Today, the trend in Spain seems to be toward making full-throttle, fruit-forward wines with traditional varieties such as Tempranillo and Garnacha. And the country is certainly succeeding. Que rico!
But I remember when wines like this Rioja gran reserva were the benchmarks for Spain. I have had 19th-century gran reservas that were still fresh, delicate and subtle. Recently, I had a bottle of the 2000 Murrieta Gran Reserva with some friends in an Italian restaurant, and it was superb. A sommelier amigo brought the bottle, and I thought it went wonderfully with the simple spaghetti with fresh tomato, garlic and olive oil that I was eating.
The wine's structure reminded me of an outstanding Brunello, with its fresh acidity and refined fruit. However, it was much more woody than a Brunello, since the Rioja had spent 34 months in American oak barrels (as well as three years in bottle before being sold). Most Brunellos spend about 24 months in wood, and American oak is never used. The Murrieta Gran Reserva showed fascinating aromas of licorice, berry and green tea with hints of cedar and vanilla bean. It was full-bodied yet balanced, and very silky in texture. Long and gorgeous, with lots of balsamic character in the aftertaste. 92 points, non-blind.