Old vs. New style Riojas - Printable Version

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- Duane Meissner - 02-18-2009 03:50 PM

Could someone please explain to me the difference? Differences in qualities and the differences in production techniques that afford such?

I've been on a bit of a Rioja stint recently, and am wondering if I'll ever get out of it! Except for one or two bottles, they have accounted for my last 30 or so. That tempranillo is a marvelous grape! Can't beat the prices either. I am very curious to find out which "style" I've been gravitating toward.

- TheEngineer - 02-18-2009 04:58 PM

I'm waiting for a few others to chime in as well as they have more experience than me (Brappy, Drew, Bucko,...others??)

But for me there are brands that are old world and brands that are new world.

Old world for me are the Faustino's, Marqués de Murrieta and teh flavour profiles are more like characterized by that earthy, dried fruits, vanilla, herbs, leather, tobacco, etc,. The wine is more elegant, transluscent and the nose is more ethereal.

New world Rioja's are effectively the international style of Rioja and which are characterized by their fruitiness and a little residual sugar and a totally different mouthfeel, rounder, fuller, denser in fruit. Brands that fall into this area include Torre Muga, Roda, etc.

Even then, not all experts agree on what is traditional and what is modern. Perhaps its just better wine making. I love both styles but when the best of the best come to the table, the traditional style for me wins by the nose itself just like if a really good bordeaux and a really good burg was presented to me, I'd fall for the burg every time. Matter of preference, that's all.

Of course, there are those that take a bit of each into their methods and recipes. .. Just to give you a middle ground.

[This message has been edited by TheEngineer (edited 02-18-2009).]

- VouvrayHead - 02-18-2009 10:44 PM

I have a more limited history with rioja than I'd like, so I won't add to what TheEngineer said, but if you tend to lean toward the more rustic, old world flavors, definitely check out the ribera del duero.
That region makes some terrific tempranillo. The best is powerful and untamed and quite old world... More Gigondas than Burgundy.

- hotwine - 02-18-2009 11:44 PM

Suggest checking the back label on any Rioja these days to ensure the wine is 100% Tempranillo. There seems to be a tendency these days to add Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Merlot to many indigenous grapes to come up with an "international" style.

- brappy - 02-19-2009 12:42 AM

Hotwine, I believe its against the regional law to add Cab in Rioja. I believe this goes for all Bordeaux varieties. In fact, I believe there is only one or two vineyards with Cab in them left. Those are grandfathered in. I know one small vineyard out of Riscal which they only use in a super premium single vineyard whatever-it-is. In reality, the older stuff from the 70s, 80s, and earlier, they used quite a bit of Cab; sometimes as much as 50%.

However, other grapes used in Rioja are Graciano and Grenache(I'm sure there are some others). But Tempranillo can be made in a "New World" style all by itself. One fairly inexpensive example is Finca Allende (about $30-$35). I'm not sure of all the techniques used but I assume longer hang-times, Super slim yields, stemming, unfiltered, unfined, American Oak - atleast some new or at least new oak of elsewhere, etc., etc....

So Duane, Try the Finca Allende ('04 vintage if possible),against Rioja Alta Ardanza Reserve (Current vintage '00). I believe the Alta (which does have some grenache) should be less than $40. That should be quite the entertaining tasting. Or, if ever in this area, I'd be more than happy to open up several vintages of both styles and even a few more regions just to play around.

Let us know what you think.


- TheEngineer - 02-19-2009 02:02 AM

I agree with VHead as well in particular I really like Pesquera! Yes a bit expensive for a crianza but it has everything that I'm looking for in a Spanish wine!

- Duane Meissner - 02-19-2009 04:49 AM

Thanks all! New style doesn't sound too appealing to me going off of Engineer's description. Pretty much everything I've been drinking has been 100% tempranillo, but I can't say for sure on the bottles that don't mention the grape on the back label. I'll definitely keep my eye open for offerings from the ribera del duero. Brappy, you'll be the first to know if I'm ever going to be in MD! I appreciate your offer!

- Duane Meissner - 02-19-2009 05:58 AM

Found this cool little shop here in Frankfurt that seems to sell Spanish wines exclusively. Looks like I can get Brappy's 2 suggested bottles delivered to my door for 56.21 USD! I may just do that side-by-side tasting.

