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Miguel Merino getting animatedI have delayed writing posts about the wonderful visit we had to Rioja back in August for the European Wine Bloggers’ Conference, but there are plenty great experiences I want to share with you.

The first one would be our all too brief visit to the most welcoming and personable Mr Miguel Merino‘s cellar in the picturesque village of Briones. This is the same town that also is home to Dinastia Vivanco‘s winery, and despite being so tiny, it has several top producers (Dinastia Vivanco, Miguel Merino, Finca Allende) because of its highly regarded local microclimate, especially for the production of Tempranillo.

Our visit to Miguel’s eponymous winery was on the third day of the conference, and therefore a Sunday. Despite this, Miguel was very welcoming when around 30 of us descended on his small winery on the little road leading into town. The schedule gave us around an hour and a half, which isn’t long when you have a fascinating story to listen to.

If you have not yet had any of his wines, I must say I recommend that you seek them out. Production here is not very large. I didn’t get a figure for the number of bottles, but this is ‘artisan’ winemaking, with small tanks (which he has to heat or cool personally by hosing down home-made blankets that cover the tanks), a all-hands-on-deck approach and a true commitment to quality. Miguel himself is relatively new to winemaking having had a career selling it for many years, but the urge to make wine finally took hold and I’m very glad it did.

We had a brief tour of the winery, and listened to his philosophy of Heaven, Hell & Purgatory (his categorisation for the grapes that are hand sorted as they come in to the winery – I leave this to your imagination, but you can read another participants’ account here), but he spent much more time in the barrel cellar and the tasting, after all the wine itself is proof enough of the quality of his operation.

We tasted three wines together and I’ve included my notes below. If you are planning to be in the area, please do get in touch with him and book a visit (this is a small, family winery so they need to know you are coming). If you can’t, do try and find these wines wherever you are. They are not cheap, but the best hand made wines never will be, and these are the kind of wines that keep Rioja at the very top of the list of top wine regions in the world.

Miguel Merino Gran Reserva is very photegenic

More Rioja winery experience coming very soon!

Miguel Merino Rioja Gran Reserva 1999
96% Tempranillo, 4% Graciano & Mazuelo
“Warm, cherry, balsamic, spice and mulberry fruit on the nose. The palate is delicate, with tons of acidity and a lovely length. Lighter body, and nicely ‘typical’ of a Gran Reserva wine, in a more modern/clean version.”
Miguel Merino Rioja Reserva 2001 (pre-release tasting!)
95% Tempranillo, 5% Graciano
“Smells violet & purple” say my notes – young and fruity still, but with a floral note that always makes me “see” these colours. The fruit on the palate is initially closed, with plums, some spicy cedar notes and a pleasingly fresh acidity, but as the wine opened up, there were more dark cherries and the plums were more apparent. It is a lighter bodied Reserva and very good.
Unnum 2002
100% Tempranillo
Made by Miguel’s son, this is a more modern wine with an almost overripe fruit nose and a palate of full-bodied, rich dark fruit, delicately spice and soft tannins. It is very much on the modern end, but I didn’t find it overblown, and worth tasting again with food.

[tasted 31 August 2008]

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