The 2012 Montaña Rioja Crianza from old vines comes across as classical Rioja Alta. A blend of 97% Tempranillo and 3% Graciano, Montaña’s Crianza could easily be mistaken for a Reserva. Having spent 12 months in seasoned French oak barrels (the minimum time in barrel for Rioja to qualify as Reserva), Montaña’s Crianza exudes the warmth and velvety characteristics of a traditional Rioja Reserva. Spice, new leather and deep blackberry fruit flavors permeate the nose before seeping deep into the marrow of this wine, only to re-emerge in full force on the palate. Beneath the wine’s velvety fruit and smooth oak patina rests a refreshing ferrous minerality born of Rioja’s red, iron-rich soils. Mouth-filling yet vibrant, Montaña’s classic 2012 Rioja Crianza drinks beautifully now, though it easily possesses the stuffing and style to evolve in bottle for at least several more years. We suggest plenty of aeration for any traditional Rioja, and that is certainly true for the 2012 Montaña Rioja Crianza; although the wine drinks well from the moment it is opened, an hour or more in a decanter will only enhance one’s drinking pleasure.
The good news when one thinks of food pairings for Montaña’s 2012 Rioja Crianza is that one is hard pressed to find a dish that will overwhelm it. While Rioja aficionados will appreciate an unadorned glass of Montaña’s special Crianza, Rioja truly shines at table in the company of a richly satisfying meal. Roasted chicken breast stuffed with peppers, caramelized onions, and goat cheese, served next to a kabob of grilled potatoes provides a succulent combination of earthy flavors to complement this wine. Other substantive accompaniments include lamb, pork, and tender game hens. A truly great aged Rib Eye or New York Strip Steak provides another good bet, especially when coated with olive oil and herbs before being seared on a hot grill. Add garlic mashed potatoes or a twice-baked potato and some grilled vegetables for a memorable feast. More adventurous eaters may want to consider Mediterranean or North African specialties, including couscous, as accompaniments to the 2012 Montaña Crianza. Salud!
The Montaña family traces its winemaking heritage to the late 19th century and the origins of modern Rioja. In 1920, the family patriarch, Roman Montaña, consolidated the family’s viticultural enterprises to create one of Rioja’s grandest old brands. The Montaña family estate is comprised of 270 acres of premier vineyards in the Rioja Alta and Alavesa, the prime districts in Rioja for producing world class wines. The Montaña vineyards boast a high percentage of old vines, with many dating to the immediate post-phylloxera era as well as a significant planting of the rare Graciano varietal. The commercial reintroduction of the Montaña family name on the Rioja from the estate’s historic vineyards is a joint venture with Classical Wines, and it represents the renaissance in quality viticulture that is sweeping Rioja.
Rioja’s Minister of Tourism describes Rioja as, “a land of history, light and color, vines and wheat, and above all, people for whom friendship is the greatest possible treasure.” Rioja is indeed a special land, etched by history and endowed by a special wine which shares the region’s name. Spanish Rioja wine is as warm, friendly, and distinctive as the people who inhabit this unique land halfway between Spain’s capital and the towering Pyrenees Mountains. Rioja is also the most approachable and recognized name in great Spanish wine and the home of Spain’s best red wine bargains.
Vineyards have always influenced the history and character of the people in the Rioja. Long before France became a bastion of fine wine, the Romans had settled in Iberia and pushed inland from the Mediterranean to the headwaters of the Ebro River and its tiny tributary, Rio Oja, from which Rioja derives its name. In Rioja, the Romans found ideal conditions for the cultivation of exceptional Spanish grape varietals, like the Tempranillo, Mazuelo, Graciano, and Garnacha (Grenache) grape varieties that today constitute red Rioja. Given its long history for continuously producing fine red wines, Rioja not surprisingly received Spain’s first Denominaciones de Origen (D.O.) in 1933.
It is Rioja’s unique blend of red grapes, coupled with an often lavish hiatus in small, American or French oak barrels, that produces a warm, truly dry, but richly fruity red wine of great finesse and perfume that can appear nearly immortal in great vintages. Although a few names in Rioja carry hefty price tags, the vast majority of red Rioja comes from 132,000 acres and three distinct zones (Rioja Alavesa, Rioja Alta, and Rioja Baja). These wines sell for far less than wines of comparable quality from elsewhere, making red Rioja one of the planet’s greatest red wine bargains.
Red Rioja comes in four basic styles: Joven, Crianza, Reserva, and Gran Reserva. The amount of oak barrel aging, coupled with time in the bottle before release, determines the designation. These styles begin with Joven, which receives little or no time in oak barrels, and culminates with Gran Reserva, which languishes in barrels for two or more years and cannot be sold before its fifth birthday. The best bargains in Rioja are among the Joven, Crianza, and Reserva designations.
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