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Wine of the Week: 2006 Baron de Ley Reserva Tempranillo, Rioja

Tempranillo is an often misunderstood grape. Usually banished like Pinot noir to being a lighter, meager varietal, a genuine Tempranillo can hold its own with a variety of meats from game to poultry to beef. A perfect example would be this bottle from Baron de Ley, one of the larger winemaking houses of Rioja. Started in 1985, Baron de Ley is a group of Spanish investors and winemakers who wanted to emulate the grand cru chateau style of winemaking that Bordeaux and Burgundy are known for. The grapes are aged longer in the barrels after remaining on the vines until the end of the harvest, accounting for the higher alcohol content and thicker tannins once poured into the glass.

Usually it’s a turn-off when you visit a winery’s website and see “investment portfolio” and “stockholder” information front and center. That’s not usually a promising sign for an intimate, promising wine. Luckily, the execution here is spotless, a good thing for those stockholders. Mendavia, a region of Rioja, is where the grapes come from, 100% estate grown by Baron de Ley. Baron de Ley does not filter the Reserva, allowing for sediment to stay in the bottle, producing a stronger berry preserves mouth feel at initial taste. Aged for 20 months in American oak, then remaining in the caves for an addition two years, the wines do have the elegant structure of a Bordeaux instead of a brash, wild Rioja that is often seen. Think of this as bocce ball compared to the usual bull fighting– more pensive, less flare.

Lovely caramel notes mix with some raspberry and blackberry for a harmonious tart-fruity roundness throughout the body. The color is a slightly lighter deep red than a Bordeaux, more like a ruby port’s hue than a tawny port’s.

The Reserva matched perfectly with the San Francisco restaurant Baker & Banker’s quail wrapped in speck, but also held its own with duck and lamb dishes. I can even see the Reserva on the table for the next summer barbeque or formal dinner. It’s an elegant wine that also knows how to let its hair down. Tempranillo can be the opera or the flamenco club.

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