Few Exel customers can have missed the hurrah that has surrounded one particular wine over the last year: the Cerro Añon Rioja Gran Reserva 2010.
Awarded 96 points and Outstanding status by Decanter in their March 2019 edition (in a panel test of top-end Riojas), it went on to become our most successful, most demanded and most talked-about wine yet. It was lauded at all the Exel tastings it attended. Online and shop customers either bought it by the boatload or returned frequently. Even the producers were surprised when we kept appearing to demand more pallets.
The hype was well justified (to which all that demand fully testified). This was a perfectly judged Gran Reserva, in which fruit character and intensity were matched superbly with the flavours of ageing and development, neither side overpowering the other. This isn’t so uncommon in top Rioja, but what made it unusual with the Cerro Añon was that you could pick up a bottle of top-class, top-vintage Gran Reserva for just £15. This was a wine, after all, that, under test, outpointed many of the great, £50+ superstars of Rioja.
If you somehow missed the above - or just want some more detail on the wine itself - try the article that accompanied its release onto the market.
The problem with high demand in a world of finite supply is that things run out. Here and across the UK, the Cerro Añon GR10 vanished from shelves just after New Year. If there’s a theme to our days now, it’s being asked if we have some secret stash squirreled away somewhere. We don’t. Really, we don’t. Even my own personal bottles have now all gone.
Other questions necessarily emerge: is there a new vintage? Is it any good … as in … really as good as the previous vintage? And how and when can we obtain it?
These questions, we can now answer.
There is a new vintage. Here it is. If that seems obvious, bear in mind that Gran Reservas are only produced in top vintages. You won’t find the Cerro Anon GR gracing every year over the past decades.
Is it good? As good?
Let’s firstly step back a second. You might expect us to tell you it is, regardless, in order to sell you loads in a piece of mercenary marketing. But we don’t operate like that ... nor can we afford to if we want to stay both popular with customers and in business.
(Honestly, if the new vintage of a wine isn’t up to what customers expect, we’ll tell you. Exhibit A, your Honour: Tinpot Hut Sauvignon Blanc 2016 and 2017).
Conventional wisdom says the 2011 can’t be as good. 2010 is revered as a truly great year by most for Old World wines. It fits the old, just-about-true, “divisible by five” maxim, and was indeed superb. 2010 was rated as “Excellent” by the Rioja control board. The chances of another great vintage a year after seemed slim.
In recent visits to Rioja, and in talking to a number of export managers and winemakers, I’ve learned that many rate 2011 at least as highly as 2010.
However, it was a very different harvest. It was a mighty hot summer, leading to a lot more ripeness, more rounded tannins and less acidity.
Actually, we hadn’t really taken much regard of the above when we excitedly carried out our blind, comparative tasting of the two vintages (see photo).
But that’s very much what we found on the ground.
Three of our tasters preferred the 2010; three preferred the 2011. Different wines as they were, I personally found it a hard call. It really does all depend on how you like your Rioja.
The now-vanished 2010 is the softer, lighter, more elegant wine. In any Rioja, there’s a balance of red fruit (eg strawberries, raspberries, redcurrants) and black fruit flavours (blackberries, blackcurrants) that’s a good measure of the ripeness of the fruit. The 2010 is something like 50/50 red/black. You’d also have to say it has some more complexity and a greater variation of age flavours: more than you’d expect from just the extra year on its side. It is, as Decanter told us last year, the epitome of a Gran Reserva.
The 2011 is a bigger wine. Some might say - and some here did - that it's more "exciting". That red/black mix is more like 20/80 here. It’s altogether a more fruit-forward, riper, fuller-bodied, high-octane Rioja. One might even say (NB: I doubt Olarra would) that it has a bit more of the New World about it. That extra fruit drive does come at the slight – and it is slight – cost of complexity and subtlety: the tobacco/leather/coffee/toffee tones are just a little more muted, although there is also more to come. This is a wine that’s probably going to be best in the next 4-5 years, but that’s always hard to judge. If anything, the 2011, I might argue, is perhaps how you might expect an exceptional Reserva to taste; it definitely has a lesser sense of "fruit fade" than is common with Gran Reservas.
So, if you like your Rioja bigger, fruitier and less.. well… leathery, the 2011 is definitely for you.
If you like the faded elegance of a classic, top, old Gran Reserva, then we’d have to say the 2011 does that less well than its predecessor.
That exact split in general preferences among out tasters very much rang out when tasting the two wines here.
Either way, the 2011 is/remains an exceptional Rioja at an exceptional price, just as the 2010 was before it. It would be possible to get all too locked up in inter-vintage comparison and the notion that, because Decanter only rated the 2010, it must be the better. But this, you will appreciate, is more a function of the snapshot way in which the panel tastings occur; they vary in what they choose to cover/review from year to year.
It’s not just Exel Wines that rate the 2011: the IWC gave it a Gold medal last year, and, now that the new vintage is out and about, we’d expect to see more – even Decanter – run into it.
How and when can you obtain it?
It's now with us in Perth.
Come with us on the continuing trail of this excellent Rioja, if you will.