So…you want to taste the wine?

It’s Wednesday, and I’m eager to get out of the city and out in to the countryside to explore. Today, we were going to the small hilltown of Briones, which is about 30 minutes north of Lagroño, where we were staying.

Bodegas Miguel Merino is a small, family run winery (and vineyard, and cellar) located in Briones, a small hilltown about 30 minutes north of Lagroño, Spain. It produces about 40,000 bottles a year, which – apparently – by Rioja standards is small! I guess California has some math to work on in that department. Even though it seems like a lot of bottles, it’s really quite a small winery and everyone is family or friends so it gives the feeling of the most welcoming small winery.

Miguel Merino does things differently, and I like it. All of the wines are produced from vineyards that were planted between 1931 and 1973, on over 11 hectares (about 27 acres).

Being in La Rioja, most of the grapes are Tempranillo, but there is a touch of Graciano planted as well which is used for blending with the Tempranillo. All of the grapes are hand harvested in small boxes, and brought to the winery, to prevent damage to the fruit, where it is hand sorted.

Jose S. Vergara, our guide and chief dude, likes to run things opposite to mainstream way of running wine operations in a very staid industry. Wines are aged until they are ready – adn that is decided by tasting and smelling, not by a number on the bottle or in a bank account.

One interesting thing that Miguel Merino does is that they use combination barrels that are made of American Oak staves, with French oak tops and bottoms. This gives the flavor of each, without the overwhelming characther of either. Traditionally, Rioja wine is aged in America oak, but they also use some Hungarian for variety. Josè also told us that they top their barrels every month, something that was very uncommon in Rioja but is becoming more popular.

We were lucky enough to get a private tour through the “bottle cemetery” or aging room, where we saw some very old and very large bottles that were sleeping, waiting for the right moment to be released.

Now, on to the important bit – the wine! I liked all of the wines here so much, we ended up taking some on the road. First up we tasted the 2007 Viñas Jóvenes, a 100% Tempranillo. I found lots of minerals and river rocks, which is not surprising given that they mine iron and chalk from the hillsides here. I also tasted olives, dried plums, red fruit, chewy leather, tobacco and dried cherries. It finished with some herbs and black pepper.

Next, we tasted the 2009 Mazuelo de la Quinta (a quinta is a vineyard) Cruz. Mazuelo is very unusual for Rioja, and this wine is special because it is also single vineyard. This is the same grape as Carignane, but tastes completely different than what you or I would expect out of a Carignane. It was elegant, refined, and delicious! There were blueberries, loganberries, juicy red fruits, cranberries, and baking specs hiding in there. With only 3000 bottles made, it’s going to be hard to find but was really lovely.

The 2005 Riserva had smokey dark red fruit with a touch of fig, juicy plums, dried cherries, more leather and tobacco, and lots of tannin. It was a baby, and really needs more time in the bottle to be fully appreciated but you can see the potential.

Last but not least, the 2008 Unnum was not yet released. It is also 100% Tempranillo, but is completely different than the others. It comes from 3 vineyard sites, planted between 1931 and 1946, a

nd is the best of the best. It’s aged 10 months in 85% new French& 15% new American oak, and then bottles. It was very meaty, tasting of stewed fruit, dark red fruit, peppercorns, and was quite herbacious. It was still tight and tannic but was really coming in to its own.

All of these wines were delightful, and Jose was an excellent host. I highly recommend you seek out the Bodega Miguel Merin

o if you are in Rioja, and if you are not – look for the wines in your local market! They are worth every penny and sip you can find.

By the way, I’m working on WordPress on my iPad and there are some bugs to iron out so…please bear with me!

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