Let’s continue our look at Spanish wines with another winery in the Rioja region. We introduced Rioja in our last blog, which you can read here. This, at least to me, is the traditional heart of Spanish wine. It is one of only two regions to be awarded the highest wine quality designation in the Spanish system of ranking wine production areas. This is the Denominacíon de Origen Calificada , or D.O.Ca, and outside of Rioja only Priorat has been so classified. Winemaking goes way back here, and the robust reds of the region have been well known on the world stage. Our first personal foray into Spanish wine was with Rioja, and it grabbed our attention for life.
In this article we’ll look at a producer in the higher elevation, Rioja Alavesa region. As you can see in the map, the Rioja is divided into three sub-regions, the lower Rioja Baja, the higher Rioja Alta, and the Rioja Alavesa. The Alavesa is very similar to the rest of Rioja Alta, and is essentially the part of it that extends to the north of the Ebro River. Right at a large bend in the river is the town of Elciego, and the winery of Viña Eguía.
From Viña Eguía’s website (http://www.bodegaseguia.com/) you can learn more about this winery, and here is their description of the town: Dedicated to wine-making for centuries, Elciego is a village characterized by ochre colors and solid houses amongst which the graceful towers of San Andrés church stand out. Beyond the center of little streets and squares, palaces and baroque facades, its image has been enriched in recent years with the construction of new wineries exuding spectacular architecture. Elciego is home to modern Riojan wine since it was here in around about 1870 when crianza wine was introduced following the Bordeaux style.
Viña Eguía was established in 1973, with the winery and vineyards subsequently purchased by Bodegas Muriel in 2010. (Bodegas Muriel has a large group of Spanish wineries, and we will investigate more of their portfolio in later installments of this series.). The name, “Eguia”, means “truth” in the Basque language, with the Basque region of Spain lying just to the north. If you look at one of the bottle labels, you can see that the outline of the shape is that of an open book. An open hand is pictured, signifying the putting of one’s hand on a bible to swear that one is speaking the truth. I interpret that to mean they are producing wine which represents the true character of Rioja and the terroir of Rioja Alavesa.
Viña Eguía produces both red, white and rose wines. The Reds include a Crianza, a Reserva, Grand Reserva and another, labeled simply Tempranillo. The white is 100% from the Viura grape, typical for Rioja. The Rose is made from Tempranillo and Garnacha. Here we’ll take a look at two of their reds.
2014 Viña Eguía Tempranillo – this wine is 100% Tempranillo, from 20 to 30 year old vines and all from the Rioja Alavesa vineyards. Fermentation occurred over 12 days in temperature controlled, stainless steel vats. The wine saw daily pump overs during this time to maximize color and tannin extraction. (Pumping over is one method of cap management. While red wines ferment in the tanks the cap, a collection of the crushed grape skins, seeds, twigs and other solids, rises to the top. The skins contain the color and a lot of the tannins which are desired in the wine, so pumping the wine over and through them pulls more of that out and into the wine.) After malolactic fermentation the wine was double racked and then aged for twelve months in American oak barrels. They made 90,000 cases of this. Our thoughts:
The wine is a medium dark, purple/red. The nose really threw me off, since I knew what it was up front, and had a lot of cherry, but more of the kirsch cherry you would get in a good Beaujolais. In fact, had I been required to guess at this point, and not know what was in the glass, I would have guessed it was a Cru Beaujolais from a very good and recent year, most likely 2015. Of course that is totally wrong (although at least it would have been from the same continent!). As you ponder a bit more ,nuances come out, and there is some oak and maybe a touch of tar. Red fruit support the palate, and some of that tart cherry comes through. There is some spice on the finish. Tannins are sweet and well integrated. A long finish wraps it up. This is quite delicious and a little different. It is not your classic Tempranillo from Rioja, and it is also $13.99, which makes it a great value wine as well.
2011 Viña Eguía Reserva – as a Reserva wine from Rioja, this had to be aged at least 12 months in barrel and a total of three years over all prior to release. This category is where the tremendous elegance of great Rioja starts to show. The vintage in 2011 was deemed “excellent” by the Consejo Regulador (who monitors quality), and the grapes here were selected from 30-40 year old vines. Also 100% Tempranillo, the grapes here are from both Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Alta. Fermentation was done over 20 days, again in temperature controlled, stainless steel vats with daily pump overs. Following malolactic fermentation it was double racked and aged in American oak barrels (30% were new wood). Twenty four months were spent in barrel, followed by another 12 in bottle. What did we think?
Right out of the bottle the wine was rich ruby red with a touch of garnet. It was not quite vivid, but after opening up the wine was quite brilliant. in color. There was a big nose of ripe, red fruits, with cherry and red currant, also some licorice, although I would lean toward cherry twizzler and not anise. You get nuances as well, including oak, vanilla and some of the beautiful, classic leather that comes in great Rioja. This is a pretty classic bottle of Rioja Reserva, and that is a wonderful thing to be. On the palate it is seamless and elegant, smooth with softer tannins. The major wine press tends to agree, as this wine received 91 points from James Suckling and 89 from the Wine Advocate. If we were giving a numerical score (which we don’t), it would split the difference at 90. This is very good. It also has a suggested retail of $18.99. Maybe you find it a bit cheaper. Did we mention that Rioja is a great deal? This goes on our Value List.
The wines of Rioja generally do deliver quality and value. We’re going to continue this series with more Rioja, again from Bodegas Muriel, but this time from their Muriel line. We expect more good things.
You can learn much more about Bodegas Muriel and their wines at: http://murielwines.com/en/
The wines of Bodegas Muriel are imported to the U.S. by Quintessential Wines, and you can visit them and explore their large portfolio at http://www.quintessentialwines.com/.
To see the previous article in this series, on the wines of Ramón Bilbao from Rioja, click here.
To go to the beginning of this series and the intro to Spanish wine click here.
On we go!
A votre santé!