Af­ford­able old-world wine that only gets bet­ter with time

Life & Style Weekend - - TASTE - Travis is a Sun­shine Coast busi­ness­man with a pas­sion for food and wine. WINE With Travis Schultz

IT’S a wine that can be dif­fi­cult to pro­nounce and chal­leng­ing to find in lo­cal bot­tle shops, but the Span­ish Red Rioja (pro­nounced ree-oh-hah) is an old-world wine that you can buy even if you don’t have the bank bal­ance of a real es­tate ty­coon.

In north­ern Spain on the banks of the Oja River, sits the an­cient and beau­ti­ful re­gion of Rioja. It’s a district which en­cap­su­lates the La Rioja, Navarre and Alava Provences and has been pro­duc­ing their name­sake red blend for what is be­lieved to be well over a thou­sand years.

Be­ing si­t­u­ated in the mid­dle of Spain, the lo­cal­ity is rather dry and con­ti­nen­tal in cli­mate. The winds are no­to­ri­ously gale force at times but for­tu­nately for Rioja, the Cal­abrian Moun­tains to the north pro­vide a pro­tec­tive bar­rier for the vines.

And it’s Tem­pranillo that thrives in the Rioja district at its 400–500 me­tres of el­e­va­tion. Al­though the weight­ing of the Rioja blend will vary from wine to wine and year to year, typ­i­cally, the DOC clas­si­fied wine will be a blend of Tem­pranillo, Gra­ciano, Mazuelo, Gar­nacha and Mat­u­rana Tinta and usu­ally, from a range of dif­fer­ent vine­yards across the district. But you could be for­given for think­ing that you’re drink­ing a Tem­pranillo as it gen­er­ally dom­i­nates the blend and ac­counts for typ­i­cally 60–90% of the bot­tle.

I re­cently found a de­light­ful Rioja while craft­ing the wine list for Mooloolaba’s funki­est new tapas bar and res­tau­rant (open­ing Oc­to­ber 12), The Back Lane. Their list is go­ing to in­clude a well-priced Rioja, the Conde Valde­mar Rioja 2012, which shows savoury tobacco and red cur­rent nu­ances on the nose in a typ­i­cal Tem­pranillo kind of way. Gar­na­cho adds depth and fruit through­out the mid­dle and pro­vides a gen­eros­ity of mouth feel that be­lies its mod­est al­co­hol con­tent. It is made in a style of wine that will only get bet­ter with time as the tan­nic back­bone tends to as­sert it­self strongly when the leather and blue­berry char­ac­ters de­velop across the mid-palate and linger through a cherry-edged con­clu­sion.

The Conde Valde­mar Rioja is at the Cri­anza level, which means it has had at least a year on oak and spent a min­i­mum one year in the bot­tle, but comes with­out the higher price tag of the Ris­erva or Gran Ris­erva la­bels.

But for me, the beauty of Rioja is its value propo­si­tion – it’s an old-world wine with the po­ten­tial to cel­lar for 20–30 years, yet sells at a price point that is a frac­tion of that asked by its old-world Bordeuax and Bur­gun­dian brethren.

It’s per­fectly suited to pair with beef short ribs or smoked kan­ga­roo tar­tar – both of which, I’m told, will fea­ture on The Back Lane menu.

PHOTO: CON­TRIB­UTED

Tem­pranillo thrives in the Rioja district.

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