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Raiders Of The Lost Art (Tasting Not-So-Recent Releases At La Rioja Alta, S.A.)

There’s a scene at the end of Raiders Of The Lost Ark (please don’t tell me you haven’t seen it… it’s only the greatest action/adventure flick yet made by humans) where an unnamed warehouse worker wheels a large box, presumably containing the Lost Ark of the Covenant (which turns out to be a WOMD) into a massive storage complex, through what appears to be miles of boxes stacked dozens of feet high.

Walking through the enormous barrel storage rooms at venerable Haro producer La Rioja Alta, S.A., anyone who remembers that closing scene from Raiders is bound to experience an eerie sense of déjà vu. Same goes for those strolling through LRA’s underground walkways and barrel storage areas – there are literally millions of bottles of wine slumbering in that quiet earth.

In fact, just about everything at LRA’s Haro location, aside from the tasting room (one of the few Rioja producers who even have one, and one which demonstrates a clear design love affair with high-gloss surfaces at that), feels oversized; from their display cases and production museums, down to the cask rooms and wooden casks themselves. Even their private tasting area has a huge open space smack dab in the center of it, as if a god with a magic iPhone had grabbed the corners of a normally-proportioned conference room and pinched-and-slid it to expand it to three times its normal size.

All of which makes it all the more interesting to a wine geek, weaned on the notion that truly great wine is only made in tiny quantities, that LRA’s large (okay, ginormous) production volume doesn’t get in the way whatsoever of the quality of their wines.

In fact, in tasting the wines from La Rioja Alta, one gets the sense that every hour of their near 125 years of winemaking experience has somehow been put to good use; the lineup includes not only some of Spain’s most long-lived and elegantly complex (and expensive) reds, but also one of Europe’s most stunning red wines bargains

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Modern Wines, Old School Humility, And… Tank Hosing (Tasting Miguel Merino Recent Releases in Rioja Alta)

Vinted on August 30, 2012 under elegant wines, kick-ass wines, on the road, sexy wines

“In Spain, when you’re fifteen, sixteen years old, you have to decide what you want to study: Science or Humanities,” joked Rioja’s Miguel Merino.

“I chose Humanities… so I can’t let the wine go wrong, otherwise I won’t know what to do to make money!”

The diminutive Merino, who spent twenty years in various aspects of the wine business before deciding to try his hand at his own wines, is like a breath of air that’s fresher than the scent of the roses that line the experimental vineyards in front of his winemaking facility in the Rioja Alta area of Briones. While medieval town and its Moorish architectural influences are thoroughly traditional for this area of Spain, Merino’s wines are made with a decidedly modernist stylistic twist.

But these are not the boorish, overly-extracted oak-monsters that have come to symbolize Rioja’s modern red wine bent – they carry the charmingly poised sense of reverently balancing on the shoulders of Rioja’s best traditions when it comes to winemaking; and their acclaim (Merino now exports to over thirty countries) is, as you will shortly come to read, well-deserved. And it helps that Merino himself is just about as humble, and about as far removed from the overblown, removed sense of self that marks some of Rioja’s biggest modern winemaking stars, as one can get

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Old House, Old Vines, New Styles (Tasting Izadi Recent Releases In Rioja)

Vinted on August 16, 2012 under kick-ass wines, overachiever wines, wine review

To get a feel for how important the culture of the vine is in the tiny and picturesque hilltop town of Villabuena in Rioja Alavesa, consider this: Villabuena has roughly 317 inhabitants, and just over ten percent of them (about 40) are wineries; so the town hosts 1 winery for every 8 or so people.

Looking out from the back patio of an old house owned by one of those winemaking residents – Bodegas Izadi– and taking in the quaint images of hanging laundry, satellite dishes, and brick-colored rooftops in the shadow of the mountains, Villabuena proffers an odd locale for a winery. But there must be something to the nearby sloping hills that suits the vine – particularly Tempranillo – to explain the preponderance of wineries that call the town home.

Izadi was founded in the late 1980s by restaurateur Gonzalo Anton, following the dual urges of creating wine good enough that he could serve it to his friends, and wanting to produce wines in a more modern style – clean, and approachable – than those that being produced by other members of his members.

It’s ironic, then, that their most compelling wine (in my view, anyway) is the one that has the greatest nod towards Rioja tradition, and is made from the 100-year old vines planted so haphazardly a short drive from the old Villabuena residence that Izadi now calls home

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Freedom, Liberty And The Pursuit Of One Of Barossa’s Best Reds (Langmeil Recent Releases)

I have a confession to make. I hate the word “freedom.”

Rather, I hate the misuse of the word freedom; because, at the risk of sounding like an unpatriotic American, I’ve noticed that most of the time people use “freedom” when they really mean “liberty” (the latter of which, unlike the former, constitutes non-contradictory inherent states of being and is actually the idea most people have in mind when they talk about the principles upon which the USA was founded). Of course, I’m still red-blooded enough of an American to call myself “American” and laugh when the Canadians also call themselves “American” (Canadian: “Where are you from, eh?” Me: “I’m an American.” Canadian: “Well, I’m an American, too – a North American.” Me: “Awww… that is soooo cute!”).

Anyway, today I officially wrap up coverage of my two-week Australia jaunt earlier this year as a guest of Wines of Australia, recounting a visit to what must be one of the wine world’s most special places: what’s believed the oldest surviving shiraz vineyard in the world, first planted in 1843 by Christian Auricht, who emigrated his family to South Australia to escape religious persecution in Prussia.

And in that sense, the name of Aubricht’s 3.5 acre alluvial loam, red clay, limestone and ironstone Tanunda vineyard – now tended by Barossa producer Langmeil – is not only poignant but also apt (and, I’d add, technically correct!): The Freedom 1843 Shiraz Vineyard.

The wine produced from it shares the same name, and it just might reinvigorate your faith in Southern Hemisphere Shiraz from the persecution of overly-extracted, soda-pop, wanna-be Shiraz plonk

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