Wine Talk

Snooth User: JonDerry

RWC article on Rioja's

Posted by JonDerry, Jul 11, 2011.

Interesting article from the Rare Wine Co. on a little history of the region, ageability, and pricing of older Rioja's.

http://blog.rarewineco.com/?p=1217

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Replies

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Reply by dmcker, Jul 11, 2011.

Good job pointing to the article, Jon. Still got any racing winnings left?

"In our experience, only traditional Barolo and Barbaresco age so dependably well among red wines." So much for Bordeaux and Burgundy.

Would've liked to be at that June 1 dinner....

 

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Reply by gregt, Jul 11, 2011.

Mixed feelings about that post.  Of course, I also think the  wines age far better than Bordeaux and Burgundy, but don't forget, Manny wants to sell wine. OTOH, that's why he's got some questionable "facts". Another person who was at that dinner has posted about it on his blog.  Knows little about Spain, but posts about every wine that he walks past. 

Anyhow, FWIW, it's not true that "They provided wine to the Bordelais but also to the world". In fact, they'd been selling Rioja wines for centuries.  It's very likely that they were making wine in the Rioja area before they were making it in Bordeaux.  Bordeaux was a shipping port to the British Isles, but wine was made farther inland and floated down the river, whereas in Rioja, there are ancient stone winemaking sites even today.  In the 1700s in London it was known as the "poor man's Bordeaux." Not that Bordeaux was anything like we know today. It was almost a rosado and primarily produced from Malbec. 

In the late 1600s, after the Restoration, London was looking for wine.  Pontac, Mayor of Bordeaux and owner of Chateau Haut Brion, wanted to maximize his profits so he started bottling his own wine on his own estate, rather than selling it to negociants.  In so doing, he also ended up making better wine and the innovations - estate bottling, racking, etc., became the standard.  His decendents later got their head chopped off, but the techniques survived.  In the mid 1800s, Riscal and Murrietta, separately, tried to introduced those ideas to Rioja.  That's before 1899.  The idea didn't take precisely.

In Rioja, the bodega did the bottling, and even the aging and blending and the winemaking, but they didn't necessarily use their own fruit, i.e. it wasn't necessarily estate fruit, like we assume it is in Bordeaux today. The bodegas did eventually buy a lot of vineyards, but that's not what characterizes classic Rioja.  French winemakers did cross the mountains and bring their technology to Spain, but they weren't going to import the wine from Spain and pass it off as French.  The "modern" style would probably be Contino - all estate fruit from CVNE, or even more specifically, their Vina del Olivos, from a specific vineyard.  And guess what - it's FAR from an example of "sameness" in the wine world.

So what a lot of bodegas did is try to make an old-style wine as well as a "modern" style.  Don't forget, in the 1970s, after Franco, Spain had to be re-integrated into the world and they wanted to make wines that would sell.  It's not like they sold their souls or such crap.  And why shouldn't they?  Because they figured that in fifty years some wine geeks might pine for what they thought was "traditional"?

Anyhow, Muga, which was established in 1934, belongs on that list.  And like many wineries, they make a "modern" and a traditional wine.  But if you keep their "modern" ones, the Aro or the Torre Muga, for many years, they sure do get like the "traditional" wines.  For that reason, they suggest you drink them younger, otherwise they're like the old-style Rioja.  Hmmmm.

And if you try those LdHs from the barrel, before they're 50 years old, guess what.  They taste pretty fruity. 

However, he's dead right on the fact that the prices are going way up.

 

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Jul 11, 2011.

Okay, GregT, you must know the folks who put on the June 1 dinner.  So next time, do your fan in the Bay Area a favor and get me an invite.

dmcker: "dependably" might be the operative word. Give credit to the Spanish, esp from Rioja:  They release the wine AFTER it has aged.  So if it didn't age well, maybe we don't see it.  I think that's a major (or mayor) point in favor of Spain: They age the wine and take the risk instead of selling it en primeur (which means, before you can drink the actual post-blend product) and making the buyer absorb the risk. And even the best Spanish wines sell for a LOT less than 1st or super-2nd growth Bordeaux.  Never mind the DRC level Burgs, and all the Burgs that somehow we plebes don't understand. The question about whether the best Spanish wine is worth $250 is almost laughable when top tier Bords are 4 digits.

