James Bond and the terroir of Cognac

Is there terroir in Cognac?

In “Goldfinger” there is a great scene where James Bond and M are having dinner with Colonel Smithers of the Bank of England and learning about the gold business. After a presumably sumptuous dinner the banker brandishes a beautiful cut crystal decanter and says, “Have a little more of this rather disappointing brandy.”

M looks at and sniffs at his glass and asks, “Why, what is the matter with it?”

Know-it-all James Bond states categorically, “I’d say it was a 30 year old Fine and indifferently blended with an overdose of Bon Bois.”

The banker replies, “Quite right.”

M, obviously perturbed says, “Colonel Smithers is giving the lecture 007.”

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James Bond knows all about the terroir of Cognac

What is Bond talking about?

Look at the map of Cognac and you will see at the center, just below the town of Cognac,  the region named Grande Champagne. Around that is Petite Champagne, which is in turn  surrounded by Fins Bois which, finally, is surrounded by Bon Bois. There is even a further outlying region named Bois Ordinaires which obviously James Bond wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole.

At the very center of the Grande Champagne region is the village of Segonzac.  The plateau above the village produces the most age worthy brandies of the entire region. For me Cognac is the greatest illustration of the very concept of terroir, indeed I think that it proves that terroir exists.  Here is an excerpt from Nicolas Faith’s fantastic article, “Jurassic Vineyard – How Cognac Loves that Crazy Old Chalk”  in issue 14 of “The World of Fine Wine” from 2006:

“There is nothing except geography – and geology and all of the other factors that compose the mystery of terroir – to explain the superiority of brandies fem certain parts of the region, above all from the best subregion – and then, as we shall see, not the whole of the subregion.  For there is simply no other possible explanation.  To start with, virtually all of the vines are of the same variety: the relatively neutral Ugni Blanc.  The dominance of this variety has reduced the effect of terroir when compared with the brandies produced before phylloxera from more aromatic varieties like Colombard and Folle Blanche.  All the grapes are harvested at the same time at virtually the same alcoholic degree, which varies only between vintages and not between parts of the vineyard. The grapes are fermented in exactly the same fashion, then all of them are stored for a few weeks with no sulfur or other additive. The distillation process is equally standardized, taking place in precisely the same type and size of stills, with those for the second fermentation limited to 25 hectoliters. The stop and start points of the “heads” and “tails” – the flow of the first heavily alcoholic and last underproof spirit from each individual distillation – do indeed vary, but that’s a matter of style rather than of quality and in any case the variations are pretty minimal.

The raw spirit is then matured in oak casks of exactly the same size.  They produce two rather distinctive styles of Cognac, depending on whether they are made from the relatively open-grained Limousin type of oak or the tighter-grained Troncais.  But in marked contrast to the to the situation as far as wines are concerned, fine Cognacs are aged not just in both type of casks but also in those of very different ages – the most extreme are those made by the deeply reputable house of Delamain, none of which has ever seen a grain of new wood.”

So Cognac, unlike any other wine or spirit producing region is produced in the same fashion from the same grape variety.  The differences come from the soils that these grapes are grown in and the blending of the brandies of different ages and the age of the barrels.  The expert blenders in Cognac have found that the only brandies that improve with age past ten or fifteen years are those from the Grande Champagne region, especially from the plateau above Segonzac.  Over the years more and more vines are planted in the very best subregions of Cognac and fewer and fewer in the Fins Bois, Bois Ordinaires and Bond‘s disappointing Bon Bois.

After phylloxera ravaged the region it was replanted to one varietal. In Segonzac the chalk soil is highly porous and the subsoil is composed of thick bands of similar chalk. The thin topsoil drains well and the thick spongy chalk subsoil retains water releasing it slowly.

This friable Jurassic chalk, called Campanian chalk, is only found on the upper slopes in the heart of the Grande Champagne region and includes a species of fossil that is found nowhere else: Ostrea vesicularis. The soil also contains lumps of crystallized iron pyrite called marcasite which, incidentally is also found in Pauillac.  Petite Champagne has another variety of chalk called Santonian chalk which is almost as good for growing grapes to be distilled into spirit but that does not quite reach the heights of the best Grande Champagne cognacs.

