Liam Campbell: raising rioja
Family is at the heart of many Mediterranean countries, not least Spain. However, the nurturing of the young is not reserved for children alone. In northern Spain's Rioja region, the practice of aging a red wine for a minimum of a year and a half between barrel and bottle is called Crianza, the same term used to describe the raising of a family.
Developing a wine for six to 12 months in a barrel allows it to breathe through the wood's pores and evolve character while extracting some of the oak's vanillin and spicy aromas and flavours. Further resting in bottle allows the oaky spice to marry with the wine's fruit, acidity and tannin and meld into a harmonious whole. These sleeping beauties are raised at the winemaker's own expense in the ideal conditions of the bodega's cool and dark wine cellar. Made principally from Tempranillo, which is all about balance between medium-bodied alcohol, blackberry fruity flavours and moderate tannin and acidity, sometimes a little Garnacha is added to give weight and strawberry fruitiness, and Graciano for polish and style.
The perfect match for an Easter dinner of slices of jamón and chorizo, slow-cooked tenderising beef dishes, roast herby chicken or garlicky lamb, baked peppers and tomatoes stuffed with savoury rice, and finishing with Manchego cheese.
1) Rioja Crianza 2012, Ramón Bilbao 13.5pc
Vanilla pod and savoury meaty scents. Intensely flavoured with Tempranillo's blackberry fruity character enriched by the oak barrels' vanilla spice and supported by firm tannins.
€16.95 in Dublin at searsons.com, Searson's, Monkstown; Donnybrook Fair, Kelly's Wine Vault in Clontarf, The Parting Glass in Enniskerry and 1601 Kinsale.
2) Crianza 2012, Sancho Garcés 14pc
Benchmark Rioja with its velvet smooth texture and highlighted by liquorice and vanilla from a year's aging in American oak barrels and six months to marry in bottle.
€11.49 at Molloy's Liquor Stores, Dublin citywide.
3) Crianza 2012, Lahoja 13.5pc
The earthy bouquet is contrasted by a blackberry and black pepper spicy palate.
€14.99 at Red Nose Wine, Clonmel, rednosewine.com, and Curious Wines, Cork and Naas, curiouswines.ie
4) Crianza 2011, Viña Constantina 13.5pc
Vanilla perfume wafts through the purple liquid robed in crushed velvet. Wine and wood beautifully balanced with effortless ease.
€15.85 at Wines Direct Shop, Mullingar, winesdirect.ie
5) Crianza 2011, Ijalba (Organic) 14pc
A classy and concentrated black fruity palate from organically grown grapes is underpinned by a peppery spice.
€16.50 at The Grapevine, Glasnevin; O'Leary's, Cootehill; Brown's Vineyard, Portlaoise; Hole in the Wall, Phoenix Park; Quintessential Wines, Drogheda, quintessentialwines.ie
Wet your lips at the inaugural Spanish Wine Week around Ireland, April 11 to 17. Organised by Wines from Spain's Irish office, it will provide a thoroughly engaging programme to educate, inspire and impress with the impressive variety and diversity of Spain's winemaking regions, grapes, flavours and style. A su salud - sláinte!
See: winesfromspaininireland.wordpress.com for details.