Oh, one more thing, D: That cements the argument about where you ought to be when you come stateside.  The tasting was in SF.  Not SB. ;-) Great whites vs. Rioja events? I know what I'd pick.

JD: Many thanks for posting this.  Fans of Rioja owe you.  Of course, articles like this will make the market more "efficient," meaning those bargains will disappear, as the article notes.  Time to hoard those bottles of RdD before that market gets "efficient," too.

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Reply by Stephen Harvey, Jul 11, 2011.

As has been debated many times, there is "trendancies" for old style being the best to the new style being the best.  This happens in most aspects of our tenure on this planet, eg wine, architecture, food etc

My view is that if it is well made in either a classic or in a modern style and it tastes good, then it is good. 

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Jul 12, 2011.

Crikey, GregT was posting as I was again! How does he know?

Great history lesson, but we do count on you for the Spanish info for a reason.  I am interested in the comment that we assume that the Bords are from estate fruit.  Of course, we assume that with a lot of high end wine, including Silver Oak in Cal (see other thread).  But is it true?  Especially when owners of chateaux are also negociants, a la Christian Moueix? 

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Reply by JonDerry, Jul 12, 2011.

Of course, posting this article was a bit of a bat signal for you Greg, thanks for helping to clarify some of the points, or helping explain some of the writing liberties taken on by RWC, I thought it brought up some topics that I don't remember you covering. I also know what you mean about the guy who writes about every wine he walks by.  If we don't mention his name, perhaps he'll not find this thread on his searches and brood about our comments ; )

So we all agree on the ageability of Rioja's.  What's also really intruiging to me, and what really makes Rioja a sleeper is the proximity to Bordeaux.  200 miles!  That is really not much, and it's really amazing to think about Rioja, the three major regions in France, and then Piedmont.  The proximity of these "Big 5 Regions" is fascinating. 

I'm still a little fuzzy on Rioja's history and their style of winemaking.  So they made wine on their own w/ no intervention from France until the late 1800's?  Do we know who started making wine first?  Or should we assume that due to the proximity of the two regions that Spanish wine has influenced French wine in ways, and vice versa?

Fox - What's interesting about Rioja is that there don't seem to be any labels that have been considered elite, or at least I haven't been sold a bill of goods with certain wines from the region that stand above the rest.  With every region i've looked at, there seems to be certain labels or wines that have been marketed really well or are just really well known or worshipped by the wine drinking community.  In Spain, and to a lesser degree, Italy, it seems like a more unified community.  When I think of Rioja or Piedmont, there are no real iconic labels that come to mind, but who knows, maybe that just goes to show I don't know the regions well enough, or that it hasn't been as easy as with other regions to sort through the producers and classify them.

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Reply by JonDerry, Jul 12, 2011.

@dmcker - Not much left unfortunately.  With my wife's upcoming rhinoplasty in about ten days (just paid for it today), and with a mediterranean cruise planned for mid to late August, i'm in the middle of stretching the finances a bit. 

However, I have been doing more drinking than buying lately, so inevitably i'll have to start buying pretty soon.

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Reply by Stephen Harvey, Jul 12, 2011.

JD

I think the estate pedigree must be assumed to be true unless otherwise proven, as it is one of the great marketing weapons of the old world, particularly Bordeaux.

I also think your point on proximity is more one of looking at the geological commonalities rather than just difference.  The soil profiles of the right and left banks of Bordeaux are very different whilst the band of chalky limestone soils that makes up the soil profile of champagne stretches into England.

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Reply by dmcker, Jul 12, 2011.

And the Piedmont is both further away from the rest and has recognizably different weather (or am I an idiot for only going on personal experience and not checking the met charts?).

OK, Greg and Jon: what's the dude's name (he who's never met a wine he doesn't rate, or whatever)?. If you can't say it here, please PM me. You've got me curious...

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Reply by JonDerry, Jul 12, 2011.

SH - Absolutely geographical, i'm sure the soil profiles are very different and the weather may be also.  One item of interest is that none of the regions grow the same grapes at this point, so comparisons can be difficult.

D - I'll go ahead and pm you.  Was reading over his blog yesterday, and while there's a lot of good content, he'd really add a lot by trimming his longer posts behind a link...

