Miller tastes, Rioja rejoices, consumers should beware

 

Rioja was buzzing last week because of the publication of an extensive report praising Spanish wines in Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate and the news that Parker’s associate Dr. Jay Miller, responsible for Spanish wines, would be visiting our region and tasting the week of May 3.  A list of 104 Riojas scoring 90 points and above was published in the wine website of our local newspaper LA RIOJA. Miller indicated that his list would be added to following his stay and when it comes out, I’ll write about it.

The suggested retail prices in dollars ranged from $443 for Benjamín Romeo’s Contador, the highest scoring Rioja, with 98 points to Telmo Rodríguez’ LZ (90 points and $17).

As you know, I’m not a big fan of rating wines here but I have to admit that a good rating from Parker or the Wine Spectator is good for sales, at least in the USA.  I remember when I was the director of Bodegas & Bebidas USA in the late 80s and early 90s, whenever Campo Viejo got a 90 or above from RP or WS I would run to the local Speedy Print to have a few thousand shelf talkers printed which I would send to our distributors around the country (this was before the advent of online print programs).  Sales inevitably spiked upwards.

As a big fan of statistics, I couldn’t resist analyzing the scores and prices, and following Miller’s statement that today, “Rioja offers a big bang for your buck” (hilariously translated in a newspaper article as ‘una gran explosión por un dólar’), I created the ‘Biggest Bang for your Buck’ index by dividing the  Miller score by the suggested retail price.  I’m sure that my statistics professors in college wouldn’t approve, beacause the system has an obvious flaw:  a really badly scored wine, say 60 points that retails for $5, would receive a BBB score of 12 but is a bad deal, unless you’re looking for something to cook with.

My suggestion with this list, if you’re a Parkerista, is:

A BBB score of 3 or more:  RUN, don’t walk, to your local retailer.

A BBB score of 2 to 3:  look for the wine for a special occasion.

A BBB score of under 2:  caveat emptor

I think the Swedes have the best idea.  Every month when the liquor board Systembolaget presents the new releases, it organizes a panel tasting for journalists.  The accepted rating system is:

Fynd (treasure)

Mer än prisvärda (great quality/price relationship)

Prisvärda (correct quality/price relationship)

Ej prisvärda (too expensive for what’s in the bottle)

I have a lot more to say about this topic, so I’ll write about it in my next post, which will discuss what the US market is saying about pricing and where Rioja seems to stand.

(Jay Miller photo credit:  chapillon.blogspot.com)

The ‘Biggest Bang for your buck’ index (with apologies to Jay Miller)