Interestingly more than fifty percent of the land in Grande Champagne is planted with vines, in Petite Champagne it is about thirty percent.  The Bon Bois region is very large – three hundred and seventy two thousand hectares.  In this vast region only twelve thousand hectares are planted to vines.  Why?  Obviously 007 – once again, knew precisely what he was talking about.

 

Clusel-Roch Cote-Rotie winemaker tasting!

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Gilbert and Ghuilhaume Clusel at work

Meet-the-winemaker tasting with Clusel Roch Cote Rotie’s

Cote Rotie is one of France’s great regions… and bottles of Cote Rotie are generally priced accordingly. So these aren’t wines we get to open very often.

But today is special! Not only are we opening spectacular Cote Rotie from a top vintage, we also have the winemaker in the Manhattan store to pour the wines and talk about them.

We hope you’ll join us for this rare, free Cote Rotie tasting, Friday, November 17 from 5:00-7:00 pm at our Manhattan shop on Broadway between 21st and 22nd! (If you happen to be hanging out anywhere from Chelsea to Grammercy and NoMad to Union Square we’re a short walk away and this tasting is well worth it!)

Clusel-Roch is a tiny grower in Cote Rotie that makes some of the best wines from some of the rarest, most amazing Cote Brune terroirs. They have some super-old vines in “Les Grandes Places” (going back to the ’30s) which transmit the terroir like only old vines can, and when they replant, they use only the traditional Serine clone. `The farming is biodynamic (Ecocert certified, even) and the yields are low. Vinification is relatively traditional (lots of whole clusters and aging in old oak with just some new) and the wines are do that magical thing of Cote Rotie, being both wild and elegant, intense but lithe.

Come join us to taste and hear about the magic. We will taste:

Guillaume Clusel, Coteaux du Lyonnais “Traboules”, 2016, $16.99
Cote Rotie, 2013, $59.99
Cote Rotie, Vialliere, 2013, $94.99
Cote Rotie, Les Grandes Places, 2013 $109.99

(and, anything else the winemaker fancies!)

All the wines will be 15% off for newsletter subscribers!

Free Billecart-Salmon Seminar

billecart cuvee

We’re thrilled to be hosting a free guided tasting of the wines of Billecart-Salmon Monday, November 13, from 7:8:30 pm at the New York store.

Billecart-Salmon is perhaps best known for their pale, salmon-colored rosé Champagne, a true benchmark of elegance and class.

But their whole line up is amazing and each of their bottlings is worth knowing. At this free seminar you’ll get the chance to see much of their range in multiple vintages:

Billecart-Salmon, Champagne Brut Reserve Champagne, NV — $49.99
Billecart-Salmon, Champagne Brut Rosé, NV — $74.99
Billecart-Salmon, Champagne Extra Brut, 2007 — $87.99
Billecart-Salmon, Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs, 2006 — $184.99
Billecart-Salmon, Champagne Brut “Cuvée Nicolas François Billecart”, 2002 — $189.99
Billecart-Salmon, Champagne Brut Rosé “Cuvée Elisabeth Salmon”, 2006 — $249.99

Seats are extremely limited and being assigned on a first come first served basis. Please email val here to request yours.

Rosenthal Wine Merchants Winemaker Dinner

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Dear Friends:
We’re throwing a dinner party with some of Neal Rosenthal’s greatest producers—and you’re invited!

We hope you’ll join us for an evening of amazing food and wine, where you’ll have the opportunity to rub shoulders with the winemakers from:

  • Recaredo, the finest Cava house in Spain;
  • Gravner, producer of singular, extended maceration and amphora-aged Italian wines;
  • Le Clos de la Meslerie, a tiny domaine which puts out one terroir-driven wine per vintage; and last, but certainly not least,
  • Chateau Le Puy, the biodynamic powerhouse of the Right Bank in Bordeaux.

