The latest Rioja tasting sponsored by our local paper LA RIOJA took place last Tuesday, featuring the wines from the Diego Zamora group: Bodegas Ramón Bilbao in Rioja, Mar de Frades from Rías Baixas, Cruz de Alba from Ribera del Duero and Volteo, a vino de la tierra from Castilla-La Mancha.
Diego Zamora, located in Cartagena on the southeast coast of Spain, is famous for Licor 43, once the darling of the disco in Spain in the 1970s but still present on the shelf of practically every bar in Spain.
The tasting was tutored by the managing director of the group’s wine division Rodolfo Bastida, a Rioja native and old friend for many years.
Ramón Bilbao, like other wineries in Rioja, has taken the route of expansion into other wine districts in Spain to diversify its product range rather than increase production here. This makes sense because it allows the group to offer wines from the hottest white wine producing region in Spain today – Rías Baixas -, a second prestigious red wine region (Ribera del Duero) and a more economically priced range of wines (Volteo) made with internationally recognized grape varieties to provide the necessary volume to fill containers during a recession.
Mar de Frades, a 100% albariño, has a lot going for it: an attractive Rhine-style blue bottle that stands out on a shelf, a temperature-sensitive label that tells consumers when the wine has reached the right temperature (10ºC) and an extremely attractive pineapple and tropical fruit nose along with crisp acidity and good structure on the palate.
The Volteo range of a 100% tempranillo, a tempranillo-cabernet sauvignon blend, a tempranillo-shiraz blend, a rosé made with garnacha and a white blend of viura, viognier and sauvignon blanc has been made with the young US wine drinker in mind, with an attractive label, an easy-to-pronounce name (’volteo’ refers to ‘vaulting’, a sport seen in the circus riders somersaulting on horseback). The product seems to be a success as, according to Rodolfo, over 650.000 bottles were shipped to the States in 2009.
We tasted the 100% tempranillo, which I found to be very fruity with notes of blackberries, a little oak and a big mouthfeel. No doubt, wine made by the marketing department but pretty good, even to a 62-year old’s palate.
Cruz de Alba, a 100% tinto fino (tempranillo) is produced following the principles of biodynamics, which basically implies using natural products and following a biodynamic calendar to pick grapes, prune the vineyard, blend, age and bottle. Rodolfo explained that he frankly couldn’t tell the difference between a ‘normal’ wine and a biodynamically produced one but believed that it couldn’t hurt as biodynamics forces a winery to pay very close attention to the vineyard.
I found the 2006 Cruz de Alba crianza to have an intense black cherry color, a mineral nose that’s characteristic of most Riberas, dark fruit on the nose, and intense tannin that will no doubt improve with age.
We tasted two Riojas: Ramón Bilbao Limited Edition 2007 and Mirto 2005.
Limited Edition, a 100% tempranillo, showed black cherry color, an aroma that reminded me of cherries macerated in liqueur with a touch of oak that also showed crushed graham crackers after the wine was in the glass for ten minutes, elegant, ripe tannins and high acidity.
Mirto, the top of the line, is also pure tempranillo, with very intense black cherry color, ripe, almost stewed dark fruit along with menthol (which Spaniards call ‘balsámico’) with well-integrated tannin and fairly high acidity for a style of wine that is unabashedly in the camp of modern Rioja.
I really liked Mar de Frades, and although the style of the reds was too modern for my personal taste, they undoubtedly have a large following, both in Spain and in the USA among fans of chewy fruit and lots of color and structure. If you’re going to make a modern Rioja, this is, I feel, the way to do it, with ripe, elegant tannin rather than a fruit bomb. For me, Limited Edition was the best of the lot and the range of reds showcased the stylistic diversity of tempranillo from Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Castilla-La Mancha. In short, a very interesting, educational tasting!