First Published Costa News Group, Jan 2013

BARON DE LEY VARIETALES

RIOJA’S FAMED GRAPE VARIETIES FLYING SOLO!

There isn’t much to thank La Crisis for, here in Spain. But you don’t want me to list, yet again, the financial problems that we have been having for so long now. So I’m going to focus instead on at least one good thing that has come about because of the economic downturn.

From a wine perspective it’s been a super time to be here in Spain. Firstly there continue to be some truly excellent offers re wine prices and special deals on multi-buys and, when we’re occasionally feeling flush, on cases too. I’m sure that you, also, have taken advantage of this tiny silver lining, edging, if not surrounding, the metaphoric grey clouds of recession! I know I have!

But that’s not all. There has, I think, been a general ‘tidying up’ where bodegas have realised that in such a competitive market, quality is all! Thus, in an effort to drive sales, the standard of even the cheaper end of the market has improved. It’s very difficult to find really poor wine in Spain nowadays – would that this had been so when I first came here!

So that’s another plus. But the one that perhaps encourages me the most is the fact that Spanish wine-makers are experimenting more and more. Different blends are being trialled; varieties new to Spain are being planted; innovative wine-making techniques are being tested; and even some old traditional practises are being brought back to life with terrific results! The upshot is a vast expansion of wines for you and me to try. 

The prestigious, though relatively young, Bodegas Baron De Ley of DOCa La Rioja is one such producer who continues with its tried, tested and loved traditional style wines but who is also experimenting. Baron de Ley’s Varietals range is a case in point, and a very tasty one at that!

 

Most Rioja wine has been made from a blend of the approved grape varieties of the DO – Tempranillo, the most used, Graciano, Mazuelo, Garnacha and Maturana amongst others – for decades. Tempranillo is likely to remain the basic building block of La Rioja with it taking the lion’s share of most blends but there has, over the last few years, been experimentation with the other varietals giving them more leading roles than bit parts.

 

Baron de Ley has taken it a step further though. They have produced a range of three mono-varietal wines, Tempranillo (of course, if it aint bust don’t fix it!) but also Graciano and the far less well known Maturana. I was lucky enough to receive this triumvirate of, up to now, experimental wines, and if my taste buds are anything to go by, this range will swiftly move from the merely experimental and be added permanently to the Baron de Ley portfolio.

Considering that the Spanish word for law is ‘Ley’ it’s entirely appropriate as well as being quite striking that the labels on these series of wines look a little like a legal document, duly sealed in wax! Standing in a group the wines are impressive.

Varietal Tempranillo 2010 – initially a quite vanilla perfume on the nose, very Rioja-esque and therefore keeping in touch with its roots. After ten minutes the vanilla became more integrated on the nose with some super soft red fruit coming through and a delightful, meaty (roast lamb, appropriately, considering that this dish seems almost synonymous with Rioja red wine!).

 

It’s pleasantly chewy with a good balance of dark and light red fruit, plums and loganberry. There’s also a slight earthy, farmyard aroma with a good balance of acidity and tannin as well as the good fruit presence. There’s a slight bitterness on the finish endearing this wine to roast lamb, claro, but also, considering its refreshing acidic style, to rich game dishes in order to cut through the richness. 

Varietal Graciano – there are two tongue-in-cheek schools of thought as to how the name Graciano originated: one suggests that Graciano comes from the Spanish word Gracia, grace or joy in English, suggesting an elegant, graceful wine; and the other, rather more derogatory suggestion, is that it comes from Rioja growers of old whose response when offered this variety to grow in their vineyards would say, Gracias no!

Baron de Ley’s Varietal Graciano 2009 lies securely in the former of those two possibilities. There are gentle violet aromas and jammy, brambly dark fruit flavours with a good tannin/acidity/fruit balance. It has an initial slightly thin taste and feel which rallies on the mid-palate. On the finish there are dark chocolate notes with a slightly more bitter finish overriding the fruit. Drink this wine with game and cured meats and maybe some mature cheeses.

Varietal Maturana 2010 – highly purple coloured, this wine came a very close second  (by a cork head!) to the Tempranillo. It’s strength is its fruit content. It’s rich and fruity in the mouth with balanced acidity and sweet tannins. There’s a very slight varietal characteristic green pepper aroma blending pleasantly with some smoky menthol and earthy minerality. There’s also a touch of Mocha and coffee on the nose with some liquorice in there too

Innovation is the key at the moment and here is an example where a trial results in a success and we consumers can enjoy a different style Rioja, and not have to pay too much for it!

PS If you’re interested in learning more about Spanish wine, and having a super and very tasty time doing so, then why not join my e-mail list so that you hear about the many wine tastings I present and bodega visits I organise. I also present private wine   tastings for groups which are always informative and great fun! And, why not go further and enjoy a wine appreciation course, tailored to your requirements – either individually or in small groups? Please contact me as below!

colin@colinharknessonwine.com and www.colinharknessonwine.com

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