The Long Awaited For Riojas

After lunch on the second day of the The Wine Academy of Spain Spanish wine course, we covered Levante, the Islands, and Extremadura & Madrid, although there were no wine tastings for these regions. It was almost 2 hours of videos and lecture, which was interesting, but, admittedly, after eating lunch and trying to avoid coffee so as not to taint the tasting experience, it was also a little hard to stay focused. That combined with knowing that Rioja was at the other end of the 2 hours made everyone in the room a little antsy.

So, once we finished learning about Levante, the Islands, and Extremadura & Madrid, we took a short break before diving into Rioja. Rijoa is really divided into 3 regions, with wine from each area tasting slightly different. Rioja Alta is an Atlantic climate, so the wines tend to be full bodied, high in alcohol and acidity, and often aged in casks. Rioja Alavesa has a mixed Atlantic and Mediterranean climate. Wines from this region tend to have lower alcohol and acidity, might go through carbonic maceration, and usually are ready for drinking earlier than the Rioja Alta wines. Finally, Rioja Baja has a Mediterranean climate. This area is known for both reds and rosés, both of which often have higher alcohol content.

Tasting #7 on Day 2

2.5 Corks

2008 El Círculo Pagos del Rey Cosecha (winery)
Purple with flecks of Ruby
Cherry, violet, strawberry candy, and a touch of spices
Medium tannins and high acid

3 Corks

2006 Vaza Cosecha (winery, snooth)
Medium Ruby
Cherry, vanilla, cedar, and leather
Medium body

3.5 Corks

2006 El Círculo Crianza (winery, snooth)
Medium ruby
Fruity, vanilla, smoke, and meat on the nose
Berries, cedar, and smoke in the mouth
Medium tannins and acidity

4 Corks

2006 Vina Zaco Bodegas Bilbainas (winery, snooth)
Deep ruby with purple flecks
Black plum, blackberry, cedar, and a touch of nutmeg on the nose
Medium-to-high tannins, acidity, and body
Very strong cedar and smoke flavors, mixed with black plums, blackberry, black pepper, and nutmeg

4.5 Corks

2006 Beronia Crianza Cosecha (winery, snooth)
85% Tempranillo, 15% Garnacha
Medium ruby
Red berries, black pepper, and vanilla on the nose
Fruity with a nice blend of spices in the mouth
Medium tannins and high acidity

2004 Remírez de Ganuza (winery, snooth)
90% Tempranillo, 5% Viura
Deep ruby with purple tinge
Nice aromas—Cherries, blackberries, ripe plums, hints of violets, earth, and leather
Smoke, Cherry, violet, earth, and black pepper in the mouth
High tannins, high acidity, and full body

Unique, Mediterranean Monstant Reds

Once we warmed up our palates with the general Catalonia wines, during the second day of The Wine Academy of Spain’s Spanish wine course, we tasted the very unique and enjoyable Monstants. These reds were all blends that spent some time aging in oak. The Monstants had an interesting complexity that epitomized my feeling that trying to identify all the aromas and flavors while wine tasting is like putting together all the pieces of a puzzle.

Tasting #4 on Day 2


3.5 Corks

2006 Castillo Perelada 3 Fincas Crianza (winery, snooth)
35% Samso, 30% Garnacha, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot
Ruby with a touch of purple
Spicy nose with ripe fruits
Blackcurrant, blackberry, and rosemary
Moderate acidity and high tannins, although not aggressive
Different tasting
Jesus said it’s very “Mediterranean”

4 Corks

2005 Castillo Perelada 5 Fincas Reserva (winery, snooth)
40% Merlot, 20% Garnacha, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon,15% Syrah, 5% Tempranillo, 5% Cabernet Franc
Medium-to-dark Ruby
Very complex nose
Menthol, eucalyptus, rosemary, smoke, cedar, rip blackberry, black plums, blackcurrant, red bell peppers on the nose
Blackcurrant, blackberry, black plums, and bell pepper in the mouth
Nice tannins and acidity
Medium-to-full body
Very unique

2003 Fra Guerau Crianca (winery, snooth)
Medium ruby with a garnet rim
Cherry and white pepper on the nose
Cherry, strawberry and redcurrant in the mouth
Medium body, acidity, and tannins

4.5 Corks

2007 Can Blau (snooth)
Bright, deep bluish purple
Rose petals, violets, cured meat, and smoke on the nose
Blackcurrant, smoke, violets, minerals, and a touch of meatiness and frying fat in the mouth
Good tannins, medium acid, and full body
Long finish
Very unique

