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With today's Vintages Spanish thematic featuring 32 items, Rioja is on my mind. Winemaker Maria Martinez is a perfectionist. She has been making classics at Bodegas Montecillo for more than three decades. She treats the wines as if they are her children: loves them all, but is quick to point out their individual peccadilloes.
Over the years, I met have met Maria several times and am always most impressed when tasting her wines in on the spot where they were made. They never seem to show quite as well elsewhere. Perhaps it is the fantastic local cuisine - they are simply perfection when accompanied by smoky, slow roasted, sublimely flavourful, baby local lamb.
All of today's four Riojas are classic in style - complex, oaky and well structured. The starting price is $29.95 for the French oak aged Montecillo 1998 Gran Risera (239277). While the first bottle was corked, the second fine. It has a mature, stewed prune nose with coconut-tinged, bitter chocolate notes. The extracty, plummy, dried cherry, dusty prune and cedar flavours seem to be at their peak.
For a less expensive modern take on Rioja, check out last month's best buy Bodegas Beronia 2005 Tempranillo Elaboración Especial (72364) at $17.95. In this case, the grape juice is actually fermented in the barrel - a process quite common for whites, especially Chardonnay, but not reds. The result is a much juicier, user-friendly, ready to enjoy crancherry flavoured red that will marry perfectly with BBQ ribs.
Assuming money is no object, my Rioja recommendation is the rich, ripe, cherry-driven Muga Reserva 2003 Selección Especial (921536) at $40.95 (up from $38.95 last Fall). Indeed, the Vintages agenda of pushing prices in an upward spiral seems to be a problem. For 17 the reds on show, the average price is $25.66 a bottle.
Nevertheless, there are some good buys. The current shipment of Bodega Emina 2002 Vinho Rojo (993220) at $18.95, for instance, is quite delicious, albeit still a bit youthful. Decanting or laying away for another year or so will make this tangy, cedar-mocha flavoured Ribera del Duero even better.
A red I really liked is Bodegas Castaño 2004 Colección (35493) at $22.95. This extremely tasty blend of 80% Monastrell (aka Mourvèdre) and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon from the region of Yecla in south-eastern Spain spent 14 months in French and American oak. It has lovely, spicy, ripe, plummy-cherry flavours with a lingering ready-to-drink finish.
If you are looking for a white, you can't go wrong with the cheapest in the release Chivite 2006 Gran Feudo Chardonnay (129767) at $12.95. This modern medium-light bodied Navarra has refreshingly tangy, lemony, yellow grapefruit flavours. Perfect for seafood and sipping on a hot summer day.
Ditto for the best buy pink of the release, 2006 Gran Feudo Rosado (256149) at $10.95.A repeat of the May 7th release, it too is from Navarra and has dry, plummy, fresh raspberry flavours with a crisp finish.
While fortified wines may not be on summer agenda, if your stand-by Tio Pepe (242669) at $15.95 is out of stock, then perhaps the pricier La Gitana Pastrana Manzanilla Pasada (975797) at $22.95 is worth a look. It is extremely dry and slightly bitter with dried ripe lemon peel flavours with a lingering, nutty finish. A great summer aperitif, which can be served chilled with tapas.
On a sweeter note, the half bottle of Lustau
Solera Reserva Dry Oloroso Don Nuno (43612) at
$14.95 hits the spot with its slightly sweet, buttery, caramel flavours.
More interesting is Castaño
2004 Dulce Monastrell (35501) at $25.95 (500
ml), which is rich and sweet with roasted ripe plum and cherry cassis
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Vintages Delisting and Bin End Sale
On last Saturday, July 28th, 453 Vintages products being put on sale. To see the detail list click here, use the 'npreader' password to access the list. Also check out the list of 88 products in the Vintages Delisting sale that started on Monday, July 23rd. To see the detail list click here.
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