Wine Education

Spain’s Spin Rioja is Dealing with an Old vs. New Image

Meridith May

We’re talking decades here. This practice was the signature of Rioja wines, and it was only in the past 20 years that things began to change – slowly. While the traditionalists continue to age their reds (Tempranillo is the iconic grape of Rioja, followed by Garnacha) in barrels for long periods of time – now four to ten, no longer 24 years – oak is more subtle and fruit vibrancy is no longer missing from some of the well respected wines, such as the ones we are profiling in this article: El Coto de Rioja and Baron de Ley.

Top wines deserve prominent positions on great restaurant wine lists. In these international contenders, there’s a lushness that’s inherent within the bottle, a seductive romance, that, like Flamenco dancers and the spirit of Cervantes, are the heart and soul of Spain.

PHOTO “Monastery”: The Monastery at Baron de Ley


Traditional, for a New Generation: EL COTO DE RIOJA

The No.1 wine brand in Spain is El Coto de Rioja. The winery carries out the tradition of this classic Spanish wine growing region, producing Tempranillo in a soft, easy drinking style.

“We created this trend in the late ‘70s,” commented José Luis Ripa, Area Manager America and Ambassador for the El Coto de Rioja label. “The winery vinified its first grapes in 1970, and its first bottling was released in 1975.”

It would be 20 years later that modern, state-of-the-art technology would overhaul this Rioja landmark, bringing with it forward thinking winemaking processes and new equipment, such as 70,000 225-liter American oak casks and temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks.


The Modern: BARON DE LEY

In the 1990s, several of Rioja’s bodegas bought sufficient land to make wines from their own estates. One of these was Baron de Ley, located on a 90-acre estate of a 16th Century monastery on the left bank of the river Ebro.

Although situated about 250 miles south of Bordeaux, Baron de Ley resembles a French Chateaux in more than one way (producing grapes from its own property). The winery is a maverick in planting Cabernet Sauvignon and blending the grape with the land’s indigenous Tempranillo. Spain’s rigid wine laws forbid the mention of Cabernet Sauvignon on the winery’s label. That may soon change, thanks to the influence of Baron de Ley, whose brilliantly fruit driven offerings allow them to participate on the world wine stage.

“As a company, we have to play the role of leading winemaker in Spain,” José Luis Ripa points out. “As we promote our wines through the Frederick Wildman portfolio and attempt to conquer the American market, we are also developing other wine-growing areas throughout the country such as Cigales, near Ribera del Duero.”

The winery invested in hiring Ripa to represent both labels: a Spaniard living in the U.S. to promote and educate the trade, provide sales and marketing support; a huge asset towards Wildman’s success.

PHOTO A: Jaime Echavarri, Director General for Grupo Baron de Ley with Jose Luis Ripa, Area Manager & Ambassador for Baron de Ley and El Coto de Rioja.



Tasting Rioja Wines with Ciudad’s Patti Hulsey

PHOTO “P”: Ciudad’s Patti Hulsey

Ciudad means “city” in Spanish, and for seven years now, this Latin-South American- inspired hotspot is in the milieu that occupies actual city space known as downtown L.A.

Owned by the two “hot tamales,” Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken of Border Grill fame, Ciudad is home to tapas and mojitos as well as an array of hot-blooded wines from Spain, Chile and Argentina.

Ciudad Bar Manager Patti Hulsey joined Frederick Wildman V.P. Barry Walsh and Wildman Area Manager/SoCal Kristin Schierbaum to taste the wines of El Coto de Rioja and Baron de Ley.

Photo “Q”: Frederick Wildman V.P. Barry Walsh and Wildman Area Manager/SoCal Kristin Schierbaum


Tasting Rioja

El Coto de Rioja 2002

Juicy and lush, this 100% Tempranillo offers up structure and length, with a spicy olé! at the finish. We paired it with Ciudad’s signnature Peruvian ceviche: marinated sea bass served with crispy plantain chips.



Coto de Imaz 1999 Reserva

“The great thing about Spanish wine is that it is aged and then released, ready to drink,” explained Ciudad’s Patti Hulsey, who said she enjoyed the “richer, softer, more substantial” qualities of this 100% Tempranillo Reserva, aged two years in oak and one year in the bottle. Likening Tempranillo to Pinot Noir, Hulsey noted that this is a wonderful seafood wine.



El Coto de Rioja  Coto Real Reserva 2000

Matured for 16 months in alternating American and French oak barrels, and aged a further two years in the bottle, the Gran Reserva was not unlike a great Chateauneuf-de-Pape. Its deep, plush style is cloaked in bright red fruit, with generous oaky charm and a fine acid structure that begs for food.



Baron de Ley Reserva 2000

If El Coto is traditional, then Baron de Ley- with grapes grown on its own estate - is the modern version of Rioja, with fruit-driven, extroverted wines. Spicy, perky and soaring with big, ripe cherries and strawberries, it was paired with Ciudad’s Gaucho steak, a grilled ribeye stuffed with jalapeno and garlic.



Baron de Ley Finca Monasterio 2002: The Super Rioja!

This is Baron de Ley’s “experimental wine,” with 40% addition of Cabernet Sauvignon (not permitted on the label) to its existing Tempranillo.

Spain is at the crossroads where Tuscany was ten years ago,” Barry Walsh, v.p. for Frederick Wildman, pointed out. “Baron de Ley is steps ahead of the country’s regulatory process, making wines outside of Spain’s classification system.”

Ciudad’s Patti Hulsey remarked, “This wine is mouthwateringly delicious! It has a serious concentration of juice, along with finesse from the Tempranillo and blockbuster personality from the Cab.”




El Coto Rioja Blanco 2004

The pleasing white peach and grapefruit profile of this 100% Viura, Rioja’s major white grape, is the result of fermentation in stainless steel tanks (no oak!!). Clean and crisp, with hints of grass and apples.

El Coto de Rioja Rosado 2004

We reflect on the heat of Spain as we sip this refreshingly lovely dry rosé with our tapas at Ciudad, a blend of 50% Tempranillo and 50% Garnarcha. We love the minerality on the back as well as its prom-dress pink hue.



Rioja Classifications

In terms of how long the wines are aged, Crianza is the youngest, Reserva and then Gran Reserva.

Reservas are only made in exceptional years as are Gran Reservas, which also come from the very best vineyards, aged an average of eight years.


(El Coto de Rioja and Baron de Ley are distributed by American Wines)

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