Making New Friends in Rioja

Most wineries, except for the behemoths that are proud of their size and strength, want you to believe that they are committed more to quality than quantity. They’ll say it to anybody who listens, and keep saying it just in case somebody within shouting distance didn’t get the message. Unfortunately, not all of them are honest. Well, maybe not objective or realistic is a better way to put it. Of course, there are too many smaller wineries that say this but only get the quantity part of the equation right.

Bodegas LAN from Rioja is actually one of those wineries that tells the truth and backs it up. Their commitment to quality is deliberate, consistent, and can be found in every wine they produce.

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A few months back I had the chance to taste their wines at Bellota in San Francsico with several other wine writers. We were hosted by Enrique Abiega, CEO of Bodegas LAN, and Trinidad Villegas, the winery’s director for USA exports. The event was organized by Gregory + Vine, and hosted by Trish Heywood, their managing director.

We learned quite a bit about LAN (the name is an acronym representing the three provinces of the Rioja DOCa: Logroño, Álava, and Navarra), its history, current organic farming practices, and a great deal about their winemaking. For these matters and all things LAN, head over to www.bodegaslan.com and take a closer look at what makes this winery worth watching.

While so much of what we heard that afternoon was indeed interesting, the real story, of course, was in the glasses in front of us. And what became clear, rather quickly, was that these wines played well above their price points. Ridiculously so in a few instances. Not all wines show their best in moments like this, for a seemingly infinite number of reasons. But the LAN selections that afternoon were singing for us.

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We were greeted at the door with a cool glass of white wine  from one of LAN’s recent acquisitions in Rias Baixas in northwestern Spain. Their Santiago Ruiz “O Rosal” albarino was a welcome start to the event. Aromatic, crisp and clean, with mouth-watering acid, and lots of citrus flavors, and just a bit of a minerally finish. SRP $20 13% abv

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The meal opened with a group of tapas, including this bright salad of heirloom tomatoes, stonefruit, cucumber, migas, jimmy nardellos, and topped with shavings of six-month-old manchego cheese.

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Along with the salad we enjoyed dishes of ethereal patatas bravas — crispy Kennebec potatoes, chipotle bravas salsa, and smoky aioli.

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The raciones, or main dishes, of the tasting lunch, gave us a mushroom paella, with autumn squash, broccoli di ciccio, sunchokes, chesntnuts, pickled red onions, and pomegranate. Guests also enjoyed a chuleton, a wood-grilled, dry-aged Flannery beef steak, with Basque tximitxurri, bone marrow holandesa, and shallot butter. The delicious food at Bellota made focusing on the wines that much more challenging.

The heart of the afternoon, of course, was the wine. Not a bad sip to be had, and more than a few surprises. Here are my brief tasting notes, in order.

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LAN D12 2015: On the nose obvious notes of American and French oak, and plenty of red and black fruit. Velvety mouthfeel carrying complex flavors and fine, mouth-coating tannins and ample amounts of bright acid. 100% tempranillo. SRP $18 14% abv

LAN D12 2016: A cooler vintage than the preceding year, giving the wine a tight concentration, and a mostly muted nose. Similar profile to the ’15 but definitely needs more time in the bottle. Both of these wines were spectacular values. Most guests figured they retailed at twice the price. 100% tempranillo. SRP $18. 13.5% abv

Viña Lanciano reserva 2012: This wine is only produced in stellar vintages. In this line, the next one, still unreleased, will be the 2015. There are bright red cherry aromas, and a mild whiff of oak. Loads of mouth-watering acid, soft tannins, and a long lingering finish. Another great value. 90% tempranillo, 8% graciano, 2% mazuelo. SRP $25. 13.5% abv

LAN Edición Limitada 2013: More bright red fruit on the nose and in the mouth. I detected hints of what I thought was cedar but was told that this wine was aged in a blend of new French oak and some Russian oak. On the palate it is all about the fruit and the acid; balanced, complex and juicy. 82% tempranillo, 10% mazuelo, 8% graciano. SRP $40-50. 13.5% abv

LAN Edición Limitada 2016: This wine underwent malolactic conversion in new French oak and then was aged in the same, followed by four months in new Russian oak. Nose was tight but red and black fruit detected. The alcohol, still integrating, was peeking around the corner a bit. On the palate you find layers of tart, red fruit and abundant, crisp acid; again, the alcohol has its shirt slightly untucked. 85% tempranillo, 10% graciano, 5% mazuelo. SRP $40-50. 13.5% abv

LAN Xtreme 2014: This was the first public tasting for this vintage; only 5000 bottles made (415 cases approximately). Floral aromas dominate, with abundant red fruit and hints of vanilla. The palate is concentrated and balanced; plenty of refreshing acid and grippy tannins. The wine is complex, with a long, subtle finish. 100% tempranillo. Certified organic.  SRP $20. 14% abv

LAN Xtreme 2015: Eight thousand bottles (660 cases approximately) produced, and now available in USA market. Complex aromas of red fruit, vanilla, cedar, earth. Palate is all dark, dark fruit. Impressive concentration and balance; rich mouthfeel; energetic acid. Needs more time in the bottle. Great QPR! (quality-price ratio) 100% tempranillo. Certified organic. SRP $18. 14% abv 

Both Xtremes are still integrating and will benefit from a few more years someplace cool and quiet. While one could not be blamed for diving into them immediately, patience with these bottles will be rewarded. Terrific wines at grab-em-up prices.

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**Featured image courtesy of Bodegas LAN
**All other photos property of The Grape Belt.

4 thoughts on “Making New Friends in Rioja

  1. Walter Gotowka

    Tom – I truly enjoy reading The Grape Belt as well as your multitude of Social Media outlets. You have made a art out of a meal and what type of Adult Beverage to pair each course with. Proud to say I knew you when…….Wally Gotowka

    1. Tom Riley

      Martin, you are a good and generous man. Thank you for always boosting me. I feel like I’m back in the game and will look to return the favor. It was a wonderful time. Thanks!

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