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Traditional Riojas from Bodegas Franco-Españolas

8 Mar

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.

RECOMMENDED WINES

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.

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Spain’s Toro Region Emerges. Bodegas Fariña Leads the Way

5 Sep

by Sharon Kapnick

Although Spanish wines have received much acclaim over the past decade or so, its Toro region may not yet be on your wine radar range. If you’re a red wine lover, you’d do well to try its wines for two reasons: They’re very good, and they offer very good value.  (Especially good value resides in lesser known areas.)

The region has recently been fulfilling its potential. In 2004 influential wine critic Robert M. Parker Jr. made 12 predictions in Food & Wine magazine. Prediction No. 6, “Spain Will Be the Star,” states that “by 2015, those areas that have traditionally produced Spain’s finest wines (Ribera del Duero and Rioja) will have assumed second place behind such up-and-coming regions as Toro, Jumilla and Priorat.” While that remains to be seen, the regions Parker singled out have certainly been on the move.

Toro indeed has a lot to offer. While the DO (denominación de origen) appellation, west of Ribera del Duero and northwest of Madrid, once produced wines that were valued for their healing properties, today, according to John Radford, author of The New Spain, they’re valued for their “tradition of strength, power and fruit.” The most widely planted grape is Tinto de Toro, aka Tempranillo, the versatile red-wine star of Spanish grapes. Tinto de Toro wines are generally fruit forward, concentrated, rich in aromas with good structure, firm tannins and the ability to age well. And Toro boasts some of the oldest vines in Spain, vines that have never been affected by the dreaded root-eating phylloxera louse. (Old vines support fewer grapes, and wines made from them are generally regarded as superior, more complex, more nuanced.)

To become familiar with the DO, you’d do well to start with the family-owned Bodegas Fariña, established in 1942. Proprietor Manuel Fariña Sr. is known as the founding father of Toro owing to his pioneering efforts in the ̕70s and ̕80s. He brought worldwide attention to the region and modernized the style of its wines. After harvest dates were moved up by 4 weeks, for example, alcohol levels were lowered from 17% to 13%-13.5%. Fariña introduced stainless steel temperature-controlled fermentation tanks about 30 years ago. He steered what had been a jug wine business into high-quality, Bordeaux-influenced bottled wines.

The Fariñas believe that love, passion and respect are three crucial ingredients for great wine. Their wines have all three, and their quality has been recognized by many. Bodegas Fariña was chosen in 2011 by Wine & Spirits magazine as one of the four top Spanish value brands for its “true Toro reds at unbeatable prices.” And Parker has praised Bodegas Fariña for its “wines with explosive aromas, full body, fine balance and enormous fruit.”

To sample what Toro and Bodegas Fariña have to offer, here are three wines to try:

The Toro Dama de Toro Tempranillo 2010 (SRP* $11) goes well with most foods, which, along with its reasonable price, makes it a fine house wine. It’s soft yet intense, fruity (aromas and flavors of cherry, raspberry and other berries), has good acidity and a velvety texture.

Fariña Especial 70 Aniversario 2009 (SRP $25) celebrates the winery’s 70th anniversary. Aromas and flavors of red and black berry fruits, spice, black pepper and chocolate. Elegant, well balanced, firm tannins, good structure, will age well. Made from vines that are at least 50 years old.

The  Toro Gran Dama de Toro 2006 (SRP $45), Fariña’s premium wine, would cost twice as much if it were from a prestigious region. An elegant, powerful, complex wine with flavors of cherry, red berries and spice. Full bodied, with a silky texture. Made from 80- to 90-year-old vines.

*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.

NB: I tried these wines at  a press event.