Faustino Rivero U Reserva Silver 16

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Rioja, a name practically synonymous with Spanish wine, is a venerable and dynamic wine region in north-central Spain. Modern-day Rioja is divided into three sub-regions: Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa, and Rioja Oriental, each offering unique microclimates and soil compositions. The vignerons in Rioja focus primarily on red wine production, and Tempranillo is the region's flagship grape. Other significant red varieties include Garnacha, Graciano, and Mazuelo, while Viura leads the white varieties, accompanied by Garnacha Blanca and Malvasia. Rioja's diverse terroir and innovative winemaking techniques contribute to the distinct profiles of its wines, ranging from vibrant and fruity to rich and complex.

Rioja wines are differentiated by their aging process and classified into four categories that generally allude to their character and complexity. Joven wines are young, often released in the year following the harvest, capturing fresh and fruity characteristics. Crianza wines are aged for a minimum of two years, with at least one year in oak barrels, offering a balance between fruit and oak influence. Reserva wines undergo a three-year aging process, with at least one year in oak, resulting in a super-complex blend of fruit and oak spice while also introducing a wealth of tertiary flavors. The top tier of Rioja's aging classification is 'Gran Reserva,' requiring at least two years in oak and three years in the bottle, producing wines of exceptional depth, complexity, and aging potential. This system underscores Rioja's commitment to quality and the region's mastery of oak aging.

The Rivero family's journey in winemaking spans five generations, starting in 1899 in Arnedo, La Rioja. The family's patriarch, Olegario Rivero, a bootmaker by trade, began selling homemade wine to locals in wineskins. This unique method of wine distribution led the second generation, Agapito Rivero, a trained bootmaker who continued to grow the family's wine and wineskin business. 

In the 1940s, the business transitioned to the third generation, Amador and Faustino Rivero, who focused solely on winemaking. They expanded their market reach by selling wine in bulk and wineskins all across Rioja. By the 1950s, the family was a full-fledged winery, now selling to the Basque Country, Catalonia, and Galicia in chestnut barrels. 

The late 1960s and 1970s were significant for the Rivero family, coinciding with the expansion of D.O.Ca. Rioja and the family started producing and bottling wines under the Faustino Rivero Ulecia label. In the 1980s, Agapito and Jesús Rivero, the fourth generation, contributed fresh knowledge and managed the construction of a larger winery, allowing for increased wine maturing capacity. 

Classic old-school Rioja is all about the oak aging, and this meticulous process is the key to the wine's final character. The Rivero family employs a mix of American and French oak barrels, each contributing distinct aromatic and flavor profiles to the wine. American oak typically imparts notes of vanilla, coconut, and sweet spices, while French oak offers more subtle hints of spice and toast. This combination results in that classic Rioja blend of fruit and oak influence. Rivera Silver Label Reserva spends up to two years in the barrel, allowing the wine to develop superbly refined structure and complexity — a true expression of classic Rioja Reserva.

In your glass, Bodegas Faustino Rivero Ulecia Reserva Silver Label opens with a tapestry of ripe red fruits, featuring dark cherries and wild strawberries, beautifully intertwined with hints of vanilla, brown spice, and just a whisper of mocha. On the palate, you'll find generous fruit perfectly balanced with just the right amount of dusty oak influence. Dark red berry leads into the smooth and lengthy finish, complemented by hints of earth, leather, tobacco, espresso, and a hint of balsamic.

I've always found traditionally fashioned Rioja to meld seamlessly with a multitude of foods. Classic pairings would certainly include Spanish favorites like tapas, chorizo, and Manchego cheese. Of course, this stunning Reserva will pair beautifully with grilled meats, roasted lamb, and hearty stews. For vegetarian options, we love it with grilled vegetables or mushroom-based dishes—the earthy flavors blend beautifully. 

Hammond and I savored a glass of this delicious, traditional Rioja Reserva with Beltie Burgers yesterday. While lamb is usually our red meat of choice, we also occasionally enjoy beef. We always purchase beef from the friendly folks at Headshrink Farms. Their farm is located in Burnsville, and they specialize in raising Belted Galloway Beef, a rare breed known for its exceptionally lean and flavorful meat. They sell at farmer's markets all around WNC — Hammond meets them at the Mills River Farmer's Market — and we think their beef is a steal for how good it is. Word of warning: you won't want to go back to supermarket beef after trying Beltie!

You can contact Headshrink Farms at (478) 319-2061 to place an order and get their market schedule. Let them know we sent you!

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