The broad story
Few customers can have missed the hurrah that has surrounded one particular wine over the last two-and-a bit years: the Cerro Añon Rioja Gran Reserva.
It started in the spring of 2019. Awarded 96 points and Outstanding status by Decanter in their March 2019 edition (in a panel test of top-end Riojas), the 2010 vintage 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 (NB: the 2010 is all very much gone indeed).
The problem with high demand in a world of finite supply is that things run out. The Cerro Añon GR10 vanished from shelves fairly rapidly. We were much asked if we had some secret stashes squirreled away somewhere. We didn’t. Alas, we never do.
Good news came in the form of the (then) new 2011 vintage. Whilst quite different from the 2010, it was again excellent and saw the Cerro Anon Gran Reserva remain super-popular through 2020 and (thus far in) 2021. It won a Gold (95 points) at the International Wine Challenge in 2019.
For the record: the 2011 was a ‘bigger’ wine. Many customers remarked that it was more "exciting". It was certainly a more fruit-forward, riper, fuller-bodied, higher-octane Rioja. You might say that it had a bit more of the New World about it. That extra fruit drive arguably came at the slight – and it was slight – cost of complexity and subtlety: the tobacco/leather/coffee/toffee tones were just a little more muted, although (for those that still have bottles) there is also more to come.
It’s worth stating at this point that the Cerro Añon GR is a wine intentionally made in a more immediate style - and the ‘modern’ Rioja idiom - in any event. For all that is classified under the traditional age statement system (here: Gran Reserva), it is designed for sooner drinking than many GRs (such as the grand old Viña Tondonia, for example). Most traditional/old-school GRs are more about age and fading elegance … and less about power and fruit exuberance. Both relative to most other Olarra wines, and in absolute terms, the Cerro Añons are more new-wave in their approach (the Olarra Laztana, for those that tried it, being markedly more traditional). We’ll be coming back to this point shortly.
But we’re there again. The Cerro Añon GR now has fans everywhere; the Germans (and there are many of them), in particular, seem very keen on it. The 2011 has lasted well, but it’s all gone here and in Spain.
You’d think it’s now a quick-and-easy transition to the 2012. But there isn’t any 2012. Or 2013. Or 2014. The next Cerro Añon Gran Reserva is the 2015, which, under the ageing-before-release regulations for Rioja Gran Reserva, has only just been released (around October 20th 2021, depending on destination market).
Why no 2012, 2013 or 2014? You will know that Gran Reservas are intended to be a bit special, like vintage Port. They are only to be made in the best years. These days, that ambition, to me, seems somewhat diluted for reasons of commercial expediency: many Rioja producers seem to turn out a GR almost every year these days. You will certainly find GRs – from many fine producers - from all of 2012, 2013 and 2014 (and doubtless they are very fine). But you’ll not find the Cerro Añon GR from those years. All power and credit to Olarra for holding back until (what they felt was) another really great year.
In general, 2015 was rated Very Good by the Rioja Consejo Regulador; that’s a four-star rating (of five), if you like (explained here). That compares with the Excellents of 2010 and 2011. But these ratings, you will know, are far from everything. They are guidelines. And averages at that: Rioja, being some 650 square kilometres of vineyards, is a huge area taking in a wide array of terrains, soils and altitudes. Superb conditions in one sub-region can be accompanied by awful ones elsewhere. The view of the team at Olarra was that, for them, 2015 was an excellent year, and as good as 2010 and 2011.
It was a hot year; the Rioja harvest set records for its earliness. However, it was more linear and ‘controlled’ a year than the very hot 2011, if not quite as very linear as 2010. And this shows in the relative character of the Gran Reservas from 2011 and 2015 (as explained below).
It remains at £15.50 a bottle.
Reviews of the 2015
Certainly, the early reviews of the 2015 – from sample bottles at a stage shortly before release – have been highly positive. Most notably, it has just (July 2021) won a Gold medal at the 2021 Decanter World Wine Awards, where it won the following praise:
"Classic vanilla and fruitcake nose, along with some creaminess. Smooth tannins on the velvety palate, plus smooth and round, silky tannins, zippy acidity and really good fruit concentration. A lovely example with very good length. Bravo!"
