Posted by: tomciocco | August 11, 2013

THE LIGHTER SIDE OF…RIOJA

The name “Rioja” in most folks’ minds I’d wager first conjures the words “wine”, then most likely “Spain” and then probably “red”, and that’s probably the way it should be. The Rioja region in northern Spain is known for other things, but red wines -typically made from, in order of prevalence, Tempranillo, Garnacha, Mazuelo, and Graciano still retain pole position. Lately, regulations have been eased allowing red Rioja to be made exclusively from Tempranillo, but some combination of Tempranillo and the other three varieties still remains the norm.

With so much of Rioja’s fame and history bound up in its world-class blended reds, it’s no wonder that its blended whites get very little attention, but that should change. This particular white Rioja is made from 60% Viura, 20% Malvasia, and 20% Tempranillo Blanco. Viura usually dominates most white Rioja blends, and in addition to the three varieties that make up this cuvee`, wines may also include Garnacha Blanca, Maturana Blanca, Turruntes, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Verdejo, but back to the three grapes in this wine…

Viura is one of the most profusely planted grapes in all of Spain, and that is not primarily due to its use in Rioja, but rather its central role in the production of the river of Cava wine made in Catalunya, but under the name Macabeo. Malvasia’s origins are extremely ancient and they lie in Greece, but it might be said that Malvasia was the original “International” variety since it grows in nearly every country that touches the Mediterranean Sea, and  in the form of a score or more pretty widely divergent sub-varieties. And not surprisingly, Tempranillo Blanco is just what its name says it is – a white mutation of the great red Tempranillo, but with a fascinating twist – every single Tempranillo Blanco vine is derived from a single vine found in a Rioja vineyard in 1988. All three of these varieties are know for their unique aromas, and though Macabeo and Malvasia can be a bit acid-shy, Tempranillo Blanco has plenty, and the high altitudes typical of Rioja vineyards planted to white grapes helps to make all of these fairly roundly-textured varieties brighter and “crunchier” in the glass, just like its more celebrated red namesake.

To go with this very charming white, I made rolls of smoked salmon stuffed with pureed potatoes, scallions, green olives and parsley, and then a main course of chicken parts stewed with yellow, orange, and green peppers, onions, dried apricots, thyme, bay leaf, white wine, with a picada of almonds, raw garlic, toasted bread and parsley added to the mix 5 minutes before going to the table. White rice.

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Bodegas Vivanco Rioja Blanco 2012

Slightly greenish yellow/gold color. The nose is redolent of toasted almond, white flowers, lemon peel, gooseberry, peach, kerosene, and a hint of sandalwood. The palate of the wine is medium-full, round and soft, but still crisp and fresh with a strong minerally vein and clean flavors of pear, grapefruit, white currants, grass, and hints of oatmeal. Very good length. 

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