This month's tasting marked the 3rd year that David has been hosting these gatherings, and he chose the Spanish appellation of Rioja to highlight the milestone.
Having great name recognition and a long history, the appellation of Rioja is easily the most famous in all of Spain. Recently, however other Spanish appellations have stolen the spotlight from Rioja, with more modern wines that appeal to an international marketplace. Many have suggested that Rioja has not kept pace with more forward-looking winemakers.
Our results were mixed, with both some surprises and disappointments. Three vintages were represented, in price ranges of $9 to $25.
While Rioja makes red, white, and rosť (known as rosado) wines, we focused solely on their reds.
Three guest tasters were represented this month . . . a Crane sibling, his girlfriend, and the always reliable Josephine.
First Place: Artadi Rioja Vinas de Gain 2003. Looking unfiltered, and showing scents of roasted coffee, leather, perfume, honey, cigarette smoke, freesia, and bubble gum. Weighty, with thickness on the palate that David described as "masculine". Tooth-staining tannins, with a dark richness. Flavors of licorice dominated. Four tasters gave this their top rating. Received 28 points. David's bottle. About $25.
Second Place: Marques de Riscal Rioja Reserva 2002. Tasters found mint, green bell pepper, chocolate, soap, wet earth, and eucalyptus on the nose. Hinted at high alcohol. Black pepper, black licorice, plums, rose petals, menthol, blackberries, and roasted coffee flavors. Four tasters voted this as their second choice. Claudine's bottle. Received 23 points.
Third Place: Cortijo II Rioja Crianza 2000. Unfiltered. Comments such as, "wet basement" (Jo), "reminds me of an orchard" (Claudine), "a fruit basket with flowers mixed in" (Jonathan), and "golden delicious apple" (Jo) marked this wine. Tasted bright, and featured cherries, raspberries, currants, green tobacco, and bell pepper. Kristin's favorite of the night. Received 18 points. Jonathan's bottle. About $13.
Ostatu Rioja Crianza 2002. David found a "dark, brooding quality", Claudine thought of "dirty wet sock", and Ali was reminded of "skunk". Cardamom, prune, meat, iodine, grape must, black pepper, and lavender scents. More smooth, with some creaminess. Jonathan described "fresh cut grass", and Josephine decided on "a woman in a black dress". Jonathan's favorite bottle. Ali hated it. Received 10 points. Josephine's bottle. About $14.
El Coto Rioja Crianza 2003. Aromas of smoke, butter, perfume, musk, and a slightly fecal component. Ali found it "annoyingly aloof". Blackberries, plums, orange rind, dark spices, and dark tea were present on the palate. Exhibited some persistence on the finish. Received 5 points. Ali's bottle. About $9.
Vina Salceda Rioja Crianza 2002. Scented with wet cardboard, cherries, strawberries, wet soil, raw red meat, olive, maple, cloves, and lilies. David found it "pretty", and Jonathan felt it was "like a wine gravy". Kristin was reminded of "a cardboard box of raisins". Astringent and dry, this one was "basic" (Jonathan) and "flat" (Claudine). Ali described it as "wine you drink in a jelly glass". Finished short. No points. Kristin's bottle. About $19.