Not my favorite wine of the night, but not, not my favorite wine of the night!

My wine buddy Aaron and I had been off the wine trail lately.  Sometimes that is just the way it goes.  Out of the blue, something sprang up that was a bit unexpected:  a wine tasting event where one could be well fed, compare wines from one of the greatest wine regions in the world, Rioja, and spend very little.  Sounded like a trifecta!  When you spend a little, you expect a little.  And when you spend a lot, you expect a lot.  So I was really not expecting much, but then again it was Union Square Wines, and they have a penchant for over delivering.  Needless to say they did it again.   It could have been more casual, but this a a crew (Jesse & Tom) who take pride in over delivering every time.

Frequently master of ceremonies, and always master of hair, Union Square's Jesse Salazar.

With the patron saints of Union Square presiding, we realized that this was a bit more serious than predicted.  We eased into the evening of Rioja with a disarmingly simple rosé from Muga.  But that quickly gave way to an array of red wines not only representing the Crianza system in its entirety, but also the most pressing issue in Rioja, the divide between traditional and modern (or modern and traditional).  Up until now, I had  thought I had known what that had meant, but in the constantly changing, constantly traditional versus constantly modern aesthetic which is Spain, I am not sure anyone really knows.  All the great Rioja wines were paired with several great rounds of tapas prepared in conjunction with Vibrant Rioja by chef Jill Paradiso.  She prepared many great dish that evening, and while not technically traditional, her macaroni and cheese gave a nod to Spain with its smoked paprika and Manchego cheese.  And it was off the hook.

Thought these guys would be old school, they are rolling different these days."

After tasting the Muga rosé we moved into a CVNE Crianza and then onto an assortment of Reservas and Gran Reservas.  Some were more modern, some more traditional.  As an unabashed fan of traditional Rioja wines, I definitely lean in that direction.  And I am not opposed to more modern wines being made in Rioja, as long as they stand along side the traditional wines and don’t replace them.  It is important for the classic bodegas of Rioja to maintain the traditional bottlings and add newer more modern styles under their own identity.  It is short sighted to think that modern styled wines should just replace classic wines.  Thankfully most producers have realized this.  Especially since we have seen the pendulum swinging back towards traditional Rioja wines in recent years.

Bodegas Muga 2010 Rosado ~ $14.99

This blend of 60% Garnacha, 30% Viura, and 10% Tempranillo is watermelon colored with fresh notes of lemon curd and floral aromatics.  It has a light fresh nuttiness and decent acidity.  To boot, it is easy to drink and fairly priced.  Very approachable.  RECOMMENDED

CVNE 2007 Rioja Crianza ~ $18.99

I had tried this wine at the CVNE tasting a few months ago, and comparing notes again, I think I had a similar reaction to this Crianza this time around as well.  It is a wine that would typically be ordered in Spain while out having tapas.  It is medium bodied with notes of light sweet berries and candied cherries.   Light floral notes mingle with light woody aromas.  It is very approachable, though not overly complex, but Crianzas are meant to be drunk sooner rather than later anyway.  Rioja Atla fruit aged in American oak.  RECOMMENDED

El Coto de Imaz 2004 Rioja Reserva ~ $27.99

There is the spice of American oak on the nose of the El Coto.  This leads to hints menthol, cinnamon spice, and candied cherries.  It is medium garnet in color and is made from 100% Tempranillo.  It is more modern in style with a nod to the traditional in there as well.  Should age well over the next several years.  RECOMMENDED

Bodegas Remelluri 2004 Rioja (Reserva) ~ $34.99

Remelluri is a bio dynamic bodega that seems to have a foot in the traditional camp and a foot in the modern world.  Their barrel program is a mix of American oak (traditional) and French oak (modern).  Bucking the Criazna system, the bodega has decided to release the wine without any designation (a modern play), though it could technically be called a Reserva.  The flavors of the wine do suggest something a bit more old school however.  There is a touch of funk on the nose mixing with menthol and spice.  There are cranberry and sour red fruit elements married with cured olives, cured meats, and dark chocolate.  The initial funkiness blows off after some time in the glass revealing a more fruit forward character.  RECOMMENDED

Marqués de Tomares 2001 Rioja Gran Reserva ~ $39.99

I recently had the 2005 Crianza from Marqués de Tomares and was impressed by the wines traditional character, so I was curious to try this Gran Reserva.  2001 is considered to be a great vintage in Rioja and this Gran Reserva showed very well and seemed to be a crowd favorite at the tasting judging by the fact that it sold out that evening and I was unable to purchase a bottle.  There are olive and brine notes mixing with menthol and a burnt earthiness.  The characteristics are very tertiary already and the wine is very drinkable now but should continue to age well for many years to come.  An old vine blend of 90% Tempranillo and 10% Mazuelo.  RECOMMENDED

Bodegas Muga 2001 Gran Reserva Prado Enea ~ $64.99

Although Muga makes many great wines, I have always found the Prado Enea to be their most traditional and finest wine.  The 2001 is no exception.  There is a great nose of cured olives mixing with a great floral perfume (used French oak?).  The wine is old school, and is very balanced with a solid mid palate and a great lengthy finish.  Prado Enea is a blend of 80% Tempranillo with the other 20% a classic mix of Garnacha, Mazuelo, and Graciano.  It is drinking very well right now but should easily keep for another 20 years.  Muga’s greatest wine (in my book).  HIGHLY RECOMMENDED – CLASSIC

Marqués de Murrieta 2004 Dalmau Reserva ~ $189.99

This is the “high expression” (a.k.a. high end modern) wine from Murrieta.  The price on a wine like this might inhibit some people from trying it, myself included.  And frankly I am not sure that the price is justified.   There are hints of some old school olives mixed with oak and spice on the nose.  There is a richness to the mid palate and a moderately spicy finish.  There are nice notes of dark chocolate and cigar box lingering as well.  The wine sees two years in new French oak and has 8% Cabernet Sauvignon in the mix as well, placing it firmly in the modern category.  A very good wine, but it should retail about $100 less.  Especially considering that you could have several bottles of Prado Enea, for example, for the price of one of these.  RECOMMENDED