Rioja is one of Scotland’s best-loved wines and, if you know where to look, it can still provide exciting examples, as Peter Ranscombe finds out.
HOW do you launch a wine bar during a lockdown?
Ghislain Aubertel and Miguel Crunia at The Green Room in Edinburgh may have just found the answer with their online sales, local deliveries and virtual tastings.
Aubertel – best-known for his time at the capital’s Le Di-Vin wine bar – and his business partners took over the Melville Bar in William Street last year and began switching its focus from beer to wine.
That’s a tough job – but perhaps this is one instance in which the lockdown has actually helped in the long run, by giving Aubertel and his wine wingman Crunia the chance to press the reset button.
They’re selling wines through their website for collection or delivery, and are hosting virtual tastings, like tonight’s “Not your usual Rioja” event.
Although Crunia is from Galicia on the opposite side of Spain, he’s steeped in knowledge about the wine trade in general – his grandfather was a wine merchant, selling vino in bottles and barrels.
The Green Room now has its own licence to import wine and so Crunia selected three bottles to show the variety of styles available in Rioja if you know where to look.
And, judging by tonight’s trio, Crunia certainly knows where to look.
Single varieties shining
While most red wine from Rioja is a blend of tempranillo and garnacha – or grenache if you cross the border into France – Crunia chose to show what can happen if tempranillo is giving space to shine on its own.
The 2016 Marques de Tomares Monteleiva Crianza (£16, The Green Room) is made from tempranillo grown on just two sites, rather than a blend of vineyards from across the region.
On the nose, it’s got roast meat, wood smoke, and lots of rich raspberry and blackcurrant notes.
Its tannins are well-integrated and the vanilla from the oak is very subtle, allowing tempranillo’s ripe raspberry flavours to shine.
One of the unsung heroes when it comes to the blending grapes used in smaller quantities in Rioja’s mix is graciano, but in the 2012 Marques de Tomares Montana (£27) Crunia has found a wine that shows the variety at its best.
Pretty violet notes on the nose are retained thanks to the single vineyard’s 700-metre elevation above the sea – and it owes its concentrated blackcurrant and blackberry flavours to the 89-year-old vines.
The tannins are ripe and well-integrated; there are enough there to handle steak comfortably, but the concentration of the fruit provides more than enough balance to enjoy a glass on its own.
A white that appeals to red wine lovers
While today Rioja is best-known for its reds, wind the clock back to the 17th century and Crunia explained that white wine was the dominant incarnation.
The 2010 Marques de Tomares Gran Reserva Rioja Blanco (£30) he selected for tonight’s tasting was a big hit with the audience – as Crunia put it, “It’s a white that appeals to red wine drinkers”, thanks to its texture.
It’s made in the more traditional style for ageing, so has wood smoke notes on the nose and savoury lemon rind and red apple peel flavours.
Given another five or ten years, it will even develop some nutty flavours too.
Read more of Peter Ranscombe’s wine, beer and spirits reviews on his drinks blog, The Grape & The Grain.