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New and Noteworthy: Few Spanish Wine Recommendations

May 12, 2016 9 comments

I’m an eternal optimist, for sure – I keep creating new “series” of the posts (like the one you now see in the title – New and Noteworthy) in the hope that I will remember to use it all the time. Well, I had or still have a number of series in this blog, but very few of them are current ongoing. Will see what will happen with this one. Here is the idea behind this series: I do get to taste many of the newly released wines, some of them are samples, some are not; the wines which I like I intend to share with you in this series of posts. ‘Nuf said, let’s go.

CVNE winesMy love affair with Rioja started after tasting of the beautiful line up of Viña Real, CVNE and Imperial Rioja (all essentially produced by CVNE), all the way up to the 1964. They were all delicious red wines. For the long time Rioja associated for me only with the red wines, until I tasted Lopez de Heredia Blanco and Rosato, both being about 15 years old and delicious. This is how I discovered that Rioja actually is not only red wines. My next discovery of Rioja white wines was Rioja Monopole (100% Viura), which (to my shame) is produced since 1915 – well, “live and learn” (or “better late than never”, whatever you prefer to comfort yourself). And few years ago I also encountered the Rioja Rosato – so now I definitely know that Rioja is a lot more than just delicious reds.
Recently I had an opportunity to taste the latest releases of few of the white and Rosé wines from Spain, not only from Rioja but also from few other regions, and I want to share those wines with you. I don’t know if this is luck, or if I lost all of my taste buds already, but I liked all the wines I tasted – below you will see my tasting notes on the 6 wines, and I would gladly recommend all 6 to you. As a bonus, all 6 are also a great value (under $20). Well, you will be the judge once you will have an opportunity to taste these wines.

Cune Monopole Rioja2015 CVNE Monopole Rioja (13% ABV, SRP: $13, 100% Viura) – the oldest continuously produced white wine in Rioja, starting from 1915. I didn’t realize this was a 100th vintage (assuming there was no break in production years).
C: straw pale
N: beautiful white fruit with tropical fruit nuances, lemon, intense
P: clean, crisp and round at the same time – is it possible?, white stone fruit, medium to full body, refreshing, nice acidity on the finish
V: 8-, this wine would brighten up any summer day

Bodega Berroia Bizkaiko Txakolina2014 Bodega Berroia Bizkaiko Txakolina DO (12% ABV, $19, 85% Hondarrabi Zuri, 10% Riesling, 5% Folle Blanche, Vegan) – Txakoli is dangerously looking but actually easy to pronounce (just say “Cha-Coh-Lee”) wine coming from the Basque country in Spain. My first encounter with Txakoli was about 8 years ago – it is a clean and refreshing wine, perfect all year around and especially in summer. Similar to many other Spanish whites, it didn’t make it in the US in any major way, but you can still find some of the Txakoli wines in the wine stores – and they well worth your attention.
C: Straw pale
N: concentrated, intense, inviting, touch of peach, candied fruit
P: fresh, undertones of candied fruit but with dry core. Somehow reminiscent of grapefruit, but without much sweetness of bitterness. Medium body and intriguing, leaves you with a sense of mystery which is hard to grasp.
V: 8-/8, excellent and dangerous. Once you start drinking it, it is hard to stop.

Cune Rioja Rosado2015 CVNE Rosado Rioja (13.3% ABV, SRP: $13, 100% Tempranillo) – shhh, don’t tell anyone, this was my favorite wine out of the group – but it is a secret.
C: Dark, concentrated pink, bright fresh cranberry juice level
N: intense, floral, with fresh berries and the leaves – imagine smelling the raspberries right on the brunch with leaves on a hot summer day
P: wow, crunchy strawberries and cranberries which just plop in your mouth as you bite them. Clean acidity, super refreshing and every sip is asking for the next.
V: 8+/9-, outstanding, one of the very best Rosé I ever tasted.

