The Franco-Espanolas Bordon Gran Reserva is classic Rioja and a stunning value
This spring, I tasted a half dozen or so wines from Franco-Espanolas, a 125-year-old Spanish producer. I liked almost all of them, and even the one or two that I didn’t like were well made and worth what they cost.
Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to write about most of them because their availability is limited. The rose, for example, is classic Spanish pink and $10 Hall of Fame quality. But it’s almost impossible to buy in the U.S. unless you live in a couple of East Coast states.
Which brings us to the the Franco-Españolas Bordón Gran Reserva ($30, sample, 14%). It’s as excellent an example of this style of red wine from Rioja as I’ve tasted in years. It reminded me what great Rijoa, made in the traditional way, can be.
The wine is a stunning value. Yes, almost old-fashioned, but done impeccably, from the quality of the fruit to the two years of oak aging (something that is especially relevant given the recent fake oak controversy on the blog). The Franco-Espanolas Bordon Gran Reserva is a textbook example of Rioja – earthy, green herbs, a touch of sweet cherry from a little garnacha blended with the tempranillo, plus plum and bitter orange.
My notes say, “Just delicious,” which says it all. Highly recommended. Pair this with any red meat, and drink it now. For one thing, it’s too good a wine to let sit, though it might have a year or two left of aging.
The Muga Rioja Reserva ($26, purchased, 14%) may be $40 worth of wine if it came from France or California. But given that Muga is a top-flight producer, that’s not surprising; its wines, whether the $12 rose or its most expensive reds, consistently deliver more value and quality than they cost.
This is a surprisingly traditional Rioja given that garnacha is blended with tempranillo, as well as the 14 percent alcohol – very high for this style of wine. That means tart cherry fruit; layers of flavor, including green herbs, a smokiness that hangs around the edges and just the faintest note of oak. There is also the more common black pepper and orange peel. The garnacha adds richness to the wine, and it’s not as rustic as other vintages.
The Muga Rioja Reserva should age for at least a decade. As it does, the layers will become noticeable and more of a whole, while the flavors will become more full. Highly recommended; pair this with any grilled or roasted dinner, whether beef or chicken.
The Pagos Del Rey Arnegui is classic $10 red Rioja – cheap and tasty
We’re not quite at the point where we can buy Spanish wine knowing nothing about it save what’s on the front label and be assure of quality and value. But we’re getting closer.
Case in point is the Pagos Del Rey Arnegui ($10, purchased, 13.5%), which I bought knowing only it was from the Rioja region in Spain, was made with tempranillo, and was supposed to have minimum oak. Tempranillo is the red grape in Rioja, and crianza is the simplest style and uses the least oak aging.
What did I get? Classic $10 crianza – cherry fruit, a hint of orange something or other, a dash of herbs, a surprisingly full mouth feel for a wine at this price, the soft tannins characteristic of Rioja, and what the tasting notes claim was real oak (and even a bit more than I wanted). All in all, hard to believe if I hadn’t tasted it. Pair this with roast beef or chicken, and even peppers, onions, and sausages.
How can the Spanish do this? Some of it is the lower cost of production, including inexpensive land and cheaper labor. Some of it is tradition melded with modern winemaking. And some of it, sadly, is that demand isn’t what it should be. Too much of the rest of the world is chasing the latest 92-point sweet fruit and chocolate wonder and doesn’t know this kind of wine exists. That’s their loss.
Reviews of wines that don ?t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the fourth Friday of each month.
? Mateus Rose NV ($5, purchased, 11%): I don’t remember this wine, popular when I was in high school, tasting like raspberry 7 Up. But that was a long time ago. The wine has been repackaged since then, so that it’s in a clear glass bottle instead of the traditional green and doesn’t look quite the same as it did. And maybe it did taste like raspberry 7 Up all those years ago, which isn’t offensive — just odd.
? Chateau Graville-Lacoste Graves 2014 ($20, purchased, 12%): The legendary Kermit Lynch imports this French white Bordeaux, and it’s another example why you should buy any wine that has Lynch’s name on it. Look for freshness, minerality, and a clean sort of citrus flavor. Well worth every penny of the $20 it cost.
