Wine Review: 2006 Bodegas LAN Rioja Crianza

22 10 2012

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]

Exhibit A for why Spanish wine should be a part of your life.

When the good vino-importing folks at Christopher Stewart Wine & Spirits asked if there were any bottles in their portfolio that I might be interested in writing up, it took me about 0.02 seconds to zero in on this one.  Accolades and rankings don’t tell the whole story of a bottle of wine, and even the most highly regarded publications need to be taken with a grain of salt (with the exception of this blog, of course), but when a bottle that retails for $15ish CDN and is widely available makes Wine Spectator’s list of the Top 100 wines of the year, it’s worth noting.  The ’06 LAN Crianza was #44 in the WS Top 100 list of 2010 — I remember buying that issue back then and being very curious about the wine.  Two years and 185-odd PnP posts later, I got to crack the bottle and find out all about it.

The constant capitalization of Bodegas LAN is not a typo.  The winery name is actually an acronym for the 3 different provinces within Spain’s famed Rioja region where its grapes are grown:  Logrono (now called La Rioja), Alava and Navarra.  While many reds made in Rioja are blends, this one is entirely crafted from the region’s (and the country’s) star grape, Tempranillo.  Spain has long been known for mandating minimum aging requirements for its various quality designations of wine, and many producers continue to keep their wares from market for even longer than legally necessary, holding them back until they are deemed ready to drink.  In the case of this bottle, the term “Crianza” is a designation that in Rioja requires wines to be aged for a minimum of 24 months before release, at least 12 of which have to be in oak barrels.  The LAN Crianza spent exactly that long in a blend of French and American oak barrels.  Normally when people make such a statement, they mean that, after fermentation, part of the LAN wine went into French oak barrels and another part of it went into American oak barrels, with the two separately aged portions blended together after barrel aging.  Not so here:  in LAN’s case, EACH BARREL used to age its Crianza was made from a blend of French and American oak.  I would love to know the cooperage techniques necessary to make that happen, but I have never heard of anybody doing that before, and it is without question my favourite obscure fact about this bottle.

Unlike most renowned wine regions, which tend to produce wines of a single specific type, wines from Rioja come in both traditional and modern incarnations which can be strikingly different.  Traditional Rioja is like liquid history:  pre-aged in wood and bottle for many years before release, it comes out mellow, light and a touch faded, delicately suffused with layer after layer of earthy flavour.  Drinking it almost makes you feel like you’re sitting in a grand ancient library; it carries a quiet sense of contemplation and connection to the past that I haven’t found in many other wines.  Modern Rioja is more like what you would expect of today’s reds:  bigger, bolder, darker, and fruitier, but still with a strong link to its Old World soul.  Most bottles of Rioja can be pretty easily placed into one category or the other after a single glance or sip.  This is one of only a handful that I have come across that seemingly straddles both approaches without losing its own identity in the process.  It leans slightly more to the traditional side, but it is constructed in a way that modern audiences can still relate to, a winning combination if I’ve ever seen one.

Cork Rating: 9/10 (The best cork I’ve seen in ages — it’s the extra image on the top of the cork that takes it over the top. Bravo.)

By colour alone, it seemed to me like I was pouring this wine at just the right time.  The LAN Crianza was a medium garnet colour that seemed at once delicate and substantive, deep but not fully opaque at the core and thinning and turning to brick near the rim.  Its smooth nose was tinged with Port-like burnt sugar and coppery (intentional) oxidation highlights, as well as oak-induced notes of smoke and dark chocolate that infused themselves into a core of red fruit, roses and black tea.  The LAN was light on the tongue and had the delicate mouthfeel of a traditional Rioja, but with a bit more heft and verve on the midpalate, unleashing both fresh fruit (cherry, plum) and dried fruit (fig, raisin) flavours interwoven with a myriad of secondary notes brought about by barrel and bottle age:  iron, dust, earth, coffee and cedar.  Subtle but lingering acidity helped support the wine’s mellowed tannins and steer it into a deft, almost stately finish.

“Elegant” is the word I keep coming back to when I think back on this wine as a whole.  I adore this style of Rioja, which doesn’t fatigue the palate and always keeps you coming back to discover more flavours in the glass.  You simply don’t expect to find bottles like this for less than $20 in the store — I said in my last post that Spain was the value wine capital of the Old World, and this Crianza is a gorgeous proof of concept.  While it’s possible that the LAN could last for another 2-3 years, if you have a bottle there’s absolutely no reason to wait on it:  it’s drinking amazingly right now and is showing exactly why it has received so much acclaim.

91+ points

$15 to $20 CDN

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3 responses

22 10 2012
Gustoffer

Ok, you got me at grand ancient library, roses and black tea. That and the obscure barrel fact. (How do you find out these intriguing snippets?) And where does one purchase a bottle of the LAN in Calgary?

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22 10 2012
petervetsch

I can’t take credit for the barrel factoid — it’s written on the back label of the bottle. Still crazy though. You can look up which stores have brought in the LAN Crianza (and any other wine for sale in Alberta) on liquorconnect.com:

http://www.liquorconnect.com/Products/Pages/3210-00721949.aspx

According to the site, the LAN is available at Vine Arts, Willow Park, Bin 905, Zyn and others…that’s not a guarantee that it’s currently in stock, but it’s a start. If you track it down, let me know what you think! Cheers!

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24 10 2012
petervetsch

Hey, I followed up with the importer Christopher Stewart Wine & Spirits, and they told me that the LAN Crianza is currently available at: Vine Arts, Zyn, Silver Springs Liquor Store, Varsity Wine Merchants and Spyhill Liquor Store. Hope that helps!

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