Our tasting and our take on the 2015
The big questions are obvious enough:
- Is the 2015 as good as the 2011?
- Can it be a ‘proper’ Gran Reserva when it’s only now being released?
Let’s firstly step back a bit. The sceptical and/or wary customer might expect us to declare that the 2015 is shimmeringly brilliant, regardless of reality, in order to sell a boatload in a mercenary piece of hit-and-run marketing. But we don’t operate like that ... nor can we afford to if we want to sell more of this wine, remain popular with customers and stay in business. Honestly, if the new vintage of a once-stellar wine isn’t up to what customers expect, we’ll absolutely tell you. Exhibits A and B (among many), your Honour: Tinpot Hut ‘s Sauvignon Blanc 2016, vs 2017 and the Talinay Pinot Noir, 2015 vs 2016.
We put the two wines up against each other (having been sent a pre-release sample by Olarra), just as we did with the 2010 vs the 2011 some 18 months ago (these comparative tastings are quite fun). We then returned to our glasses a number of times through the day.
We explain that here in a video version. For those who prefer text, here’s what emerged:
You can’t escape the inescapable. The 2015 is a younger wine by four years. Although the 2011 was more fruit-power-driven and less age-flavour-driven than the 2010, it had unmistakeable tertiary/ageing flavours – that classic mix of chocolate, tobacco, cedar, leather, coffee, etc. The 2015 has the first sniffs and flavours of these – more than you might expect for a wine just being released – but clearly has distance to travel for those notes to develop to more classic Gran Reserva levels.
But I am quite sure that they will develop and that the wine will be fully the equal of the 2011 in a couple of years from now. This, I feel, may well be/probably is structurally a better wine than the 2011.
You have here:
- excellent fruit concentration – it's a little less 'jammy' than the 2011 and more concentrated than the 2010. It’s pretty dark fruit in the main, something like a 70/30 black/red fruit mix. For me, the overriding fruit flavours were plum and bramble;
- very good barrel/oak handling – the smoke/vanilla/coconut/sweet spice tones from the French and US oak are significant but not overpowering. They are well integrated already and becoming softer by the day; and
- superb acidity and tannins – the former is very attractive and will add longevity (greater than for the 2011, I am sure); the latter are surprisingly plush and soft for a GR still in its youth.
The issue, really, is one of what you expect and want from this wine.
- If you want a classic, old-school, age-affected Gran Reserva with all that “leathery” feel, this is not – yet - that wine. Either come back and drink this from 2024 or buy something a bit older.
- But, you can – and I feel should - drink this wine now. Given its price, it will not be – at all - infanticide to have a bottle now. Put simply (perhaps too simply), it drinks today like a very good Reserva (frankly, one of a markedly higher price point). To some extent, as mentioned above, that is how this wine is to be drunk in any event. Its more ‘New World’, concentrated approach lends it, as Olarra intend, to rather earlier drinking.
To conclude, it is different drinking to the 2011, but not quite as different as you might expect. Once again, it’s a superb Rioja, whether you drink it now or come back to it in 2030.
How and when can you obtain it?
It has only just been released. Our consignment left Logrono on the 26th October. We will have it here on/around the 8th November. We expect demand to be high for this Rioja, so are canvassing demand early to ensure we bring in enough (and to allow you to plan your winebuying for the winter!). It is now on sale for that arrival date.
** ARRIVING AROUND 16th DECEMBER **
** THIS IS THE NEW VINTAGE OF OUR TOP-SELLING, EVER-POPULAR RIOJA. THE 2011 IS NOW AT AN END. **
** UNDER RIOJA RULES, THIS NEW VINTAGE HAS ONLY JUST BEEN RELEASED, LEFT THE PRODUCER ON 22nd OCTOBER AND IS DUE WITH US AROUND 16th DECEMBER. **
** WE'VE NOW HAD A CHANCE TO TRY THE NEW VINTAGE, ARE MUCH IMPRESSED AND YOU CAN READ/SEE BELOW HOW IT COMPARES. **
** ARRIVING AROUND 16th DECEMBER **