The wine for September is Heras Cordon Reserva 2005. We thought this was really excellent …. Chocolaty, a taste of liquorice, earthy…”A high standard Rioja” pronounced the Saucy Dressings’ chief taster. For an explanation of what that really means – what exactly does a Rioja taste like, see the briefing on Rioja below. This particular wine is made from 85% Tempranillo grapes, 10% Mazuelo and 5% Graciano grapes.
This is a mature 2005, considered to be one of Rioja’s best ever vintages, which has reached its peak of maturity in the bottle. In comparison to the Vendimia Seleccionada it’s more full-bodied yet smoother. It’s interesting to try these two Heras Cordon wines (the other being the 2010) relatively soon one after the other, to compare them.
About Rioja red wine
Rioja is grown in an area in the north of Spain combining La Rioja, Navarre and Álava clustered around the river Ebro and bordered and isolated by mountains. It’s an ancient wine, a favourite of the Phoenicians, mentioned in the poems of Gonzalo de Berceo, a twelfth century monk and recognised in 1991 as a Qualified Denomination of Origin (for more on these qualifications go to confused by PGIs, TSGs, PDOs, DOCs…. what does it all mean?). A unique condition stipulated by the DO regulations is that the cost of the grapes used to make Rioja must be at least double the average price for grapes used for making wine elsewhere in Spain.
90% of the wine produced in the rioja area is red.
Rioja is divided into three distinct wine growing areas:
- Rioja Alavesa, with more of an Atlantic climate, small terraced vineyards, and chalky-clay soil, producing more acidic and fuller bodied wine than the neighbouring Rioja Alta
- Rioja Alta, less steep land where there is also some alluvial or ferrous-clay soil, producing slightly fruitier and lighter wine
- Rioja Baja, with a warmer, drier, more Mediterranean climate and alluvial or ferrous-clay soil producing deeper coloured, not very acid and very alcoholic (up to 18%) wines, usually used for blending with wines from the other two areas
The approved (for DOC regulations) grape varieties for red wine are Tempranillo, Garnacha (the same grape as the Sardinian cannonau, which adds body and alcohol), Graciano, Mazuelo and Maturana Tinta, with Tempranillo being the ‘native’ grape, grown in 75% of the Rioja area. Most Rioja wines are blends, (typically 60% Tempranillo, 20% Garnacha, and other grapes making up the rest). It’s the Tempranillo grape which gives Rioja a lot of its particular character, although being a very versatile grape which produces wine which turns velvety as it ages, it is widely grown elsewhere. In some exceptional cases a vineyard is allowed to use Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend if there is proof of historic usage.
Rioja is characterised by the Tempranillo grape, which gives a vanilla flavour, and by the oak casks used. Most Rioja red wines are well balanced – fruity when young… becoming, as mentioned above, more rich and velvety as they age. Their balance – in alcohol content, colour and acidity – means that they pair with almost everything.
There are four ages of Rioja:
- Young – less than two years old
- Crianza – more than two years old, with more than one year having been spent in the oak cask
- Reserva – wines from good vintages, over three years old with one year in the oak cask
- Gran Reserva – two years in oak casks and three years in the bottle
The best vintages for Rioja are 1994, 1995, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2010 and 2011 – some bodegas will age their wine for twenty years or more, with most wines being aged 4 – 8 years.