We decided the time was right to pit two aged-red, heavyweights against each other. Italy vs. Spain in a contest for palate supremacy. In one corner was the 2000 Marziano Abbona Barolo. A 93-point "Wine for Kings" hailing from the hillsides of Piedmont. The opponent was a 1999 Faustino Rioja Grand Reserva, a classic Spanish beauty from a well-respected, 140-year old estate in the North-Central part of the country. The battlefield was in Wellington (Beef Wellington that is!).
The Barolo opened nicely, as the familiar wafts of roses, cherries and truffles filled the air. The first few sips gave us loads of darker berry fruits, followed by a long finish of licorice and earth flavors. 36 months in French and Slovenian oak, along with another year in the bottle before release, gives this Italian gem an extra-long lifespan. It's just simply superb, and another reminder why Barolos are quickly becoming some of the best "big" red wine bargains on the current market.
The Rioja felt like a journey back in time. From the old-school label design and bottle wrapped in netting, to the signature aromas of ripe red fruit and leather, this was a unique treasure to be enjoyed with special friends. The savory tastes of cranberry compote, along with a cushiony mouthfeel, virtually sashayed across the tongue. It was so enlightening to be treated to the uncanny freshness that comes with the characteristic aging of a Grand Reserva (28 months in French and American oak, plus another 44 in the bottle, before release from Faustino).
While there is the "apples and oranges" aspect of comparing these two great wines, the compatibility with Beef Wellington proved to be the deciding factor in this competition. While the Barolo was a worthy contender on its own, the still-intense tannins, along with bold fruit flavors, proved a bit too overpowering for the beef. The edge went to the Rioja, thanks to the lively acidity it was still able to deliver after 13 years. Along with its lighter red berry notes, the Spaniard takes the victory, thanks to being a perfect partner with the "Welly."
While Spain may have won this battle for red wine dominance, we selfishly look forward to the many pleasures to be gained in future skirmishes between these old-world super powers.