Rioja Reserva–Traditional & Modern Style Wines
Santiago Ijalba & Roberto of Bodegas Santalba
On Monday, Eric Asimov of the New York Times, published an article titled, “For Reservas, No Cellar Required“, where he discusses the benefits of buying Rioja reservas, because the wines are often well-aged before they’re sold, which leaves the consumer out of the aging/cellaring equation. Here, Asimov emphasizes the point that though Rioja reserva wines must be aged for a minimum of three years, with at least one year in cask, before they’re released to the market, many producers go the extra mile and age the wines even longer.
Out of the 20 wines sampled by the tasting panel, our Ermita San Felices Rioja Alta Reserva 2005 made the top ten. Produced by Santiago Ijalba, of the father/son team at Bodegas Santalba, Ermita is a traditional style wine that’s only made in years that are deemed “excellent” vintages by the Rioja Control Board.
Jorge Perez, our Iberian Portfolio Director says of traditional style wines, “For me, the wines are more delicate on the palate. They’re are not as extracted, and are lighter in color and in body.” And they tend to use a blend of French and American oak.
With 20ha under vine, all of which are certified organic, Bodegas Santalba offers both traditional and modern style wines. And though both father and son employ spontaneous fermentations, they represent two different generations. “Both of us look for the Rioja style,” says Roberto. “We believe that Rioja has a great name and quality. It has its own style. The difference [between us]? Maybe he’s more focused on balance and elegance, [while] I’m looking for an expression of the grape, Tempranillo. Not to make an international wine, but a more concentrated Rioja…not heavy.”
A 97-year-old Tempranillo vine in the Ogga Vineyard at Bodegas Santalba
Also produced by Santago Ijalba, Ogga Reserva Rioja is made from organically farmed 90+ year old vines. The 2004 Santiago Ijalba Ogga Reserva Rioja earned 91 points from Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar, who described the wine as: “Inky ruby. Exotically perfumed bouquet of cherry-vanilla, candied dark berries, Asian spices and cola, with darker espresso and black cardamom qualities gaining strength with air. Lush, broad and deep, offering liqueur-like dark berry and candied plum flavors and a strong jolt of vanilla on the back end.”
In his article, Asimov writes: “For years, Rioja wines demonstrated a stark divide between the traditional and the modern, which were characterized by an inky density and power, and the overt use of small barrels of French oak. You can still find those very modern wines, though you might be hard pressed to identify them as Rioja. But even the top modern wines in our tasting bore the characteristic flavors and textures of the region. It’s fair to say that now, instead of a yawing gap, you have a diversity of styles clearly identifiable as Rioja.”
A classic, yet modern style of Rioja from Rioja Alta, Conde de Hervias Mencos Reserva 2005, from De Maison Selections, is a second label to Iñigo Manso de Zuñiga Ugartechea’s Conde de Hervias. Made from 50+ year old vines and “fermented in stainless steel with indigenous yeasts and aged for 16 months in one to two year-old American oak barrels,” there is a clear difference in the style of the Mencos and the Ermita.
The Ermita Reserva Rioja Alta 2005 is quite delicate, with notes of black cherry and spice and silky tannins that are tightly woven into the tapestry of the wine. The acidity here peaks mid-palate, while the Mencos Reserva 2005 is round, full and lush, and clearly more New World in style. Angular like the face of an Old World farmer, the Ermita has sharp acidity, while the roundness of the Mencos is more like an American profile that has been rounded out over generations.
Also from De Maison Selections, Remelluri Reserva Rioja 2007 is another traditionally made wine that’s crafted with biodynamic treatments. Made with native yeasts, the Remelluri, from Rioja Alavesa, is aged for 17 months in 70% French oak and 30% American oak barrels. (For more on Remelluri read here.)
Bodegas Ostatu Reserva Rioja 2007 is another De Maison Selection that is also from Rioja Alavesa, whose producer, the Saenz de Samaniego family, employs modern practices. Made from vines that are over 50-years-old, this Reserva is aged in French oak for 14 months, and shows dense notes of dark stones and smoke, with rich and ripe wild berry fruit.
Ending our offerings on a traditional note, the Miguel Merino Reserva 2005 is made from vines that were planted in the 1960’s. Fermented with native yeasts, the wine is aged for 19 months in Murua coopers with American oak staves and French oak bottoms–a traditional marriage–and bottled unfiltered.