With all the ads on billboards and television I am sure you are aware that the EPCOT Food and Wine Festival is in full swing. The event has grown in length and scope through the years and one of the best components are the vertical tastings that occur each week of the festival at the California Grill. For those unfamiliar a vertical tasting, it examines one wine across many different vintages to get a sense for how the wine matures. For the EPCOT tastings typically sixty people attend each program and a panel of “experts” comment on each of the wines. The head of the Disney wine program, John Blazon MS, moderates each tasting and steers the panel through commentary. I have been lucky enough to participate in a couple of panels for the past two years, hence the quotation marks around experts.
My first tasting of this festival occurred two weeks ago with Montecillo Rioja Gran Reserva Seleccion Especial and Gran Reserva releases dating back to 1981. Winery representative Pablo Pelaez started the tasting by giving a history of the property, which began production in 1874. The modern era for Montecillo started in 1973 when the estate was purchased by the Osborne family, the largest producer of Sherry and Brandy in Spain. With their control arrived Maria Martinez-Sanchez as winemaker, a post she holds to this day. Sanchez made the recommendation at that time to sell the wineries vineyards and purchase grapes on the open market each year. In most wine producing regions this would be very unusual but in Rioja it is more common than you might think. The nature of traditional wine making in the area is more about the aging and blending than the character of the soil where the grapes grow. This runs contrary to most European wine making where there is great emphasis on terroir, or the French concept that grapes derive flavor from the soil and area from which they grow.
The tasting was very interesting, with a dramatic difference between the most and least interesting wines. I wonder if the lack of a consistent fruit source led to the variation? Without giving the blow by blow my star of the day was the 1994 Gran Reserva Seleccion, followed closely by the 1982 Gran Reserva Seleccion Especial (from magnum) and the 1998 Gran Reserva. It was a fascinating tasting that taught me a lot about the way Rioja ages.
The pictures are of the esteemed panel and then my place setting of 10 glasses. This Saturday I will be on the panel discussing Beringer Private Reserve so I will report back more next week.