Wine Review: 2002 Campillo Rioja Reserva

10 08 2011

Grande Prairie, pay attention: go and find this wine. Right now.

I couldn’t resist — after talking at some length in my last post about how the Tempranillo grape was a chameleon that could show very differently depending on how it was made, and after seeing what the fruity, modern style of the grape had to offer with the 2009 Vega Moragona Tempranillo from Ribera del Jucar, Spain, I went down to my wine fridges tonight and this bottle kept calling out to me.  While the Vega Moragona did a decent job at showing off what New Age Tempranillo was all about, there are few better producers than Campillo at illustrating what can be created using the traditional approach to Spanish winemaking with this grape.  As I mentioned a couple days ago, the main difference with the more traditional style of Spanish Tempranillo is that the wines are aged in oak for significantly longer before release, often in new barrels to further enhance the oak flavours, which leads to bottles that tend to be pre-mellowed before they even hit the shelves; it’s like the wineries do most of the aging for you.  It’s an approach that makes very little sense in terms of the modern business model — how many goods retailers do you know that hang onto their inventory for 5+ years before allowing it to be sold? — but maybe that’s what makes it so charming to me.  These Spanish winemakers, especially in Rioja, the country’s traditional vinicultural heartland, are amazingly dedicated to their craft, and given the world’s recent obsession with bigger, riper, ultra-powerful reds, their wines can be found at shocking values.

Like this one:  I bought this bottle of 2002 Campillo Reserva for $15 at a Costco in Grande Prairie, Alberta.  $15!!  This is a wine that was (1) made by a well-regarded producer from high-end grapes grown in (arguably) the best wine region in Spain, (2) aged for 2-3 years in (expensive) mostly new oak barrels, (3) held at the winery and aged further in bottle before release and then (4) shipped halfway across the world to northern Alberta…and it cost almost the same as a bottle of Yellow Tail.  It defies logic to me.  Honestly, if there is anybody reading this who lives in or near Grande Prairie, you HAVE to go to Costco and buy this wine.  That’s not to say that it’s an absolute showstopper, but it’s clearly well-made, it evokes a style and personality that is routinely lost in New World wines, and it provides a level of quality and history that are simply unmatched at this price point.  I’ve had a number of different wines from Campillo before (I still think nostalgically about the 1999 Reserva, which cost less than $30 and could crush an equally pedigreed French or Italian wine at half the price) and have not been let down yet.

Cork Rating: 5/10 (My impressions about this cork are completely neutral. I have no strong feelings about it whatsoever. Hooray for mediocrity!)

At 9 years old, I thought this wine would be a complete foil from Monday’s Moragona Tempranillo, but the 02 Campillo had more fruit and structure kicking around than I expected.  It was surprisingly still a fairly robust blood red colour, thinning out but not getting lighter at the edges of the glass (which is where you can see the aging the earliest).  The lengthy oak exposure made an entrance in a strange and complex nose:  while the more modern Vega Moragona had a huge nose of dark fruit and sweet spice, the Campillo projected oak-induced hits of smoke/campfire, cedar and pencil lead to go along with savoury smells of tomato and salami/cured meat, with raspberry and plum fruit notes bringing up the rear and a faint soapy aspect right at the tail end (to pre-empt any questions about this last bit:  no, I don’t use detergent to wash my wine glasses).  The darker-than-anticipated colour of the wine proved to be foreshadowing for the amazing amounts of power and structure that this $15 bottle still had in reserve (no pun intended) after a decade:  despite its age, the Campillo unleashed layers of coiled, intense flavour packed into a medium-full body with surprisingly high levels of tannin and acidity (the components of a red wine’s structure that let it age, which usually soften and recede with time…but not this time!) and a prolonged finish.  There was more fruit on the palate than on the nose, sour cherry and darker fruits, but it still took a back seat to the secondary flavours of char/charcoal, toasted wood and earth that are more characteristic to this style of Tempranillo.

This is a serious wine for the price.  I’m a little disappointed that wasn’t a full-fledged traditional Rioja experience, where prolonged aging leaves the resulting wines light, feathery and delicate, like the pages of an old leather-bound book; this was more of a hybrid between the old and new styles in Spanish winemaking, though leaning more towards the former than the latter.  But I DID get it at Costco, and it WAS $15, so let’s not get too picky.  If there’s a better, more interesting red wine out there for 15 bones, I’d like to hear about it.

89+ points

$15 to $25 CDN

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