Part of a mixed bag of wines recently purchased from Eurocentric. This wine is made from Monastel de Rioja which, as far as I can make out, is a native variety of Rioja planted in relatively small quantities and allowed as part of the region’s red wines only as of 2007 (according to this press release, anyway). Juan Carlos Sancha has grown these Riojan bundles of joy organically which, as we know, must mean the wine is good. Promisingly, it’s sealed under Diam; of late, anything not sealed under cork instantly lowers my level of anxiety.
Colour is quite striking – deep red, dense, serious. Aromatically, the wine is fairly challenging, as it expresses a particular note that reads to me as slightly swampy. I must admit, it’s not an appealing aroma to me; for the purpose of description, it’s similar to the faux-bretty smell that Mataro sometimes gives off; that is, savoury, meaty and altogether angular. With air, I’m making more sense of this note in the context of the aroma as a whole, which is richly fruited and dark, with a hint of coffee grounds bringing up the rear.
The palate is satisfyingly flavoursome, and one could never accuse this wine of lacking intensity. At the same time, there’s an ease to its expression that belies its dark, serious flavour profile, and I rather like the tension between these two things. Black cherries, dark chocolate and mulch collide with a net of tannin that descends through the mid-palate. This is firmly structured, to be sure, yet it’s not without balance. It’s simply a big wine. Fresh fruit drives through the after palate even as tannin constricts its expression somewhat and keeps it in line. A decent finish rounds things off, as does a lick of vanilla.
There’s a lot to like here and the wine is nothing if not characterful. Might go down well with lovers of “big red wines” who are open to some different flavour profiles.
Bodegas Juan Carlos Sancha
Finally, here’s the second part of my tasting notes for tonight. It took me a few minutes to decide what to do with the Campo Viejo Crianza 2006 – at first, I thought I could merely cork the bottle, sit it outside on the sidewalk, and – to paraphrase Mao – let a thousand unintended pregnancies bloom, but that would of course have been grossly irresponsible of me. Down the sink it went; yes, I did recycle.Now, on to this wine. My first thought on opening the bottle was simple “Oh, wait, this is a real wine.” I know, how haughty of me, but really: this didn’t smell of simple berries and fruit. This wine smells of, well, wine. There’s almost a hazelnut or roasted-coffee-biscotti note around the edge of it; it seems clear to me that this wine has seen a fair whack of oak. There’s also a lingering hint of some of the same vanilla berry notes from the regular version of the wine, but in a very tastefully restrained manner: it’s the difference between Versailles before and after Jeff Koons. What it really smells like, though, is proper Rioja: this reminds me of random bottles of Spanish wines happily drunk on holiday in Madrid with friends a few years back. What fruit there is is fastidiously framed by a hint of sourness, appetizing woody-coffee notes, and a sense of place. In short, whatever went missing from the crianza is here in the reserva.Taste-wise, there’s a brief, soft opening of gentle fruit that fairly rapidly fans out into an elegant, lacy interplay between reasonable, appetizing acidity, something like gentle earth, restrained berry fruits, soft vanillic effects, and then it all rides out quietly on somber, toasty oak. It’s the acidity that really ties the glass together, though; without it, this would be too soft, too easy. The overall effect is of eating delicious cake with a short espresso, I reckon; you get both the vanilla cherry pie and the upright tannins – but not too much, because then this wine wouldn’t really be Spanish.The most impressive thing here is to me the remarkable lightness of this wine. Compare to New World wines, this just doesn’t go as far down the tonal register, which makes it a refreshing change from the usual. This also means (I think) that this is another one to pair with sausages or grilled meats: it would work wonders. For me, it’s doing just fine with simple spaghetti bolognese, but it could have been so much more.Finally, I feel compelled to publicly wonder about something that utterly baffles me: this wine is selling for just $10 at The Wine Exchange in Orange, California. How can this be? If the cheap version of this is $9, why is this only a buck more and – more interestingly – why is it so much better?Disclaimer: I didn’t spend my own money on this bottle, but I also didn’t agree to anything.Campo Viejo