Thu 8 Nov 2012
Typically, I ignore such marketing devices as Grenache Day or Riesling Month or Tempranillo Day, which happens to be today. I mean, these “days” are dreamed up by trade groups and marketing firms and usually have no official standing. I gave in to Tempranillo Day, however, because it’s a red grape that has a long history in Spain and deserves to be better known. In tomorrow or Saturday’s edition of “Weekend Wine Sips” I’ll mention some inexpensive and accessible wines made from the tempranillo grape, not seen much outside the Iberian peninsula, not that it hasn’t been tried (especially in Argentina and Australia), but today I focus on two producers of tempranillo wines in the region of Rioja, one a venerable estate, Bodegas Faustino, that makes fairly old-fashioned Rioja, and a much younger producer of a more modern style of tempranillo — new French oak barrels! — Bodegas Muriel. Tempranillo is the primary grape of Rioja and Ribera del Duero (southwest of Rioja) but it’s grown in many other parts of Spain, too, though under widely varying names; in Portugal’s Douro Valley, it contributes to Port under the name tinto roriz.
This bodega was founded in 1986 by Julian Murua Entrena, in the location of old cellars owned by his parents. The wines, all 100 percent tempranillo, are imported by Quintessential, Napa, Ca. These were samples for review.
The Muriel Seleccion 2009, Rioja, aged four months in new American oak barrels. The color is dark ruby; the bouquet is warm, spicy and quite attractive in its notes of macerated and slightly fleshy black cherries, currants and plums. It’s savory and flavorful, dense, chewy and almost velvety in the mouth — nothing of the grape’s spareness here — though lipsmacking tannin and acidity keep it honest. The wine is dry, robust and lively and should drink nicely through 2015 or ’16, especially with beef, lamb or veal. 13.5 percent alcohol. 2,000 cases imported. Very Good+. About $15, representing Good Value.
Muriel JME 2007, Rioja, named for the owner of the winery, aged five months in new French and American Oak barrels, the standard 225-liter (59-gallon) barrique. The wine is intense in every way, from its dark ruby color to its heady aromas of smoke and figs and caramelized fennel and spiced and macerated currants, blueberries and plums to its graphite infused red and blue fruit flavors; yet JME 2007 is more spare, balanced and elegant than one would think initially, almost belying its claim to modernism. The wine is very dry, enlivened by furrowing acidity and devolving to a finish packed with cloves, sandalwood and dried violets and lavender. 14 percent alcohol. 664 cases imported. Now through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $25.
In the Spanish regions of Rioja and Ribera del Duero, a crianza is a wine that has aged a least one year in oak casks. Muriel Crianza 2005, Rioja spent exactly that long in American oak. For whatever reason — that’s not a huge amount of wood exposure for wine — this Crianza ’05 feels like the woodiest of this quartet. While the wine is at first quite bright, spicy and appealing, it would probably be more palatable (and I’m speaking of my palate, of course) if its notes of dried spices, dried fruit and flowers had not received such an edge of smoky, charcoal-permeated oak and if the fine-grained tannins did not feel so strictly dry. Still, with roasted duck or grilled leg of lamb, this might be fine. 13 percent alcohol. 1,700 cases imported. Through 2015 or ’17. Very Good+. About $17.
In terms of overall price/quality ratio, the Muriel Reserva 2004, Rioja, is the bargain of this stable. The color is a beautiful limpid dark ruby that shades to medium ruby-garnet at the rim; aromas of fig, balsam, bay leaf and vanilla-tinged red and black currants and cherries are laden with cloves, sandalwood and potpourri. The wine is smooth, mellow and savory but surprisingly girt with dense but finely milled tannins and spicy oak, from two years in French and American barrels. 13 percent alcohol. A candidate for game birds or dry flavorful cheeses. 600 cases imported. Now through 2018 to ’22. Excellent. About $20.
The producer traces its origins to 1861, though the Faustino label was not created until the late 1950s; the estate is still owned by the same family. Their cellars hold 9 million bottles of Reserva and Gran Reserva wines from multiple vintages. The wines of Faustino are imported by Palm Bay Imports, Boca Raton, which made these older vintages available. The Gran Reserva wines are very limited; in ’99, for example, only 700 bottles were made. Tasted at Wine Bloggers’ Conference 2012 in Portland, Oregon.
Faustino I Gran Reserva 1999, Rioja. This wine is a blend of 90 percent tempranillo and 10 percent mixed mazuelo and graciano grapes; it aged between two and three years in oak casks, followed by four years in the bottle before release. The color is a beguiling and radiant medium ruby; first note: “god that’s lovely.” I meant lovely as in a seductive bouquet of black cherries and currants with notes of dried cranberries and blueberries over hints of fruitcake, lavender and graphite. The wine reveals spice in the form of cloves and sandalwood, and juicy black and red fruit flavors gently supported by fine-grained tannins and vibrant acidity; the finish is dry, slightly woody and austere. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through — who knows? — 2030 or ’40. Excellent. About $35 to $45, an Astonishing Bargain.
Going back 17 years, the Faustino I Gran Reserva 1982, Rioja, offers a color that’s more garnet-brick red than ruby and a blossoming bouquet that’s earthy and a little funky — I mean in the sense of mushrooms and damp moss — with back-notes of briers and brambles that segue through to the delicately spiced and macerated flavors of currants and plums; the wine is delicious, soft and mellow, yet for a wine that’s 30 years old, it reveals a surprisingly rigorous structure of graphite-infused tannins and keen acidity. A blend of 85 percent tempranillo and 15 percent graciano, the wine aged 30 months in American oak. 12.5 percent alcohol. It could go another 10 years. Very Good+. Average price nationally is about $78, a Great Value for a fascinating experience.
Finally, the Faustino I Gran Reserva 1964, Rioja, provides all the elements we expect from a 48-year-old wine in terms of development and drinkability (understand that I’m not talking about fine aged Bordeaux): Savory and sweetly, mildly ripe fruit; a delicate expression of maturity, just slightly earthy; tranquil and dignified in its fine-boned structure, with slightly dusty tannins and muted but still viable acidity. Tasting this wine made me long for a roasted game bird, a pheasant or woodcock; that would have been perfect. A blend of 80 percent tempranillo, 10 percent each graciano and mazuelo, aged 30 months in American oak. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $174, though found around the country much cheaper and much more expensive and definitely Worth a Search