Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Wine dinner: Ribera and Aragon

We just joined a new wine tasting group and Monday, we went to our first dinner. This group has a fun format: once a month dinner with a chosen wine theme. Each person brings a bottle and they are served blind to the group. We vote at the end on the best wines and then they are unveiled. The owner of the winning bottle doesn't have to pay for his dinner! Great motivation!

This iteration, the theme was Ribera del Duero and Aragon. I knew everyone was likely to bring Ribera, so one of our bottles was from DO Campo de Borja in Aragon.

We didn't win with the Aragon wine, but it came in a respectable fourth among seven bottles. It also did better than our Ribera wine, Cepa 21, which has a great reputation, but fell very flat on this night.

The food was merely a backdrop, but was quite nice: several starters, then fish (Bacalao and Merluza), some nice steak and a great cheese plate.

The format is a lot of fun and I look forward to next months version: Toro and Bierzo.

On to the wines…in order of victory. These wines are all between 18 and 30 euros.


1. The winner was a wine I had never had: Astrales 2003. It's from a cooler zone of Ribera del Duero and the benefits of that showed in the hot and difficult 2003 vintage. It has 17 months in oak and the wine showed very well done, but very present oak notes. It also had great acidity that felt really refreshing…the fruit was a little closed at first, but with air started to open up.
This wine is from one of the hottest wine families here in Spain: Mariano Garcia. This family is responsible for some of Spain's top wines: Mauro, San Roman, Leda, and Aalto. This is an impressive, by far the most complex of the evening and the only one that tasted better at the end of the night, after lots of exposure to oxygen. 100% Tinto Fino (Tmepranillo)

2. Second place went to the Rento 2000 from Bodegas Renacimiento de Olivares in Ribera del Duero. This wine was delightful, totally smooth tannins and nice liqueur cherry fruit….perfect right now. The downside is that it was showing a lot of age for a 2000, and I doubt is will last much longer. So it did well in the moment, but it's not one for the long haul. By the end of the night it was already fading…fading gracefully! 100% Tinto Fino

3. Third place to the famous Alion 2002, Ribera de Duero. Quite a good wine in a difficult year, though it didn't make my top 3…I put it 4th. I found it a little woody…impressively so, but lacking enough fruit to balance it. The fruit it did have was a little lean and almost metallic to me. Sounds pretty bad, but it was actually quite nice. 100% Tinto Fino

4. I am very proud that our Aragon wine came in fourth. This is a 100% Garnacha with lots of American oak and it's pretty hard for it to stand up to so much Tempranillo and French oak. It was a completely different wine form the others and I picked it out right away blind amongst all the Riberas. The wine is Fagus de Coto de Hayas 2004, from Bodegas Aragonesas in Campo de Borja. This is one of the top wineries in this very obscure region and this is one of their top wines. I've always liked it…it certainly stood out as original amongst the Ribera monsters! Lots of vanilla and soft, liqueur cherry fruit, strawberry. In mouth, really smooth, tannins present but barely. Very quaffable…good acid, but perhaps a little soft on structure for some tastes. For me it represents the region and the grape very well….so many of the Riberas are entirely international in style.

I won't go into the other wines too much:
Ribera del Duero: Victor Balbas 1998
Ribera el Duero: Comenge 2003
Ribera del Duero: Cepa 21 2003
Generally quite disappointing. Lots of oak…lacking acidity…flat fruit. Too simple for the price range.

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