During the 1880’s a vine plague, the root burrowing phylloxera vastratrix, spawned a mass exodus of several hundred French families from Bordeaux due south 150 miles to Spain’s uninfected Ebro Valley. An unprecedented surge in Spanish wine production ensued. The Rioja vine growing region got its name from a small tributary called Rio Oja of the River Ebro.
In the late 1890’s, Frederico Paternina, son of a Spanish wine making nobleman, began his own wine making career in a grand manner. He took over not one, not two, but three already well-equipped “bodegas” (wineries). These bodegas were ideally situated between Haro and Logrono, then and now the main centers of the Rioja wine trade. Federico’s wines gained an extraordinary reputation eventually becoming known as Ernest Hemingway’s hands-down favorite. The Paternina firm has changed hands three times since Federico’s day, yet it still ranks with the very best of Rioja’s 50 or so currently operating bodegas.
Much of this outstanding quality may well be attributable to the superior character of the Tempranillo grape, the mainstay of most of Spain’s best reds. Some contend that it is of French ancestry; a type of Pinot Noir brought in by French monks during a medieval pilgramage. Others think that they detect the characteristics of Bordeaux’ Cabernet Sauvignon in a good Rioja. Nevertheless, Tempranillo clearly demonstrates and deserves its status as a “noble” grape. Joined here by a local variety “Mazuelo” (contributing desirable tannins) and the acknowledgedly French emmigre’ “Garnacho” (Grenache adds depth of fruit), the threesome form Paternina’s traditional Banda Azul Rioja blend.
This wine has quite a mature color, a clear medium dark rusty red. The bouquet is laced with scents of cedar, spice, and tobacco leaf. Heaps of vanilla from the extra long oak ageing is evident. Mouthfilling without being heavy, it enters quite tart, yet is very smooth and balanced on the palate. Offering warm earthy flavors and a long, dry, lingering finish reminiscent of rose petals.
Serve at room temperature to accompany grilled calves’ liver, pork chops; or a Spanish style (with tomatoes, olives, capers, and cummin) chicken stew.
Cellaring Notes: At its peak now, yet balanced enough to maintain life for 2 to 3 years.
Reviewed by Larry Tepper