Given the absolute predominance of tempranillo in red Rioja, it’s refreshing to see someone taking the road less traveled. The mazuelo grape only accounts for about 3% of the vineyard area in Rioja (1.610 hectares to be exact), but its propensity to be affected by oidium seems to discourage growers in spite of its high acidity and tannins, important for making wines that age well.
Miguel Merino and I have been friends since the early 1980s when he was the export director of Bodegas Berberana and I was the export director of bottled wines at Savin (now Bodegas & Bebidas). We always laugh about the fact that we were more likely to meet in New York, London or Hamburg than in Rioja, but now that both of us spend more time at home, we enjoy getting together for a meal where we inevitably end up telling jokes, talking about the wine business and life in general. Miguel is a great storyteller, a quality that has always served him well as a salesman, and visitors to the winery invariably end up around a table in the tasting room listening to Miguel talk passionately about his wines.
Mazuelo de la Quinta Cruz 2006 was a project between Miguel and his friend Lars Torstenson, a Swedish winemaker who used to work for Domaine Rabiega in Provence, where he carried out a number of research projects on carignan, a synonym for mazuelo. The wine is named after a mazuelo vineyard located at the fifth station of a via crucis leading up to Mount Calvario near Briones where a religious procession takes place every year.
I was lucky to have been given two bottles of the 2006 vintage, which according to Miguel, was sold exclusively to the Swedish liquor monopoly Systembolaget . I understand from a friend, however, that the 2007 was recently named ‘Best Old World red’ in a recent issue of Decanter magazine, so the brand is apparently available in the UK, too.
My tasting notes were:
“Mazuelo de la Quinta Cruz 2006. 13%. A Merino and Torstenson wine. 1.516 bottles made.
Medium garnet. Spicy, herbal nose – rosemary and rockrose (?) (‘jara’ in Spanish, a bush found in the hills), with a hint of oak. Soft on the palate with high acidity. Elegant and easy to drink. Finish a little short, but hopefully will improve with more bottle aging. ”
This is a great food wine – it doesn’t tire your palate like so many fruit bombs in the marketplace today. We enjoyed it with roast baby lamb.
Bodegas Miguel Merino, Carretera de Logroño 16, 26330 Briones (La Rioja)