Spotlight on Spain: Miguel Merino Gran Reserva 1999

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What is the distinction between tradition and modernity? The modern derives from the past, so the separation is not simply time. When we say ‘modern’ we tend to imply a break or change from what was. Thus, the distinction between tradition and modernity lies in philosophy rather than time – it is a shift in attitudes and perceptions. So what does it mean to bring modernity and tradition together? Can they subsist peacefully in the same room?

Miguel Merino is a producer that, to me, embodies this struggle. Merino is both a new wave artisanal producer, but also one who believes that the philosophies and approaches of the past have a lot to teach us. Jancis Robinson argues that wine making in Rioja is characterized far more by barrel maturation than fermentation techniques, with 225 litre barriques now being required by law. But, from where does this tradition emanate? The emigrating French winemakers fleeing phylloxera in the 19th century brought these barrel ageing techniques to Spain, and they have since stuck. Rioja’s unique twist has always been to use American oak rather than French, and to age the wines considerably before release. However, new producers are starting to introduce French cooperage, and this is sure to start changing the scope of the wines in the region.

So, what is tradition? As I intimated in my last post, tradition seems to be the unique confluence of historical perspectives. For me, Merino embodies this because he brings both the wine-making techniques that made modern Rioja what it is together with the new gesture towards approachability and fruit, without jettisoning the former for the latter.

In essence, wine from Miguel Merino tastes like it gestated in the womb of a traditionalist such as Lopez de Heredia or La Rioja Alta, but upon birth, gained the characteristics of an exuberant youth. And, gestation is the right word to use here because Merino believes in the tradition of releasing wines far later than the rest of the world. By using the monikers Reserva and Gran Reserva, Merino is remaining true to what producers like Finca Allende are avoiding – the long oak and bottle maturation process. This wine, the 1999 Gran Reserva (28 months in American Oak), is the current release from Merino, and is singing all the better because of it.

Made from 95% Tempranillo and 5% Graciano (an indigenous grape that promises great things), the wine glories in its forward raspberry, cherry and strawberry fruits, all wrapped up in dilly American oak. The gamey palate reiterates these aromas in your mouth and adds balance with wonderful secondary notes of cigar, and old oak. With air, this wine adds both graphite and gravitas and approximates a very good Bordeaux in style, elegance and substance.

$60 at Marquis


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