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Reply by gregt, Jul 12, 2011.

PM me too!!!

Actually I have nothing against the guy and I'm sure he's really OK.  But I go to many of the same tastings on the east coast, plus many more, and I'm not going to post notes and scores on 100 sip and spit wines just to tell people I can taste a lot of wine.  He's a kind of running joke among some friends in the business. But that's not important and again, he seems like fundamentally a decent guy.  

Anyhow, I just wrote a huge post but now I don't want to post it.  Let's just say that winemaking in Rioja was most likely established by the Phoenicians and later amplified by the Romans.  Some suggest that grapes were taken from Rioja to Bordeaux.  Nobody will ever know obviously.  Rioja is rocky and mountainous, with caves for storage and a river for transport and rocky soil that's not great for a lot of agricultural crops. 

Bordeaux is at the end of a river, so if they made wine, they'd have to transport inland, which is where wine came from already.  And it was marshy and not great for grapes. Fast forward thru the Middle Ages and the various ups and downs in the relationship between France and England, and remember that water was unclean, milk was spoiled by the time it hit the pail, and juice didn't keep.  So people drank beer or wine and both were alcoholic, but very low alc. The wine called "Vinum Clarum" or Clairet, was essentially rosado that the English called claret. Descriptions of Burgundy talk about a faintly-colored liquid.

During the Middle Ages Spain was ruled by the Moors and winemaking wasn't their priority.  Meantime the merchants in Bordeaux were shipping to England.  They stored their wine at the quays, shipping twice a year to England.  They put it in barrels that could be handled by one man.  The barrels were called "tonneaux" and the ships were measured by the number of barrels they could carry, called their "tonnage". We still use this term today.

In Middle Age society the peasants grew stuff and the nobles took it. One difference between Spain and France is that Spain fell under the rule of the Moors for a while until Isabella "united" it first by marrying the king of Aragon and thereby adding his properties to hers, making the biggest kingdom in Iberia, and then by attacking a few other kingdoms and folding those in, and then by turning on some of the Moors in the south and evicting them, and then by instituting the equivalent of the Stasi and the reign of terror under the Inquisition, and perhaps most importantly, by sending Columbus to the new world to plunder and bring back gold, making Spain the richest nation in the world by any measure. Being a small and weak country, the English couldn't confront anyone head on, so they'd do guerilla raids against the larger countries, which thanks to Isabella, had Spain at the head of the list. Eventually that pissed of the Spanish so much they put together their Armada, but that got destroyed and left the surprised English master of the seas.

None of this has anything to do with Bordeaux and Rioja yet.

During the Cromwell years, the French approached the Dutch about buying wine. The Dutch took a look a the swamps in Bordeaux and offered to drain them. They did that in the late 1600s. Only then, a few thousand years after wine was made in Rioja, did the "terroir" of Margaux even come into existence. After the Restoration, London was like Chicago in the Roaring Twenties and the wealthiest man in Bordeaux, Pontac, wanted to cut out the negociants so he started selling his own wine directly to the Brits. To save space, he kept his barrels completely filled and racked out the sediment. Inadvertantly, that made better wine for which he could charge more money. That was the first branded estate wine. Eventually he dug up all his wheat and other crops and planted only grapes and the other folks in Bordeaux followed suit.

In the 1700s, a Spanish guy checked out what was happening in Bordeaux and tried to get that started in Rioja. Didn't work. In the mid 1800s, the Marques de Riscal was out of favor so left Spain, visited Bordeaux, and on his return, tried to do what Pontac was doing. Then Colonel Murrietta, later a Marques, tried to do the same and this time the innovations took root.  The bodega would get the grapes from the local peasants, crush them and make wine, then store the wine until it was ready for sale. 

By the time phylloxera hit, in the late 1800s, the mountains were less intimidating and the Bordelais winemakers came to Rioja, bringing their technical knowledge. But those earlier innovations - racking, barriques, estate-bottling, are what Marques de Riscal and Marques de Murrietta brought to Rioja from Bordeaux. 

Now let's look at the blog post.

