We come to these wines like moths to the light

in Wine by

By Celia Strong

It’s always so interesting what some names mean. And, in the wine world, so many are particularly interesting. Winery names, region names, grape names … all of it.

I suspect this week we’ll find a few more.

For our wine this week, we return to an often-visited, by us, region of Spain. Rioja. Right there, we have an interesting name. The region is named for its closeness to the River Ja. Rio Ja.

For years we just thought it was a name with no meaning. Rioja is an official Spanish DOCa, the top legal level for its wines. The region is located in North Central Spain. Riojas can be white or rosé, but they are 85 percent red wines.

The red wines come in various stages of aging. Crianza wines are the youngest with two years aging, one in wooden barrels. Reserva Riojas are aged for three years, still with at least one in oak barrels. Gran Reserva Riojas are aged at least two years in oak barrels and three years in their bottles.

As the aging of the wine increases, so does the quality of the grapes used to make it and the price we pay for it.

The main grape variety used in red Rioja is Tempranillo. It’s probably safe to say that if you like wines made from Tempranillo, you really, really like them. The name “Tempranillo” comes from the Spanish word “temprano,” which means “early.” It’s not a particularly interesting name, but it does tell us that this variety ripens early.

There is an old legend that this grape ended up in Northern Spain with Cistercian monks. They carried Pinot Noir cuttings with them from Burgundy and left some behind in the Spanish towns they traveled through. These cuttings, according to the legend, morphed into Tempranillo. Now, that’s a good story!

Tempranillo wines are medium- to deep-ruby colored when young. They can be long-lived wines and can improve significantly with aging. This is possible, partly, because Tempranillo has a low level of oxidizing enzyme. The grapes are black and thick-skinned and the wines tend toward higher alcohol levels. Also, this grape has low to medium levels of natural acidity and medium to high levels of tannins. With these characteristics, Tempranillo wines are firm and round at the same time. It’s no wonder we like them.

Fruit flavors in Tempranillo include strawberry, blueberry, raspberry, blackberry, black currant, red stone fruits, cherry, plum, raisin and prune. Spicy notes in these wines include vanilla, dried herbs, clove and cinnamon. Herbal undertones are green herbs, mint and eucalyptus. Earthy flavors are wet earth, leather, minerality, tobacco and graphite. And, from barrel aging, these wines get vanilla, cedar, oak and soft spices. Complexities and layers are all good things.

Food pairings for Tempranillo are numerous. Beef, lamb, veal, pork, poultry and seafood can all do well with Tempranillo wines. The key to pairing with this grape is the seasonings. Paprika, olives, garlic, roasted garlic, onions, red onions, mushrooms, bell peppers, capers, black pepper, tomatoes, prunes, almonds, saffron, olive oil. What’s not to like?

Our Tempranillo this week comes from Viña Herminia. The name, “Herminia,” is related to the name “Herman.” But it also means beautiful, young, pretty and an old-Latin closely-related name means “moth.” And, moths to the light are like us coming to try this wine.

Viña Herminia was founded in 1949 by descendants of another high-quality Spanish winery. At the end if the 1990s, it branched out to make Rioja wines. Bodega Viña Herminia was created in 1997. It is a modern winery, shaped like the letter H. A symbol of its initial, Herminia winemaking pays its respects to the old Spanish traditions and incorporates modern techniques in with them. Also, the grapes are from only the best terroirs.

The winery’s goal is to create La Rioja wines of the highest quality, and its wines are stylish and universally well-liked. The multitude of awards it has won proves it.

Our wine is Viña Herminia Rioja Reserva 2009. A 90-point-plus wine in many wine publications, it is round, rich and flavorful. It is cherry-red in color with a rich cherry-red meniscus. Its aromas are full and hearty and fresh. Red fruits galore with plums and blackberries, creamy vanilla, cloves and cinnamon, and a hint of deep rose. It is richly textured with a long, lingering finish.

This wine is made from 85 percent Tempranillo, 10 percent Garnacha and 5 percent Graciano. It is aged in barrels for 18 months, and then 18 more months in its bottles, a great excuse to flock into the light of Rioja wines.

But, there’s more. Usually this wine cost about $25 or more. For us, though, it’s $19.99. We can flock more often! Enjoy.