Perhaps I'll go meet these folks this afternoon.

- Thomas - 02-19-2009 11:20 AM


When I think old style Rioja I think of dust and earth packaged in oak.

When I think of new style Rioja I think of alocholic prunes infused with oak.

- wondersofwine - 02-19-2009 02:22 PM

I hope no one from WLDG, especially Robin Garr, James Roscoe and Joe Perry (all of whom I have met in the past) will object to me copying and pasting this here:

(It categorizes Spanish wine producers as traditional, modern, ultramodern, but doesn't go into describing the taste differences of traditional vs. new or international style )

James Roscoe :
In other words Joe, is there a list of the generally accesible Spanish wine that fall into one of the following three categories: Spoofulated and undrinkable; spoofed but drinkable; unspoofed? If Manuel is able to pop his knowledgable head in here I wouldn't mind listening to his sage advice as well. I generally avoid Spanish wines as most of the stuff at the $15 - 20 range is pretty oaky and I am not into beaver food.

Joe Perry's reply (from July 2006)

My updated (and biased) list.

Here’s my key:

$ calculations 0 = $9-15 $ = $15-50. $$ = $50-100. $$$ = 100+
T = Traditional, M = Modern, UM = Ultra Modern
GR = Gran Reserva

1st Tiers:
La Rioja Alta “Marques de Haro” GR (not really feasible $$$+++)
La Rioja Alta “890” Gr (T) $$$
(pre-1989) Marques De Murrieta Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial GR (T) $$
CVNE “Imperial” GR (T) $
CVNE “Vina Real” GR (T) $
R. Lopez De Heredia “Vina Tondonia” GR (T) $$
R. Lopez De Heredia “Vina Bosconia” GR (T) $$
Artadi “El Pison” (UM) $$
Muga “Prado Enea” GR (T) $
CVNE “Real de Asua” (M) $$
(pre-1970) Paternina “Conde de Los Andes” GR (T) $$
Finca Allende “Aurus” (UM) $$

2nd Tier:
La Rioja Alta 904 GR (T) $
Artadi “Pagos Viejos” (UM) $$
Remirez de Ganuza (M) $$
Marques de Murrieta “Dalmau” (UM) $$
Contino “Vina del Olivo” (M) $$
Riojanas “Monte Real” GR (T) $
Contino (M) $
Roda I (M) $$

3rd Tier:
Paternina “Clos Paternina” (M) $$
Bodegas Franco-Espanolas “Royal” GR (T) $$
Marques de Riscal “Baron de Chirel” (UM - Cab) $$
Marques de Riscal Gran Reserva (T/M) $
Sierra Cantabria Privada (M) $
Muga “Torre Muga” (UM) $
(Pre-1996) Bilbainas “Vina Pomal” GR (T) $
Señorio de San Vicente (M) $$
Roda II (M) $
Palacios Remondo “Herencia Remondo"(M) $$
Remelluri GR (M) $
La Rioja Alta Ardanza/Arana/Alberdi (T) $
Riojanas Vina Monty Reserva (T) 0
Muga Reserva (T) $
Labastida (T) 0
(old) Monticello “Vina Monty” GR (T) $

4th Tier:
Ramón Bilbao GR (T) $
Breton “Alba de Breton” (M) $
Rioja Santiago “Gran Enologica“ GR (T) $
Marques del Pomeral GR (T) $
Marques de Caceres GR (T) $
Berberana “Vina Alarde“ GR (T) $
Gonzalo de Berceo GR (M) $
Palacio “Glorioso” GR (T) $
Valsacro Dioro (UM) $
Bodegas Lan Lanciano (UM) $$
Marques de Caceres “Gaudium” (UM -Cab) $$
Campillo Reserva Especial GR (T) $
Bodegas El Coto “Coto del Imaz”(M) $
Martinez Lacuesta GR (T) $
Bodegas Palacio Cosme Palacio y Hermanos (M) $

5th Tier:
Gonzalo De Bereco (T) $
Campo Viejo GR (T) 0
Marques de Grinon (M) $
Fustino I GR (T) $
Torre de Ona “Baron de Ona” (M) $
Martinez Bujanda “Conde de Valdemar“ (T) $
Barón de Ley “Vina Imaz” GR (M) $
Marques de Arienzo GR (T) $

Unranked because I haven’t tasted them: Roda “Cirson“, Benjamin Romeo, "La Vina de Andres Romeo", Bodegas Lan “Culmen de Lan”, Muga “Aro”, etc.
For wines like the Vina Bosconia, Vina Tondonia and Cune Imperial which are the Reserva (not Gran Reserva) just stick them in the next tier.

