A Beautiful Find - "Cautivo" Rioja 2005 Crianza

May 19, 2010

Years ago I attended a blind tasting of fine wines put on by a collector. There were wines from all over the world, many of them cellared for ten years and up (I was surprised to find how complex and intriguing a D'Arenberg Shiraz/Grenache blend could be after a decade). 

Of the reds, there was one special wine that kept evolving in leaps and bounds within my glass. At first, the fruit came forward - lush and lively strawberry. After a few swirls, the cinnamon and nutmeg started to come out. Another swirl and I found myself breathing in tobacco, saddle leather and a seductive herbal note I couldn't quite name but the mystery intrigued me.

I would have sworn the wine was an aged Chianti - the light red fruit, the dusty baking spice and cedar. Throughout the hour I had with the wine, it kept going and going, becoming more complex, more fascinating.  At the end, when the bottles were revealed I found out no, it wasn't an Italian wine but a red Rioja from Central-Eastern Spain!

A Rioja Gran Reserve from 1993 to be exact. A wine that had seen over ten years in a bottle. 

I was blown away. If the wine was a person, I would have stayed up all night and listened to its stories. 

Trying and tasting fine, aged wines can be a rare and wonderful experience for both the novice and experienced connoisseur alike. Many of us buy a wine and uncork (or un-cap it) within 24 hours of our purchase. It's just the way things go. But when we are given the opportunity to taste a wine that has seen years, if not decades in a bottle, our perception of wine can dramatically change. 

After fermentation, when the new wines are transferred from one vat to another to age, time is the only way to bring everything together. Without the passing of time, the red and whites we consume at our dinner tables, on our patios, with our friends and family would be disjointed, harsh and cloudy. 

Even after bottling, a wine still needs more time. But once it's supposedly ready (no wine is truly ready because it will be always changing) it's up to the consumer to decide when to pop and pour. 

For whites like Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Grigio, and Viognier, it's usually best to buy and drink as soon as possible. 

For some young reds, usually the producer recommends ready consumption; others say hold off but who can?
For wines in a higher price age, wine drinkers need to consult experts on when to pour. 

Sometimes we'll never know the right moment to open a wine. Most of the wines we buy for parties and for easy going get-togethers are fairly young. Wouldn't it be great to bring something unique to the table?

With this in mind, I highly recommend a spectacular if not beautiful find at the LCBO: 'Cautivo' 2005 Crianza from Bodegas Heredad De Baroja from Elvillar de Alava.

North of the town of  Logrono and the River Ebro and just south of the rugged Cordillera Cantábrica (Cantabrian Mountains) lies the Rioja sub-zone of Alavesa. The climate is comparatively cool compared to the rest of Rioja and sees more rain than Rioja Alta and Rioja Baja to the south.

Within Rioja Alavesa is Elvillar, a wine area protected by the cool, damp winds of the Atlantic by the mountains. The soil is fairly chalky made of calcareous clay.

For those that have tried Rioja, the wines of the region are some of the lightest but have the most finesse. 

Fernando Meruelo started his bodega in 1964. He remains the current owner and is continually determined to select the best grapes for his wine. 

The wines of "Cautivo" line are the ones ready for everyday consumption beginning with a Blanco (using the Viura grape - a.k.a Macabeo) and ending with a Reserva and Gran Reserva (both using Tempranillo). 

Available at the LCBO is the "Cautivo" 2005 Crianza, made from 100% Tempranillo. 

A Crianza in Spain is a wine that has been aged for at least two years,  typically six months of which has seen time in small American oak casks.

A Joven is young and may or may not have seen time in oak. 

A Reserva (which is just above Crianza) is aged for three years with a minimum of one year and oak; a Gran Reserva has been aged five years with at least two years in wood and three in bottle.

I highly recommend the Crianza. The grapes were picked in 2005, the wines were aged in oak and then bottled and further aged. 2005 was an exceptional year in Spain (rated 'E' for 'Excellente') and with the 'Cautivo' you can tell.

There is a strong strawberry character but with time and age, you will discover another world. Tobacco, leather, barnyard with just a hint of cinnamon from the American oak. 

The wine's bouquet, however, continues to evolve and becomes more seductive and fine as the minutes go by.

Again, time is a luxury and if you're pressed to find something unique and rewarding, I highly recommend this beautiful wine. At $13.95 it brings wonderful value to any wine consuming occasion and would pair well with light meat dishes and traditional Spanish paella. 


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My focus is mainly on wine culture, history and education. I love the stories behind wine - the people, places and the regional personalities of the wine-countries around the world.

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