I’ll start with a confession: I don’t have a lot of tasting experience with Rioja. Sure, I have had the wines as necessary to prepare for exams, and on occasion beyond that, but no immersion. The reason is that based on my previous impression of the category. I like Beaujolais and a lot of the world’s Pinot Noir. I love lower alcohol, higher acid Old-World wines. My impression of Rioja was enamel ripping tannin, brooding ABV, and a shy awareness of my own ignorance on the region.
Now, this is changing; and this wine is part of the reason. I pulled the cork on Thursday night and found the initial bouquet reminiscent of a variety I like very much: Nebbiolo. When I shared this impression with one of my mentors he said, “I’d say that’s a very good thing.” Meaning, the oak and alcohol is integrated and the lovely fruit and flower aromas I’d expect from Barolo or Barbaresco are present. The beautifully integrated structure of the wine is, of course, a result of the time rested in barrel in bottle.
Let’s discuss the meaning of Gran Reserva in this context. Spain is the only wine region where the word ‘Reserve/Reserva’ is a matter of law. Here in the US, you’ll see the word “Reserve’ on wines of all quality levels. It doesn’t mean anything apart from the benefit it provides in marketing. In Spain, Gran Reserva requires that the wine has been aged at least five years with a minimum of two years in oak (this one saw 28 months). Gran Reserva wines are typically only produced from outstanding vintages.
This wine is made of 100% Tempranillo from vines planted in 1975 and farmed with the utmost respect for the environment. Located at the foot of the Sierra Cantabria, this area is characterized by an Atlantic climate that is moderated by the Sierra rain shadow.
The grapes were hand-selected and completely destemmed, ensuring only the ripest and healthiest made it into the wine. In the winery, these things took a serious! First, a pre-fermentation maceration at 43°F, followed by temperature-controlled fermentation in open top fermenters with selected indigenous yeast. Then another 12 days on the skins! The juice and skins must have had trouble saying goodbye to each other when all was said and done. The juice was then transferred to 100% new Bordelaise French Oak barrels.
El Puntino is the name of the single vineyard where the grapes came from. The wine expresses the unique mineral-driven profile of this terroir, as is the goal with all the single-vineyard wines produced by Viñedos de Páganos.
Fun Fact: El Puntido is an old word meaning 'staircase landing', like the shape that these lands form between the Sierra de Cantabria and the Ebro River depression.
A wine like this tends to taste best on day two, and this was no exception. The aroma of violets, the one that made me think of Nebbiolo on day one, is still present. Black fruits like plum and blackberry stroke the palate. On day one a note that reminded me of smokey leather or a sweaty horse (not as bad as it sounds) was present. Day two it had given way to a softer, earth-driven smoke note. Lovely.
Colorado-based critic Jeb Dunnuck gave this 94 points. I tend to value his opinion above that of most critics, although Parker did drop a mean 96 on it.
Average Price: $55.00 USD
The wine is a testament to the level of quality we can expect from the Jorge Ordoñez Selections portfolio. The more I learn, the more I appreciate the values this company is founded on.
What are your thoughts on Rioja? Ready for more?!