Powerful, Pretty Priorats

The Priorats were the biggest surprise for me during The Wine Academy of Spain’s Spanish wine course, as I actually tended to prefer them to the Riojas. These wines were the last of the Catalonia wines we tasted, and there wasn’t a bad wine in the group. As I mentioned in my first post about this course, by tasting the wines from Priorat back to back, I was really able to understand as Jesus explained what characteristics were uniquely regional and what characteristics were more likely the result of the winemaker’s techniques. Priorats have nice fruity and flowery flavors, with a depth and intensity that is ideal for the red wine lover. The wines aren’t thick and jammy, but are still chock full of bold flavors, so if you love powerful reds, you should definitely look into these wines. They’ll offer you something that is a little different, while still giving hints of the comforts of the red wines that you enjoy.

Tasting #5 on Day 2

4 Corks

2005 Cruor (snooth)
Garnacha, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot
Ruby with purple flecks
Strawberry, raspberry, violet, and white pepper
Medium-to-high acidity, medium tannins, and medium body
Long finish

4.5 Corks

2004 Prior Scala Dei (winery, snooth)
50% Garnacha, 27% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Syrah
Deep purple with ruby flecks
Red fruits, rosemary, thyme, with a touch of anise, menthol, dust, and earth
Intense tannins and medium acidity
Finish very different from attack

*Jesus said this is a very good example of a Priorat

2004 Cartoxia Scala Dei (winery,snooth)
41% Garnacha 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Syrah
Medium-to-deep purple with a ruby rim
Black plum, black cherry, blackberry, red roses, violets, white pepper
Intense minerality on the finish
Strong tannins and good acidity
Very aggressive
Needs a couple years of aging

2003 Morlanda Criança (snooth)
50% Garnacha, 50% Cariñena
Medium Ruby
Strawberry, red currant, mineral, cedar, leather, pen ink, white pepper
Medium acidity and tannins

Starting the Day Off Right…With Cava

The second day of The Wine Academy of Spain’s Spanish wine course couldn’t have started any better. We spent the early part of the morning learning about Cava, and how can you have a bad day when it begins with bubbly?

Cava is second in the world for sparkling wine sales, and like Champagne (number 1 in the world for sales), it is made using the traditional method. However, while the method for making the sparkling wine may be the same, the grape varieties and the climate of the growing region for Cava are very different. Traditionally, Cava is made with 50% Macabeo (crisp, fresh acid), 30% Xarel-lo (elegance, body, structure), and 20% Parellada (creamy, soft body and delicate aromas) grapes. The climate in Spain is also significantly warmer than the climate in the Champagne region of France. On a very basic level, the Cavas we tasted were much brighter and fruitier than many Champagnes I’ve had, although both have toasty, yeasty characteristics that come from using the traditional method.

Tasting #1 on Day 2

3.5 Corks

Freixenet Cordon Rosado Brut (winery, snooth)
50% Garnacha & 50% Monastrell
Medium pink with a lot of persistent bubbles
Strawberry, raspberry, toast
A touch of creaminess and almost floral finish in the mouth
Very refreshing, good acidity with a slight sweetness

4 Corks

Juvé y Camps Brut Rosé Pinot Noir (winery, snooth)
Medium salmon
Bright red fruits, ripe strawberries, and toast
Very dry and creamy with a slightly bitter finish

Tasting #2 on Day 2

3 Corks

Gramonae III Lustros Gran Reserva (winery, snooth)
50% Macabeo, 40% Xarel-lo, 10% Chardonnay
Pale gold with small bubbles
Cream, buttered toasted, baked apples, caramel, pears on the nose
Apples, pears, bitter herbs in the mouth
Burbon-esque quality
Very different and very complex
Not my style, but good quality

4 Corks

Freixenet Cordon Negro Brut (winery, snooth)
Pale gold with small persistent bubbles
Granny smith apples, pears, toast, yeast, and a touch of herb
Light body, lime-like acid and a long, lingering, yeasty finish

Segura Viudas Brut Reserva (winery, snooth)
Pale-to-medium liquid gold with lots and lots of bubbles
Green apples, toast, yeast, touch of basil
In the mouth, the balance between the fruit and toast flavors is very refreshing
Light-to-medium body, very dry, high acidity

4.5 Corks

Aria Estate Segura Viudas Brut Nature (winery, snooth)
60% Macabeo, 20% Xarel-lo, 20% Parellada
Pale straw color with small, persistent bubbles
Green apples and rosemary with a touch of apricots, toast, and yeast on the nose
Apples, nectarine, and toast in the mouth
Creamy full body, but not aggressive

2004 Juvé Reserva de la Familia Brut Nature (winery, snooth)
33.3% Macabeo, 33.3% Xarel-lo, 33.3% Parellada
Medium lemon, flirting with gold
Sourdough bread, apples, touch of oak, sherry-like finish
Medium body and good acidity
Isn’t crisp, but is still beautiful.

