EWBC but we really packed a lot into the 2 1/2 days we were in Rioja. I can only imagine what the US Winebloggers Conference is going to be like in Sonoma, CA - which I will be flying back to the West Coast to attend in Oct.
The last day of the conference was devoted to visiting wineries, Marques de Risquel - which I will blog about later, Bodegas Bilbainas - where we had our last lunch, and Miguel Merino Bodegas, a small winery smack in the middle of Briones.
Briones is a quaintly medieval town set up on a hilltop. Historically, the grapes from the area were sent to wineries in Haro to be used in the best reserva wines. Miguel Merino, along with a few other boutique wineries, decided to set up shop here and take advantage of the excellent viticultural conditions surrounding the town. Although the winery is one of the youngest and smallest in Rioja, what it lacks in size it more then makes up for in quality.
Miguel himself is quite a character. He regaled us with a story about his sorting table - of all things! During the harvest the workers use a mechanical sorting table to pick out the best grapes as they pass by. There are baskets at the feet of the workers, one on each side, where they throw out the grapes deemed unworthy. One basket is called "purgatory" and the other "hell". The "purgatory" grapes get made into wine for family and friends. The "hell" grapes get picked up by a local farmer each day who feeds them to his cows. Miguel says the cows are known locally for being particulary disagreeable, breaking out of their enclosures and causing general havoc, but he doesn't think it has anything to do with his "hell" grapes.
We sampled 3 of his wines, the '99 Gran Reserva, '01 Reserva and the Unum '02 which his son makes. The '99 Gran Reserva (96% tempranillo, 4% graciano) was from a hard year and Miguel had to work quite hard to coax a good wine out of the harvest but he managed to produce a well made, nicely balanced wine. Softly perfumed with aromas of plum, cherry, toast and spice while the palate was again a nice balance of tannins and fruit with a lovely, long blend of plums, red cherry, toast, and tobacco on the palate. Even though it was almost 10 years old, it still had plenty of raciness about it with bouncing acidity keeping it from flagging down the homestretch, so to speak.
The '01 Reserva (95%tempranillo, 5%graciano)was my favourite of the 3. Ruby red in colour with pleasing aromas of sweet spice, oak and a savoury quality detectable underneath it all. A medium bodied wine with not quite round tannins (maybe oval?)that still had a bit of kick to them. I found plenty of cherry, red fruits, tobacco, sweet spice (I'm thinking maybe even allspice) and a warm toastiness to palate. Lipsmackinly good. I bought a couple of bottles to take home and had one the other night with dinner. Let me tell you, this is a wine that definitely loves to travel, no worries there.
The last one, the '02 Unnum is a wine made by Miguel's son. Made from 100% tempranillo, this wine was a bit different in character to the previous two. An oaky, toasty, almost toffee-ish nose with cooked black fruits in the background. The palate had mouthcoating tannins but was elegantly structured with a long black fruit finish. A big wine that needs a big steak to go along with it.
I found Miguel and his wines made for an engaging visit and hope to visit them again sometime in the near future. Miguel's wines are not that easy to find in the UK but they are available from online retailer ExcelWines.com