It’s so rare to have this many amazing winemakers in town at once, and we are taking advantage. This spectacular evening will feature a delicious menu by Millicent Souris at Williamsburg’s convivial Brooklyn Kitchen and, of course, amazing wines from each producer (list and wines below).

As you probably know, many of these wines are limited (and expensive) and we wouldn’t have been able to organize this event without the generous support of our friends at Rosenthal Wine Merchants. RWM has been a natural and authentic wine trailblazer for decades and each of these producers exemplify that philosophy. This opportunity won’t present itself again, and we hope to see you there!

Who: Recaredo, Gravner, Le Clos de la Meslerie, and Château Le Puy
What: A 4-course dinner, each course complemented by a selection of wine from each producer.
Where: The Brooklyn Kitchen’s gorgeous Private Kitchen, located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn
When: Monday, November 6th, at 7:30pm
How Much: $199, all-inclusive

Here’s the amazing menu Millicent has planned, with accompanying wine selections:

First Course with Cava Recaredo
Le Grand Aioli. Le Grand Aioli is the best produce of the season, spread out and eaten with aioli.

2010 “Terrers” Brut Nature Gran Reserva
2012 “Intens” Rosé Brut Nature Gran Reserva
2005 Gran Reserva Particular

Second Course with Clos de la Meslerie
Pan-Roasted Monkfish with beluga lentils and agrodolce squash.

2013 Vouvray
2010 Vouvray
2009 Vouvray

Third Course with Gravner
Pork loin with coriander-cracked potatoes, fennel purée and Romesco sauce.

2008 Ribolla Gialla Venezia-Giulia
2008 “Bianco Breg” Venezia-Giulia
2004  “Rosso Breg” 2004

Fourth Course with Chateau le Puy
Wine-braised lamb neck with roasted carrots, mushrooms and green olives, finished with a paté brisée top.

2014 Emilien
2012 Emilien (in magnum!)
2010 Barthélemy

Given the great value and incredible opportunity, we expect tickets to go fast. Click here to buy tickets or, if you prefer, send an email to valerie@flatiron-wines.com, and let me know how many tickets you’d like and I’ll take care of it.

We are so looking forward to this event, and hope you’ll join us!

Cheers,
Valerie

Winemaker tasting with Olivier Merlin–Today in New York Shop

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Man and Horse Making Great Wine

Olivier Merlin is one of the great winemakers of Burgundy.

His family vineyards aren’t centered on any of the illustrious appellations of the Cote d’Or, but on the Maconais. He’s one of the hard-working talents showing just how great the wines from this undervalued region can be: complex, mineral, ageworthy… delicious!

His whites are some of the best value white wines in the whole world.

We’re thrilled to have him in the shop today to share his wines and talk about what it takes to make top flight wines, vintage in and vintage out. Wines will be available at a discount for all newsletter subscribers.

Hope to see you there! (No RSVP required)

And please stick around because right after we’ll have more delicious wines for you (sans winemakers):

Bernhard Ott, Grüner Veltliner “Am Berg”, 2015 $18.99 $16.14
Wind Gap, North Coast “Soif,” 2015
$24.99 $21.24
Sandhi, Chardonnay “Santa Barbara County”, 2014
$26.99 $22.94
Rene Geoffroy, Champagne Brut “Empreinte”, 2009 
$62.99 $53.54 

Chateauneuf du Pape Dinner with Vieux Telegraphe Winemaker, Daniel Brunier

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Daniel with old vines and Galets Roulés

 

 

 

 

 

We are super-thrilled to be able to invite you to an intimate dinner with Daniel Brunier, proprietor and head winemaker of Vieux Télégraphe. Vieux Télégraphe is one of the best wines in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, from one of its supreme sites and made by some of its greatest talents, and this promises to be a wonderful and exceptionally rare opportunity.

When: Tuesday, October 24th, 8pm

Where: Blue Ribbon Federal Grille, 84 William Street, New York

Price: $190 (including food, wine, tax and tip)

Sold Out For Now…

We are exploring options to offer more seats. To put your name on the waiting list please:

Email Valerie here

Daniel is a gentleman and scholar who has been working the high, wind-swept vineyards of his family’s domaine since the early ’80s. It sounds cliché, but Daniel has such charm and elegance that the term “gentleman” is most appropriate. And his deep knowledge of the geology and history of both his own domaine and the entire region is truly scholarly.

