After several months’ absence, I was finally able to attend the Rioja tasting organized by our local newspaper LA RIOJA. The November tasting featured Amador Escudero and the wines of Bodegas Escudero and Bodegas Valsacro.
It was a great review of wines and the potential of cavas from Rioja Baja.
The Escudero family has 128 hectares of vineyards in Rioja Baja, on or near Mount Yerga, one of the highest sites in Rioja. Yerga was once largely ignored by wineries because grapes produced there ripened late. This prompted growers to plant on the fertile alluvial plain near the Ebro river. Today things have changed, with criticism heaped on the high-yielding vineyards near the river while Yerga is one of the most sought-after sites.
Escudero has been producing cava in Rioja for over 50 years, and as cava producers, are allowed to plant varietals allowed by the Cava appellation.
As we arrived, we were served a Benito Escudero rosé cava made with pinot noir. Beautiful cherry bouquet and very refreshing.
The first Rioja was Bécquer red 2008. The brand was created to honor Spain’s romantic poet Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, who wrote his Miserere on the slopes of Mount Yerga. 70% tempranillo, 30% garnacha.
Intense ruby. Red fruit, spicy, a touch of oak. Balanced acidity with a long finish. I thought that the wine’s power overshadowed its elegance.
Vidau 2005. 70% tempranillo. Aged in French and Rumanian oak.
‘Vidau’ is how Escudero calls a field blend, where the different varieties in a single vineyard determine the blend of grapes in the wine.
Intense black cherry. Very ripe red fruit and new oak. High acidity. In my opinion it needs more time in the bottle.
Valsacro Dioro 2004. 40% tempranillo, 40% garnacha, 20% others. Aged in French and Rumanian oak.
Intense black cherry with brick. Very ripe dark fruit, spicy, well-balanced with ripe tannins. In my opinion, the best wine in the tasting.
Arvum 2005. (‘Arvum’ means ‘field’ in Latin.
Intense brick. Red fruit, candy and butterscotch. High acidity, tannic, not mouth-filling. I thought the aroma was better than the mouthfeel.
My overall impression of these wines was that they were well-made but expressed more depth on the nose than on the palate, dominated by high acidity. In Rioja, high acidity is highly prized because it gives potential for ageing. In Rioja, winemakers call this quality ‘frescura’ or freshness.
I missed, however, more complexity to go along with this acidity.
We then tasted two cavas. The first was Dioro Baco extra brut, made exclusively with chardonnay from vineyards on Mt. Yerga. Amador said that the base wine remained for six years on its lees. Straw-gold. Nutmeg, banana and a slight whiff of burnt sugar. I liked it a lot.
Dioro Baco semi-dry ‘dessert’ cava. I thought it was well-balanced, not cloying, with a graham cracker bouquet. Frankly I prefer brut cavas but this one was pretty good.
I left the tasting satisfied but curious to taste more wines made from grapes grown on the high altitude vineyards of Mount Yerga.