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In Jacques Restaurant on Wednesday evening, a Frenchman told us the story of the Spanish family that employs him, before we got down to tasting a series of their gorgeous wines.
The Forner family had been involved in wine for decades before having to flee to France during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), having “lost everything”.
Eventually, they began making wine in Bordeaux before, many years later, finding their way back to Spain to begin a winery in Rioja. Forner are better known to us as Marques de Caceres and the Frenchman, Florent Thibaut, is their Export Sales Manager. Florent was introduced to the attendance in Jacques by Dave Buckley of Cassidy Wines.
Florent started us off with a gorgeous Verdejo, saying that in fairly recent times, Marques de Caceres had began to make white wines in Rueda and Rias Baixas. “This grape is local in Rueda, giving a dry but aromatic wine, very pleasant on its own or with food (fish, salad).” It certainly was vibrant and fresh in the mouth with a delightful bouquet.
Next up was another white, their Albarino from Rias Baixas in Galicia. Think he said Galicia means mother earth, and he mentioned that the name of the wine indicated that it came, possibly via the Santiago de Compostella route, from the Rhine (-rino) and was brought by a monk (of course!).
He highlighted its minerality and said it is a great match with seafood, especially oysters. Jacques, who know a thing or two about matching food and wine, came up with some excellent pairings and the first was their Salted Cod Croquettes, a good match with the two whites.
Florent had excellent English and well able to hold his own in the banter that broke out from time to time. On being asked about the contribution of the Riedel glass to the wine, he said: “The glass is to the wine like the dress is to the lady!” Another quote, not from Florent, came to mind: Rioja wines are voluptuous; they are round and full and rich. They are not Audrey Hepburn; they are more Marilyn Monroe.
So now we were on to those voluptuous reds, all from Rioja, starting with a very highly rated Crianza, which is for restaurants. “It is one hundred per cent Tempranillo from older vineyards.. with typical pepper, spice, a great choice with charcuterie, chorizo.., very much a wine for food… very pleasant but a serious wine.” Indeed, Excellens is a wine with great character and was quite a hit in the room.
And speaking of chorizo! As the reds were being tasted, Jacques served up a tasty dish of Basmati Rice, chorizo, peppers and chilli. Oddly enough, the Reserva didn't go down as well as the Crianza! Maybe, it was because “the nose was less expressive”. Florent went on to say that the Crianza “was more full-bodied, more tannic...for food.. Matches well with lamb”. And on cue, Jacques had some delicious lamb chops on the table!
In time too for the Gran Reserva which, Dave Buckley, told us “is not made every year”, only when the fruit is very very good. ”Florent enthused: “And this eight year wine is very good indeed, from older vineyards. Very gentle, with smooth tannins. See that fresh colour…. Very fruit-driven, dark fruits.. Blackcurrant...that pepper and spice (from the oak) is there too..balsamic. For food, and for relaxing afterwards.”
Speaking further on this Gran Reserva, Florent noted its complexity and elegance. “Wine doesn't always have to be easy… sometimes you have to travel towards the wine.. From Cork to Rioja!” Reckon he had a busful of volunteers at that stage!
Most Rioja reds will have spent some time in oak. Check out the various designations below:
The green label (cosecha) indicates less than one year in oak, less than one in bottle.
The red label (crianza) indicates 1 year in oak, 1 in bottle.
The burgundy (reserva) indicates 1 year in oak, 2 in bottle.
The royal blue (gran reserva) indicates 2 years in oak, three years in bottle.