Some people refer to the "Rioja Taliban", which is a group of people, mostly in NYC, who think that the only Rioja that should exist is Lopez de Heredia.  Their wines can be great and the owners are people I like very much both personally and professionally.  But I don't need or want a lecture from anybody about what I'm supposed to like or appreciate. If you notice, the blog post mentioned nothing at all about the bodegas I mentioned, even tho they pre-date all of those at the tasting. Nor did the blog post mention wines like those from Muga, established in the 1930s, or Marques de Cacares, established in the 1970s, or Beronia, established in the 1980s, all making wine that holds its own against any of the cententary wineries. 

If one has an agenda, and Manny does because he needs to sell his wine and establish himself as a specialty dealer, then one reads his posts differently. 

I respect him immensely so this isn't a slam by any means.  But for some people at the dinner, it was their education. And IMO, in that capacity, it was incomplete.  To round out his tasting, he should have included some wines from Riscal from the 1920s 30s or 40s.  They weren't even mentioned. Perhaps because they produce a few million bottles every year for under $15?  And maybe those are some of the best values in the wine world?  As opposed to wines that are over $200/ bottle?  Just asking.

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Jul 12, 2011.

GretT: Wow. Great stuff.  Esp the role the dutch played draining the swamp.  Terroir, indeed!

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Reply by dmcker, Jul 13, 2011.

Greg, I like how you wrapped up more than 2,000 years of European history in paras 2-5. Let's put up a history site together. Have some ideas. You can PM me. ;-)

And yeah, I tend to kill the supply of Riscal in any bar I visit in Tokyo pretty quickly. Best QPR, and often the best drinking experience, of any wine served in any bar in this town....

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Reply by JonDerry, Jul 13, 2011.

Ditto both Fox and Dm, if I were to make a greatest hits compilation from Snooth, this post would definitely be on it.

So I guess that answers the question that wine was being made in Rioja (long) before Bordeaux. 

 

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Reply by gregt, Jul 13, 2011.

BTW - did you note that in the list there was not a wine by Riscal or Murrietta?  No sales opportunity there?

Had a white Murrietta 1970 about a year ago and it was simply stunning.  The other thing is, there are many people putting out "cult" wines of which they make maybe 500 bottles or so.  Riscal puts out millions and they're actually pretty good.  That's simply amazing to me.  Can't think of any other producer who puts out that kind of volume at that quality level.  Is it the best in the world? Nope. But for what you get, it's great AND it ages!

Very truncated history, sorry.  Didn't want to write a four page post.

BTW, Pontac grew wheat and other crops on his land.  Only after some time did they realize they could make more money with wine and decide to let grapes dominate.  And the wine was mostly Malbec in those days.  And most importantly, he is reputed to have invented the restaurant, although that may be more of a legend. 

Story is that he sent his son to London to scout for opportunities.  His son had a brainstorm and told him to send the cook over.  He did and they opened a place devoted to serving dinner. Prior to that London had inns and taverns, but a place devoted only to meals was unusual.  For many years, even in the US the idea of a restaurant had a vaguely decadent, continental connotation.  I think we owe Pontac more for that than for establishing Haut Brion!

The decendants all had their heads cut off during Robespierre's time in office. No more brainstorms out of that family!

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Reply by dmcker, Jul 13, 2011.

The Rev (French version) also had an effect on plot ownership and size over in Burgundy, too. Would be an interesting academic subject to make a comparison of the factors in Bordeaux vs. Burgundy whereby a rebound was made back towards larger estates in the former but not the latter.

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Reply by gregt, Jul 13, 2011.

Actually that would be pretty fascinating.  I suspect it's a combination of reasons but mostly having to do with location.

Burgundy was a fairly autonomous kingdom, or at least a duchy, for a long time, becoming part of greater France sometime in the 1400s I believe.  Bordeaux was part of England for a while but whoever it belonged to, it was first and foremost a shipping center. I think Louis 14 annexed it - not 100 pct certain, but that would put it maybe 200 years after Burgundy became part of France. 

However, the port location meant a lot since the very earliest men headed over to Enland in whatever rafts or canoes they had. It meant much more external money was always coming into Bordeaux than in Burgundy and that meant grander chateaux and more political influence.  In addition, the ownership of the estates was frequently foreign - wealthy people from Ireland and England and Portugal owned some of those chateaux early on, whereas in Burgundy, without an export market and outside interest, there was no reason for investors to piece together the estates. 

