Red Blend from Alfaro, Rioja Baja, La Rioja, Rioja, Spain
Purchased: 12 July 2017 – $18.99
Opened: 20 Feb 2018
Wine Spectator: 93
Stephan Tanzer: 90
Cellar Tracker: 90
Wine and Spirits: 90
Wine Enthusiast: 89
La Rioja, likely the most recognizable, if not the most famous wine region in all of Spain, is located 55-95 miles south of the Spanish-Atlantic coastline in the Ebro River valley, sandwiched between the Pyrenees and Cantabrian Mountains to the north and the Iberian Mountains to the southwest. The history of this area travels back to the time of the Phoenicians, followed by the Romans then the Christian Monks, all intent on producing ever better wines. Then the French came and the rest is even more history, wine history that is. As phylloxera laid waste to the Bordeaux region in the 1870’s, the unemployed French wine makers migrated into the area and shared their expertise with the local population.
Rioja is divided into three regions: Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa, and Rioja Baja. The higher altitude Rioja Alta has alluvial soils of iron and lime, infused clays. Rioja Alavesa, at altitudes lower than Rioja Alta, consists of terraced vineyards growing in a mix of limestone and clays. Rioja Alta and Alavesa enjoy a continental climate with 4 distinct seasons. Rioja Baja, at the lowest altitude, has clay soils high in lime and iron growing grapes in a fairly mild Mediterranean climate. The 3 areas have about 150,000 acres of vineyards producing 4 distinct classifications or categories of Rioja red wines: 1). Rioja wine aged less than a year in oak barrels; 2). Crianza is aged for at least two years, at least one-year of which is in oak; 3). Rioja Reserva is aged for at least three years with at least one-year in oak barrels; 4). Rioja Gran Reserva is aged for at least two-years in oak and three years in bottle. Garnacha, Tempranillo, Viura and Graciano are the main grapes grown in this region of 600 bodegas.
Tempranillo grapes are grown worldwide but Spain grows the lions share, approaching 90% of all acres planted across this blue planet. Portugal comes in second with less than 10% of the grape’s plantings. The rest of the world occupies a position best described as rounding errors in total acres planted. Tempranillo is an early ripening black grape with a thick skin, preferring high altitudes that provide hot days and cool nights. The cool nights provide the body and acidity while the hot days stimulate sugar production to higher levels while creating thicker, darker skins. The wines are ruby-red in color, redolent of berries, plum, tobacco, and vanilla.
Carignan, aka Mazuelo, is a red grape, common to southern France and Spain. The grape exhibits aromas of red fruit and spice with high acidity and tannins. It ripens late and produces high yields. The grape is used mostly to add a very deep red color to blends.
Later vintages of this Bodega’s wine have added the Graciano grape to the blend. It is almost exclusively a Spanish red wine grape grown primarily in Rioja. Graciano wine is purple to ruby-red exhibiting aromas of black fruits, cherries and plums. The grapes love hot dry days. The wine is generally blended with Tempranillo to add ageing potential and greater structure.
Bodegas Burgo Viejo was founded in 1987 by six Spanish families of La Rioja winemakers which today has grown today to 16 families. The winery is located in Alfaro, a small town of less than 10,000 people situated in the far southeastern edge of the La Rioja region. The town is on the eastern bank of the Ebro River and west of the Yerga Mountain. The Bodegas’ vineyards produce red and white wines in all 4 categories: Rioja, Crianza, Rioja Reserva, and Rioja Gran Reserva.
The almost 500 acres of family vineyards are scattered around the town of Alfaro and the Ebro River growing 90% red, along with 10% combined total of rose and white grapes; including Tempranillo, Mazuelo, Garnacha, Graciano and Viura. The vines are mainly 30 years old but some Garnacha vines exceed 90 years in age. The vines grow in the Rioja Baja terroir; soils of clay and lime at an elevation of approximately 1000′ above sea level. The average growing season temperatures have a range of 45-90ºF with rainfall averaging 2-3″ per month.
The grapes are fermented in controlled temperature, stainless steel tanks. Malolactic fermentation, after the primary fermentation, occurs in temperature stabilized concrete tanks. Once the malolactic fermentation process is over the wine is transferred to stainless tanks or oak barrels depending on the initial quality of the grapes. The Reserva and Gran Reserva wines are transferred to 60 gallon oak barrels; 80-90% American and 10-20% French oak. This wine spent 18 months in the oak barrels.
A clear ruby-red wine with a tawny rim. Aromas of cherries and red berries with vanilla in the background. Medium to full-bodied, very balanced and structured. The tannins and acidity are working very well together producing a pleasant medium finish.
Enjoy with a Basque Tapas dish such as the very easy to make: Chorizo a la Sidra, or in English, Chorizo with cider. You only need a couple of uncooked chorizo sausages and a little more than a cup of Spanish cider. Cut up the sausages into bite sized bits and add to a small cooking pan along with the cider. Cook over a medium high heat until the cider begins to exhibit a syrup like consistency. Remove from heat before the sauce gets too thick and arrange on a serving dish. Dribble some more cider and Spanish spices, such as a crushed Bay leaf and saffron, on the sausages if you wish. Serve with sour dough to soak up the sauce and Basque country Idiazabal cheese.
An outstanding wine at an OK price. The wine is getting scarce, as such, the price is increasing. Drink now, but should last until 2022-2025. Decant and aerate for one hour, or more, before drinking.