It’s no accident that the Rioja region in northern Spain is home to some of the world’s greatest red wines. For starters, the zone is snugged up against mountains that offer protection from wind and rain. Next, the wines are based on the Tempranillo grape. This varietal yields medium-weight reds with unique raspberry, cherry and other characters. The wines get longevity and structure from other varieties like Mazuelo and Graciano, with early fruit from Garnacha. Icing the cake, the region has three zones (Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Baja), each with a distinct climate, topographical features and soil types. The diversity makes a wide variety of styles possible.
Riojan reds are almost always aged in small new American oak casks which impart strong plank, vanilla and spice characters that get delightfully dusty with age–and age is one thing red Riojas do extremely well. Wines classified as Gran Reserva are required to spend at least three years in oak and a further two in bottle. Reservas require two years in oak and one in bottle. These limits are often exceeded.
Bodegas Franco-Españolas, one of the oldest and most respected wineries in Spain, was founded in Logrono, Rioja in 1890 in the aftermath of the devastating epidemic of Phylloxera in France. Immigrants from Bordeaux brought their know-how with them, establishing a firm that has survived the tumult of the twentieth century and a series of owners. Today, one of their principal brands is Rioja Bordón.
In October, Bordón’s export director Juan Carlos Llopart and Barry Brown, Canada’s foremost authority on Spanish wine, presented a tasting of Bordón gran reserva and reserva wines at Toronto’s National Club. They validated the house’s reputation for delicious good-value wines. Two of them are currently in the market and are worth buying to go with your autumnal roast meats.
Rioja Bordón Gran Reserva 2005 ($22.95, score 90+) is a limpid black cherry-coloured wine with sweet spicy dusty notes. The American oak is youthfully intense. On the palate the sweetly ripe black cherry huckleberry fruit is polished with fine tannins and fresh acidity for structure. The finish is mouth-watering, well-fruited and long.
Rioja Bordón Reserva 2008 ($18.95, score 90) sports a harmonious dusty nose with black fruit and an oak note. It has grippy velvet tannins, mouth-watering black berry fruit, fresh acidity and a long intensely fruited finish.
We also tasted some older vintages of Bordon Gran Reserva to see how the wine ages. In short, it matures beautifully. Here are my notes on some doozies:
Rioja Bordón Gran Reserva 1982 (score 91) has faded to a medium pale with a bewitching nose of fresh and dried blackberries and cherries married to complex sweet spicy oak, dust, ancient plank, acacia, cumin, leather and raisings. In the mouth it offers fine ripe grippy tannin, good ripe fruit, fresh acidity, all those grace notes from the aroma, and a very long drying finish. To be consumed by midnight and enjoyed.
Rioja Bordón Gran Reserva 1985 (score 91+) was medium deep dark garnet ruby. The nose was intense and dusty (the evolved version of American oak) with fresh and dried black cherry and blackberry fruit with acacia, fig, sweet spice, leather, blueberry, mineral and cocoa notes (the evolved version of red Rioja.) The tannins are velvety and the acidity fresh with aromas repeated on the palate. It’s less enchanting but fruitier than the ’82.
Rioja Bordón Gran Reserva 1994 (score 92) is brightly fruity with black berry, cherry and huckleberry aromas dancing divinely with sweet spice, leather, dust and sandalwood notes. It has dense velvet grip and deep spice-nuanced fruit through a grippy finish. It’s perfect now but will age and improve over five to ten years.
Rioja Bordón Gran Reserva 1995 (score 90+) had a nose of sweet ripe fresh and dried blackberry and black raspberry fruit, pungent coffee beans, dust and sweet spicy oak. It’s elegant and lighter than the ’94 with good fruit, firm ripe tannins, fresh acidity and good length.
Rioja Bordón Gran Reserva 2001 (score 92) features intense rich ripe black fruit with sweet spicy vanilla and sandalwood aromas. In the mouth it’s ultra-rich and ripely fruity, mouthwatering, with nuanced spice. The finish is sweetly ripe and long, deeply fruited with gentle grip and an oak note.
Rioja Bordón Gran Reserva 2005 (score 90+) is still a black cherry ruby colour. The powerful nose sports with slightly awkward sweet spicy dusty youthful oak. Sweetly ripe black cherry and huckleberry fruit are polished and well-presented. It’s grippy velvet in the mouth with deep sweet fruit and spice notes through a mouthwatering long well-fruited finish.