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96-point 2010 Rioja Gran Reserva - March 2019

If there's a way to celebrate the end of Dry January, this might be it. That is, with the Rioja that tops Decanter's (www.decanter.com) panel review of 2010 (red) Riojas. The big news is that it does so at a remarkable price of just £14.95 (from us).

Big Scores at Low Prices is exactly the story we find our customers want to hear about, so let us tell you more.

If you just want to buy the wine without further ado, click on any of the photos/images below.

The Bodegas Olarra Cerro Añon Gran Reserva 2010 scores 96 points in the blind-tasted panel review. In so doing, it tops the pops by a full point and is one of just two wines rated as Outstanding at 95 points or more (the other Outstanding is a £40 wine and not UK-available - this we know as we looked hard at importing it). 

There are a further 34 Highly Recommendeds (ie 90 points or more): you can find full details of all those we offer - some are very fine and affordable - here on our page of the March 2019 Decanter wines.

The review confines itself to wines under the Reserva and Gran Reserva labels (plus a very few of the "luxury modern" style ... which curiously don't fare that well, although 2010 was early days for these). In so doing, it captures the upper-echelon style of Rioja that accounts for a good 25% of the UK market, but does not cover the workhorse Crianza category or the 'house wine' (if one is to to be frank) Jovens.

The variation in these four styles - as most will know - is not inherently one of quality, but, by definition, one of: 

  • (most crucially) ageing time in oak barrel (barrica); and 
  • (lower importance, really) overall time before release from the bodega (effectively, additional time held in bottle after said barrel-ageing).

That said, it is typically the case that, for a Rioja to age well - for which, Reservas and Gran Reservas are largely designed - better quality in the vineyard and winery are almost always required. (That said, there are a few cheaper versions that just meet the criteria for the label and then fall apart spectacularly after a few years!)

It is typically held that Gran Reservas are only made in the very best years, but it is noticeable that the majority of Rioja producers have produced one every year for some years now, despite some noticeably poorer harvests.

It's the topic of harvest quality that explains why Decanter have focused on 2010. Put simply, 2010 was a brilliant Rioja vintage, whoever you ask or believe:

That's the background, the pre-amble. We could bang on about grape varieties allowed, the sub-regions of Rioja and the relative merits of French and American oak, but

  • Decanter do all of that very well (you'll have to buy a copy; we can't reproduce all of that...); and
  • we figure that by now, you want to know about the Cerro Añon.

Bodegas Olarra lie behind this tasting-topper. Based in Logroño, they're a relative newcomer (established in 1973) on the Rioja block. However, they've risen to major prominence, partly by dint of armfuls of awards in recent years. But their approach remains one of tradtion and mid-market appeal, continuing to espouse the classic categories of Rioja ... and not getting too far ahead of themselves to rocket numerous boutique "luxury modern" Riojas up the price scale instead. Their Y-shaped bodega is among the very top striking wineries (of many) in the region, and has attracted the moniker, The Cathedral of Rioja. You can see why... 

The Cerro Añon Gran Reserva (GR) is Olarra's flagship wine. At under £15, one might expect it to cut every available corner to sneak inside the GR category. It very much doesn't, because:

  • Olarra's best grapes are drawn in from both Rioja Alavasa and Rioja Alta and great selection is employed  before vinfication;
  • it makes surprisingly extensive use of new French oak, both in fermentation and ageing barrels (ie the wine sees new oak twice), and also new US oak in some ageing vessels; and
  • a minimum standard of ageing for a GR would be 24 months in oak and 36 months of bottle age: this wine sees 27 months and 45 months respectively.

There's a heap more detail on the wine's 'technicals' on the product page.

So, how does it taste for all of that? Well, we at Exel loved it in our group tasting here (see bottom photo). There's a careful balance to be struck in a good GR Rioja. It's all too easy for the extended oak ageing and subsequent time-in-bottle to fade a wine too heavily (it happens often with GRs); that is, to make it too 'tawny' (if you will). It's also too easy to bring too much oak to bear and to up up with an Oak Monster, or to leave it just a bit short of oak, leaving the wine feeling too 'full-on fruity' and unbalanced.

We strongly felt the balance was excellent here; this didn't feel like a wine with 8+ years already on the clock, and had instant drinking appeal (we respectfully disagree with Decanter's view that this needs a little more time before drinking, but that entirely depends on just how you like your aged Rioja and what you expect from it. NB: We took the time to give our bottle of the GR some 4-5 hours in a good, large-surface decanter (see bottom photo) at a good room temperature, and felt that the wine was open and fully expressive already. Whether each of the 70 bottles tested by Decanter gets such love, we know not.

We'd entirely agree with Decanter, of course, that it easily has 10 years (and then some) of prime drinking window ahead of it (from now).