This will be a rare opportunity to taste back-vintage Châteauneuf with a winemaking legend. The wines will be served with a perfectly-paired four-course meal, next Tuesday, October 24th, at Blue Ribbon Federal Grille, the newest outpost of one of New York’s classic restaurants. The event will start at 8pm.

If you’re reading this blog, you almost certainly know how honest and straight-up delicious Blue Ribbon’s food is. But, if you’re anything like me, seeing the special menu they’ve planned for this event will remind you of why their restaurants have been NYC favorites for over two decades.

Tickets are $190, all in. This is an outstanding value. The library wines are direct from Blue Ribbon’s Cellar. They are sure to be in top condition.

Seating is limited and we expect the event to sell out quickly, so please don’t hesitate to email me to grab your seats.

To reserve your seats email me here!

Hope to see you there

 

Vieux Télégraphe Dinner

Blue RIbbon Federal Grille, 84 William Street, Tuesday, October 24, 8pm

Apéritif
Peekytoe Crab Egg Shooter w/Tarragon Aioli
Domaine des Pallières, “Au Petit Bonheur,” Rosé de Gigondas

1st Course
Turkey Neck Rillette – served family-style
Baby Kale Caesar Salad
Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe, Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, 2014
Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe, Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, 2015

2nd Course
Slow-Roasted Prime Rib w/ Potato Purée, Giblet Gravy, & Roasted Garlic
Roasted Mixed Mushrooms & Spicy Kale
Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe, Châteauneuf-du-Pape “La Crau”, 2013
Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe, Châteauneuf-du-Pape “La Crau”, 2014
Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe, Châteauneuf-du-Pape “La Crau”, 2015

Cheese
Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe, Châteauneuf-du-Pape “La Crau”, 2011
Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe, Châteauneuf-du-Pape “La Crau”, 2004

Cru Bourgeois Part 1

I’ve been drinking a lot of Bordeaux lately. Mostly, this is because I was in Bordeaux. But not for a fancy trip; I didn’t visit a single Grand Cru Chateau. I was there to explore and drink Cru Bourgeois.

If you love wine, especially Bordeaux, you need to pay special attention to this category. It provides some of the very best values in the world for red wines in the $20 – $50 range. And I’m going to explain why in a short series of posts.

This first post is for a little background.

 What is Cru Bourgeois?

To be a Cru Bourgeois a chateau must come from one of the Medoc’s eight AOC’s: Medoc, Haut-Medoc, Margaux, St. Julien, Pauillac, St. Estephe, Moulis, and Listrac-Medoc. The Cru Bourgeois classification was created to denote high quality (a Cru Bourgeois is not just any old Chateau!), though not Bordeaux’s highest.

As you probably know, the greatest Medoc Bordeaux are considered to be the Grand Cru Classés, which are themselves divided into 5 growths. For example, the most famous Medocs (Latour, Lafite, Mouton Rothschild, and Margaux) are all “First Growths.” Chateau Palmer, stellar and expensive but not generally considered on their level, is a “Second Growth.”

There are hundreds and hundreds of Chateaux in Bordeaux and only 61 Grand Cru Classés. The “Cru Bourgeois” are the best producers that are not Grand Crus Classés.

Cru Bourgeois Label

The traditional Cru Bourgeois label denoting high quality.

If these producers are so good, why aren’t they considered Grand Cru Classes?

The Grand Cru Classés were defined in 1855. They made a list of the most expensive Bordeaux for some World Fair, and that list somehow became gospel. Nobody took into account how the wines tasted. There were no 100 point scores, no somm pics on instagram. It was just market price. It was Idiosyncratic in a way that now seems rather un-French.

Randomly, they only listed 60 producers. Cantemerle, number 61 at the time, talked its way onto the list a few months later. Academics say that some more expensive Chateaux just didn’t bother to submit their data and so were excluded. It seemed like useless paperwork back then, no doubt!