? Muga Rioja Reserva 2011 ($23, purchased, 13%): This Spanish tempranillo blend from one of my favorite producers was much lusher and fruitier than I expected, without as much of the tart cherry acidity and herbal appeal that I like about wines from the Rioja region. Having said that, it’s well worth drinking, and should age for close to forever. As it does, the fruit and oak will probably give way to more traditional flavors.
?Peter Yealands Pinot Gris 2014 ($12, purchased, 13%): Why grocery store wine makes me crazy. Yealands is a respected New Zealand producer, and this white should have been delicious. But the bottle I bought was a previous vintage that was bitter and pithy on the back, and much of the fruit, freshness and crispness — hallmarks of pinot gris — were gone. Who knows how long it was sitting and baking in some warehouse? Did anyone at Kroger care?
Reviews of wines that don ?t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month. This month, four wine reviews for the price of one — how much more Black Friday wine can you get?
? Marqu s de C ceres Rioja Reserva 2009 ($18, sample, 13.5%): Spanish red from the Rioja region is terrific value, especially since it’s probably much cheaper in most supermarkets. True reserva tempranillo, with integrated oak and tart cherry fruit, and not just a fruitier version of the entry-level crianza.
? Campo Viejo Rioja Reserva 2009 ($14, sample, 13.5%): This Spanish red, like the Caceres from one of the country’s biggest producers, is also much better more enjoyable than its crianza, though not as well-rounded as the Caceres reserva.
? Gianni Masciarelli Villa Gemma 2013 ($17, sample, 13.5%): This Italian white, made with two little known Italian grapes and a splash of chardonnay, is heavier and richer than I expected, with white pepper and only a little white fruit. Having said this, it’s an intriguing wine that needs food (chicken in a wine sauce?) and should improve with age.
? Georges Dub uf Beaujolais-Villages 2013 ($9, purchased, 13.5%): Surprisingly acceptable French red, given how disappointing so much Beaujolais is these days. A little rustic, even though it’s an older vintage, but varietally correct, grapy and fresh.
If Spanish wine is the best value in the world, Rioja crianza may be the best value in Spanish red wine. Every once in a while I’ll run into a clunker, but almost all deliver stunning quality and cost $10, or not much more. The Beronia Rioja crianza ($11, sample, 13.5%) is no exception.
Wine terms first: Rioja, in northern Spain, is the country’s best-known wine region, and where tempranillo is used to make the wine. Crianza is one of three levels of Rioja, followed by reserva and gran reserva (and there is also, thanks to the EU, a fourth style wine simply called tempranillo). Each level requires a specific amount of oak and bottle aging; for crianza, it’s a year oak and at least a couple of months in the bottle. That’s why it’s the least expensive of the three.
The Beronia isn’t quite as traditional as some — the Ramon Bilboa crianza, for one, also a steal at $12 — and shows a more modern approach. That means softer and more approachable cherry fruit, and a little less zingy feel in the mouth. But there is still enough acidity to be Rioja, and enough earthiness to speak to the region’s terroir.
Pair this with most meat or poultry, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how well it goes with grilled shrimp with a paprika edge.
These 12 wines show tempranillo in many of its 21st century styles. There’s classic tempranillo from the Rioja region of Spain; post-modern Spanish tempranillo; regional tempranillo from Texas and Colorado; a highly-regarded Oregon label; and even one from Argentina.
Tempranillo for years languished in wine’s outer orbit, though that banishment had little to do with quality. Rijoa’s wines are some of the best in the world. Rather, tempranillo wasn’t cabernet sauvignon, merlot, or pinot noir, and those are the reds that got most of the attention. Wine geeks knew about it, but the grape deserves a wider audience than that.
Enter the Internet, which has allowed tempranillo and its advocates to sidestep the Winestream Media, as with today’s fourth annual International Tempranillo Day. Also important: The discovery that tempranillo does well outside of Spain, something that no one understood before and that has revolutionized Texas wine. I’ve even had tempranillo from Idaho, about as different a region from Rioja as imaginable. No castles, for one thing.
Why is tempranillo worth drinking? First, the Spanish versions are among the best values in the world. Second, it’s a food-friendly wine that doesn’t insult the wine drinker; in fact, most tempranillo needs food, be it red meat or roast chicken. Third, it’s not the usual red wine, and anyone who wants to enjoy wine should be eager to try something that isn’t the usual.