Rioja keeps on keepin’ on

We talk a lot these days about “the conversation,” whatever the actual subject is, although given the rise of the internet I often think a better word would be “chatter.” Either way, several of the wines that aren’t being talked about are, unfortunately, several of the more attractive ones: German Riesling, for example, or Bourgueil and Chinon, Semillon, Marsala . . . and, most perplexing of all, Rioja.
       “Most perplexing” because Rioja, even across a range of styles, offers bright, moderately elegant flavours and, except for a few overblown Gran Reservas, a suppleness that makes it a pleasure to drink and a perfect partner to a wide range of food. Although the tannins aren’t usually aggressive, most of them can age gracefully. (The lightest, easygoing Crianzas, meant to be drunk relatively young, are also good value.)
       The recent Decanter “Great Spanish Fine Wine Encounter” featured wines from all over Spain, but the real fun was from Rioja, where several intriguing 2001s stole the show. It was certainly a great vintage, and the wines are delicious now, ripe and full and still luscious, still evolving too. Some remain on retailers’ shelves (La Rioja Alta has just released its Vina Ardanza “Especial” and I spotted some Marques de Riscal recently). They're also on restaurant wine lists, and relative bargains. After the tasting, I cracked open my last bottle of Riscal’s Baron de Chirel 2001—magnificent.    
       Now, mid-April, it’s the annual Decanter World Wine Awards judging week, and another magnificent Rioja caught my attention: Baigorri de Garage 2005. It’s made from hand-picked and hand-selected grapes from old vines up at high altitudes in Rioja Alavesa, fermented and aged in new French oak and has nearly 15 percent alcohol, but manages to be balanced and extraordinarily harmonious, simply superb. It won the International Trophy last year, and if there’s a later vintage in the competition (we won’t know till later, when the results are revealed), it’ll be the one to beat.

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