Stunning Reserva that is classy, classic and very, very easy. No excessive weight and a delightful aged profile, it is packed full of bright red and black fruit, laced with delicious spices: this is one of the most charming of Riojas being made today.
The quintessential characteristic of this winery is to be reserved; it's therefore no surprise that this wine is one of their most-loved and revered wines. Made using hybrid barrels of French and American oak, this is a wine that never overplays its cards and never feels too intrusive or heavy. This silky-smooth, balanced red has structure, elegance and a very long finish.
It's also remarkable value for a wine of this intensity and poise - you rarely get to see such controlled complexity at this price point. Made from 25 year-old vines, there is a maturity of spirit that is present in this wine - like it's been here before and isn't too worried about what people think.
One of the really interesting things about this wine (the one that you could boast to your friends about...) is the hybrid barrel element - they are the only winery in Rioja who use barrels made of two different types of wood, American staves and French tops and bottoms. They reckon it gives the wine the complexity and structural elegance from the touch of the French, with the subtle but gorgeous elements of American oak (typical vanilla and creamy notes) from the slightly higher stave quantities. It's aged in these barrels for a minimum of 18 months and then bottled with almost no fining or filtration, where it then rests for another 20 months... it's a long process and means that by their own constructs their current most youthful release could be the 2019 vintage, but in reality, that wine is still sleeping in their cellars and we might have some of the 2018 before too long. We're currently still very happy with our 2016 lot, thank you very much.
There isn't a rush here and that's one of the other very endearing elements to this wine and to the winery as a whole. They are well-able to put out huge and expensive wines (see their Culmen...) and single site, single plot wines even, but even at this end of their scale there is the same attention to detail and care you'd expect to find at the top.
Interestingly, the winery has vineyards in both Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Alta and unusually blends from the two regions for their 'classic' lines - the Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva. It's because for establishing a thumbprint or a calling-card identity, they believe in an essence of style and a communication of a concept, rather than necessarily of just one place. They make spectacular single-vineyard wines, but for a style representative of their long tradition and their history in the Rioja zone, they reckon that sourcing from both subzones suits their goals best.
The wine is made in a fairly traditional manner with the exception of some temperature control. This has a dual purpose: first and foremost to enhance and retain the bright red fruit berry-like flavours from the grapes, and secondly it allows for a greater level of consistency from one vintage to the next - the flavours will be more likely to be similar, which is better for the customer experience, if the ferments can be controlled in this way.
The vineyards are all very important of course and do offer great quality whether from the legendary Lanciano vinyeard or from other corners that run to the Ebro river, there is a rich bounty of quality throughout. The telling of this in the wine making process comes to the fore with a three-week maceration process - the amount of time that the grape skins stay in contact with the juice after it has been fermented - which is done in order to get the most of the flavour and structure into the wines. Balanced by temperature controlled ferments and elegant, non-intensive ageing and you get this wonderful balance for which the wines have become famous.
The winery is a young one - established in 1972, they have not quite rewritten the rules, but they have certainly done things in their own way. The biggest thing for assuring their quality being the purchase of the single vineyard Lanciano. This pocket of the Ebro river is the same calibre (indeed the same typography) as Contino, just up the river, with its history dating back a thousand years.
They're just outside the town of Fuenmayor, in wine terms right on the border with Rioja Alavesa; in political terms right on the border with the Basque country. It means that they are very close to their monumentally important single vineyard of Viña Lanciano.
They use a vast array of different oak barrels, used according to the grape variety and style of wine that they are seeking to achieve - the hybrid being a lovely example of initiative.
The wines have been made by María Barúa since 2002 and her specific expertise in oak use has led to these developments that allow for myriad flavours of the grapes themselves to be experienced, rather than just the flavour of oak. Funny in this day of oak use being abandoned across the board, her argument is that there is no need to reduce or do away with barriques at all, because there will always be a place for them, so long as the right barrels are used with the right wines!
Delicious, classy and extremely approachable Reserva Rioja.
Grape(s): Tempranillo, Mazuelo
Style: Structured, Smooth, Pure, Perfumed, Medium Bodied, Juicy, Fruity, Elegant, Creamy, Complex, Bright, Balanced
Best food matches: Wild Boar, Veal, Tapas, Steak, St Stephen's Day, Soft Cheeses, Roasts, Ribs, Red Meats, Poultry, Mature Cheeses, Lamb, Hard Cheeses, Grills, Game, Fine Dining, Duck, Cheeses, Charcuterie, Beef, Barbecue