Cumbrero, 1982. White Rioja, Bodegas Montecillo | Vintage Wine History and Information

by Paul Kalemkiarian Sr | September 1984

Rioja is best known for its red wines. It competes with sherry as the premier wine of Spain. Not really a fair comparison because of their totally different style and usage.

White wine from Rioja is another matter. It is not as well known, and often has not been found to be to our tastes. Time after time, at a trade tasting, I would turn away from a white Rioja and blame the importer or wholesaler for showing old wine. The wines seemed like they had traveled poorly, and were not holding up to the warehousing. I would chalk up the poor showing to inability of the wine to take the rigors of vibration and temperatures of shipping.

In March of this year, I decided to find out for myself. My main objective was to study sherry in Jerez, Spain. While doing that, I decided to review the Rioja drinking habits of the Spaniard. I inspected and tasted all the white Rioja wines I could at restaurants and wine shops in southern Spain and Madrid. Amazing… they were somewhat similar to what I had experienced here. Austere, somewhat oxidized, and sometimes even maderized. Not really much of a style that we Americans like in white wine.

Two months ago, I was shown the white wine that the people at Bodegas Montecillo are making. Significantly different. A depar­ture from the norm. Maybe an attempt to modify and to appeal to the export market and its demands.

You will recall that we had a glorious red, aged, Rioja Gran Reserva, by Bodegas Montecillo in February. They are an old line winery in Fuenmayor, in the heart of the Rioja region, directly north of Madrid. They are owned by the well known Osborne firm who are famous for their sherry and brandy. It seems management has chosen to introduce a new generation of Rioja white wines. Using modern temperature controlled fermentation technics, they have achieved lighter, fresher, fruitier wines, for their Cumbrero line.

The two grapes used in this white Rioja are Malvasia and Viura. The first imparts “fresh grace” according to the winemaker, and the second contributes to flavor and acidity. This is one example of the new wave of white Riojas. There are other white grapes, mainly native ones, growing in the Rioja region, and other Bodegas are making their new contributions.

Our wine is golden yellow in color. The aroma has a freshness to it, yet with character. It is not identifiable with our malvasias. On the crisp side. The taste is medium bodied, dry but mellow, with green apples as an overtone. It finishes with a pleasant tart acidity. Serve chilled as an aperitif wine, with seafood tapas (Spanish hors d’oeuvres), smoked salmon; or with a fish course. It went just outstanding with a thrasher shark filet I had recently. Will go well with halibut.

Cellaring Notes: I think this wine is at its peak. Drink during 1984/85.

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