Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Vertical Tastings

Attending wine tastings is possibly one of my favorite things in the whole world, and I always make sure to attend as many invitations to wine events as my schedule allows. However, not all wine tastings are created equal, as there are different kinds of wine tastings. There is the horizontal tasting, which basically consists of tasting wines from the same region from the same vintage, these tastings help you to compare what wineries made on a particular year; there is what is known as a Vertical Tasting, which consists of tasting different vintages of the same wine to be able to assess how the wines have aged through the years, and finally, there is your typical tasting where you taste new wine releases from different producers and regions, which can be thematic or not. Of all these three, Vertical Tastings are the cream of the crop, since  producers usually open up bottles that are no longer sold in the market or are available in very limited quantities, some only via wine auctions. 

Last month, I was lucky enough to be invited to two wonderful vertical tastings of wines from Rioja, a vertical tasting of Bodega Montecillo Gran Reservas and a vertical tasting of Rioja Alta Viña Ardanza Reservas. Before, letting you know my favorites, I think it’s important to say a few things about Vertical Tastings, as not only ageability is assessed during a Vertical Tasting, but most important are the effects that time has on the different wine elements, including tannins, that usually become smoother with time; on the fruit, which may fade or not; or on the aromas and how a wine that tasted fruitier upon release develops a delicious aged bouquet of leather, ink, meat, forest floor, spice, mushroom, garrigue herbs and many other descriptors used to express their complex, layered and truly incredible aromatics.

A Vertical Tasting will also help you assess global climate change and how it has affected a particular region. In my case, I was able to see how Rioja wines from 30 years ago, have less alcohol and more pronounced acidity than most recent vintages. A Vertical Tasting will allow you to see and compare side to side the differences between the vintages, the differences in winemaking, as winemakers continue to experiment year after year in an effort to surprise us, this may include changing blends or percentages of grape varieties in a blend, changing types of oak, as producers choose to experiment with French, American or a blend of both, therefore enhancing a wine’s flavor profile.
Once again, acidity and tannins are extremely important, as they will provide wines with the structure and support they need to age and improve through the years. As I tasted bottles from 1973, 1982, 1994, 2001 and 2016, I discovered that even the older vintages had a lot of lively fruit, freshness and elegance, allowing me to assume that some of these bottles will continue to improve with further aging.

My wine recommendations:

From Bodegas Montecillo, I tasted a selection of fine Gran Reservas that included these vintages: 1970,1973, 1982, 1985,1994, 2001 and 2005 (which was the special 150th anniversary edition). Of all of these, I truly loved the 1973, a blend of 70% Tempranillo, 15% Garnacha and 15% Mazuelo, that features ripe red cherry and cranberry notes meshed with leather and mineral hints. The 1994 was made from a 100% Tempranillo, which reminded me of the many wines I tasted in the early 2000s, still very fruit forward, it has a ripe and powerful blackberry nose, complemented by delicious balsamic and herbal notes, yet my favorite of the line up was the 2001 vintage, by far the best Rioja vintage in years, also made from 100% Tempranillo and showcasing ripe black fruits: blueberry and blackberry, tobacco and licorice notes. A very intense and concentrated 22 year old wine!

From Rioja Alta, I tasted a fine selection of their top Reserva Viña Ardanza, including the following vintages: 1989, 1994, 2001, 2004, 2008 and 2016, which is their latest release. My favorites again were the 1994, a blend of 75% Tempranillo with 25% Garnacha, showing black cherry, dark plums with cedar and bark notes, the 2001, which is a blend of 80% Tempranillo with 20% Garnacha, was powerful and layered, featuring delicious ripe blackberry, vanilla cream and allspice notes and the 2016, their latest release, a blend of 80% Tempranillo and 20% Garnacha, featuring a perfumed floral nose (rose) with raspberry preserves and clotted cream notes. Rioja Alta is a producer well known for making classic and super elegant wines, and elegance and balance shone through the whole line up. 

Current releases of these two wines have a suggested retail price between $40-50. Older vintages, if you find them, can cost up to $200, for sure a treat we can give ourselves occasionally. Until next one! Cheers, Silvina.

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