The 1997 Baron de Magana should dispel any notion that the Navarra is any less capable of producing world class wine than Spain’s more highly publicized Rioja. In fact, we prefer the fuller, richer fare we have been tasting lately from this beautiful province to many of the over-oaked, underwined Rioja’s on the market. Deep, forceful and robust in color, the Magana melds the very best characteristics of its three great varietals: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah to resemble both Bordeaux, specifically Pomerol, and an excellent Rhone. Black cherry and kirsch-like fruit are intertwined with spicy oak and traces of black pepper. Gutsy, yet textured and layered, this medium-bodied wine exhibits great length and charm. It reminds us of a first-rate Chateauneuf-du-Pape with Bordeaux highlights. Chocolate, berry, cassis and vanilla all add to the complexity and imminent drinkability of this wine. Allow the Baron de Magana an hour or more open in a decanter to reveal its ultimate charms. Although it is hard to imagine that the Magana could be even more pleasurable than it is now, we suspect it will age gracefully and take on additional weight and complexity as it matures. Ooooh baby!
Rack of lamb, Cuban pork with black beans, homemade ravioli with Roquefort, and steak au poivre are just a few of the dishes we can recommend with the 1997 Baron de Magana. However, a number of tasters on the panel also suggested a few more traditional Spanish and Provencal dishes, including chicken paella, free-range chicken with goat cheese and herbs, and a beef daube with wild mushrooms. Beef Wellington with its combination of refinement and stick to your ribs “gras” from a dollop of pate also makes a perfect foil to the Baron Magana. Here the wine and the food exhibit a duality of breed and elegance married to more rustic, country flavors. Last but not least, a well prepared duck in a wild cherry sauce would suit us equally well. There is just something about the Baron de Magana that brings out a penchant in us for rich, classic dishes. Enjoy!
The Magana brothers were among the first in this century to see the potential of the Navarra for premium wines, especially those from the classic Bordeaux varietals. During the 1970's when the length and breadth of fine Spanish wine appeared limited to a few regions and styles, the Magana’s planted Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec on 132 acres. Later they would add Syrah and the more traditional Tempranillo, which would increase the vineyard production of the estate to nearly 148 acres - the optimum size for a family winery. From the rugged, high country at the foot of the Sierra Moncayo Mountains the Magana brothers extract rich, concentrated wines from two outstanding vineyards: “Finca la Sarda” and “Finca Paso La Reina”. Comprised of a mixture of chalk, clay and mineral-laden stones, the Magana Vineyards yield complex wines that the French would categorize as containing “gras”, that quintessential blend of concentration and fat, but with the texture and distinction of a fine Pomerol from Bordeaux. Like good Pomerol, Magana’s wines also have the ability to age for twenty years or more but are able to be enjoyed upon release. Bodegas Magana produces several red wines: a Navarra Tinto, Crianza, Dignus (an interesting blend of seven grape varietals), and Baron de Magana, the estate’s flagship wine. Baron de Magana is made from old vines Merlot (60%) Cabernet Sauvignon (20%) and Syrah (20%) in consultation with the renowned Bordeaux oenologist Michel Rolland. Yields are low, only 23 - 30 hectoliters per hectare. In comparison, most Bordeaux chateaux produce in excess of 40 hectoliters per hectare. Vinification is traditional in stainless steel and cement vats. Each varietal is vinified separately, as in Bordeaux. Only natural yeasts are used in fermentation, lending themselves to the complex aromatics of the wine. After malolactic fermentation Baron de Magana is racked twice before being transferred to small American and French oak casks. About a third of the barrels are new each year, putting this wine on par with many of the great Bordeaux chateaux in this regard. Ageing in barrel continues for a little over a year. After bottling, the Magana’s allow their wine to age additional time in bottle before release. Typically, Baron de Magana would not be released before its third birthday. How we wish more red wine producers, especially in Bordeaux and California, would adopt this practice! Too many youthful, but potentially outstanding wines are consumed before they are even three years of age, leading us to wonder if the laws against infanticide shouldn’t be extended to many of the world’s fine red wines. After all, a well-aged red has become a truly endangered species.
Wine By the Numbers: Pedogogy or Prestidigitation Whether it be the penchant for “accountability” that pervades our society or simply the human need for assessment, wine by the numbers is currently in vogue. Wherever you turn; The Wine Spectator, The Wine Advocate, The Wall Street Journal, even the local wine shop, the world of wine appears consumed by the numbers. Why? “Insecurity”, whispered the voice of truth. “Acculturation” mumbled the sociologist. “Marketing” added the businessman. And, there you have it. Wine by the numbers somehow assuages our basic insecurity. It provides guidelines for the uninitiated, self-assurance for the devotee and an all pervasive smugness for the wine snob. Unfortunately, what the numbers game doesn’t offer the consumer is the right to choose intelligently, simply because it excludes him or her from the process. Although not always intended to dupe the public, the numerical grading of wines has created a generation of “grade-grubbers”- consumers who must have a good or better grade for their choices, even if they don’t know what the grade means or even agree with the standard of assessment. And this is only the tip of the iceberg, or should we say the “top of the barrel”. Since most of us have grown up with grades, numerical grades no less, we tend to take wine by the numbers for granted. And why shouldn’t we? Grades are part of our culture. An “A” represents excellence, usually defined as somewhere between 90 and 100, while a “B” is good, commonly considered to be between 80 and 90. God forbid a child should bring home a report card with less than a “B” or the consumer should drink a wine with no number let alone a wine with a low number. Horrors! How often have kids lamented the dreaded report card and said “My parents are going to kill me if I don’t get all A’s and B’s”? For better and for worse, grades are an intricate part of our culture, and we love them. They make us feel as if we know where we stand. How can anyone argue with a number? Since numbers play to our fears, what better way is there to sell? Considering that numbers are more than socially acceptable, they’re expected, wine by the numbers is a marketing guru’s dream...and nightmare. In a rush to promote a wine or denigrate the competitions offering, marketing seizes the numbers and highlights their efficacy, usually without explanation and often out of context to the rater’s intentions, but who can argue with a number? Right? Plainly, we at the wine club believe that the numerical rating of a wine is seriously misused at best, and often a hoax at worst, simply because fear, habit and greed frequently play a part in the numbers that you, the consumer, see. Furthermore, numbers detract from the pleasure of drinking and distort the true purpose of wine, “to make glad the heart of man”. In spite of our mistrust of numerical ratings for wine, we acknowledge that evaluating wines is essential to our offering of high quality, appealing selections, and in order to fulfill that purpose, we must use some tools of assessment. Some members of our wine panel even make use of numerical rating sheets to serve as a personal account of the wines they taste, as well as provide an individual yardstick or paradigm by which to compare wines of similar style or type. However, the difference between this personal use of numerical ratings and the wine by the numbers game as practiced by the industry’s critics and publicists is that our use of them remains personal. We do not use numbers to justify or promote our selections, even among ourselves, nor do we foist them on the public as a selling technique. Simply, numerical ratings are only truly valuable to the individual as a measurable means of comparison. Any other use of numerical ratings compromises their integrity. In the interest of education, a personal wine evaluation sheet will be printed in a future newsletter, along with some guidelines for assessment. By doing so, we hope to promote the development of your own individual palate and underscore the inherent complications that arise when wine is reduced to a numerical rating.
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