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This post about Bodegas Miguel Merino in Rioja, was submitted by Bill Eyer for the 2014 Guest Bloggers program.
Explorers, where have they all gone? It's a big question on my mind these days, as I quietly recall fond memories of a summer travel adventure to Rioja. Our history is replete with explorers, yes some of fame and others of infamy. With navel-gazing being today’s new Olympic ‘sport’, it begs the question, where has the spirit of exploration gone? Have we all collectively given into the subtle clamor of our routines, careers and the demands of daily life?
Coco Chanel once said, "There is no time for cut-and-dried monotony!" She is right; frankly I couldn't agree more, life is too short to settle for less. Which is why it’s important to continuing exploring; even if that exploration only comes via a bottle of wine you've never tried before.
As I began to discover new wines from different regions of world, I became discontent to simply pop the cork and enjoy its contents. No I wanted to visit these regions directly and see for myself where the grapes are grown, and meet the great folks behind the label. One of whom I will be introducing to you very soon.
It was in June of last year, that I went Rioja for week plus, I was part of a contingent of other bloggers, many of whom you already know. Those joining me on this auspicious trip to one of thee most exciting wine regions in the world were; Joe Roberts, Richard Jennings, Wine Harlots, and Gregory Dal Piaz.
One of the visits which really grabbed my attention was the afternoon we spent with Miguel Merino [see below]. He met us just outside his Bodega situated in the small town of Briones, Rioja Alta. He had just come from the vineyards, still clutching his pruning shears, his shirt rumpled and yet beaming with gracious hospitality, welcoming us warmly.
(Left, Miguel Merino; Right, his winery in Briones with experimental vines in the foreground)
If a man could be described of not just having a dream; but actually pursuing it with passion, it would be Miguel Merino. After spending what some would call a "career" as export director for several wineries in the area, he decided it was time to make wines with soul.
If you've ever run into someone who has a knack for throwing together amazing results, but looking at how it was done perplexes you by the apparent lack of modern top-of-the-line equipment/facilities then prepare to be amazed, because these wines are block-busters of true Riojan style.
His vineyard sites can be found in Briones in the heart of the Rioja Alta, chock full of old-vine Tempranillo grapes just waiting to have their potential unlocked. It's an area renown for its chalky soil and ideal climate marked by an Atlantic influence. One which leaves a stamp of authentic Riojan style on each of the wines bottled at their less than modern facility.
The tasting room built into the bottom floor of a newly restored 19th century castle, quite the intimate table, crowded with his many different wines we encountered that afternoon.
After uncorking a Miguel Merino wine, get ready for a traditional Riojan wine experience. It’s one which can not simply be duplicated by planting a few cuttings domestically. Miguel's use of wild-yeast in the fermentation process, new American, French and even Hungarian oak and farming practices keep the wines true and if I may wildly authentic. You can find out more about the process here.
Okay here comes the tasting note and scoring part of the article. If you're anti-score, then just imagine the numerical scores are words like good, very good and yummy. My general impressions of his wines ranged from very good to great and I recommend that you grab a few to fill your cellar [as I have].
2004 Miguel Merino Rioja Reserva Vitola:
After the first splash, brilliant garnet colors beam from the glass. My first impressions left me with thoughts of tense, tart, tight, chewy tannins; one still boasting of near ripe strawberry, cherry, plums and underbrush. I’d lay it down to approach later, it’s not ready for primetime. SRP $40 Score: 91
2004 Miguel Merino Rioja Gran Reserva:
My first impression this wine needs more time, I was right, but the time frame for its maturation was less than a year. Back then, I wrote "very tight, but tasty tart cherry/plum flavors, herbal [cigars] tobacco, leather and dark mocha looming in the background. Today, this wine is a block-buster of flavor and finesse. Score 95 points, it’s ready to rock! SRP $40
2005 Miguel Merino Rioja Reserva:
Elegant smoothness on the palate, plush plum, blackberry and leather. The nose is very inviting and enticing. It’s a wine brimming with complexity and polish. The finish is very pleasing, sports good grip, I'm really dig the finally integrated tannins. SPR $30 Score: 92
2008 Miguel Merino Rioja Unnum:
A wine Miguel's son has put together using 100% French oak, sporting a new world vibe right out of the gate. Finely ground espresso, spicy tobacco, licorice and tightly wound dried dark fruits. This wine had the silkiest mouth feel, still drying tannins on end. Boat loads of red and dark fruits, brighter and definitely much flashier. SRP of $45 Score: 91
My visit to Rioja was an amazing adventure, one I will never forget. It still makes an impact on my wine point-of-view with each and every wine I encounter today. I never felt like a tourist there, I just one of many welcomed and appreciated visitors traipsing through this amazing wine region. If you have an opportunity to experience the authentic wine culture of Rioja yourself, go for the gusto and never look back. You will not regret it for a minute. Until next time folks remember life is short, so sip long and prosper cheers!
Bill Eyers' blog, Cuvee Corner can be accessed at http://cuveecorner.blogspot.com