Travel Tuesday: Bodega Miguel Merino [Part Two]

We shall not cease from exploration and, at the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. - T.S. Elliot

Good morning everyone, another mid-week Wine Wednesday is upon us, but what will you pop the cork on today? I hope it will be something new and novel, something as yet unexplored.

Where have all explores gone? It's a thought on my mind these days; as I quietly sit behind this computer screen recalling the fond memories of an epicurean summer's travel adventure to Rioja a few years back. Just think about it with me for a second; the history of the world is replete with explorers, some of fame and others of infamy. It does beg the question tho, where has the spirit of exploration gone? Have we all given in collectively to the subtle clamor of our routines, careers and the demands of daily life? 

Coco Chanel is quoted to have once said, "There is no time for cut-and-dried monotony!" She is right. Frankly, I couldn't agree more, life is too short to settle for less. Which is why it’s essential [IMO] to continuing exploring, even if that exploration comes via the purchase of a bottle of wine you've never tried before. Yes, yes you agree to this notion, but you may be asking yourself what is left to explore? 

Before I started writing this wine-blog, sadly I didn't give much thought to travel or exploration of any kind. I was caught up in the monotony of daily life, which is easy to do. But as I began to discover new wines from different regions of the world, I was not content to just pop the cork and enjoy its contents. No, I wanted to visit these regions directly and see for myself where the grapes are grown and meet the fine folks behind the label. One of whom I will be introducing to you very soon.

As to answer the question posed above; c'mon really? There’s a whole world just waiting for us all to explore, and I hope that somehow my story may inspire you to do the same.

As you can see from the picture above [no not the Guggenheim doggie] that is the beautiful plaza which I could see from the window of my room, right outside the Hotel Carlton. Located in a beautiful Spanish city called Bilbao. If I had to choose a city to retire in, it would be this one. It’s so close to many exciting regions and fun destinations, but at the same time has a small town look and feel. I never felt like a tourist here, I just one of many welcomed and appreciated visitors traipsing through the city. 

I told you this was going to be a long post, now you see why I've broken it up into parts. It's going to be like the old adage about, "How to eat an Elephant" blah-blah. So after an incredible 24 hours in Bilbao [eating, drinking, merriment] it was time for our journey to begin. We had the opportunity to visit many wineries, while we were there, a week-long odyssey on the Rioja wine trail. 

One of the visits which really grabbed my attention was the time we spent with Miguel Merino [see below], who met us outside his Bodega situated in the small town of Briones, Rioja Alta. He had just come from the vineyards, still clutching his pruning shears, his shirt rumpled and yet beaming with gracious hospitality. 

If a man could be described of not just having a dream; but actually pursuing it with passion, it would be Miguel Merino. After spending what some would call a "career" as export director for several wineries in the area, instead of taking a break [retirement], he decided it was time to make wines with soul

If you've ever run into someone who has a knack for throwing together amazing results but looking at how it was done perplexes you by the apparent lack of modern top-of-the-line equipment/facilities then prepare to be amazed, because these wines are blockbusters of true Riojan style.  

Their vineyard sites can be found in Briones in the heart of the Rioja Alta, chock full of old-vine Tempranillo grapes just waiting to have their potential unlocked. It's an area renown for its chalky soil and ideal climate marked by an Atlantic influence, one which leaves a stamp of authentic Riojan style on each of the wines bottled at their less than a modern facility. 

I know this story could have been so much more exciting if only our group of purple-stained-grinned writers had been doing a 30-day Yoga-challenge [navel gazing] whilst on this trip to palate-provoking adventure to Rioja. But we did have our moments of intrigue at the wine-fortress of Ben-ja-min Romero [but that's another story and yes knives were involved].

The tasting room built into the bottom floor of a newly restored 19th-century castle, was quite intimate as was the table crowded with the many different wines we encountered that afternoon. Did I have a favorite? Of course, I did, and we were generously offered to take one of our favorites back home with us. My choice, the 2004 Miguel Merino Gran Reserva, a wine you can still acquire from the folks at K&L, who are selling this gem for a stupid-low price of $40. 

What you experience after uncorking wine from Miguel Merino is a unique, traditional Riojan wine experience; one which can not simply be duplicated by planting a few cuttings here domestically. Miguel's use of wild-yeast in the fermentation process, his use of new American, French and even Hungarian oak and farming practices keep the wines true and may I even say wildly authentic. If you'd like to know more about the process, you can read more here.

Okay here comes the tasting note and scoring part of the article. If you're anti-score just imagine the numerical scores are words like good, very good and yummy. For everyone else who's not going to wince overseeing a 'score' associated with a wine review, then please take note. These wines scored some high praise from me, enjoy. My general impressions of his wines ranged from very good to great and I recommend that you grab a few to fill your cellar.

2004 Miguel Merino Rioja Reserva Vitola: In the glass, a brilliant garnet color beams from the glass. Initial tart, tight, chewy tannins. A rustic wine, still boasting of nearly ripe strawberry, cherry, plums and herbals, licorice. A wine I’d lay down to approach later. Dried herbal notes on the nose and bright earth. SRP $40 Score: 91

2004 Miguel Merino Rioja Gran Reserva: A wine with a big bright future. At the time, I thought that this wine will need more time to develop. I was right, but the time frame for its maturation was less than a year. Back then, I wrote "very tight, but tasty tart cherry/plum flavors, herbal [cigars] tobacco, leather and dark mocha looming in the background. Today, this wine is a blockbuster of flavor and finesse. My score 95 points and ready to rock! SRP $40

2005 Miguel Merino Rioja Reserva: Elegant smoothness on the palate, plush plum, blackberry, and leather. The nose is very inviting and enticing. A wine brimming with complexity and polish. The finish is very pleasing, sports good grip and I'm loving the finely integrated tannins. SPR $30 Score: 92

2008 Miguel Merino Rioja Unnum: This wine is a project Miguel's son has put together using 100% French oak and is a wine which sports a new world vibe right out of the gate. Finely ground espresso, spicy tobacco, licorice and tightly wound dried dark fruits. This wine had the silkiest mouthfeel, still drying tannins on end. Boatloads of red and dark fruits, brighter and definitely much flashier. Much better if you lay it down for the long term before approaching. SRP of $45 Score: 91

My visit to Rioja was an amazing adventure, one I will never forget. It still makes an impact on my wine point of view with each and every wine I encounter today. I know some wine-blogs want you to believe you can get that same exact experience from bottles of wine which sell for far less [have the same place names], but the truth is that advice is simply misguided. 

Most us understand you get what you pay for, but some vino-sapiens unfortunately still don't subscribe to that idea, thinking all wines are created equal. If you have a chance/opportunity to experience authentic wine culture for yourself, go for the gusto and never look back. Until next time folks remember life is short, so sip long and prosper cheers!


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