Brand and producer Points RRP  BBB
    (US$) index
Telmo Rodríguez LZ 08 90 17 5,29
Ares crianza 07 90 18 5,00
Bodegas Exopto Big Bang 08 90 18 5,00
Sierra Cantabria crianza 06 90 19 4,74
Siglo reserva 04 91 20 4,55
Rioja Vega reserva 05 90 21 4,29
Finca La Emperatriz reserva 04 90 22 4,09
Viña Herminia reserva 04 90,5 23 3,93
Marqués de Vargas reserva privada 05 91,5 24 3,81
Barón de Oña reserva 05 90 25 3,60
Allende 06 90 26 3,46
Barón de Ley reserva 04 90 26 3,46
Audius 08 91 27 3,37
Solabal reserva 05 90,5 27 3,35
Muga reserva unfiltered 06 91 28 3,25
Puelles reserva 04 90,5 28 3,23
Sierra Cantabria Cuvee Especial 06 92 29 3,17
Sierra Cantabria reserva 05 91 29 3,14
Siglo gran reserva 00 92 30 3,07
Ramírez de la Piscina reserva 04 91 30 3,03
Ramón Bilbao gran reserva 04 90 30 3,00
Luis Cañas reserva selección 03 90 30 3,00
Osoti La Era 07 90 30 3,00
Luberri MA 05 91 31 2,94
Valsacro crianza 05 90 31 2,90
Telmo Rodríguez Lanzaga 06 91 32 2,84
Ostatu reserva 05 91,5 33 2,77
Baigorri reserva 04 90 33 2,73
Pujanza 07 91 34 2,68
Lealtanza reserva selección 04 92,5 35 2,64
Orben 07 91 35 2,60
Benjamín Romeo Macizo 08 90 35 2,57
Loriñón gran reserva 04 90 35 2,57
Viña Real reserva 04 92 37 2,49
Cueva del Monje white 07 91,5 38 2,41
Horizonte de Exopto 07 91 38 2,39
Remelluri reserva 05 90,5 38 2,38
Bodegas Laukote vendimia seleccionada 05 92 40 2,30
Conde de Valdemar gran reserva 04  91 40 2,28
Bodegas Palacio reserva especial 05 91 40 2,28
Conde Valdemar Inspiración 05 90 40 2,25
Ramírez de la Piscina gran reserva 01 92 41 2,24
Valsacro Dioro 05 92 44 2,09
Muga reserva selección especial 05 93 45 2,07
Barón de Ley gran reserva 01 93 46 2,02
Urbina Selección Especial 94 90 45 2,00
Orben Malpuesto 07 92,5 50 1,85
Cosme Palacio 1894 white 07 92 50 1,84
Luis Cañas Amaren tempranillo 04 91 50 1,82
Luis Cañas Amaren graciano 05 91 50 1,82
Contino reserva 05 91 50 1,82
Remírez de Ganuza reserva 05 91 50 1,82
CVNE Imperial reserva 04 91,5 52 1,76
Sierra Cantabria Colección Privada 07 94 54 1,74
CVNE Viña Real gran reserva 01 94,5 56 1,69
Baigorri de garaje 05 91,5 60 1,53
Viñedos de Páganos El Puntido 06 94 64 1,47
San Vicente 06 93 64 1,45
Exopto 07 93 66 1,41
Ramón Bilbao Mirto 06 92,5 68 1,36
Barón de Ley 7 Viñas reserva 04 92 68 1,35
CVNE Imperial gran reserva 99 94 70 1,34
Monges reserva 04 93 70 1,33
Remelluri white 07 92 71 1,30
Laderas del Portillo 07 93 73 1,27
Luberri Finca Los Merinos 05 94 74 1,27
Inspiración Valdemar graciano 05 92 75 1,23
Izadi Expresión 07 91 85 1,07
Escudero Vidau 05 90 88 1,02
Remírez de Ganuza 06 92 90 1,02
Pujanza Norte 07 94 92 1,02
Telmo Rodríguez Altos de Lanzaga 05 94 95 0,99
Muga Torre Muga 06 93 97 0,96
Lealtanza Spanish Artist Collection 05 93,5 99 0,94
Marqués de Vargas Hacienda Pradolagar 05 92 100 0,92
La Cueva del Contador 07 93 109 0,85
Remelluri Colección J. Rodríguez 04 95 114 0,83
Escudero Arvum 05 93,5 115 0,81
Esculle de Solabal 06 91 114 0,80
Luis Cañas Hiru 3 Racimos 06 93 118 0,79
Envite Cónclave 07 90 122 0,74
CVNE Real de Asúa 04 95,5 145 0,66
Contino Viña del Olivo 05 94 144 0,65
CVNE Pagos de Viña Real 05 94 144 0,65
CVNE Real de Asúa 05 94,5 145 0,65
Contino graciano 07 93 144 0,65
Finca Allende Calvario 06 92 150 0,61
Finca Allende Mártires 08 91 150 0,61
Sierra Cantabria El Bosque 07 96 170 0,56
Sierra Cantabria Amancio 07 95,5 174 0,55
Viñedos de Páganos La Nieta 07 93 170 0,55
La Viña de Andrés Romeo 07 95 182 0,52
Contino gran reserva 04 94 200 0,47
Pujanza Cisma 07 95 207 0,46
Muga Aro 06 94 208 0,45
Finca Allende Aurus 06 95 248 0,38
Benjamín  Romeo Contador 07 98 443 0,22
Pagos de Viña Real 02 90 0 0,00
Contino graciano 96 95 0  
Contino graciano 01 95 0  
CVNE Imperial gran reserva 70 94 0  
Contino Viña del Olivo 01 94 0  
CVNE Imperial gran reserva 68 94 0  
CVNE Viña Real gran reserva 62 93 0  

 

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We review the Wine Future Rioja 09 conference

The Wine Future Rioja 09 conference was held here on November 12 and 13.  Organized by Pancho Campo, Spain’s first Master of Wine, the event was touted as the most important gathering of luminaries in the wine business.  The cost was steep, about $1,500 for the two-day event, including a megatasting given by Robert Parker, arguably the world’s most influential wine writer.

