On the Trail

Our Spanish Uncle in Rioja

Joe Manekin

Having spoken with a number of Spanish wine drinkers in the store, I know many of you already know a little something about one of our favorite “personajes” in Rioja. You may have enjoyed one of his delicious Reservas, or even have had the pleasure of tasting the wines on site in his beautifully restored nineteenth century bodega. Miguel Merino, the brand, was the first in our stable of Spanish direct imports; a winery whose delicious, fairly-priced Riojas enjoy an ever-growing, loyal fan base here at K&L. Miguel Merino, the person, is simply one of the most charming, gregarious, caring and fun individuals with whom I have the pleasure of working. I think of him as something like a Spanish uncle: quick to offer a friendly word of advice or encouragement, but never critical, always emphasizing humor and the human element of the wine trade.

While Miguel is a fantastic person, it is his combination of accumulated experience and long standing relationships which have helped him to make his “retirement project" (as he is fond of calling his winery) a huge success. Miguel worked on the commercial/export side of the Spanish wine business, and along the way made a point to get to know as many vineyard owners, winemakers, and winery owners as he could. In short, the conclusions he reached were the following: the village of Briones produces some of the best grapes in all Rioja, the best vineyards are composed of chalky clay soil, ideally with gentle slopes for drainage, and great wine simply needs patience to develop its “cruising altitude” as Miguel says. This is what lead him to Briones, to purchase and rent out vineyards (these rented vineyards are always from friends), and to focus primarily on producing Reserva level (which call for a minimum ageing period of 3 years) wine. We currently have a whole range of wines from Miguel via our latest shipment, though the two wines below are his top values and a great introduction to Rioja in general.

The 2012 Miguel Merino “Viñas Jovenes” Crianza Rioja, sourced from comparably younger vines (viñas jovenes in Spanish), is still a characterful wine (no surprise to me, as the vines actually are approaching eighteen years old and are not far from their prime production period). It has a beautiful, translucent ruby color and there are deep, dark cherry aromas leading to a very concentrated, pure, intense, cherry-fruited palate. Give this wine some air, and do not be afraid to finish it up on the second or even third day; it will only taste better! The 2009 Miguel Merino “Vitola” Reserva Rioja is a perhaps the K&L staff favorite. For Vitola, Miguel uses fruit from vines (primarily Tempranillo with a bit of Garnacha, Graciano, and Mazuelo) averaging forty years of age. He is going for a modern classic style of wine, structured but both age-worthy and drinkable upon release. This 2009 really brings the fruit! Given that the fruit comes from Briones, Rioja, however, the wine also has intensity, chalky minerality, and the authority of Rioja Alta fruit from mature vines.

The wines of Miguel Merino never disappoint. They're the foundation of our ever-expanding foray into the world of Spanish wine importation for a reason. 

-Joe Manekin