Friday, August 30, 2019

Naked Vine One-Hitter: Marques de Murrieta Rioja

Finally, a little chill in the air.

Here at our new pad in The Pennsylvania, we’ve been dealing with some of the joys of home ownership that inevitably come with buying a home that’s considered vintage. We’ve gone from our old place in Newport to our State College mid-century modern, built in 1951. The place has been (thankfully) refurbished a couple of times over the years – most recently in the late 90’s.

Alas, the late 90’s seems to have been the last time that our air conditioner was seriously serviced, so, of course, the compressor decided to go to the Scrapyard in the Sky during a particularly warm stretch here. We got a new unit installed – just as the heat broke, of course. But with that break came the first taste of fall, cool evenings, and bracing for our first Football Weekend in State College.

Wait, this is supposed to be about Rioja, isn’t it?

Anyway…autumn is just around the corner, which means that we’re sliding into the time of year when, for most of us (except for you, Uncle Alan), bigger, more powerful reds start coming back in vogue.

Along those lines, We had a chance to sample a new Spanish offering last week as we enjoyed some of the cooler weather. The Marques de Murrieta 2015 Rioja Reserva was on our table the other evening as we took some much needed solace from the sweat of the previous weeks.

Before I talk about this particular bottle, though – a little background. First off, Rioja is not a grape. Following the naming conventions of most European wines, Rioja is named for the region in northern Spain where it’s produced. Rioja reds are primarily blends, made up of Tempranillo, Garnacha (Grenache), Mazuelo (Carignan), and Graciano.

Rioja reds are typically built to age for a long time, and they’re often held in barrel for years. This same winery – Marques de Murrieta – finally released their 1942 Gran Reserva in 1983. If a wine is labeled “Reserva” – as the one I tried is, it must be aged for a minimum of three years, with a minimum of 12 months in oak barrels.

As with many potentially long-lived wines, Rioja improves a great deal with decanting. Because of the tannic structure, they really need some air to smooth out and let the flavors broaden. This wine was no different. The tech notes say to give it 20-30 minutes, but I found that the wine continued to develop over the course of hours, even into the next day. Seriously, decant this mother.

Experience-wise, I thought this wine had a gorgeous nose once it had opened up. A lovely bouquet of vanilla, violets, and cherries jump up quickly. The body had rich spice notes, dark fruit, and leather flavors quite evident. The tannins, predictably, were big – but they were really nicely balanced. (The SPinC, who basically doesn’t drink anything heavier than Pinot Noir these days, thought it was smooth enough for her to handle.) The finish is lasting and grippy, ending with a graphite and dark cherry double feature that really builds after a couple of sips.

Rioja is one of the more food-friendly “big” wines that you can find, in my experience. The notes say that it pairs with “baked red snapper…and lamb chops with buttermilk.” That’s a pretty broad range! Personally, I love to pair Rioja with the mean pan of paella I’ve been known to make Given I hadn’t made one since we moved to The Pennsylvania, I had to throw down. So glad I did. Made for an absolutely worthy pairing.

This was a pretty sexy wine, I have to say. It’s a bit of a splurge at $30, but if you’re looking for a really nice bottle to take to a dinner – this will be a crowd pleaser.

Have a good Labor Day weekend, everyone.  

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