For the foodies out there, looking for a perfect food wine that does not get in the way, but enhances the experience this wine delivers that and more. It's very possible this particular vintage is no longer available, but rest assured in the knowledge (insider info) that their 2015 is going to be epic, that's once it's released, but that will be a few years from now.

For anyone keeping score, I'm giving this wine a solid 94 points. This wine demonstrates the premise of this blog;  with my now familiar catchphrase "you can pay more, but seldom do you get more!" Probably one of the best things about this wine is that it sells for a near pauper's prices of $21 [SRP] and cash-strapped wanna-be winos everywhere rejoice, applause please, this wine is a QPR champ. Until next time folks remember, compromise is for relationships not wine, so sip long and prosper cheers!

Perfect Pairing: Traditional Reserva Rioja, notably the Bodegas Campo Viejo, paired with the Tortilla Española is an ideal pairing. The tortilla plays off the savory creaminess of the herbal notes, and light cherry and plum flavors. The signature dish is Tortilla Española—a prime example of the cooking and eating philosophy in Spain, where simple recipes are made using fresh ingredients.


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