Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Countess of Montecillo

Wow, two 89 wines that I reviewed in a row after having none for months. Truly amazing.

There are few things I enjoy more than sitting around and chatting about wine with a winemaker, especially a winemaker that has been making wine for over 30 years. There is such a sense of ease and enjoyment that comes from a wine where the winemaker knows that she does not need to over work it.

I had the privilege of attending a lunch with Maria Martinez-Sierra, who has been making wine for the past 34 years. She has been working with the Osbourne family, the owners of Bodegas Montecillo in Rioja, since they started making wine. The Osbourne’s took over ownership of Bodegas Montecillo in 1973, at first producing only sherry and brandy. The winery itself was founded in 1874 and is the third oldest winery in Rioja, or so it claims.

Maria was one of the first women winemakers in Rioja as well as one of the first winemakers to make her wines with 100% Tempranillo. In fact, Maria has a particular devotion to indigenous Spanish varietals, such as Tempranillo and Albariño. With the rise of demand for Tempranillo from Rioja, it seems that Maria is a visionary, with more surprises on the way. During the tasting Maria brought out a tank sample of a 2008 Albariño from Rias Baixas and it was beautiful. The wine was fresh, crisp and so sippable that I could probably have finished off the bottle by myself – luckily there were others that were there to hold me back. This is the winery’s first vintage of white wine and I am glad that they let Maria talk them into it.

Those of us that attended the tasting were able to sit around very informally and just chat with Maria about her philosophies. Her views on vintages were really interesting to me. When asked about how she decides to make her wine into a Crianza, a Reserva, or a Gran Reserva she said, “When the vintage is not up to the standards, I won’t make the wine.” By this she meant that the grapes needed to be a certain standard in order to last under the aging treatments that come with a Reserva and Gran Reserva, a very respectable philosophy of winemaking. Looking at past vintages, Maria did not make a Gran Reserva in 2002 and did not make even a Reserva in 2004.

When asked about her production volume, she noted that it changes frequently. “When the grapes are of a good quality and the conditions are right, I will make as many bottles of wine as the Osbourne family pockets can make.”

I thought that was a damn good answer.

When we tasted the red wines they were very enjoyable. My favorite of the three was the Gran Reserva 2001. It was beautifully young and juicy with red fruit on the nose and got more floral the longer it would sit in the glass. The taste was smooth and silky with cherries and blackberries on the taste. I think what I most enjoyed was that the oak used did not overwhelm the fruit. There was a great balance. And at the price of $25 a bottle, it’s a great deal!

The Montecillo Gran Reserva 2001 was rated an 89 by Thomas Matthews at Wine Spectator and Josh Raynolds at the International Wine Cellar, given a 91 by contributor Michael Schachner at Wine Enthusiast. I did not find a rating for it on the Wine Advocate's website. After giving it quite a bit of thought I would agree with the dreaded 89 rating. It was a very good wine, but it was not greatness in a glass, which is what I think the 90-100 point range should be.

1 comment:

Liza said...

I 150% agree with you about that tasty Albarino! I can't wait for May 1st to go out and find some!