Back in the saddle tonight with a wine from one of my favourite red regions in the world: Rioja, Spain. Rioja is located in north-central Spain and is unquestionably the most historically significant wine region in the country. It is an open question whether it is still the most relevant Spanish wine area today, with other regions like Ribera del Duero (just southwest of Rioja) and Priorat (in the far east near Barcelona) getting more press and attention these days, but I’m always still drawn to Rioja, where both traditional and modern-styled wines are made. The traditional reds of Rioja are a rarity in the 21st century wine world because they are held and aged by their producers in barrel and bottle until they are deemed ready to drink, which in some cases is decades after harvest; there aren’t too many other industries where a manufacturer of goods would hold onto their inventory (thereby depriving themselves of sales revenue and increasing storage and maintenance costs) until they thought it was just so, but that’s what Old World style Rioja is all about. More modern examples from this region are aged for less time and are far fruitier and more suited to mass appeal, but they can be less interesting as a result. This Ramon Bilbao Edicion Limitada is made from 100% Tempranillo (the primary red grape of Rioja) and exhibits both the positive and negative effects of the region’s modern school of winemaking: it is more approachable and easy to enjoy with many different kinds of food (in my case, pulled pork, a match made in gastronomic heaven), but it is also less distinctive and loses some of its Spanish-ness because of its production style, which creates a flavour profile that could almost be from anywhere.
So what makes this Edicion Limitada a limited edition? Certainly not a smaller production run — my bottle was #28,220 of 245,126! Instead, it has to do with how the wine was aged. Most wines from Rioja, red and white, spend a longer than average time aging in oak barrels, which rounds out the sharp edges of the wines and imparts flavours into them. The standard Rioja recipe calls for aging in older oak barrels, ones that have already passed on their strongest flavours from prior use…but of course, all used oak barrels were once new at some point, so how do they become used if most Riojan wines only aged in used oak? Edicion Limitada, that’s how. What makes this Ramon Bilbao production run different from the rest of this producer’s line is that the wine was aged in ALL new oak barrels (according to the back label, part new French oak, part new American oak for 14 months). The upshot of this is that you know before even popping the cork on this wine that there are probably going to be some heavy oak flavours inside, since new oak is overt in its oakiness. This lets us answer the question: what do heavy oak flavours smell and taste like?
Strangely, the most renowned oak-induced wine flavour, vanilla, isn’t really found in the Edicion Limitada. But large parts of this wine’s nose are direct by-products of its 14 months in barrel limbo: heavy notes of smoke, charred wood, tobacco and what I can best describe as “campfire” (many wine-aging barrels are toasted on the inside before being filled up with wine) are all smells that indicate prominent oak aging. My resident nosing expert also identified a leather or tanning hide aroma that she succinctly summed up as “moccasins”. There were some raspberry and cranberry fruit flavours on the nose that matched the electric, purple-red, Cherry Kool-Aid colour of the wine, but the smokiness was the predominant aroma. On the palate, dusty tannins enveloped bright dark red fruit, and the oak was still there, albeit not as evident as on the nose, with charcoal, smoke and cedar notes mingling with the other flavours. Even though this was clearly a more modern-styled wine, there was still some earthiness in the flavour profile, as well as some strong underlying acidity that showed up after the initial attack.
In the end, a decent weeknight dinner wine, not overly complex but solid. It’s priced in the mid-$20s, and there are definitely more worthwhile choices at that price point (including the non-limited-edition Ramon Bilbao Riojas, which I prefer to this one), but there’s nothing particularly wrong with it. I defy any Calgary wine shop selling this wine to put “nothing particularly wrong with it” on the little tasting note card by the price tag…can you say “sales spike”?
$20 to $30 CDN