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Rioja – Nouveau?

Last week, I was in La Rioja – more specifically in the Rioja Alavesa region which butts up against the eastern mountains that surround Rioja on one side. I spent two nights, one in Haro and the other in LaGuardia, during which I tasted some amazing Spanish wine, saw some scenery and only bought one bottle of wine. The wines I tasted were divine. The scenery was magnificient with mountains and vineyards everywhere I looked. However, what caught me off guard was the wine I bought.

Bodegas Casado Morales, Nobleza

Bodegas Casado Morales claims with their 2005 Nobleza to be the first Rioja wine on the market from the 2005 vintage. I have neither the will or interest in checking to see if this is true, but I will say that I was both curious and afraid of what I might find inside.

For those of you who don’t know, Beaujolais is a region in Burgundy, France that is capable of producing some of the most amazing wines from the grape Gamay. Unfortunately, in an attempt to market themselves better, they took to promoting and exploiting a product called Nouveau by accelerating the fermentation process and rushing to market a wine that is light, underdeveloped and in most years utterly forgettable. The sad part to this story is that now-a-days most people equate any Beaujolais with this monstrosity; which consequently, keeps people from trying the richer and more complex big brother of the Nouveaus!

Hence, my fear. Here was a wine that was following in the afore mentioned footsteps of Beaujolais, and while I am not worried about the reputation of Rioja falling victim to this small bottle of “new” wine, I was a bit worried about what I might find inside. To better sympathize with my dilemma, you need understand the method of fermentation called carbonic maceration. Basically, you take the grapes and force them to ferment without crushing them or giving them much oxygen. After a short period of time, they are allowed to finish under more natural conditions. The result is a wine that doesn’t age, are low in tannins, have intense perfumy aromas, and in the worse case scenario, are equal to lightly alcoholic grape juice for adults! However, this is not always the case and when done correctly, a bit of CM wine mixed with a normal wine can give a bottle more aroma and a richer flavor profile. Turns out lots of wineries use it in small quantities for many of their wines. In Spain, you often see maceración carbónica written either on a label or a small note that explains that 10% of the wine is done with CM. It took some time to learn that CM wasn’t the bad word, only BN(Beaujolais Nouveau) is. In reality, it can be your friend.

So why am I prattling on about this? Well, the wine in question is of the CM ilk, and as I laid out before, I was not sure what to expect. Being 100% CM, I figured that it would most likely be a light, thin wine with an overwhelming fruit juice flavor. In reality, I wasn’t really expecting to finish it. What I actually tasted was completely different from my original expectation. Rich, layered, and full of character, my flatmates and I all looked eagerly for more as the bottle quickly ran dry. Would I call it a wine of great character and complexity? No. Would I call it a bargain for the holiday crowds that flock to your house looking for simple pleasures? Absolutely. A little “note to self” is if your left with some of this wine after a Holiday party, you might not want to pawn it off on the relatives. Enjoy both Gabriella’s and my notes below, and remember that Carbonic Maceration does not have to be a dirty word!

Till soon, Ryan Opaz

Ryan:

Gabriella:

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