Initially I was going to pass because of the price but finally I was able to attend, thanks to a complimentary invitation from one of the sponsors, Marqués de Riscal, whose finance director Fernando Salamero was my boss for 15 years while I was the director of the Rioja Exporters’ Association.

When I saw the list of speakers I was a little disappointed, because most of them were my age or older, which didn’t seem to jive with the idea of the future of our industry.

 Having said that, I especially enjoyed the presentations about social media (Ryan Opaz, Gary Vaynerchuk and Jeremy Benson), Miguel Torres’ talk about climate change and what Torres is doing about it, Robert Joseph’s thought-provoking talk about making wine easier to understand, Tim Hanni’s presentation about taste perceptions and Nicola Jenkin’s talk about packaging.

I personally feel that an important issue for the future of wine is overcoming the major hurdles small and many medium-sized wineries have to overcome just to find a route to market.  We can talk about empowering consumers all day but if consumers can’t buy certain products because of

  • the increasing concentration of distributors (USA)
  • the increased power of supermarkets and the demise of traditional retailers (UK)
  • the impossibility to sell wine through the internet between countries in the European Union
  • the difficulties small US wineries face to sell directly to consumers in different states (although this is improving)

these brands are handicapped.

In Europe, traditional wine producing countries face decreasing per capita consumption of wine and a lack of interest on the part of young consumers. There was a lot of talk about being able to connect with consumers but nothing was said about strategies to interest young consumers from Spain, France and Italy to wine.

I think there should have been more emphasis on these real issues facing our industry.

Parker tasting:

We tasted 20 wines (18 garnachas and two Riojas).  When the wines were announced in the program,there was a big fuss in Rioja about the absence of any Riojas and consequently, two were included at the last minute.  Parker defended himself by saying that he wanted to focus on the widespread international use of garnacha rather than on tempranillo, mainly used in Spain.  In addition, he stated emphatically that he didn’t want to give the impression that he was sacrificing his independence by promoting the wines in the region hosting the conference.  Fair enough,  but this explanation wasn’t well received by the locals because of the increasing range of garnachas from Rioja available here.  They weren’t, however, known by Mr. Parker, leading me to believe that their international distribution is weak (Garnacha producers from Rioja take note!).

Before the tasting, I, like most people, expected a symphony of overripe, overoaked, high alcohol fruit bombs, but was very pleasantly surprised, especially by the seven Châteauneuf-du-Papes, none of which had seen any oak at all.  All of them were really elegant and showed both the place they were from and the characteristics of the garnacha grape.  The 1945 Marqués de Riscal was superb.  I also liked the Clos Erasmus from Priorat (not at all inky and inscrutable), Espectacle from Montsant, the Clarendon Hills Old Vines and the Killakanoon from Australia.  On the down side, I didn’t think the Contador (from Benjamín Romeo in Rioja) was ready to drink yet and the Aquilón and Atteca Armas (both from the neighboring region of Aragón and sold by the Spanish specialist importer Jorge Ordóñez) had too much new oak , obliterating the fruit, for my taste.

 I was also fortunate to help a local journalist with his interview with Parker. In the interview he defended himself from his detractors by saying that he had an eclectic palate and that he was displeased with two of the wines in the tasting because they were overoaked!

He came across as a passionate, sincere, fiercely independent guy , which I liked.

I enjoyed the event because of the social media presentations, the networking oportunities it gave me and chatting the other speakers, most of them old friends.

However, next time, I hope distribution and social networks are at the top of the agenda!