The price of pleasure?

Posted On November 12, 2006

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Rioja that is worth paying for!

As an hotelier, if I had the chance to create wine and dine nights with wine celebrities Christine Forner of Rioja’s Marques de Coceres would be top of my list.

The bodega was founded in 1970 and established by Henri Forner, Christine’s father. Already he and his brother owned Chateau Camensac and Chateau Larose-Trintaudon. When Henri decided to establish a bodega in his homeland, he selected what he considered the finest viticulture area in Spain: Cenicero in Rioja Alta. Cenicero is in gently rolling hills bordered by the Ebro river and benefits from a microclimate within the Sierra de Cantabria mountains to the north and the Sierra de la Demanda range to the south. The winery is named after a Spanish peer who was also an investor in the winery and a friend of Henri Forner.

Forner introduced the system of estate bottling used in Bordeaux by limiting his source of grapes to those in the immediate area. Emile Peynaud, former professor and chief wine researcher at the University of Bordeaux, was the initial consultant to the winery and today Michel Rolland holds the position. Henri and Christine are at the helm.

As with others in her family, Christine Forner’s love for fine wines started young. Armed with qualifications in oenology, she began her career at Chateau Camensac, Gran Cru Classe in Haut Medoc and then moved on to Bodegas Marques de Coceres. Rioja has always been considered unable to produce quality wines by many, however, Christine has managed to steer Marques de Coceres towards acquiring a significant reputation with excellent brand prestige. Her steadfast motto that has proven successful is “not merely complying with standards, but to exceed them and achieve maximum quality”.

The wines
Value-for-money Rioja and I have a troubled history. Not that I dislike Rioja, far from it. The problem is the last time I dared suggest that the quality of some Riojas wasn’t keeping pace with their price tags, I almost ended up being branded a warmonger by a couple of wine merchants. But that was the late nineties. This time at the Coral Beach, half way through the first decade of the new millennium I didn’t have to don kid gloves and walk carefully while tasting Rioja because the wines were of excellent quality. Christine Forner of Marques de Coceres and Spectus, during a simple tasting of Rioja’s prime mover bodega, proved that the wood-aged wines (particularly from the 1995 vintage onwards) have greater depth, while there is less low price commodity rubbish at the bottom end of the market.

There are many reasons for this. As prices of Rioja began to rise, so did consumer expectation. Most wine makers raised their game and started making wines that were worth the money. Christine explained that most probably they were jump-started into action by the success of Priorato and Ribera del Duero, or perhaps it was part of the quality shift that has been seen across Spain. Whatever the reason, it happened. The key, as Christine explained, to these changes lies in wine making and viticulture. “The wines have more colour, more fruit plumy aromas, where oak doesn’t smell like a freshly polished table but is integrated into the wine. There is better selection of grapes and now single vineyards have been developed. Rioja,” she said, “has fantastic vineyards and a great variety in Tempranillo. Terroir didn’t exist in Rioja but now it is the future”. Perhaps, I add, a rediscovery of what they have once lost.

The Bodegas 2004 White from Viura grape is clear and bright with pear and white flower aromas, a wine with a racy character and proof that Marques de Coceres values Rioja’s whites. The 2005 Rosado (Tempranillo and Garnacha) was brilliant with a pale coral red colour and a bouquet of delightful notes of red currants and strawberries. Rich in the mouth, the fruit comes through elegantly with full, long-lasting flavours. The 2004 Blanco fermentado en barrica (Viura and Malvasia) has delicate aromas of fresh herbs and ripe apples, pears and white peaches that mingle with a soft touch of vanilla. Complexity and richness derive from the fermentation in the barrel. The 2003 Satinela (Viura and Malvasia), the surprise of the evening, is a slightly sweet wine with notes of peaches and a depth of grapefruit. Silky with a pleasant sweetness, serve this wine with any curry or sweet and sour dishes.

On to the reds and 2002 Crianza Vendimia Seleccionada (Tempranillo, Garnacha and Graciano) is fresh with a bright red fruit bouquet. It has its fans with its subtle touch of vanilla and spice. It is kept for up to 15 months in barrels. 2000 Reserva, with a similar blend to Crianza and up to 22 months in barrel, opens with notes of cherries, plums and refined vanilla as well as sweet spice. Full in the mouth with intense fruit flavours but softer tannins. The 1995 Gran Reserva was inspiring with a complex bouquet of refined balsamic, roasted coffee and a depth of plums you can’t imagine. A touch of sweet spice and firm tannins in the mouth. Value for money, yes, this is the price of pleasure. And it gets better, with the 2002 MC and 1996 Gaudium Gran Vino wines, which will be reviewed nearer to the festive season.

Date for your diary > Beaujolais Nouveaux 2006 est arrivee!!! Well, not yet but on November 26.

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