IS RIOJA THE BEST PREMIUM WINE VALUE IN THE WORLD?
by Andrew Chalk
The winemaker of Beronia, Matias Calleja, came to town recently and like a great college lecturer made me see what had been hard, as blindingly obvious. The price of premium Rioja is at or less than the entry price into Napa Cabernet Sauvignon or Bordeaux claret. Case in point, Beronia 2009 Rioja Gran Reserva, $30 (SRP). It really is as astonishing as it sounds, as this wine wears its near decade of age like an anointing crown. The nose is powerful and complex with earthy and wood notes. The slippery texture and vanillin in the nose are a giveaway that this wine was aged in French oak, rather than the American oak more widespread in Rioja. The mouthfilling structure is a giveaway that this wine will continue to improve for maybe a decade although it is delicious now with red meat, especially lamb, a staple of Rioja cuisine. Steak houses would be well advised to offer it as a budget alternative to three-digit Cabernet Sauvignons.
Also of note, although not scaling the exalted heights of the Gran Reserva, is the Beronia 2013 Rioja Reserva, $20 (SRP). The Reserva wines see maybe not as select lots of grapes as Gran Reserva wine. They are also aged for less time. This one saw 20 months in wood vs. 28 months for the aforementioned Gran Reserva. Interestingly, the wood is ‘mixed’ with the use of American oak staves and French oak tops. I asked the obvious question: why not age for part of the time in American oak barrels and part of the time in French oak barrels? That would be less expensive and would it not have the same results? Calleja says not. He thinks mixed oak barrels produce better integration of oak and wine. He started doing this and there are signs it may be catching on.
Comparing the Gran Reserva and the Reserva. I personally love great Rioja so much that I would go with it, even to buying less often in order to pay the 50% price premium. I know of no other red wine category globally where the combination of the level of complexity and maturity in the 2009 Gran Reserva is available at a comparable price.
As a range expansion, Beronia invested in a property in Rueda to add a white wine to their lineup. The current vintage, a 2017 Rueda $13 (SRP) made from Verdejo is a bright accompaniment to a wide range of food where you might be predisposed to serve a Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay. Again, great value.
Beronia wines are under the Gonzalez Byass corporate ownership so are widely available in the U.S.
By Andrew Chalk
July 6, 2018
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