Wine aside, Bordeaux was the most important French port for trade with England and for trade with the west indies and the Americas.  It  was a huge center for trading slaves and for piracy.  The merchants who sold the English their wine and the pirates who stole it back both lived in Bordeaux and both brought in serious cash. The same with the slaves.  They'd steal them from English and Portuguese ships and sell them in Haiti or some French colony. I never looked into the relative values, but my hunch is that for a few hundred years slaves were probably more lucrative than wine. Of course, the Bordelais don't want to talk about that today!

Serving an international market - the colonies in the new world were a huge market for European trade, Bordeaux cried out for economies of scale. Burgundy on the other hand, had no way of getting to export markets anyway - don't forget that there wasn't good transportation back in the day.  Plus they made relatively little wine there in comparison.  Until very recently, like in our lifetimes, it was mostly about peasants and a wealthy merchant class wasn't interested in putting together grand estates because after all, what would they do with the wine? 

I don't know for certain of course, as I've never researched it, but that would be a really interesting thing to look into more deeply!

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Reply by Stephen Harvey, Jul 14, 2011.

Whilst not a student of Franco/English history, there is many instances of French and English Monarchy intermarrying and when I was in Bordeaux our tour guide talked about one celebrated case where the Queen of France dumped the King of France to marry the King of England and Bordeaux was implicated in this hysterical [oops historical] event

I also seems based on my scant knowledge of Spanish/English history that Engalnad and Spain seemed to be at war for most of the pre 1850 period.

Throw in a bit of Catholic/Protestant rivalry and intra Catholic rivalry between France and Spain and you get licorice allsorts

 

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Reply by dmcker, Jul 14, 2011.

How do you spell Eleanor of Aquitaine?

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Reply by Stephen Harvey, Jul 14, 2011.

Wow now we have Robin Hood associated with Bordeaux wine.

I guess that is prophetic as the Bordelais have been stealing from the rich for years, only difference is that they give to the poor owners (sic) of the Bordeaux 1st Growth Chateaux

Eleanor of Aquitaine (in French: Aliénor d’Aquitaine, Éléonore de Guyenne) (1122 or 1124 – 1 April 1204) was one of the wealthiest and most powerful women in Western Europe during the High Middle Ages. As well as being Duchess of Aquitaine in her own right, she was queen consort of France (1137–1152) and of England (1154–1189). Eleanor of Aquitaine is the only woman to have been queen of both France and England. She was the patroness of such literary figures as Wace, Benoît de Sainte-More, and Chrétien de Troyes.

Eleanor succeeded her father as suo jure Duchess of Aquitaine and Countess of Poitiers at the age of fifteen, and thus became the most eligible bride in Europe. Three months after her accession she married Louis VII, son and junior co-ruler of her guardian, King Louis VI of France. As Queen of France, she participated in the unsuccessful Second Crusade. Soon after the Crusade was over, Louis VII and Eleanor agreed to dissolve their marriage, because of Eleanor's own desire for divorce and also because the only children they had were two daughters – Marie and Alix. The royal marriage was annulled on 11 March 1152, on the grounds of consanguinity within the fourth degree. Their daughters were declared legitimate and custody of them awarded to Louis, while Eleanor's lands were restored to her.

As soon as she arrived in Poitiers, Eleanor became engaged to Henry II, Duke of the Normans, her cousin within the third degree, who was nine years younger. On 18 May 1152, eight weeks after the annulment of her first marriage, Eleanor married the Duke of the Normans. On 25 October 1154 her husband ascended the throne of the Kingdom of England, making Eleanor Queen of the English. Over the next thirteen years, she bore Henry eight children: five sons, three of whom would become king, and three daughters. However, Henry and Eleanor eventually became estranged. She was imprisoned between 1173 and 1189 for supporting her son Henry's revolt against her husband, King Henry II.

Eleanor was widowed on 6 July 1189. Her husband was succeeded by their son, Richard the Lionheart, who immediately moved to release his mother. Now queen dowager, Eleanor acted as a regent for her son while he went off on the Third Crusade. Eleanor survived her son Richard and lived well into the reign of her youngest son King John. By the time of her death she had outlived all of her children except for King John and Eleanor, Queen of Castile.

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