When you ask the Spanish how they view a dining experience they almost invariably speak of an unhurried day spent with family and friends sharing fine wines and a multi-course meal together in an intimate setting. Well, Rodolfo Bastida, winemaker at Ramon Bilbao, got it right today at his family-owned SoHo loft in New York City where he chose to host a Rioja reserva-centered wine tasting and lunch for a small party of food and wine writers.
The decor at the warm and tastefully appointed contemporary loft was a combination of New York City chic and international eclectic and a perfect spot to host a vertical tasting of Rioja Gran Reservas as well as two 100% Tempranillo vintages that were still in the works, at this almost century old vineyard.
Ramon Bilbao consists of 180 hectares of vineyards that are distributed across three major Rioja producing regions. These are Haro, Villalba, Cizcurrita, Valpierre, San Vicente and Abalos within the Rioja Alavesa, Rioja Alta, and the Rioja Baja.
Rodolfo joined the Ramon Bilbao team in 1999 and since then he has sought to take the vineyard into the twenty-first century by adopting a modern approach to winemaking. He believes in concentrating on terroir when it comes to determining the style of his wines. He recognizes the importance of the quality of the soil, the climate and high altitude in producing fine and complex Riojas.
He also uses cutting edge technology to sort the hand harvested grapes and this ensures that only the best of the harvest goes into crafting the vineyard’s Rioja Reservas. The grapes are placed in an optical grape sorter that takes photographs of the grapes at high speeds — thousands of frames per second — to determine which grapes meet the pre-programmed standards of quality. A burst of air propels the grapes that do not meet the standards out of the lineup.
The first vintage, a 1999 Gran Reserva consisting of 90% Tempranillo, 7% Mazuelo and 3% Graciano and sourced from vineyards located in Villalba de Rioja (La Pinada), Briones (Valpierre), Abalos (Caramonte) and Labastida (Carrapacina), and aged for three years in American oak, was full of bright red fruit, and ripe berries and cherries, with balanced acidity and mild oak.The grapes for this vintage were harvested from vineyards that are situated at an altitude of 460-620 meters and come from vines that are between 50 and 55 years old.
The 2004 Gran Reserva vintage, consisting of the same percentages of Tempranillo, Mazuelo and Graciano, from vineyards located in Briones and Abalos that are set at an altitude of 450 to 700 meters with 55-60 year old vines, was also aged for three years in American oak. The result is a full bodied and earthy vintage with black fruit, berry and smoky notes, along with bright tannins.
The 2010 vintage, harvested from 60-65 year old vines that are set at altitudes of 600-700 meters and situated in vineyards at Abalos (Caramonte) and Labastida (Carrapacina), was a standout. This vintage has great aging potential and is characterized by sweet and ripe blueberry, berry, liquorice and spice notes, and a lingering velvety finish. The grapes for this vintage were harvested twenty days earlier than usual, representing a departure from the traditional timeline.
Rodolfo also showcased a trio of vintages consisting of 100% Tempranillo. All three were aged in French oak. The 1999 Mirto (Myrtle) vintage, coming from vineyards in Villalba de Rioja that are set at an altitude of 650 meters was rich, fresh and fruit-forward with elements of earth and oak. This vintage demonstrates the potential for increasing weight and complexity with age.
The 2004 vintage, sourced from vineyards in Abalos that are located at an altitude of 700 meters was well balanced, smooth and complex, with lively notes of sour blackberries and cherries, dark chocolate and roasted coffee beans.
The 2009, coming from the vineyards of Villalba de Rioja that are set at an altitude of 650 meters, showed pronounced but balanced acidity, good structure and fresh and juicy notes of young raspberries and cherries.
A buffet of Spanish classics brought out the food pairing potential of these wines and showed that the quality of these vintages come through best when enjoyed with a delicious meal.