By Sharon Kapnick
I love silver linings. It’s somewhat comforting to know that something good can result from a disaster. When French vineyards were ravaged, for example, in the middle of the 19th century by phylloxera–insects that eat the roots and leaves of grapevines–a silver lining of that plague was that many French winemakers moved to Spain and settled in La Rioja. One wine merchant who relocated was Frederick Anglade Saurat of Bordeaux’s negoçiant Anglade family. In 1890 he founded Bodegas Franco-Españolas along with Spanish partners. The wines they made in their new vineyards logically started out as French-style wines using Spanish varieties. To reflect this, they named one of their brands Rioja Bordeaux (the name was eventually changed to Rioja Bordón to appease the French).
Today the winery is owned by the Spanish Eguizábal family, and over the years the style of the wines has evolved. Franco-Españolas currently produces traditional-style Riojas, usually medium-bodied wines aged in American oak (which imparts sweet tannins), distinguished by flavors of dried fruit and spices.
In addition to having great flavors, these Riojas, which I recently tasted with importer Mark Tucker and export manager John Perry, offer terrific value and great versatility. Like other Riojas, they’re held at the winery until they’re ready to serve, ensuring that you will drink no Rioja before its time.
Party Wine, House Wine (SRP*: $10)
Royal 2010 (80% Tempranillo, Spain’s outstanding indigenous red wine grape; 20% Garnacha, which adds fruit and body): 25% of the grapes undergo carbonic maceration–the process used to make Beaujolais–which allows the fruit to shine. Fresh and, yes, fruity; oak and spicy notes. Serve with fish, pasta, cured meats and red meats.
Everyday Wine, House Wine (SRP: $13)
2008 Rioja Bordón Crianza (80% Tempranillo, 20% Garnacha): Aromas and flavors of raspberry, cherry, plum and berries. Mild oak; elegant, well balanced, long finish. Serve with hearty fish, tomato-sauced pasta, pork and poultry. One of the best sellers in restaurants in Spain.
To Take to or Serve at a Dinner Party (SRP: $15)
2007 Rioja Bordón Reserva (80% Tempranillo, 15% Garnacha, 5% Mazuelo, which adds acidity): Aromas and flavors of raspberry, cherry, plum and vanilla; balsamic and spicy notes. Full bodied, soft and elegant. Serve with risotto, meat-sauced pastas, steak, lamb and game.
Special Occasion Wine (SRP: $25)
2004 Rioja Bordón Gran Reserva (80% Tempranillo, 10% Garnacha, 5% Mazuelo, 5% Graciano, which adds structure and aging potential): The Gran Reservas are made only in excellent vintages, like 2001, 2004, 2005 and 2010. Aromas and flavors of raspberry, cherry, plum, pomegranate, roasted peppers, mushroom, tomato, black pepper and other spices. Complex; earthy. Serve with meats, especially grilled veal chops with mushrooms, braised meats and stews.
*Wines can usually be found for less–sometimes considerably less–than the SRP (suggested retail price). Check out wine-searcher.com to get an idea of actual prices.