But since then, no matter how good your wine is, there has been no way to get on this list. Even if you have terroir right next door to the First Growths (as some Cru Bourgeois have) or if Robert Parker scores your wine higher than, say, Lynch Bages (happens to Cru Bourgeois all the time) you’re not a Grand Cru Classé. Sorry.

So how did Cru Bourgeois get started?

You can imagine how frustrating it was for all those producers in the Medoc, with great terroir and delicious wines but no shot at big-time recognition. Everyone was focused on the Growths.

So in 1934 the forces that be (a local Chamber of Commerce—now things are getting French) came up with a list of particularly good Bordeaux that weren’t Grand Cru Classes, and called them Cru Bourgeois. Like the Grand Cru Classes designation, the Cru Bourgeois designation became enshrined in law, and soon it appeared on wine labels.

The name seems a bit unfortunate to modern Americans (and the French too), especially those of you who are familiar with works like David Brooks’ “Bobos in Paradise” or Marx’s “Das Kapital.”  But put yourself in the head of a 1930s Frenchman (I’m assuming here that the women can’t be blamed for this decision), and you can kind of see what he’s thinking: we may not be the aristocrats — that’s the Classified Growths — but we live in castles too (they actually do) so we’re the Bourgeoisie! Or something like that.

Did this classification work?

For many years, it did. When I first “studied” Bordaeux, back in the 1990s, it was common wisdom that Cru Bourgeois was where the value was. Interest in the Cru Bourgeois grew, especially after the 2000 vintage, which was the first time that many drinkers discovered that they had become priced out of the Classified Growths. So in my early years in the wine business, customers would walk in the shop and ask for Cru Bourgeois.

But things went awry. Some producers Cru Bourgeois felt that they produced better wine than others, and wanted to charge more. But with the same legal designation — shared by too many producers at over 400! – there was a lot of market resistance to higher prices. So they tried to shake things up and started classifying the Cru Bourgeois. From 2003 to 2007, you had three kinds of Cru Bourgeois: the basic Cru Bourgeois; better wines were Cru Bourgeois Superieur; and the best wines were Cru Bourgeois Exceptionel.

You can imagine the politics behind sorting out who is what level. Nobody could agree, there were lawsuits, and in 2007 a court outlawed the system. A few years later, the Cru Bourgeois was revived, but with just one classification.

But there was a new twist: to get the CB designation, you had to win a tasting contest! A complicated set of tasting panels had to decide your wine tasted as good as a “standard” bottle of wine. And what does a “standard” bottle taste like? Well, that was also determined by its own complicated jury selection process (yes, now we have a fully French system). This process repeated itself every year­—so you could be CB one year and not the next. Meaning, unlike with the Cru Classé: it was no longer producers that were designated Cru Bourgeois, but particular wines from particular vintages.

So Cru Bourgeois meant three different things within the span of one decade. Consumers couldn’t keep up, and they stopped paying attention. It was much easier to understand the value proposition of a “Second Wine” (a wine made by a Classified Growth producer but not the “Grand Vin,” such as Le Petit Mouton, Mouton Rothschild’s second wine). Even overlooked appellations like Fronsac started to get more traction. A lot of consumers started heading in that direction. It didn’t help that many of the best producers (including most of the Cru Exceptionel) didn’t even bother submitting their wines to these jury panels, instead deciding to rely on their own well-known brands for marketing — Chateau Poujeaux is a top example.

So why are we talking about Cru Bourgeois?

Well, for one thing, the Cru Bourgeois are making a determined effort to sort things out once and for all. The solution they have come up with is similar to St. Emilion’s. Starting in 2020, the producers will once again be classified. Probably there will be two classifications initially, and then at some point three. They’re still working out the details. But here’s why it will be a much better system than the last two attempts: designations will be based on a tasting of five vintages from each estate, and will be awarded to producers — not individual wines — for five year periods. If the system works as expected, there will be a fairly stable categorization of the producers, with perhaps a handful of promotions and demotions every five years, just like in St. Emilion.