There's oodles of all those classic 'ageing flavours' swirling around: tobacco, leather, boxwood, bacon ... all draped across a base palate that is unusually black fruit-ish for a Rioja (but still predominantly red fruit).

What (pleasantly) surprised us most were both the sheer silkiness/'smoothness' (a term we try to avoid), and a finish that was still with us at tea-time.

Decanter's 96 points was accompanied by a myriad of positive remarks from the three judges (see review above): "refreshing and well balanced", "seductive and wonderfully approachable", "very long and memorable", "vibrant and gorgeously rich".

Bodegas Olarra Cerro Añon Gran Reserva




We've probably said all we need to, haven't we? If nothing above convinces you of just how good this daftly-well-priced, ageworthy Rioja is - from the best vintage in decades - we're not sure anything will.

All Hard Sell put aside, we'd always suggest buying plenty of a wine that looks this good when you see it - these wines often see their stocks vanish very fast after a Decanter review like this. Oh, how many times we speak to returning customers a little distressed that they didn't buy a bit more...

If you are wading in for a fair chunk and want to qualify for free carriage (£200 order value), here's two key thoughts we might offer:

  • Don't get too fixated on cases of 12 (which we know doesn't quite get you to £200); we have excellent cases of fifteen, you see...
  • You'll notice that last picture above doesn't just feature the Cerro Añon Gran Reserva. Its younger siblings - the Reserva 2015 and the Crianza 2016 - are also excellent and available from us. This isn't just a bit of makeweight marketing.

The Reserva is a very fine specimen, and we struggle to find Reservas of this quality for the wonderful £12.50 price tag. That 2015 vintage (in Rioja generally) sees big scores from the critics (see those vintage chart links above). It's got some top vanilla, heaps of fruit, great balance and is most appealling, especially at the price.

But that Crianza, in particular, is Fantastic (capital F fully intended). Of the team here, most actually preferred it to the "main event". Yes, really. It's a different style, of course - more fruit-forward, immediate and crunchy. We're quite sure that this is a top-scoring Crianza (alas, it escaped the remit of this test) and one that will age incredibly well for a Crianza (5-7 years from here). At (exactly) a tenner a bottle, seriously, don't miss this one.

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Bodegas Olarra Cerro Anon Rioja Reserva 2015 (1x75cl)

Bodegas Olarra was created in 1973. Situated on the outskirts of the city of Logroño in Rioja Alta, their winery – a Y-shaped building designed to make optimum use of the space for both production and ageing of the wine – is known as “the Cathedral of La Rioja”. From the beginning, the winery has known how to combine the traditional methods of production and ageing with the most advanced modern techniques of viticulture and vinification. A favourable geographic location, gives the vineyards all the ingredients to produce good fruits. Indeed the clay and chalky soil is watered by the rain and the Ebro river. This area also benefits from warm sunshine and the influence of the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts. In 1978, Bodegas Olarra achieved their first Gold medal for a Cerro Añon wine in the tenth International Wines and Spirits Competition in the UK. Numerous awards followed from then on, proof of the outstanding quality of their wines.

The 2015 vintage was officially classified as Very Good by the Rioja Control Board (Consejo Regulador) and was the earliest in the history of the Rioja appellation. September in particular was key to attain this vintage’s high level of quality. As a general remark, Olarra's wines from this vintage have a high level of fruitiness, soft, elegant tannins, great potential for aromatic development and outstanding conditions for ageing.

The fruit for Cerro Añon Reserva comes from Olarra's vineyards in both Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Alta. Average vine age is around 25 years; the soil patterns in the vineyards are a combination of the well-known limestone/clay/alluvial mixes to be found in most of Central Rioja.

Approximately, the mix of grapes for Cerro Añón Reserva 2014 is 90% Tempranillo, 5% Mazuelo and 5% Graciano.

Harvests took place at the end of September, with a good ripeness level (both phenolic and alcoholic); Olarra  managed to harvest most of the grapes intended for use before the weather took a turn for the worse.

Maceration time was 18 days with daily pumping over in stainless steel vats at a controlled temperature of 29ºC. Half of the wine underwent malolactic fermentation in new 225-litre French and American oak casks, while the other half saw malolactic in concrete tanks.

Barrel ageing was carried out in 225-litre oak casks/barricas, of which 65% were made of American wood, the rest being French Allier oak. This lasted for 20 months with regular racking. The barrels were aged from brand new to 7 years of age. Once fining and bottling were finished, the wine remained in the bottle cellar for 18 months before the start of release.

At the time of release, this wine showed a bright crimson red colour. On the nose, aromas of sweet ripe fruit and delicate notes of smokiness. On the palate, tastes of cherry, plum and blackberries combine with gentle clean aromas of oak. That's an elegant mouthfeel, a full body and a fresh and fruity aftertaste. This wine still has mases of life in it and should drink very well for the next 10-15 years.

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