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.

Rioja Alert

Hilltop monasteries and other now-tumbled stone fortifications built-up over the centuries, lie littered about and imbued into these richly historic lands of North
Central Spain. Sharing a border with the former Franco-Spanish, medieval
kingdom of Navarre, the regional identity of Rioja is equally distinct on its side
of the modern boundary. Apart from holding a unique place in the diverse Spanish
cultural patchwork, its vintners are among the visible leaders of competitive and progressive wineries in Iberia.

The larger, designated wine denomination of Rioja is actually comprised of three
sub-regions: Rioja Baja, Rioja Alta and the source of this week’s DéClassé focus:
Rioja Alavesa; which in turn, is considered a part of so-called Basque country. In
this zone, the Sierra Cantabria ridge of mountains provide sheltering geography
for 350 h. of vines either owned or directly managed by Bodegas Luis Cañas.
The vineyards are widely distributed over 870 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 still remains capable of producing more
than167,000 cases of fruit yearly – in a virtual desert!

This modern Rioja style blends 95% Tempranillo grapes with a small splash of
Garnacha (Grenache) to top up its fruitiness. Making up fully ¾ of all rootstock
planted in this storied region’s vineyards, Tempranillo’s name is derived from
the Spanish temprano meaning early and it does reliably ripen quite early. The
designation as Crianza means that it’s spent one year in oak casks and another
in the bottle prior to release. The use of mellowed, 3-year-old French barrels
coupled with the star grape’s naturally soft tannins, translates into a pleasing
mouthfeel. Albeit still youthful, this lively, medium-bodied red is ready-to-go and
may become somewhat more velvety as it settles. Though not really destined
for long-term storage, you can certainly dare to hold this well-crafted example
of the excellent 2011 vintage for at least several years. For those with less will,
be encouraged in knowing that Rioja’s 2012 harvest, also anticipated as very
good, is almost on its way – to replenish the empty slots on your rack.

Luis Canas

LUIS CANAS CRIANZA 2011
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #336719 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 17.95
14% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in: Rioja, Spain
By: Bodegas Luis Canas S.A.
Release Date: July 11, 2015

Tasting Note
With a complex mix of dark, red fruit aromas and flavours that features 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.

Cab Sauvignon Alert

Founded in the 1870’s, Bodegas Torres has over the course of 140 years or
so, been the major driving force in putting Spain’s now famous Penedès region
on the international wine-making map. Numerous impediments along the way,
including the partial destruction of the winery during the civil war (1936-39),
have inspired and motivated the evolution of this vintner’s practices away from
simply being a bulk wine supplier, to graduating and thriving in the status as a
renowned bottler of vintage offerings in 50 different styles – though many of
these are only produced in appropriately successful harvest years.

The Torres Family has been based in the town of Vilafranca del Penedès since
its inception as a company and has progressively expanded its holdings to over
1,700 hectares of vineyards at 3 levels of successively higher elevation: coastal
central and high. The harvested fruit is vinified, then allowed to slowly mature in
more than 2O, OOO barrels, stored in stacks along an impressive 2 kilometers
of underground galleries.

Wine has been cultivated on the Mediterranean shores of the Iberian Peninsula
since the Phoenician period, though for this week’s Reserva grade red, we have
Miguel A. Torres to thank for the vision of introducing Cabernet Sauvignon to
Penedès during the 1960’s and 70’s; prior to which only local, obscure white
wine varieties were the norm. Along with promotion of the French ‘Emperor of
red varieties’, additional innovation came in the choice of also using indigenous
Tempranillo grapes as a blending partner, best known in Catalonian vineyards
southwest of Barcelona as Ull de Llebre (hare’s eye).

A perennial listing in the LCBO’s Vintages Essentials catalogue, this remarkable
value is available year-round, though for the next several weeks – it’s sale-priced.
It’s an opportune time to reevaluate the quality of Spanish wine and this bottle
would be the ideal starting point!

Gran Coronas

TORRES GRAN CORONAS CABERNET SAUVIGNON RESERVA (V)
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #36483 | 750 mL bottle
13.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D
Limited Time Offer
Was: $ 19.95
Now: $ 17.95
Until Mar. 29, 2015

Made in: Penedès, Spain
By: Miguel Torres S.A.
Release Date: Mar. 7, 2015

Tasting Note
With a deep red hue, this dense and silky-rich red imparts aroma and flavours
of cherry, plum, red current and characteristic coffee, vanilla bean and leather
notes – that tend to develop with a slightly extended period of barrel ageing. It’s
perfect with charcuterie, cheeses, pasta with lemon cream sauce, vegetarian
paella, as well as, filet mignon or grilled lamb.