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Special Rioja crianza

Northside Staff Tasters: Dana Malley, ed., Dave Pohl, Jason Wentworth, Dave Marrano, and Kelley O'Neill

In a recent blind tasting conducted by the staff at Northside Wine & Spirits of 16 Rioja crianzas, the 2000 Sierra Cantabria "Cuvée Especial" (about $22) emerged as the top scorer. This inky, full-bodied, ageworthy, dry red wine won praise for its flavors of toasty oak, vanilla, hints of smoked meat, and dark berries, and is the perfect foil for game, roasts, and stews.

The Rioja region is located in the north-central part of Spain. For a red wine to qualify as Rioja crianza (literally, "raising"), it must spend at least a year in oak and cannot be released until the third calendar year after the harvest. Those labeled reserva also spend at least a year in oak, but cannot be released until the fourth calendar year. Gran reservas see two years in oak, and are not released until the sixth calendar year.

However, the singularity of the Sierra Cantabria "Cuvée Especial" can be attributed to a number of other factors. (1) Mature vines. The Tempranillo grapes that make up 100% of the wine come from vines over 30 years old. (2) Selection process. Only the best grapes, picked entirely by hand, are selected. A further selection takes place at the winery on sorting tables. (3) Aging. Quite beyond the minimum, this wine is aged in oak barrels 18 months—the last four in new French oak—before being bottled unfiltered.

Interesting enough, the winery goes so far as to omit the crianza designation on the label, despite the wine's qualifications. A winery spokesman states that because of its "more modern style," it isn't Rioja crianza in the "classical" sense.

Whether you prefer traditional or modern, it's difficult not to be impressed.

"Top Wine Picks" as seen in The Ithaca Journal 11/14/05

Northside Wine & Spirits is located at the Ithaca Shopping Plaza on Elmira Road.

Phone 607-273-7500

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