On the eve of a weeklong trip to Rioja, in Spain, I decided to get in the mood with lunch at Casa Mono, Mario Batali’s Spanish restaurant in New York’s Gramercy Park neighborhood. The casual dining room and short menu of small plates belies the seriousness of the place, which has a burning passion for Spanish flavors and arguably the best list of Spanish wines in the city.
Since I was headed to Rioja, I focused on that section of the wine list, which admirably covers the entire country’s production (including an astonishing vertical of Pingus from 2009 back to 2001). The Rioja section offers more than 100 wines, including 88 reds divided into traditional and modern styles. The former boasts Lopez de Heredia back to the Vina Tondonia Gran Reserva 1947 ($1,658); the latter embraces Torre Muga, Roda Cirsion and Benjamin Romeo’s Contador.
I asked assistant wine director Juan Holgado which section sold more. "I'd say we sell more traditional than modern Rioja," he responded. "It’s such a unique style. When people are looking for more modern approaches to Tempranillo, I tend to steer them to other regions, like Ribera del Duero or Toro."
I chose a wine from the modern side of the list, the Finca Allende 2005 ($60). Ironically, it has many traditional virtues, including its pedigree (owner Miguel Angel Allende’s father was longtime vineyard manager at Marques de Murrieta when it was a traditional stalwart) and its emphasis on sourcing grapes from estate-owned vineyards (still a rarity in Rioja). The wine was youthful yet graceful, harmonious yet energetic, with crisp black cherry, licorice and characteristically leafy flavors. I rated it 91 points, non-blind (better than my official review from 2009). I would say it represented a happy medium between the extremes of the two styles.
The wine was delicious with moist, gamy confit of goat, served with vivid spring vegetables ($19). Lunch definitely served its purpose, of getting me excited about my trip.
WineSpectator.com members: Read the original blind-tasting review for Finca Allende Rioja 2005 (85 points, $24).
Plus, get scores and tasting notes for more recently rated wines from Rioja.