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