Sunday, April 29, 2007

Spanish Inquisition

Last night our tasting group met for a second take on Spanish tempranillo. Our last tempranillo night was nearly 3 years ago, and our group has changed dramatically over the years, so this was guaranteed to be a very different evening. Or was it? Two of the feature wines were the winners from three years ago...

But I digress. It was an evening of intense debate for our ten tasters, as we pondered the following six wines, both in relation to each other and in relation to the broader world of wine. On paper it was a stellar lineup:

1998 Remirez de Ganuza (Rioja)
1998 Campillo Reserva (Rioja)
1999 San Vicente Crianza (Rioja)
2001 Torre Muga (Rioja)
2001 La Vina de Andres Romeo (Rioja)

2003 Camp Eliseo (Toro)

In the end, there can only be one winner, and while three of the six wines garnered a first place ranking, it was Pramod's 2001 La Vina de Andres Roméo that was the clear crowd favourite. Six tasters named this their favourite and two rated it second (it also received a fourth and a fifth place ranking). I thought it was spectacular - powerful tobacco and spice at first, it settled down over the evening to reveal roses, strawberry, oak, musk, leather, and smokey/tarry aromas. Very dry and rich with firm, velvety tannins, this powerful wine had a very lengthy finish. This was a beautiful, classic, Rioja that is years from being ready to drink. (RP-96, WS-93)
Score: 18/20
Price: $$$

The Second and Third place wines of the evening were very close, but it was Cosme's 1999 San Vicente that took the runner-up prize - only one first place, but consistently in everyone's top 3. This wine also tied for first 3 years ago at our last tempranillo tasting. On the nose it was also dominated by tar and tobacco scents, with jammy fruit and hint of green pepper. Very attractive, but it was the drinkability that scored this wine so high. Probably the most 'ready' of the evening, it was light-medium bodied, crisp, with velvety tannins, beautiful balance and a long finish. Ready to drink now, but may keep for a few years. Note that San Vicente, is owned by the same company that makes the excellent Sierra Cantabria line of Rioja wines, as well as the famous Numanthia from the region of Toro. (RP-92, WS-85)
Score: 17.5/20
Price: C$55 (est)

The third place wine was Lloyd's 1998 Remirez de Ganuza. More controversial than the first two, this wine generated first and last place rankings - impressive, considering one of the other wines was corked (another subject of debate). Brick red in colour, the wine displayed an attractive nose of tobacco, pepper, leather, mint and blueberry jam. Light-medium bodied with firm tannins and a long finish, this wine was elegant and well balanced with spicy fruit. Ready now, but could improve with some more bottle age. (RP-95, WS-86)
Score: 17.5/20
Price: C$68

Fourth place was Chris' 1998 Campillo Reserva. With his cellar in boxes, he bought this wine on the way to the tasting, and given its modest price it can be called a winner of sorts. I described the nose as fruity and more modern, with smoke, tar, rose, vanilla, pepper, and cherry/blueberry aromas. On the palate it displayed a more modern-style of winemaking versus than the other Riojas - smooth, rich and balanced with a good dose of tannins. Another long finish, this wine will need some time. (RP-88)
Score: 17/20
Price: C$29

In fifth place was Cam's very oddball 2003 Campo Eliseo. The only Toro amongst a sea of Rioja, this wine stood out like a sore thumb. The hand of Michel Rolland was very apparent in a modern-styled, fruit-forward wine. Scents of blueberry jam and butterscotch, it smelled like dessert. On the palate it was rich, thick, tarry and leathery with substantial tannins. It needs time. (RP-90, WS-92)
Score: 16/20
Price: C$66

Yes, I was in last place. My 2001 Torre Muga was corked, although even that assertion was contested. I did not even score it (I was blinded). No point in scoring a corked wine). Disappointing, given the high ratings for this one (RP-95, WS-90). It will be retasted someday.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the 1999 Hacienda Monasterio. This was also a winner at our last tempranillo tasting, and I gave it a good review here. We opened this to finish the night, and many thought this to be amongst the best of the evening. A steal at $38.

Overall, this was a rather controversial tasting. You can see that the Wine Spectator and Parker ratings are all over the map on these, and the relative rankings of the wines by our group were also very diverse. There was even a healthy debate as to whether any of these wines merited those types of scores. I think for many last night, they just didn't like the Spanish styled wines, but I disagree on the quality call - some of these were excellent wines.

With last night's controversy, set against the phenomenal wines that have come out at our last few tastings, I think it will be sometime before we do a Spanish tasting again.

Many thanks to the host and hostess - the spread of Spanish cheeses and the Spanish ham were excellent. And congrats to Lloyd, Pramod and Cosme - you all ranked your own wine first.

Bordeaux up next, I think. Cheers!


Brooklynguy said...

Man, you've been busy lately. Excellent tasting report, makes me want to go out and try some Rioja. I wish I had a tasting group like this too - 10 people! I can't drum up more than a couple of people to do ours.

Joe said...

Yes, I've been on a roll, but the next two weeks will probably be light. I love the Rioja in the summer with a steak off the barbie.
As for the group, it started with a Friday night, four guys/four bottles thing. Then we invited two more guys and the wives/girlfriends got pissed off, so we had to do a couples thing. Ten is actually a bit difficult - remember that means 2.6oz/75mL per taster - too small. It's nice to have two decent pours to see the development - that means 8 people/four bottles, I think. Besides, if you expand the group the dynamics may change - I think we are lucky that we have 10 who get along so well. Better to stick to a small group without any smart alecks!

Marcus said...

Joe you are a true professional.

I meanwhile am such an amateur, especially with Spanish wines. I still remember buying the most expensive bottle I had ever even thought of buying -- this was about six or seven years ago, before I got into wine -- it was that Campillo Reserva. It was maybe even that 98...

But how is it that you never got into wine until relatively recently yet you have all these serious lifelong wino friends?

Joe said...

Hi Marcus. "A professional" would imply I can quit my day job - I'm just a wine junkie, need my daily fix.
As for getting into wine, we started our tasting group in the fall of 2003, but I had been 'dabbling' and reading well before that. My wife bought me the Tony Aspler wine book in the 90s, but it was a "weekend only, under $20, which label looks most interesting" sort of thing. I probably got serious after getting the Parker book for Christmas 2002, at which time we had bought a house with room for a cellar. They are not 'lifelong' wino friends, but they are serious! The male half of the group, as it stands, started in January of 2005, with the girls joining mid-year, so we have a two year gig goin' on.
I actually feel we are very lucky to have the right 'chemistry' - it is hard to get a big group together where everyone likes each other and everyone is equally serious about the 'tasting' part. I have friends who I think would like to be in a tasting group, but would never take it as seriously, so we keep it small. As I said to brooklynguy, 4-8 is the ideal number.