Wednesday, June 12th, 2013 I attended a fun wine tasting for the Trade put on by Vibrant Rioja who were showcasing the wine region at a tasting put on at Ripple Restaurant in Cleveland Park, Washington, D.C. Aaron Gordon was representing Vibrant Rioja and let’s just say – he’s a character! The wine trade always has attracted the artsy and the intellectual, and maybe the slightly off-center – I would say this guy fits the bill! The other speaker was a more traditional sommelier.. well almost David Denton who was also at one time a punk rock guitar player – but now he works as the sommelier at Charlie Palmer Steak on Capital Hill. But the presentation was very good – well, actually I couldn’t see the tv screen presentation (was it a slideshow?), but the layout of the wine tasting was really excellent and easy to follow – numbered glasses, white in front of red.
So what did I gain from this Rioja tasting?
-Tempranillo can be white – yes, I had probably my first white Tempranillo – and it was very good! I would say it was a medium-bodied white and I think it had some oak, but it was also unusual in that it was slightly oxidized even though it was a young wine – so it had those sherry-like features/burnt almond that made it seem much older.
-there are many indigenous varietals I had never heard of and I tried one that made me pretty excited – Maturana Tinta – a gamey/blackberry fruit red grape that had quite a bit of life and a touch of gaminess! After tasting so many steady Cabernets and even Tempranillo’s in my wine tasting career, it’s always nice to find a red varietal that has life and potential – this wine (albeit this was a better-made more expensive version by Dinastia Vivanco (2009) shows how there is more great wine to explore even from well-known regions like Rioja.
-a red wine over 10 years old isn’t necessarily brickish in color or aged in taste – I’m still amazed at the vibrancy and purple color of the Bodegas Ontanon Reserva 1995 (Tempranillo and Garnacha) – my understanding is that this wine had been kept in the winemaker’s cellar until recently which may explain alot – the color suggested a relatively young wine and the fruit was still noticeable on the palate, although there was quite a bit of that aged cedar box you get from slightly older wines. I think more than anything, Tempranillo can age amazingly well, but proper treatment and storage of your wines can make a HUGE difference when you go to open something over a decade old – consider improving or maintaining quality wine storage!
Overall, the event was very nicely laid out and had a festive feel. I also like the fact that they chose a wine bar – Ripple – vs. a traditional fancy schmancy fine dining restaurant – it gave this a more festive air. Rioja is almost an exclamation point for Spanish wine – you can simply walk in to pretty much and decent restaurant and ask for a “Rioja” and the server will know that you mean a Tempranillo from the region. Tasting Graziano, Garnacha, Maturana and many other varietals opens up this traditional wine region to new experiences. Also, the traditional blending of Cabernet and Merlot with everything is a choice here – some traditionalists in Spain are trying to bring more local character to their wines by avoiding the overly oak, rich, modern style. One last point – traditionally, Rioja uses American oak barrels vs French for aging of wines – this also gives them a slight “coconut” aromatic that sets them apart from other European wines. Cheers to Rioja!
Charlie “I Drink on the Job” Adler