Rioja Alavesa Crianza

Ancient hilltop monasteries and other now-tumbled, stone fortifications that were built over the centuries, lie littered about these richly historic lands of north central Spain. Sharing a border with the former, French influenced, medieval kingdom of Navarre, the regional identity of Rioja is equally distinct on its side of the modern day boundary that’s framed by the Pyrénées Mountains. Apart from holding a unique and dynamic place in a very diverse, Spanish cultural patchwork, this region’s vintners are continuing to build on their leadership role as some of Iberia’s most competitive, progressive, and resourceful wineries – while outputting 280 million litres of wine, annually!

The designated wine denomination of Rioja is comprised of three sub-regions: Rioja Baja, Rioja Alta and the source of this week’s DéClassé focus, Rioja Alavesa. Considered a part of Basque country, this geography is sheltered by the Sierra Cantabria ridge of mountains and is home to 400 hectares of vines either owned or managed by Bodegas Luis Cañas. Their vineyards are widely distributed over 900 small individual plots, so drawing fruit evermore discerningly has been both the challenge and the key strategy pursued by the vintner toward producing an expanding range of premium wine.

Once focused only on less-remarkable, bulk-winemaking, the steady process of upscaling quality by employing advanced production techniques has also been influenced by the agricultural reality of prolonged drought. In the current period of the last 5 growing seasons or so, this stress is condensing yields but is also bolstering the layered character of the smaller grape clusters. Nonetheless, impressively, this irrepressible Bodega remains capable of producing more than167, 000 cases of fruit yearly – in a virtual desert!

As an example of a modern Rioja style, Luis Cañas Crianza 2014 blends 95% Tempranillo grapes with a small splash of Garnacha (Grenache) to top up its fruitiness. Making up ¾ of all rootstock planted in Riojan vineyards, Tempranillo’s name is derived from Temprano meaning ‘early’ – and it does reliably ripen quite early. The Crianza designation ensures that it has spent at least one year in oak casks and another in the bottle before being released. The use of mellowed 3-year-old French barrels coupled with the starring grape’s naturally soft tannins translates into a supple and pleasing mouthfeel. Albeit still youthful, this lively and medium-bodied red is ready-to-go and may become somewhat more velvety as it settles. Though not destined for long-term storage, you can certainly dare to hold this well-crafted example of the 2014 vintage for at least several more years. For those with less will, be encouraged in knowing that Rioja’s 2015 harvest, also anticipated as very good, is almost on its way – to replace the empty slots on your rack.

LUIS CANAS CRIANZA 2014
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #336719 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 17.00
14.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in: Rioja, Spain
By: Araex Rioja Alavesa S.L.
Release Date: April 29, 2017

Tasting Note
With a complex mix of dark, red fruit aromas and flavours that feature cherry,
raspberries and fig, try serving this to keep up with most anything prepared on
a charcoal grill, including beef tenderloin brochettes, Chorizo sausages or as an
apéritif with semi-ripe cheeses and spicy tapas.

Rioja Tempranillo

The wine trade in Spain’s La Rioja has both ancient roots and is in an evolutionary transition. Despite a wealth of archaeological evidence for Phoenician, Celtiberian, and Roman winemaking in antiquity, a millennium will pass before a written reference to viniculture appears in Spanish; the 11th-century Carta de población de Longares (Letter to the settlers of Longares). 150 years later in 1102, King Sancho 1st of Navarra and Aragon bestows legal recognition on the region, which births the signature, Rioja Wine. In terms of the relative quality and practices in modern times, local wine merchants and
bodegas have a tradition of marketing wines fashioned from intermixed grapes; supplied by approx. 20,000 growers; drawing from harvests throughout Rioja’s three designated sub-regions: Rioja Alta, Rioja Baja, and Rioja Alavesa. More recently, to better typify their individual output, bodegas are becoming selective in sourcing their grapes from single zones only. The underlying point is that the varied terroirs of these sub-regions produce discernibly different versions of so-called Rioja wine; it’s not a uniform styling, but it is a testament to innovation!

