Import Selection: Rioja, 1986. Bodegas Montecillo

In 1874 the Navajas family founded the Bodegas Montecillo winery in the Alavesa district near the Rio Oja (“Oja River”), name­sake of what has become Spain’s most acclaimed wine producing re­gion. Montecillo was one of the pi­oneering wineries which adapted French (Bordeaux) wine-making techniques to Spanish grapes last century and in so doing created a world-class wine, “Rioja”.

One hundred years later, Spain’s giant brandy and sherry producer, Osborne, purchased Bodegas Montecillo and, vowing to maintain the standard of excel­lence, built a state-of-the-art new winery there. The old facility stands as a continuing reminder of Rioja’s great heritage and is used for ageing the 225,000 cases pro­duced annually.

In 1977 Montecillo’s new di­rectors took a dramatic plunge: they sold off all their vineyards. This system affords Montecillo a distinct advantage over bodegas (“storehouses”) which grow their own grapes. Honoring their quali­ty-first philosophy, they now vin­ify grapes purchased solely from the supeior Rioja Alta zone. Deali­ng with more than 200 small farmers in the district, the bodega can cherry-pick in average years, and buy as much as possible in great years.

Rioja red wines are the main-stay of the industry and the basis for its fame. Produced principally from a local variety of grape (the”Tempranillo”) which thrives in this high, cold, upland country, these wines are on the whole light­er, lower in alcohol and dryer than those of Bordeaux, to which they nevertheless bear a notable resem­blance. Traditionally aged from one to five years in oak and then given additional bottle age before release, red Riojas often represent some of the very best values to be found in nicely aged, serious red wine.

The 1986 “Cumbrero” offers through and through an attractive medium-deep garnet color. A nose markedly scented with cherry/ raspberry fruit of almost incense-like intensity is set off by pleasant vanilla (oak) accents. With typi­cally high acidity, it is medium-bodied yet mouth-filling, fairly smooth and very dry. There’s a pleasant woody, cedary taste with a hint of raisin. Fruity / woody fla­vors linger in a clean, dry finish.

Serve at room temperature with chicken livers and mushrooms in a port or madeira sauce or with a N.Y. steak, sauce Bordelaise.

Cellaring Notes: It should mel­low for 3 to 5 more years.

Reviewed by Larry Tepper

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