Campo Viejo delivers well made, exceptionally priced Rioja classics
One of the great things about wine is its ability to continually deliver “a-ha!” moments. We all know the feeling, you try a wine made from a grape you’ve never thought much about, or from a region you don’t have much experience with, or you had earlier discounted for some reason. Then when that new wine passes your lips you wonder why you hadn’t been drinking said wine all along. That happened to me with Spanish wines, fairly early in my wine drinking days. I had occasion to try a few wines from Rioja and I was knocked out. What impressed me was the quality of wine, the subtlety and grace they featured at bargain prices.
From that point forward I’ve been drinking Spanish wines with regularity. Over time I’ve sampled numerous offerings from all over Spain -- they have many fine wine regions. However, time and again I return to Rioja wines because they still provide the hallmarks that impressed me to begin with. Recently I took part in a tasting of wines from Campo Viejo. I was duly impressed with the wines and the value that each of them represented in their respective categories. I decided to take a closer look at a trio of their offerings, which are widely available across the United States, at remarkably reasonable prices.
First up is the Campo Viejo 2003 Crianza. This offering is a blend of Tempranillo (85 percent), Garnacha (10 percent) and Mazuelo (5 percent). Barrel-aging occurred over 12 months in a combination of French and American oak, followed by a year of bottle-aging prior to release. This wine has a suggested retail price of $10. Age and wine designations are closely tied together in Spain: a wine designated Crianza is the second-youngest designation and requires a minimum of two years of aging. This wine has a lovely ruby red hue that’s striking in the glass. Cherry and leather aromas are apparent in a very fresh, lively nose. The cherry theme continues through the palate, along with hints of vanilla bean and red raspberry. Black and white pepper, nutmeg and licorice emerge on the finish, along with a touch of earth. This wine is quite smooth and offers a bit more refinement that the typical Crianza. The fresh, vibrant characteristics are what really stand out about this selection. For right around $10 this is a nice everyday choice, a red that could easily be served with a bit of a chill on a warm summer month.
Second up is the Campo Viejo 2006 Reserva. This offering is a blend of Tempranillo (85 percent), Graicano (10 percent) and Mazuelo (5 percent). Barrel-aging occurred over 18 months in a combination of French and American oak; 18 months of bottle-aging followed prior to release. This offering has a suggested retail price of $14. The Reserva designation is the next step up from Crianza; three years of aging prior to release is required for a wine to be labeled as such. Hints of tobacco leaf, cigar box and eucalyptus underscore black cherry aromas, which dominate the nose of this wine. Blackberry, dark plum, wild strawberry and cherry flavors all mingle together to form a layered and complex palate loaded with fruit. Black tea, a bit of berry jam and black pepper are all part of the finish, which has good length. Medium tannins and firm acidity provide nice framework for a wine that will serve as a great accompaniment to a variety of different cuisines.
Finally we come to the Campo Viejo 2003 Gran Reserva. This wine is a blend of Tempranillo (85 percent), Graciano (10 percent), and Mazuelo (5 percent). Barrel-aging occurred over 24 months in a combination of French (80 percent) and American (20 percent) oak. That was followed by three years of aging in bottle before release. This wine has a suggested retail price of $21. The Gran Reserva is the highest Rioja designation and requires the most aging to achieve. This wine has an exceptionally expressive nose. Blasts of earth and mushroom are prominent, as are wild black cherry aromas. The palate is loaded with black and red fruit flavors -- raspberry, cherry and plum are all present. Both fresh and dried fruit characteristics are apparent, and they’re joined by a host of fruitcake-spice flavors. Earth and chicory emerge in droves on the lengthy, impressive finish of this wine. This offering is ever so slightly tight out of the bottle, and is enhanced by an hour in the decanter. This is an elegant Rioja that is well worth sipping and contemplating on its own, but it can also be paired with hearty foods.
One of the unique things about wines from Rioja is the amount of age they have when they hit our shelves. Regardless of the designation, in most cases they’re ready to drink. Certainly many Gran Reservas will drink well for a number of years (this example included). However, that’s not necessary for enjoyment of these wines. Each of them provides very good value for its retail price. That said, the Camp Viejo 2003 Gran Reserva in particular is a stunning value. For right around $20, most can afford to drink this wine with some regularity, but it has the complexity and structure to also work perfectly well as a special occasion wine. If you drink Spanish wines already, give Campo Viejo a shot. If you haven’t had much experience with Spain, they’re a fine place to get started.