Back in September, I was able to attend a vertical tasting of wines from Spain’s Bodegas Montecillo, led by Rocio Osborne whose family, already well-known for its Sherries, took ownership of the winery in 1973.
The winery, located in the Rioja Alta, was founded in 1874 by Don Celestino Navajas Matute, but with no descendants of his own, his grandson decided to pass the ownership on to the Osbornes.
We tasted 5 wines, dating from 1975, 1982, 1994, 2001, and 2010. The first four were designated as “Gran Reserva Selección Especial”, with the 2010 Limitada at the end.
As well as providing an opportunity to taste wines dating back to the beginning of the Osborne involvement with the winery and to note how each in turn has aged over time, we also were able to assess how changes in the wine-making and grape growing over the decades have revealed themselves in the wines.
It must be noted that at all times the winery has adhered to the standards set for the production of Rioja in every aspect required.
Impressively, every one of the wines was top-notch, and while the influence of age was evident, even the oldest of the wines remains sound – and tasty.
The 1975 – 80 per cent Tempranillo, 10 per cent Garnacha, 10 per cent Mazuelo – came from fruit grown on their own estate, with the vines averaging 50 years of age. After fermentation, the wine spent 46 months in American oak barrels, aging in underground cellars with constant temperature and humidity.
In colour, the wine exhibits some brick and orange highlights, and on the nose there was the impression of candied fruit and cigar, with the palate exhibiting good acidity, good fruit, and a hint of tobacco and tea leaves on the finish.
It has just 12.5 per cent alcohol, and remains clearly elegant and sound even after 42 years.
The 1982 – is 100 per cent Tempranillo and was aged in French oak for 48 months before bottling. Deep garnet in colour, the wine still possesses real intensity, with a liquor-like quality, round soft tannins and a nuanced impact. It comes across as lighter in the middle, but gaining depth on the finish. Rocio Osborne suggested that with the 1982, it can be almost as much about the individual bottle as the Vintage. Montecillo suggest that this powerful and elegant wine can still be cellared for another 15 years.
The alcohol level is 13.2 per cent, an indication of a warming climate. Another difference between this wine and the 1975 is that the Osbornes weren’t happy with their estate grown fruit, and so they sold their vineyards and instead buy fruit from over 800 growers in the region.
I wondered how they could manage and co-ordinate the logistics in dealing with so many different people, and asked Todd McDonald, the National Director of Fine Wine and Spirits for the importing agency, PMA Canada, about it.
He explained that Carmelo Espinosa Muga works as right hand man to the wine maker Mercedes Garcia Ruperez. Carmelo took him out to some of the vineyards to show him how he manages over 1,000 packages of vineyards along with the various Rioja families who own the vineyards.
On his I-pad he literally had every type of information on each and every vineyard, plotting out soil content, rainfall, Brix, canopy management, etc. - far more information than Todd had ever seen before, even with wineries that own their own vineyards.
Carmelo has taught the farmers how to manage crops to produce top quality grapes. The farmers are paid according to the quality of their fruit, and so they are encouraged to achieve their best in accordance with the advice they receive from Montecillo.
Montecillo believes that by keeping the region active and prosperous they are ensuring the future of Rioja as a producer of top quality wines
1994 - Another 100 per cent Tempranillo, this one was arguably the best of the tasting. It spent 42 months in French oak barrels after malolactic fermentation in concrete tanks. It is deep, integrated, and smooth and is still lively and bright. It is simply gorgeous, and just 13% alcohol. Montecillo is determined not to let the alcohol levels of its wines rise, and so is very careful in harvesting at just the right moment to achieve the quality they are pursuing.
2001 – In what may be one of the best Rioja vintages in recent years, this wine carries lots of tannin and fruit, and was aged for 36 months in a combination of French and American oak. The style is very approachable, intentionally lighter and fruitier in keeping with modern tastes. It was “Wine of the Festival” this year in Halifax, where it was both Best Red and Best Red over $30.
2010 – This “Limited Edition” wine has 30% Graciano to help out the Tempranillo with colour and structure. Montecillo now uses Ganimede tanks in the fermentation process. The naturally-produced Carbon Dioxide is harnessed to agitate the cap of skins and create a vigorous but gentle mixing action, and the system also allows the winemakers to control fermentation and even eliminate unwanted aromas without pumping over or punching down the tank.
New barrels, each a combination of French and American oak, are used, aiming for a more “Mediterranean style”. The two varietals were aged separately for 26 months, and then spent 6 months aging as one single wine. In addition to red and black fruits, the wine suggests cocoa, licorice and minerality. It is still young, bright, and lively. -13.5% alcohol.
While Montecillo is certainly aware of the Rioja Regulatory Council’s verdict for each vintage, they don’t necessarily follow “the norm”. There may be years deemed “excellent” by the Council, but Montecillo may decide that things didn’t add up for them to make a Gran Reserva that year- conversely a “very good” year may be one in which they do make a “GR” – it is all about their conditions that year, their terroir.