The above is not perfect as vintages in different microclimates are a factor. Also, some wines are better than others within their given tier.


Joe Perry
Wine guru

- brappy - 02-19-2009 10:13 PM

That's a good list...

- dananne - 02-19-2009 10:41 PM

To my mind, if you want to find traditional Rioja, it's hard to do in Ribera, where most of the producers I've found are new-style. You have to go to some of the old Rioja bodegas, such as Muga, LAN, Murrieta, etc. Traditionalists typically use Amer oak, age longer in barrel and bottle, and produce a lower alc wine that has higher acidity, lighter color, and a bit lighter body. New style wines tend to use French oak and age for less time. They are usually denser, more fruit-forward, darker in hue, and higher in alc content. Both can be delicious, though we've long loved traditional Riojas, as they were some of the first wines that knocked our socks off when we first got into wines. Perhaps our favorite wine (non-Pinot category) is Marques de Murrieta's Ygay Gran Reserva. That having been said, we've had wonderful wines made in the new style from everyone from Valsacro to Muga (which makes both styles -- their Reservas are traditional, while the Torre Mugas are new). Anyway, the best thing to do is exactly what you've been doing -- tasting and exploring! Have fun! By the way, what have you been enjoying?

- wondersofwine - 02-20-2009 11:56 AM

I also think Joe underestimated the cost of Muga wines. Surely the Prado Enea (I loved the only one I've tried)cost far more than $9.00 even three years ago!

- Duane Meissner - 02-20-2009 08:29 PM

Lot's of great information! I guess what I've been enjoying have indeed been modern style Riojas in the 10-15 Euro range (Baron de Ley, Marques de Riscal, Artadi, and others I can't recall). Though I'd like to say that I'm a person content with drinking what he likes, I must say I was a bit disappointed to find out I've been enjoying beaver food. Oh well!

Decided to head over to that afore-mentioned Spanish wine store today, and purchased the Finca Allende and Alta Aldanza Reserva. Really looking forward to trying those, but want to wait until I can share them with someone else. Campus is like a ghost town right now with all my colleagues on vacation. Since I picked up the bottles in person, I didn't have to pay the shipping charges, making the total 38 Euros. I love buying wine over here! I'll certainly post on the two bottles after.

Interesting note - the wine guy at the store (more of a warehouse, actually) said that he has had several customers come back to the store to return the Alta Ardanza, saying it was spoiled - like vinegar and harsh. He then sent a crate back to the producer along with the customers' complaints, but the folks at Ardanza said the wine is fine, and that the results were just what they were going for. I guess old style is simply going out of style. "like vinegar and harsh" gives me concern, but I'm still looking forward to the experience.

- VouvrayHead - 02-21-2009 03:03 AM

Duane! You started quite the engaging post!
By Dan's certainly more informed definition of old vs. new world rioja, the ribera may be more new (big, full-throttle at times, wine), but for my favorites, and I'll second the Pesquera rec, it is definitely NOT about the fruit. Tar, leather, dirt... yum.
In Rioja, I also really like the Artadi Vinas de Gain for under $30.
Ask for a rec on a priorat if you can find one in your price range at that Spanish specialty store. It's (mostly) garnacha rather than Tempranillo, but a heck of a thing.

- brappy - 02-21-2009 04:11 AM

Posted by Vouvrayhead
"but for my favorites, and I'll second the Pesquera rec, it is definitely NOT about the fruit. Tar, leather, dirt... yum."

Why would you capitalize "NOT" when talking about fruit with wine. The next descriptors you give are all secondary flavors in which one likes or doesn't. But if you don't want to taste fruit??????? Seriously, what the hell are we drinking? Not to mention that the wine you mention certainly shows off dried and baked red cherry fruit.

