Spanish Reds More Impressive Than Ever

‘E’wine of the Week

By Bruce Cochran

Hello Everyone,

This week we’re back to red wine, with a discussion about one of my favorite regions to visit. Beautiful mountains, friendly people and a great place to order ox.

If you’re in Little Rock, our next eWine Sampling, your chance to taste through this month’s recommended wines will be Aug. 5 at Cajun’s Wharf. We’ll take over the upstairs bar. Drop by any time between 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. and taste through the five wines for only $10. No reservations needed.

Try a new wine this week!


Marques De Carceras Rioja

Aside from Sherry, Rioja is Spain’s best-known wine region. For many Americans, this is their introduction to Spanish reds, and that introduction today is more impressive than ever. The region is in the north, sheltered from cold Atlantic weather by the looming Cantabria Mountains. Part of Rioja is north of the Ebro River in Basque country.

Traditionally based on the tempranillo grape, with a little blending involved as well, Rioja’s reds can sometimes resemble Bordeaux (many Bordeaux winemakers fled over the Pyrenees into northern Spain generations ago, to escape the Phylloxera epidemic that was slowly killing Europe’s vineyards). Other times Rioja can resemble California cabernet, and still sometimes you’ll find that pale, tired, traditional style that most Americans don’t like.

There are three Rioja subregions:

Baja — the lower, eastern part, where the wines are heavy but often clumsy.

Alavesa — the middle part, often exhibiting a style that combines fruit with finesse. This area lies in a protected valley between the Ebro River — Spain’s largest — and the looming mountains of the Sierra Cantabria.

Alta — the highest part of the region, where the wines often tend toward elegance. Some consider this the best of Rioja’s three subregions.

Modern Rioja producers have embraced the “international” style of deep color, rich fruit and French oak, though American oak is popular there, too. Part of this new style is a result of fewer years in newer barrels, which helps retain the color and fruit. The word Crianza is an official designation meaning two years of age, one in oak. Other designations imply longer aging before release, either in barrels or in bottles, or both.

Marques de Caceras has long been a favorite of mine, for a couple of reasons. First, it’s been a dependably good representative of its subregion (Rioja Alta), for many vintages. And, it was one of the first to reflect the more modern style that emphasizes fruit over wood, and youthful vigor over the tired paleness that once was the popular style in Spain. Eighty-five percent Tempranillo grapes, 15 percent Granacha (Grenache) and Graciano. Deeply colored, with nose of red and black berries, and a moderate backbone of oak, this is a New World style from an exciting Old World country. Retails for about $15.

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Categories: Legacy Archive