All this is very interesting, but here’s the most important reason to pay attention to Cru Bourgeois: Many of these Chateaux are producing not just the best value red wines in Bordeaux but in all the world. Last week in Bordeaux I drank so many great red wines — some young, some 20 years or older — and was astonished to learn that very few of them sold for more than $30 in the United States. This is an excellent hunting ground for value.

In the next three blog posts or so I will try to explain why it is that these wines represent such good value and give you some tips on incorporating Cru Bourgeois into your wine drinking — and cellaring.

Herri Mina

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Pétrus is at the absolute apogee of the wine world. And it isn’t just a trophy wine for people with far too much money, although it is that, in part. Just like some other untouchables (DRC comes to mind) the château actually makes utterly sublime wines that show the utmost respect for local tradition and terroir.

That the wine is so honest and true to itself is in no small part thanks to Jean-Claude Berrouet, who oversaw 40 vintages there, including many of the great wines that put Pétrus into the wine world’s pole position.

But Berrouet wasn’t satisfied playing only at those rarefied heights: he also craved that quintessentially French experience of working on more modest, humbler wines—country wines. So, like DRC’s Aubert de Villaine (who founded his incredible Côte Chalonnaise Domaine de Villaine for similar reasons) he had side projects where he (and now his son, who also succeeded him as Pétrus’ winemaker) could connect his hands with soil in terroirs that he knew were both truly great and wildly undervalued, and make wine ordinary people can actually afford to drink.

One of the side projects, Herri Mina, which we talked about in this space a while back, is out in France’s Basque country—Berrouet’s land of origin. You see, feeling homesick, Berrouet moved back to work the local terroir, growing Cabernet Franc (Pétrus’ other grape) and Irouléguy’s excellent native white varieties.

Now, these wines are not like Pétrus… and that’s OK! Pétrus just isn’t the bottle to open for steak off the backyard grill on a hot summer night. But these wines are perfect! The Herri Mina’s pretty fruit and subtle tobacco and earth notes put it somewhere between Bordeaux and Saumur-Champigny stylistically—but with its own special character. 2014 is a very good vintage in Irouléguy (not as hot as ’15) and the wine has perfect balance.

And don’t forget the white! It is dense, complex, full of fruit and mineral. If Txakoli is an expression of the Basque seaside, think of this Irouléguy Blanc as an expression of its mountains. Both are serious wines, despite the great price, and would benefit from a little cellaring or decanting.

Herri Mina, Irouléguy Blanc, 2013 – $28.99

Herri Mina, Irouléguy Rouge, 2014 – $29.99

Don’t miss out on the 2014 Red Burgundy Vintage!

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2014 was one of those rare vintages in Burgundy that was equally good for red and white wines.  Most of the hyperbole was directed to the fantastic quality of the white wines.  Indeed it is true that from Macon, through the Cote Chalonnaise and in the great growths of the Cote de Beaune – even all the way up to Chablis – the 2014 white Burgundies were hailed by everybody as the greatest vintage since 1992 and so on and on.  They are undeniably marvelous.

However – 2014 Reds are being overlooked and this is a sad state of affairs.  Because of the hoopla over 2015 red Burgundy, people are forgetting about one of the best red wine vintages we have seen in a long time. The 2014 red burgundies are a great “mirror” of the different vineyards they came from. Village wines taste like the exceptional village wine that they are,  the premier crus are a great step up and grand crus are obviously on another level, even at this young age. People often talk about “transparency” in a vintage and here is a great opportunity to see the Burgundy Cru classifications illustrated for you – right there in your wine glass.

 The growers know and I think that no one has expressed this with greater eloquence than the exceptional Cecile Tremblay:  “I really like the vintage as it’s ultra-pure, in fact unlike any of the recent vintages there is no one defining element of the 2014 vintage. In 2011, 2012 and 2013 you know instantly which one is which because of their specific characteristics. 2014 isn’t like that and as such you can really taste the underlying terroir.”

