Martín Códax Ergo Rioja 2005
Sometimes circumstances allow me to watch an open bottle of wine evolve over several days.
This observation is unscientific; to be sure my nose and palate may be changing just as the
wine seems to change. None of this is easy to measure. Suffice it to say that my regard for
the Martín Códax Ergo Rioja when I opened it on Wednesday, though positive, did not in
any way anticipate the poignant regret I was to feel when I said goodbye to the wine on
I hosted a “pot luck” dinner on Wednesday, you see, providing the wines. I aerated each wine several hours. In the process I tasted the Rioja and made my initial notes. The guests proceeded to ignore the Rioja entirely, not even tasting it, reaching for more familiar names, both red and white. “Their loss, my gain,” I mused the next evening, savoring a glass and adding a few more notes. The bottle lost its last drops at a light outdoor lunch for four on Saturday.
My Wednesday notes read “true to style.” My Saturday experience proved the statement. The $14 Martín Códax Ergo Rioja is 86% Tempranillo and 14% Mazuelo (one of the several Spanish names for Carignan), sourced from the Rioja Alta. Much of the wine is aged eight months in American oak. Sweet oak, toast and vanilla come as primary aromas, with red berries and citrus peel. The Rioja, for all the ripeness of its fruit, is extremely dry, with moderate acidity and compliant tannins. The wine is very well balanced and fully palate friendly, bringing cocoa, tobacco, dried herb, deep ripe cherry and red berry. The finish is medium length and well filled with gentle juicy fruit.
Rioja is a region known for its many small growers, a configuration that allows outside
producers like Martín Códax (the company is headquartered in Spanish Galicia) the leeway
to find quality grapes and yet keep the cost of their wine in check. The eight month aging
does not qualify the wine for Crianza status under the tight Rioja rules (a year in cask is
necessary), but it hardly seems to matter. The wine gets the oak it needs to bring the best out
of that brilliant grape called Tempranillo. It remains for the connoisseur to invite the sort of
guests who can appreciate a wine of this quality.
Verdict: A happy wine
Good Rioja is soft and seductive. It may seem vulnerable at first encounter, but once you pounce, you discover in it a resilient power that won't let you go. The pursuer becomes the prey, but why resist?
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman
Tempranillo, Spain's flagship red grape.