Before I get into anything, can we all just take a second to look at that picture from Wine Folly?! This picture is looking over some vineyards in the Rioja (Ree-Oh-Ha) region in northern Spain. The red coloration is actually the color of the leaves on the vines in the fall. Yep...My world here in Nashville pales in comparison to that!
Ok, let's get into the good stuff here!
Incase you haven't picked it up yet, I'm mildly obsessed with Spanish, and Italian wines first and foremost. I will rarely turn down any wine, but those are my go-to wines. If you were to ask me what my true loves are in the wine world I would tell you this: "I love earthy, old world Spanish and Italian reds that stick with you and kind of make your teeth feel fuzzy." I love the idea of not just tasting the fruit in the wine, but the earth and soil that brought it into being. I love smelling a wine for the first time and being perplexed by new scents that help me travel to places I've never been to, if only in my mind.
One of the first wines I had that really made me stop and wonder "What is this succulent nectar of the gods?!" (Because, you know...I talk like that and stuff.) was a Spanish wine called Rio Madre.
Rio Madre is a really cool expression of a grape that we get hints of fairly often, but rarely in it's full glory like this. The grape is called Graciano (Grah-See-Ah-No) and, much like the Concejon that we saw in Pi, Graciano is a grape that produces very low yields and is typically just used as a blending grape. You will often times find small amounts of this grape blended with grapes like Tempranillo to add body, structure, perfume, and better aging potential. Because of it's slightly fickle nature, and generally low yields, this grape is susceptible to disease and rot, and so finding a wine like Rio Madre that is all Graciano is really a treat!
So, if it's so unstable, why is it around?
Well, that's simple, because it's delicious, and it's a true connection to the old world styles that we try to keep alive. But it doesn't exist without a lot of hard work. These grapes are hand harvested, and put into small baskets. They are then brought to small tables called "triage tables" where more people sort through the bunches, again, by hand, looking for any bruising or imperfections that could potentially taint the wine. Only the healthiest, ripest fruit makes the cut. From there Ana Escudero, the female winemaker whose family has been making wines in Rioja for generations, works her magic and turns those beautiful grapes into something you and I can get at our local wine store for around $10-15!
If it weren't for amazing winemakers like Ana, this grape may slip back into the annals of history. But thanks to Ana and a few others, Graciano is making a comeback, and I for one love it!
Ok, ok, but what's it like??
I want you to picture walking down a dusty road in the Spanish countryside. If you need to pull up google for some inspiration feel free. On either side of you there are fields that stretch on for miles. It seems like the only thing containing these seas of grass and vineyards is the mountains in the distance, but even those are struggling to contain it. A breeze blows in and it smells ancient. Like that same wind has been circling the globe for centuries, and every now and then it brings you the scent of those who have passed a long time ago.
As you kick up the dust on the road I want you to picture how many legions of Spanish, or Roman soldiers have kicked up that same dust. Maybe you hear sheep or cattle in the distance. You keep walking down that road, with the sun blazing hot on your back, an ocean of blue sky above you, and the rich coffee colored dust starting to coat your shoes. You approach a small castle (because Europe is awesome and just has those things scattered around.) Outside the walls of this castle is a rustic, old wooden table with two chairs, and on it sits a bottle of wine with two glasses. You and your companion sit down and rest your feet and start to uncork the bottle. As you pour it into your partner's glass you take in the rich, dark color of this wine. The complex aromas of spice, cedar, and black current swirl into your nostrils, carried by that same ancient wind.
You pour your own glass and breath it in. As the wine spills across your tongue, you taste the beauty and history you just walked through to get there.
Now I realize that's a pretty picture, and it sounds all well and good but what does it really mean to taste "ancient winds, and the dust of centuries?" Like I said before, this wine is deep and rich. It's color is a heavy, dark crimson. It's a medium-full bodied wine, but still very drinkable on it's own, or at least I think so, but that's not saying much. I'll drink pretty much anything on it's own! When I say that this wine is "earthy" I truly mean that. Not that it just tastes like dirt, but there is a distinct "dirtiness" that is inherent to most old world wines. It's hard to describe, so I recommend you going out and just trying it for yourself. It's flavor is bursting with dark plum, and current. Red cherries, and a woody spice flow nicely through it, and it finishes with a nice, peppery, woody spice and strong tannins that (like I love so much) kind of leave your teeth feeling just a little bit fuzzy.
Now, I've never been to Spain, but I still feel like I get a taste of it every time I pop a bottle of this! So head to your local wine shop and pick up a bottle of Rio Madre, and I'll see you in Spain! Drink on!
(You know I had to throw some movie reference in here somewhere right?!)