Becky Wasserman says that she had a real deja vu experience with the 2014 vintage – she thinks it is a reincarnation of 1966, one of the first vintages she was able to purchase on arriving in Burgundy. She had lunch with the Lafarge family in Volnay and told Michel Lafarge about her perception of 2014. He sent Frederic down to the cellar to get a bottle of 1966 Volnay Clos de Chateau des Ducs and they had it with the cheese.  She was right! Anthony Hanson said that it is as rare to have a vintage that can be drunk and with such delight as it is to have a vintage that will last for years and years.

Check out our selection here

Reveling in Rioja

Recently, I had the pleasure of going on a Rioja DOCa Trade Tour, sponsored by the IMG_4085Consejo Regulador— the control board governing the wine region of Rioja, first established in 1925. Along with seven others, I was taken to some of the most well known Bodegas of the region, as well as some more off the beaten path. I learned a lot about Rioja, both the wines and the region.

Not to be confused with the political region of La Rioja, the wine region of Rioja crosses political boundaries, with some of its bodegas and vineyards falling in the Basque country and Navarre. Made up of three subregions, Rioja consists of Rioja Alta, Rioja Baja, and Rioja Alavesa. The climates are remarkably different, from Atlantic/continental to Mediterranean.

The heart of Rioja is the Ebro river, which runs from the northwest of Spain beginning in the Cantabrian Mountains and eventually empties into the Mediterranean Sea. Fed by 7 major tributaries each in their own sub-valley, it flows through Logrono (the capital of La Rioja) and Haro, where many of the most famous bodegas of the region are located (Lopez de Heredia, C.V.N.E.,La Rioja Alta, etc).

IMG_4025Rioja is broken into three subregions, Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa, and Rioja Baja. While Rioja Alta has a continental climate and Rioja Baja has a more Mediterranean climate, Rioja Alavesa is right at the foot of the mountains and though similar to Rioja Alta, is often susceptible to very cold winds.

There are many bodegas producing high-quality, traditional style Rioja, but it seems there are just as many producing more experimental wines. One interesting thing about the DOCa of Rioja is that while only certain grapes may be used, and how long crianzas, reservas, and gran reservas must be aged in oak and bottle, other than that there isn’t much to distinguish what type of wine you might get. For example, you may have a bottle of 100% Tempranillo and it’s labeled “Rioja,” or you might have a bottle of 100% Garnacha, which will also be labeled “Rioja.”

Something exciting I discovered is that there is a lot (ok maybe not a lot, but more than I thought) of very high quality Rioja Blanco being produced. Sadly, not much of this is being exported to the U.S., with the perception being that the market doesn’t want it. Barrel aged 100% Viura is one of my new favorite wines, and with good reason: so much of it was exceptional that each time I had the opportunity to drink one I did. As a group, we mentioned to the that we’d love to have access to more Rioja Blanco, and hope that soon enough there will be more available for us to pass on to you.

Of course we do have a few, with the most notable being the Lopez de Heredia “Tondonia” Rioja Blanco Reserva 2003 ($46.99) as well as “Gravonia” Rioja Blanco Crianza 2006 ($28.99). We also have, by an almost as well known producer, Marques de Murrieta, Rioja Blanco Reserva “Capellania” 2010 ($23.99).

My favorite bodega visit was our final one, when we visited Senorio de P. Pecina, and it was the perfect ending to an excellent trip. I had requested that we visit this bodega IMG_4175because we carry a lot of it in the shop, and I was not disappointed. Truly traditional Rioja, there wasn’t a single bottle that I didn’t love, from the current vintage rose back through to a 1997 Rioja Reserva. I have been selling these like mad since my return, because I truly stand behind them.

Currently we have:

Rioja, Cosecha 2015 $14.99
Rioja, Crianza 2012 $19.99
Rioja, Reserva 2009 $27.99
Rioja, “Vendimia Seleccionada” 2006 $36.99

I believe that Rioja is some of the best value in the wine world, as a lot of the region’s wine-making techniques were learned from vignerons from Bordeaux who were trying to find new land after phylloxera hit. Gran Reservas from top bodegas and top vintages are still available for well under $100.00, and until the word gets out, this trend should continue.