*According to Jesus, this is one of the most traditional brands of Cava. The company uses slightly oxidized wines for dossage, which creates a flavor that shouldn’t be confused with the wine being “cooked.” Jesus said that this is a favorite of “old men in Spain.”

From left to right:

Aria Estate Segura Viudas Brut Nature 2004 Juvé Reserva de la Familia Brut Nature, Gramonae III Lustros Gran Reserva

Castilla y León and Ribera del Duero in the Evening

The first day of The Wine Academy of Spain’s Spanish wine course ended with a comprehensive look at Castilla y León. For more than an hour, we watched videos, discussed the climate and soil types, learned about the white and red grape varieties, and talked about various food pairing options that match both the wine and the culture of the area.

There are 6 major regions of Castilla y León, all of which make wines that are worth a second look. Whether it’s the reds from Ribera del Duero, from Toro, from Bierzo, and from Arlanza; the rosé from Cigales, or the whites from Rueda, this region of Spain is one for the wine world to notice. Admittedly, wines from Rueda, which are made from the Verdejo grape, emerged as one of my new favorite types of wine, so expect to see more in the future. These wines were reminiscent of a Sauvignon Blanc, but with a little more body and very strong acidity.

Tasting #4 on Day 1

Castilla y León

The Whites

3.5 Corks

2008 Analiva Pagos del Rey (snooth) from Rueda
Pale lemon gold
Pronounced grapefruit and lemon zest, plus grass, white pepper, and granny smith apples
Lime-like acid, very dry, medium body, long finish

4.5 Corks

2008 Shaya Old Vine Verdejo (snooth) from Rueda
Very pale lemon
Fresh cut green grass, grapefruit—overall, very light on the nose
Bright lemon and grapefruit, green apple, wet stone, minerals—overall, very rich in the mouth

The Reds

3 Corks

2006 Segundo Motivo (winery) from Toro
100% Tempranillo
Deep ruby with big legs
Black plums, smoke, cedar, earth, dust—almost dried out
Medium tannins and acid

2007 El Arte de Vivir (winery, snooth) from Ribera del Duero
100% Tempranillo
Deep ruby with flecks of purple
A little closed on the nose, so could have used decanting
Leather, raspberries, and violets on the nose
Sour cherries in the mouth
A little rough, not elegant, but enjoyable

3.5 Corks

2006 Tercer Motivo (winery) from Bierzo
100% Mencia
Very deep purple with big legs
Cherry, blackberry, mint, rosemary, and licorice
Fruity, but not complex
Medium tannins and acidity
A little different

2005 Condado de Oriza Crianza (snooth)
Very purple
Strong red fruit aromas—strawberry and raspberry—with a touch of white pepper
Big strong tannins and high acidity
Would pair well with lamb chops

Tasting #5 on Day 1
Ribera del Duero

2 Corks

2003 Valdubón Crianza (winery, snooth)
100% Tempranillo
Nice ruby color with garnet rim
Raspberries, strawberries, white pepper, and smoke
Medium tannins and acidity
Short finish—it just falls off a cliff

2003 Valdubón Reserva (winery, snooth)
100% Tempranillo
Ruby with garnet rim
Paprika, spices, and strawberries
Medium tannins and acidity
Something funny on the finish
Missing personality

3.5 Corks

2004 Honoris de Valdubón (winery, snooth)
100% Tempranillo
Deep purple with flecks of ruby
Vanilla and cherry
Strong tannins and high acidity
Long finish
Could definitely spend some time aging and will likely be beautiful in a few years
Pairing with heavily flavored meat might make it less aggressive

4.5 Corks

2005 Neo (winery)
Deep purple
Smoke, cedar, blackcurrant, blackberries, and touch of leather
Flavors border on jammy
Medium tannins, high acidity, surprisingly light in body

…and that was the end of Day 1 of my Spanish wine course!