White Rioja

vinos blancosJust before I left for Spain, I had this crazy idea of searching out the best white Rioja I could find. To be honest, I found loads of white wine but its very difficult to choose a single wine as the best, so I’ve gone with three. These are three very different wines, and everything about them is different: the way they are made, the grape varieties used, how they are aged, and when they are drunk. I knew that two of these would be high on my list, but the third was a real surprise.

Making up just 5% of the harvest, you couldn’t say that white wine is a priority for the region. There is some decidedly dodgy white Rioja around, but there some great stuff if you look for it.

First up is R.Lopez de Heredia’s Vina Tondonia Reserva and Gran Reserva Blancos. These wines are just plain crazy, aged for 6 (Reserva) years and 10 years (Gran Reserva) in barrel, then another 10 or more years in bottle. The current release here in Australia is 1989 for the Reserva and 1981 for the Gran Reserva. Made from mostly Viura with a splash of Malvasía (10%), these wines speak of old nobility and hamfisted adherence to the tradition for long barrel aging. The nose on these things is amazingly complex, they have layers of flavour and constantly evolve in the glass, even hours later. Acid is the key here, and this is what drives these wines. They demand to be served with excellent fish or white meat, but excel with wild mushrooms. I am not so much a fan of the red wines here, but the blancos and rosados are amazing.

Next up is at the completely opposite end of the scale. Remelleri Blanco. There is not a lot of this made, we happened upon a couple of bottles in a wine shop Laguardia and jumped at the opportunity to enjoy this wine back at the hotel. The only native grape in the mix is Garnarcha Blanca, which is very rare in Rioja anyway. The rest is made up of Vigonier, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Moscatel, Marsanne and Roussane. Again, it’s a fairly crazy wine that has layers of flavours that start of kind of vegetative, moves on to floral then on to fruit. This is one very out there wine.

And finally the surprise wine of the trip. In the little village that we stay at in Rioja Alta, Abalos, there are just 3 bars. They are usually filled with the blokes who tend the vineyards and cellars of the village’s bodegas, a few kids, a dog or two and loads of cigarette and cigar smoke. I would usually drop in for a quick glass before dinner, mostly ordering vino blanco as I’d been tasting young, extracted red wines all day and wanted something fresh. This cheap (65 Euro cents is the cost for a small glass) white wine was amazingly fresh, with just a hint of lemony fruit but excellent acidity and minerality that revived my tasted buds and burnt off the post siesta fog swirling around in my brain. Amazing stuff, and I’m sure not much of it makes it out of the region. It was so good, I bought a bottle back with me.

Like most things in Rioja, I find there is room for both the traditional and modern. But there is so much in between those two extreames that when I’m asked to describe white Rioja it tends to be a very long conversation….

Bodegas La Purisma Trapio Monastrell 2006

Trapio 2006I seem to have missed the 2005 somewhere along the way, but I am sure I have tasted it. Oh well. This 2006 is a great example of what can be done with Monastrell in the right hands. This wine is a bit of a favourite year in and year out, for consistency and value you can’t go far wrong here.

Lovely nose of earthy blood plums, fresh figs and dark cherries, a touch of violet and gamey animal notes. It really saturates your palate with rich flavours of fig, plum, red cherry with a little spice and honey, but remains in balance and there is plenty of acid and tannin to keep things clean and fresh. When I read that back to myself it sounds like it should be a big thick wine (I think its the figs and honey comments) but its medium boddied and fresh.  I finishes up with a smooth minerally tang. Amazingly, this wine doesn’t seem to have gone up in price for 3 years, yet the quality seems increase every year. 92 Pts.

Source: The Spanish Acquisition Price: $40 Closure: Conventional Cork

Other Vintages: 2004, 2003, 2002,

The Sunday Roast Chicken Challenge

chicken-challenge-1Just about every Sunday night at Casa Tinto y Blanco we fire up the oven and have a roast chicken with a bottle of wine. Its become something of a tradition that ends the weekend on a high note, its much more enjoyable than ironing my shirts and folding my jocks for the week. Plus it gives me a chance to look wines, mostly white wines, from all over the place with some nice food.  I’ll be writing up most of these sunday sessions, mainlyjust  becasue I can. If you have any suggestions for either a roast chicken recipe or a wine to try with the chicken, leave a comment and I’ll see what I can do.

The idea isn’t to write tasting notes, but to try and find the best wine match with roast chicken. But as there is no real score and, well, its not really a challenge, I’ll choose my favourate from the year in December and nominate that as the winner.

This week it was a simple roast chook (smashed garlic, rosemary and a lemon up the date, oil, salt and pepper on the skin and into the oven) with some Coliban potatoes and green beans. The wine for the night was a white burgundy: Oliver Leflaive Chassagne Montrachet 2005. Now I tend to think that village white burgundy and roast chicken are a combination made in heaven, and this was not far off.

The wine is still quite young and fresh with plenty of acid to cut through that salty chicken wing, but with the body to deal with the lean breast meat. Well balanced and just the right level of flavour and body to suit the mild flavour of the La Ionica 1.8Kg chicken (we normally buy a 1.4Kg organic free range bird, but a jetlag induced sleep-in keeped us from the butcher til 1pm on Saturday). There is some smoky/caramelly oak in there that really sets off the flavour in the chicken too. Just coming into the start of its drinking window, this 2005 looks much better than it did this time last year and has changed my mind on this vintage for white burgundy (at this level anyway). Overall a good start to the roast chicken season.