Monday, July 25, 2016

"Topa Egin Dezagun" to Basque Country Wines from Rioja Alavesa

This summer the Smithsonian Folklife Festival featured Spain's Basque Country showcasing that region's unique music, language and cuisine.  In conjunction, Paul Wagner, President of Balzac Communications & Marketing, lead a trade tasting of Basque Country Wines from Rioja Alavesa, a sub zone in the larger DOC Rioja region. The geography of Rioja Alavesa is both Mediterranean and Continental, with the Cantabria Mountains sheltering the vineyards from cold wet air from the Atlantic Ocean. The proximity of the vines to the Ebro River provides additional warming. The soils are primarily calcareous clay.  

The Basque region is unique in that it's language predates all the Indo-European languages now used in Europe. The Basque name for itself is "Euskera", wine is "Ardoa", and "Topa Egin Dezagun" translates to Cheers. The region is also located in the crossroads of ancient trade and medieval pilgrimage routes bringing some influences from other cultures - grape growing and wine production being good examples. The Basque region also produces a second style of wine called Txakoli that is not part of Rioja Alavesa. These wines are "young, fruity, slightly sparkling white wine with low acidity".

As for Rioja Alavesa, Tempranillo is the favored red grape comprising 80% of plantings with another 4% dedicated to other red grapes and the remainder to several varieties of white grapes.  During this tasting, all the wines were at least 90% Tempranillo and followed the DOC Rioja requirements regarding Crianza (minimum of one year in casks and a few months in the bottle) and Reserva (aged for a minimum of 3 years, with at least one year in casks). In general these wines were very good, with the older vintages providing evidence of longevity and freshness.  Topa Egin Dezagun.
  • CVNE Vina Real Crianza 2001 ($12) - light bodied, black cherries, a little dusty with lingering tannins.
  • Marques de Riscal Reserva 2009 ($20) - very complex (creamy, spicy, some leather) with lingering tannins and acidity. Very nice.
  • Remelluri Reserva 2009 ($25) - much more tannic than the Marques de Riscal, with more leather and dirt,
  • Baigorri de Garage Rioja 2007 ($50) - a new age Rioja, fresh dark fruit then figs and green olives on the palate, finishes with dark chocolate.
  • Remirez de Ganuza Reserva 2006 ($60) -  a traditional Rioja styled Tempranillo; very smooth, depth, with a bright finis. My favorite of the group. 
  • DSL Vinedos y Bodegas DSG Phinca Lali 2010 ($68) - interesting mint characters with loads of tannins and acids - Wagner recommends 5-10 more years aging for this one.

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