None of the wines tasted are in our system (apparently they will all be released in Alberta in December, so if you know someone…)
What we do have on our regular list are the Montecillo Crianza 2012 and the Reserva 2011. The former is just $12.95 through Nov. 5, and the latter is $17.95. Both are well worth the price. A crianza is a “younger” wine, spending 18 months in American oak in this case, with 7 per cent Graciano blended in with the Tempranillo. While all the wines tasted were scored in the 91+ range, this more modest example still comes through in the high 80’s. It has decent red and dark berry flavours along with barrel spice and good length.
The Reserva 2011 has a dash of both Graciano and Mazuelo blended in with the Tempranillo, and is aged in oak for 26 months. This is a deeper, meatier wine suggestive of herbs such as mint and licorice. This might be a good time to try a bottle of both, maybe with one of your final barbecues of the season.
October 28 Vintages Release
There are many tempting wines of all styles on this release, too many to describe in detail here.
If you like Sauvignon Blanc, there’s the New Zealand Villa Maria Cellar Selection 2016, $19.95 and the Loire Thierry Delaunay Touraine 2016, $15.95, both highly rated. As well, a new wine to Vintages, the Californian Tom Gore Sauvignon Blanc 2015, $19.95, is distinctive, with a nose suggestive of fresh-mown hay and a lovely texture on the palate. Nuanced flavours tend more to a sweeter lemon than grapefruit, along with a very subtle hint of pineapple and banana. The fine acidity is perfect for this particular style, one that Pinot Grigio fans would certainly enjoy and Sauvignon Blanc lovers will still appreciate. Don’t over-chill.
For Chardonnay, there’s a clutch of examples starting with Chile’s Santa Carolina Gran Reserva 2014, $16.95, a very good and elegant Burgundy, Cave de Viré Grande Resèrve Viré-Clessé 2015, $19.95, and two impressive Ontario examples, the Featherstone Canadian Oak 2015, $21.95 – 5 stars from Rod Phillips – and the organic Southbrook Triomphe 2015, $24.95 with a Globe and Mail 90.
The star of the release may be the South African Rustenberg Chardonnay 2015, $19.95, from the Stellenbosch region which bears a 95 from decanter.com which says it “combines power with restraint, richness with acidity…the intensity is palpable , and the flavour and aroma characteristics last a lifetime in the mouth.”
In other whites, there’s a nifty Gewurztraminer from Alsace, the Pierre Sparr Rèserve 2016, $18.95 (89 –winealign.com) a crisp and lively Portuguese Alvarinho, the Nortico 2016, $13.95, and a relatively rare white from the Piedmont, Massucco Roero Arneis 2015, $17.95. This wine garnered 90 at the Decanter World Wine Awards in 2016, -“dry and fresh, with creamy intense fruit, a fine, bright acidity, and underpinned with a lovely mineral note.”
Italian offerings include the 12 E Mezzo Primitivo Del Salento 2015, $13.95 – 87 robertparker.com, the Tommasi Poggio al Tufo Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, $17.95, a delicious red for which an earlier vintage made the Wine Spectator Top 100 and the Masi Brolo Campofiorin Oro, $26.95, as close to a mini-Amarone as you can get with a “Parker” 91, and the Ruffino Santedame Chianti Classico 2014, $19.95.
This last wine, predominantly Sangiovese, is mid-weight with soft, polished tannins, bright cherry fruit, with impressions that last long after you’ve swallowed it down. You can enjoy it on its own with antipasti, or serve it with lasagna, spice-rubbed steaks or roasted pork tenderloin with a fruit sauce.
With Hallowe’en just around the corner, the LCBO shelves have many pumpkin-themed products and others decked out in all kinds of spooky labels. A Sonoma red wine from Ravenswood was not developed for this holiday, but the image of three ravens silhouetted against a brooding sky certainly makes the 2014 Besieged, $24.95, the perfect choice for those who want an excellent, deep red to pour on the 31st. Smooth yet dense, there are herbal, coffee and even meaty notes in this full-bodied field blend in which no fewer than six different varietals including Petite Sirah, Zinfandel and Barbera play a role. From steak to chili, this wine will fill the bill very nicely.
From South America, this release features several top-notch reds. Viña Cobos Felino Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, $19.95 and the Salentein Reserve Malbec 2015, $17, both from Argentina are very appealing, as is Chile’s San Pedro 1865 Single Vineyard Carmenère 2014, $19.95.
New to Vintages is the Mancura Gran Reserva Syrah/Cabernet Franc/Merlot 2013, $17.95, from Chile’s Casblanca Valley. It earned a 95 at the Decanter World Wine Awards in 2016 for its generous palate “with plenty going on: black cherry, fresh bright mulberry and apple pie fruit, with a grind of black pepper underpinned by solid tannins.”
In addition to the Poggio Al Tufo and the Viña Cobos, Cabernet Sauvignon fans would do well to consider South Africa’s Man Family Wines Ou Kalant 2015, $14.95 which struck Gold at the 2017 Sommelier Wine Awards. They called it a “crowd pleaser, with its sweet, jammy New World styling, ripe fruit with a full body and soft tannins.”
There‘s lots more to enjoy, from sparkling to fortified wines with everything in between. Talk to your product consultants – I am sure they can steer you to whatever your heart desires and budget allows.