Solar de Samaniego crianza 2003

Solar de Samaniego

Two weekends ago we stayed in Logroño instead of going to our summer house in Cantabria – it was just after the Wine Future Rioja 09 conference (more on that in a future post) and we were entertaining guests, so on Sunday I went down to our wine cellar to grab a bottle, with nothing particular in mind.  After a quick look around I chose Solar de Samaniego crianza 2003 because I hadn’t tasted it in a while and wanted to see how it was evolving, especially because 2003 was only rated ‘good’ by the Rioja Regulatory Council. Toñica and I were very pleasantly surprised after opening the bottle because in our opinion it tasted great, once again driving home the message that the exception confirms the rule where vintage ratings are concerned.

The wine is a blend of tempranillo and graciano, unusual for a crianza. It showed a medium ruby color, with an extremely elegant nose of strawberries, gingerbread cookies and maraschino cherries.  It had a medium mouthfeel with great balance between fruit and oak.  It went down perfectly with our lunch of meatloaf and green beans.

Speaking of mouthfeel, I remember a tasting class I took many years ago with Karen MacNeil, one of the USA’s great wine educators.  She liked to compare mouthfeel to different kinds of milk: skim and whole milk corresponded to light and heavy mouthfeel, with medium somewhere in between.  I used this analogy successfully in tastings in the USA but got a lot of blank stares in most of Europe, proving that wine tasting vocabulary is by no means universal. Last year I gave a tasting to some mainland Chinese wine writers, who agreed that one of the wines smelled like ‘ Beijing during the winter’.  I still haven’t totally figured that one out, but they liked the wine so it must have been a compliment!

Solar de Samaniego is often overlooked because its wines are neither traditional nor ultramodern, but I think it deserves a wider following because the wines are extremely well-made and mighty tasty.  Founded in the early 1970s in Laguardia in Rioja Alavesa by a family with roots in Rioja, the winery is named after Félix María de Samaniego, an 18th century writer of fables who was born and lived in Laguardia.  In fact, the ruins of Samaniego’s country house, where he wrote many of his fables, are in the middle of one of the company’s vineyards.  The former PR director of the company has taken advantage of this location to start a company specializing in picnics and romantic vineyard dinners. 

Solar de Samaniego also owns a winery and vineyards in Ribera del Duero (Durón) which it sells along with its Rioja brands in one of Spain’s most successful wine clubs, which it owns and operates.