When most folks think of the Rioja winemaking region of Spain, they think of Tempranillo, the dominant grape found in that region. But at Friday morning's "The Diversity of Rioja" seminar, Dhane Chassen took guests on a journey beyond Tempranillo.
The tasting of six wines started out with a CVNE "Monopole" Blanco 2012, made of 100 percent Viura, a white that featured a good amount of acidity and one that Chassen deemed the perfect wine to be sipped poolside. From there we moved onto the Conde de Valdemar "Inspiracion" Tempranillo Blanco 2011 that exhibited a tropical fruits on the nose and a pleasant, more full-bodied acidity than than the Viura. But it's time spent in American oak gave it a sublet smokiness that split the crowd; half of the group enjoyed the complexity, but the other half was less enthusiastic. One participant even likened it to a musty Goodwill store. Next, we tried a Conde de Valdemar Garnacha 2010 blend that offered complex aromas of balsamic, kirsch and hints of oak, but the heavy tannins put a few participants off.
The second half of the tasting kicked off with a Valserrano Mazuelo 2008 with strong herbal notes of sage and thyme on the nose and a long, tannin-filled finish. An obscure Baron de Ley Maturana 2011, our fifth taste and one full of aromas like blackberries, chocolate and tobacco set off by a long finish, highlighted why wine seminars like this are such a great experience. They connect you to wines you would normally not have access to, all under the careful guidance of a wine professional. When asked if the Maturana would be an appropriate hipster wine thanks to its obscure status, Chassen laughed and admitted that it's a favorite among advanced sommelier students. The last taste of the seminar was a Baron de Ley Graciano 2008, the "grace of Rioja," with black currant and vanilla on the nose and balanced tannins on the long finish. The wine isn't easy to grow; "Graciano, no gracias," as the Spanish say, but when it cooperates, the resulting wine is a beauty.
To the surprise of the crowd, Chassen announced a seventh bottle just before the end of the event. The Gran Reserva 2001 from Bodegas Ontañón, a tempranillo and graciano blend, highlighted the rewards of Rioja's stringent minimum aging laws. The nose combines bright aromas of dried cranberry and blackberry, with balanced tannings and a length that perfectly extends the flavors of this elegant wine. By the end of the seminar, the Gran Reserva had, not surprisingly, stolen the title of crowd favorite from the Graciano.