And while I'm on this subject, this statement by Foodie: "When I think of new style Rioja I think of alocholic prunes infused with oak." is total bullsh. If I have to drive up and personally show Thomas wines with perfect balance "new world wines" from Spain, I will. How can you, a writer, categorize wines in such a limited way? IT would be like me categorizing NY FL wines as being thin, acidic, overly mineralized, lacking of fruit crap in a bottle. I don't feel this way, but there are a lot of them that exhibit these qualities. Instead, I look for the wines that are serious; That show the varietal correctness or at least show what the maker is wanting the wine to show like.

Its very simple...... Does the wine taste good? Does it show some complexity? Does it exhibit balance? Does the wine make you want to keep drinking it? You answer.........


[This message has been edited by brappy (edited 02-21-2009).]

- winoweenie - 02-21-2009 10:35 AM

As most on the board have either consciously or sub-consciously noticed I don't post on wines I don't drink or am not familiar with. So I'm not posting on Riojas but the slight turn this thread seems to have taken. The major reason I keep posting on this thread is the community has always(with just a few exceptions) been cordial, considerate, and able to communicate with each other civillay. Goodness knows I've made some eyebrows arch on some observations I've made but most of the time the only criticism I've received was a word and a wink. Let's please keep it that way. WW. (Glad you seem to be having some fun over there Duane. I imagine the economy has taken a hit there as well. Hope all stays well)

- Thomas - 02-21-2009 10:54 AM

At first, I didn't know what WW was talking about, then I read Mark's post more clearly.

I stand by my observation, but that doesn't mean much of anything. It's an observation--how that can be bullshit is up to Mark to define. Methinks, maybe some of the attitude of an associate may have started to rub off on him [img][/img]

Mark, you are correct in your post that I should not blanketly condemn all modern-style Spanish wines, and I didn't. You impugn me as a writer; may I impugn you as a reader?

I wrote what tasting old style makes me think of and what tasting new style makes me think of--as descriptors to pin the differences in style. I never said that I liked or hated either. Sometimes, the words have no back meaning--unless the reader has built-in defensiveness.

Oh, and maybe when you come here next, I'll take a prune or two from my stash for you to taste--alongside an old style, of course.

[This message has been edited by foodie (edited 02-21-2009).]

- VouvrayHead - 02-21-2009 12:31 PM

Brappy, I'm not sure what you took issue with exactly. You're absolutely right that there's baked cherry in the Pesquera. No doubt. But that's not exactly even a really "fruity" flavor. It's almost secondarily fruity. And all of those other secondary flavors I mentioned are not exactly "secondary" in Pesquera. And they're the reasons I love that wine.
I wasn't using "fruit" as a pejorative, either. Simply saying that the riberas I love don't focus on that aspect of wine.

I think there are clearly some wines that exhibit a more fruity character than others. Though some of the reservas get a dark bruised berry thing going on, I still wouldn't classify Pesquera as fruit-driven. I haven't had any Alejandro Fernández wines that I would characterize that way. But that's just my palate. I probably wouldn't characterize Gigondas or Barbaresco, for instance, as being "about the fruit" either.
Writing about wine is endlessly challenging, and prone to miscommunication and the differences in our palates and expectations, so it's fair to discuss/question what we mean by terms like fruity, thin, etc. It's tremendously useful for me to have what I claim be questioned as I am clearly far less knowledgable that many on this board. But maybe less fair to use seven sequential question-marks in doing so.

- dananne - 02-21-2009 03:04 PM

I interpreted it to mean it wasn't a one-dimensional fruit bomb, but rather had lots of earthiness and secondary aromas and flavors, which was what made it so appealing. Nothing more, nothing less. It seems to me that there are wines out there that are enjoyable for gorgeous gobs of juicy fruit, and there are other wines out there that are enjoyable because of distinguishing secondary characteristics.

BTW, I love the Pesquera.

Oh, and VH or Duane -- Are there good selections of Spanish wines in MO? In Mid Missouri, it seems like you've got MO wines and a fairly good selection of Left Coast stuff, but the pickings of Old World wines are somewhat limited. Will I have better luck over in SL or KC?