Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Spicy, Graciano-Fueled Rioja from David Sampedro Gil

Rioja is synonomous with Tempranillo and American oak. But David Sampedro Gil, who makes wines from the subregion of Rioja Alavesa, takes a slightly different approach. He uses large French oak barrels, although not all new, giving the wine smooth structure without the stronger coconut-vanilla notes frequently associated with American oak barrels. A fifth-generation Rioja winemaker, David has a deep respect for tradition and terroir, and it’s evident in his wines. DSG, as David’s project is known, uses biodynamic farming and the traditional foot-stomping method to crush the grapes.

He co-ferments some white Viura (a.k.a. Macabeo) with some of his red wines to give them added freshness. And he has a passion for the lesser-known
Graciano grape, which is usally blended in small amounts to add spice to the Tempranillo. His Rioja Phinca Abereja is something of a Rioja anomaly, as it contains 40% Graciano. It’s a delicious and exciting wine, and I think I may be catching on to David’s love for this oft-forgotten grape variety.
I recently met up with David at Domaine Wine Storage in Washington, D.C., to taste through a few of his wines. My notes follow…
Flowers and bright berries on the nose. Great structure on the palate, with solid grip and fresh acid. The strawberry and cherry fruit is generous, but it’s also crisp and cool. Notes of tobacco and earth add complexity. A fruit-forward, but restrained wine aged two years in old barrels and three years in bottle. Glad to have tasted this after some age, because it’s really elegant and refined. 100% Garnacha from the nearby Navarra region. (88 points)

Aromas of spice, cedar and graphite on top of red currants and raspberries. Firm and grippy on the palate with refreshing acid. I love the plum skin and tart berries, mixed with notes of earth, pepper and charcoal. David told me he co-ferments all the varieties (Tempranillo, Graciano, Garnacha and Viura). Solid stuff that should age nicely over the next four to five years. (90 points)
A beautiful young Rioja, capable of long aging in the cellar, but I’m equally impressed by how well it holds itself at this young age. Complex aromas of raspberries and black cherries, cedar, cola, incense and red pepper spice rub. With time, I start getting more balsamic and sweet lavender aromas. Fine-firm tannins, fresh acid. Plummy, with red currant and strawberry fruit, mixed in with anise, cedar, clove and sweet balsamic reduction. Pure, elegant with an incredibly long finish. Tempranillo and Graciano (40% in this blend), which adds all sorts of different characteristics that you don’t see in many Riojas. Also, this is aged in older French oak, so the heavy toast and vanilla are absent, allowing the complexity to shine through. Gorgeous stuff! (92 points)

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