by Andrew Chalk
Bodegas LAN is one of the best known wineries in Spain’s most famous wine region, Rioja. Despite being central to a region steeped in history, the winery is very much a product of the modern era, having been founded in 1972. The name is an acronym of the first letters of the three provinces that make up the D.O.Ca. Rioja (Logroño, Álava, and Navarra). What you get with these wines is excellent Rioja wine for the type in question, at a very competitive price point. Indeed, I would argue that Rioja is one of the best values in wine today, if not the best value.
Rioja means, overwhelmingly (almost 90%), red wine (there is some white, crafted from the viura grape, but it is not a globally appreciated wine style) made predominantly from the tempranillo grape. Few Riojas are 100% tempranillo. Mazuelo (carignon), garnacha (grenache), and graciano play a supporting role. Proportions like 80% tempranillo, 10% mazuelo, and 10% garnacha are common. An unusual aspect of the wines is that traditionally (less so in recent years) American oak was the most used ageing medium.
Rioja is odd in defining its wines not primarily by place, but by cellar treatment (there is a recent caveat to this, mentioned below).
Thus plain Rioja implies little if any oak treatment, producing straightforward and fruit forward wines.
Rioja crianza means aged in oak for a minimum of 12 months, without concern whether this is new or used oak, or the origins of the oak (indeed, LAN’s web site does not even give this information for their crianza). This is followed by at least 12 months in the bottle before the wine can be sold.
Rioja Reserva is aged at least 12 months in oak barrels and 24 months in bottle.
Rioja Gran Reserva is aged at least 24 months in oak barrels, followed by at least 36 months in bottle. Obviously, this category elicits the most enthusiasm among aficionados of Rioja as the ageing, and its structure, give ample opportunity for complex secondary and tertiary aromatics and flavors to evolve. I have a policy of generally only buying Gran Reservas. Your palate may differ.
Rioja’s as a class can be described as medium-bodied red wines of incredible temporal durability. A 10-year old Rioja Reserva (or Gran Reserva) can exhibit softened tannins, fully resolved fruit flavors and not a hint of decline. The 2012 reserva wines in this tasting are actually undergoing crib death in being drunk so young. Most red wines in the world won’t make it eight years.
Bodegas LAN is distinctive in being a skunkworks for oak experimentation. As well as American oak (from Missouri and Ohio) they use French, Russian, Hungarian, and Pyranean barrels, and even a hybrid made from American oak staves and French oak ends.
The exception to the cellar treatment quality ranking is a new 2018 classification permitting producers to put the vineyard, village or municipality of the grapes on the label, and requiring the declaration of which sub-region of Rioja the grapes come from. The third wine in the tasting (below) is an example of this. Viña Lanciano is a single vineyard, and the label declares that this is a wine from the Rioja Alta sub-region.
Bodegas LAN 2016 Rioja Crianza, Spain ($11)
Appearance: Opaque ruby with a touch of brown at the rim.
Nose: Strawberries, chocolate, green tea, leather;
Palate: Chewy, structured wine with powerful unremitting fruit that is not out of balance with secondary flavors like wood, tobacco
Bodegas LAN 2012 Rioja Reserva, Spain ($20)
Nose: Vanilla, ripe blueberry fruit, oak, tea, spicy, chocolate,
Palate: Concentrated blueberry fruit, sweet oak,
Bodegas LAN Viña Lanciano Rioja Reserva, Single Vineyard, Spain ($27)
Appearance: Opaque, ruby. Looks more youthful than its vintage implies.
Nose: Cedar, clove, vanilla,
Palate:Grippy tannins, imposing fruit, herbs, liquorice;
A big, backward wine that will age and improve for a decade or longer;
Of these three wines, my preference is for the style of the reserva, with the single vineyard wine a close second. The crianza is an excellent value. When you visit the tapas bars of Logroño (the commercial heart of Rioja) it is no wonder that bottles of crianza are the most popular selection.