Here in North-central Spain, hilltop monasteries and other stone fortifications built up over centuries provide ample evidence of a storied land that shares a border with the medieval, Franco/Spanish Kingdom of Navarre. On its side of the modern boundary, Rioja’s cultural identity remains distinct and grounded in a 120km-long geography that straddles both banks of the famed Ebro River. As for the roots of its name, ‘Rio’ (river) was combined with ‘Oja’ (a tributary of the Ebro) to create the recognizable moniker that has achieved a global renown. For this week’s DéClassé feature of the Bodegas LAN Crianza 2012, the bodega’s name, LAN, is an acronym reference to the provinces that make up the larger Rioja DOCa (Denominación de Origen Calificada) – Logroño (now called La Rioja), Álava, and Navarra.

lan-lanciano

This winery’s flagship vineyard, Viña Lanciano, is a spectacular 72-Hectare plot that’s framed by a horseshoe-shaped bend of the meandering Ebro River. At higher elevation, Rioja Alta has a reputation for producing lighter, fruit-forward wines that result from a shorter growing season coupled with the character of its limestone, sandstone, and alluvial soils. For this entry-level bottling, that’s an accurate description for a blend that combines 95% Tempranillo (Rioja’s indigenous grape) with 5% Mazuelo (Carignan Noir) to boost its tannin, acidity, and colour. The Crianza designation attests to the wine being aged for 14 months in a novel construction of hybrid wooden casks that are made of American Oak staves with French Oak tops. This current offering has also undergone 3 years of cellaring in the bottle; well beyond the 1year mandated for a Crianza grade.

Unlike the perennial DéClassé recommendations of the 2006 – 2009 vintages, the immensely popular 2010 thru 2012 releases were ordered by the LCBO in sufficient amounts to qualify for its ‘Vintages Essentials’ listing; translating into yearlong availability. 2012 was a very good growing year in the Rioja DOCa, and though this example is not the most complex that you might have the chance to savour, it’s well made, balanced and more-than-worth the sale price sticker!

lan-rioja

BODEGAS LAN CRIANZA 2012
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #166538 | 750 mL bottle
Sale Price $ 13.95
(until Oct. 9, 2016)
13.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Rioja, Spain
By: Bodegas Lan, S.A.
Release Date: April 1, 2016

Tasting Note
With layered aromas of red fruit, vanilla and spice, this medium-bodied and lively red has a smooth balance of light tannins and alcohol. As an apéritif, try pairing it with semi-ripe cheeses and spicy tapas. With main courses, serve alongside an Arugula salad topped with grilled chicken/lemon pepper dressing, brochettes of lamb with roasted beets or herb-crust pork tenderloin wrapped in prosciutto.

Mencia Alert

El Bierzo DO is a wine region tucked away in the province of León – among the
most exciting Spanish frontiers and source of some of its most qualitative wine.
The fertile plain and forests of this lush valley situated between the Montes de
Leon and Cordillera Cantábrica mountain ranges is referred to as the ‘gateway
to Galicia’ as its geography is a funnel into this verdant corner of northwestern
Iberia. Though it’s a relatively small wine growing area, it benefits from a special
microclimate that is equally conducive to cultivation of red and white vine stock.
Despite being a lesser-known region in terms of international markets, the 55
prolific Bodegas here are outputting an impressive11million liters annually and
still sustainably expanding.

Under the watchful guidance of master wine maker, José Luis Vázquez Santín,
Bodega del Abad (the ‘Abbot’s Cellar’) has only been active as an independent
producer since 2003, but already boasts a loyal following that was reinforced
by a surprising release several years ago of a 2001 Crianza-grade cache that
had been hiding somewhere in the back corners of their cellars. This week’s
DéClassé offering of a 2006 bottling is also surprising. In both cases, the wine
is well beyond the mandated 2 years of combined ageing to qualify for a Crianza
designation. The vintner has exercised significant patience in assuring that the
vintage has the balance of being fully rounded and mature, while still possessing
some soft fruitful vigor wrapped in chocolate flavours.

These attributes are a winemaking accomplishment due in part to the modern
production techniques being applied, but also a result of the innate potential of
Mencia. Indigenous to Bierzo, the variety is now considered to be one of the four
most important Spanish red wine grapes. Producing small, compact clusters of
medium-sized, violet-blue berries, its renaissance of popularity is founded on an
ability to yield age-worthy wine at a relatively modest price point. 35 hectares of
Bodega del Abad’s vineyards are located up on steep terrain made up of slate
and quartzite-laden soils. The properties mix of old vines, with some approaching
70 years-of-age, are yielding meticulously handpicked and sorted fruit; creating
wines with a characteristic, velvety palate.

This is both ready to go now and will hold up for nicely for several more years. It
will likely fly off the shelves quickly as word of this formerly hidden gem spreads.
So buy enough to get you through an upcoming Summer and Fall – while you can!

Abad Dom Bueno Crianza

ABAD DOM BUENO CRIANZA 2006
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #244699 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 15.95
Alcohol/Vol. 13.5%
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in: Bierzo, Spain
By: Bodega Del Abad
Release Date: April 18, 2015

Tasting Note
Having aged gracefully, this offers juicy red cherry and currant flavours. A core
of gentle tannins and some refreshing acidity enhances the soft notes of black
pepper and tea leaf flavours. Serve with rich poultry dishes, roast leg of lamb,
marinated steak or spicy beef empanadas.