Import Selection: Rioja, 1985, Federico Paternina

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

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