Fruit vs. oak, Round One

The first Thursday of every month, a local hotel, the NH Herencia Rioja, organizes a wine dinner, ‘Los jueves y el vino’ (Thursdays with wine).

Usually about 100 people attend, and it’s a lot of fun because everyone knows one another, we get the chance to catch up on local gossip, politics, have a nice meal, (usually) drink good wines and hear what the winemaker has to say about the wine and food pairings.

Our table includes a banker, a divorce lawyer, an advertising executive, the manager of the local theater, a high school math teacher, a flying winemaker and yours truly, so it’s not a collection of wine geeks, but rather consumers who happen to love wine.

Most of the dinners feature Rioja but on April 2 a wine from one of northern Spain’s upcoming winery groups, Bodegas Emina, was on stage, so naturally there was a lot of expectation.

The menu was:

  • duck liver foie gras with a red wine reduction and crisp bread with a carrot and raisin jam (Emina semisweet white 2007)
  • cod on a bed of fresh white asparagus with flower petals (Emina verdejo 2008 from Rueda)
  • roast baby lamb with piquillo peppers and roast onions (Emina Prestigio 2005)
  • a crêpe stuffed with creamy chocolate with raisins and a plum sauce (Emina Oxto – the ‘X’, the sign of multiplication, is ‘por’ in Spanish, so it’s pronounced ‘O por to’ and a Port-like wine it certainly was!)

Hearty fare, right?  All of us expected some heavy duty fruit in the wines but we were surprised to taste wines that seemed to have been aged in a sawmill.

Jesús the flying winemaker and I usually lead the conversation about the pairings at these dinners and this time, we couldn’t help but comment that whatever fruit the wines might have had, it was hidden under a heavy layer of new oak.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  This is not a gratuitous hit on another region. I’m a great admirer of the wines from Ribera del Duero but it seemed clear to me that these wines were chasing points with wine writers rather than going with food. Sadly, they didn’t make any points with us.

Since when does ‘modern’ mean overoaked?  I enjoy complex wines with lots of fruit as much as traditional wines, but I think wineries need to pay more attention to satisfying consumers than playing the points game.

More to follow.

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