10 March, 2009

Blame it on Rioja! - Review of Montecillo Wines

I really do have an Uncle Manolo, and he really is from Spain. When I visit my non-drinking aunt, he does his best to knock the California bias out of me with Spanish delights. So I was a little prepared for the vinified goodness in store for me at the recent Bodegas Montecillo events I was fortunate enough to attend. Held at a private residence, we enjoyed delicious wine in a relaxed, luxurious venue, but best of all, also got the extra special delight of meeting and speaking with the winemaker herself, Maria Martinez Sierra. When Maria speaks, her passion shines through. Spanish flair, loamy earth and a determined spirit glow in her words and her deeds. The result? A beautiful, refined product and for me a crash course in the the Montecillo brand's expression of Rioja. First, Maria clarified that in addition to the rules the Spanish D.O.Ca has to diffentiate between Crianza, Reserva, and Gran Reserva, she further imposes her own standards of excellence on the wine, resulting in not every vintage making the cut in her estimation and therefore, Montecillo will skip years if the product is not up to Maria's standards. Sampling all three was a great way to get an understanding for what Montecillo does. First,
'04 Montecillo Crianza, Rioja, Spain: Garnet with a slightly darker cast, this had delicious aromas of cherry, vanilla and sarsaparilla. The flavor delivered a choco-cherry blast mid palate. It has slightly bracing acidity, which went exceedingly well with food.
'03 Montecillo Reserva, Rioja, Spain: 100% Tempranillo as all these offerings are, this was my favorite. It had a silky mouth feel that I liked very much. As well, the tobacco notes and the balanced fruit taste made it clear, this is a sophisticated wine. Used as I am to the fruit forward nature of my beloved California, I responded to this more restrained but still fruit showcasing wine
'05 Montecillo Gran Reserva, Rioja, Spain: Drinking these all together, the gran reserva was more elegant but with the same restrained fruit, balanced acidity and food friendliness. I loved the different experiences with a consistent cherry nose and flavor.

Tasting all these together provided a perspective on the Montecillo offering as well as kind of hooked me on the delights of Rioja. Then, came the big guns. As Maria delighted us with personal stories of developing the on site cooperage to further enhance her program and how to make a Spanish Asador (lamb cutlets roasted over vine clippings), she also "found" a bottle of

'81 Montecillo Gran Reserva, Rioja Spain: Wow! Aromas of cedar and hay. A color like the skins of red plums with coppery undertones. Flavors of tobacco, cherry, cedar...Silky mouthfeel with soft, tannins that seemed to undulate on my tongue. This wine had Bordeaux inspired elegance. The real stunner was the affordability. I thought this would be over $100 and hard to find. Well, BrixChick Liza, we're not in Napa anymore. $45 online!

I am totally planning on springing this on my wineaux friends for an Open That Bottle night, This is a discovery that needs to be shared.

Speaking of food friendliness, the Spanish charcuterie and cheeses served with these wines served only to heighten the experience of tasting these wines. I tried most without the food and found them delightful, but with food, especially the expertly chosen Spanish treats, Knock outs.
And speaking of food, I was invited to the winemaker dinner. It sounded like tapas and more wine, but ended up being an uber gourmet feast with expert pairings that began with fried cod in lobster sauce, included a tempranillo marinated pork dish and concluded with a Pedro Ximenez late harvest. Rocked my world! Many thanks to the whole team at Janet Kafka for bringing such an amazing event to the SF Bay Area. The epitome of gracious hospitality, I can think of no better match than a great product to help me enhance my own efforts at hospitality, presented by a team that lives and breathes it!
PS: On May 1st, 2009, Montecillo will roll out an Albarino. Mark your calendars. I wonder if Amazon will let me preorder?
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