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Viña Real Rosado2015 Viña Real Rosado Rioja (13% ABV, SRP: $15, 85% Viura, 15% Tempranillo) – you don’t need my comments here – Viña Real needs no introduction to Rioja wine lovers.
C: orange onion peel
N: very restrained, hint of herbs
P: ripe strawberries, good acidity, medium body, unusual. Second day: delicious, round, refreshing, cohesive. Just needed to let it breeze
V: 7+, need to try again to make up my mind. Second day: 8-, excellent, clean, good fruit presence and perfectly refreshing

acienda de Arínzano Rosè2015 Hacienda de Arínzano Rosè Tempranillo Pago de Arínzano (13.5% ABV, SRP $19.99, 100% Tempranillo) – Pago is the highest denomination for wine quality in Spain, above DOC, and it is not easy to achieve it. You can think of Pago as single winery becoming its own appellation – as Arínzano is in our case. What is also interesting about this wine is that it comes from the Tempranillo vineyard which is designated for the production of the Rosé wine, so Rosé here is the goal, not an afterthought.
C: bright pink, beautiful
N: inviting, herbal notes, strawberries, fresh
P: outstanding. Soft, polished, fresh strawberries, excellent balance, lip smacking delicious, medium body.
V: 8, excellent wine, easy to drink with perfect balance.

Laguardia de Viña Real2012 Laguardia de Viña Real Crianza Rioja (13.5% ABV, $12.99, 100% Tempranillo) – can’t leave you without a red, can’t I? Viña Real Rioja Crianza is one of my favorite wines, and it is also one of the best value wines for about $15 or under (depending on where you shop). I never had, however, Laguardia de Viña Real, so was definitely interested in trying this wine when I saw it in the store.
Once I poured it in the glass and took sip, I was not happy. The wine was rather lean and biting, not what Viña Real usually offers in the glass. I decided to decant it, and then after about two and a half hours, the magical Rioja showed up.
C: dark garnet
N: eucalyptus, cigar box, cherries
P: fresh fruit, herbs, sweet oak, medium to full body, well noticeable acidity
V: 8- (after decanting), very nice wine, but give it 5 years or so.

We are done here – let me know if you tried any of the wines I mentioned above and what you think of them. Cheers!

Spanish Wine Recommendations, Part 4 – Where to Buy Spanish Wines

April 13, 2015 15 comments

PJWine_Rioja_IsleAs I was rather hoping for, this post is becoming a living thing – I started receiving suggestions for the additional sources of Spanish wines in different regions of the world – and will be updating the post with those. If you have suggestions of your own – please reach out!

And we are back with the Spanish wine recommendations series. In the previous three posts I talked about my long-time favorite ( and therefore, recommended) Spanish wines in the three different price categories – under $20, from $20 to $50, and from $50 to infinity. Now I want to talk about seemingly a non-subject  – where can you buy Spanish wines.

This seems to be a non-subject as the answer is simple – in the wine store, duh. Well, of course, but it is not that fast and easy. Most of the wine stores in US would have a section of the Spanish wines – however, majority of the wines in that section will be the “value wines” – unknown producers, unknown wines, limited selection of Rioja of unknown pedigree and some of the better names at often inflated prices. You really need a “specialty retailer”, someone who has a passion for the Spanish wines, to be able to buy exactly what you want at a price you want.

So in this post, I will share with you what I know about buying the Spanish wines. As I live in US, I will give you first-hand recommendations based on my own buying experience. Well, US is a big country, and I live in a close proximity to New York, so again, this is where my experiences come from. However, I will include some store recommendations for other areas in US, and I will do the same for the Europe and Australia- but this will be mostly based on the information I found on Internet, not something I know myself. Of course my recommendations will include both online and “brick and mortar” sources – as you can imagine, there is only a handful of the physical wine stores I’m familiar with, so most of the recommendations will pertain to the online stores.

Before we begin talking about the stores, I want to make a few general comments about buying Spanish wines. It may be even just one comment – when it comes to the Spanish wines, the information on the wine label matters. Another “duh moment”? Well, may be it is, but still – I want to make sure it is something you clearly understand. The words such as Reserva or Gran Reserva are protected by the law – unlike US, for instance, where the words such as “Special Reserve” can appear on the bottle at winemaker’s desire, and actually mean nothing regarding the wine. Why is it important? Reserva typically cost more than Crianza, and Gran Reserva typically costs more than Reserva – and you need to understand that to avoid surprises and to be able to buy exactly what you intended to buy and at a right price. And the vintage and producer matter –  of course, this is universal, no mater where the wine is coming from.

Okay, let’s now talk about good places to buy good Spanish wines from.

Before we get country-specific, let me elaborate on the first “duh moment” – the place to buy Spanish wine is at the wine store. It is definitely true, as a trusted wine retailer is your best source of the Spanish wines. To me, “trusted wine retailer” means exactly that – a person you trust with giving you the best deal and taking care of you. As in any other business, some retailers will be simply looking for the quick buck, but some will be there for the mutually beneficial, long term relationship – retailer gets paid, and you get an access to the wines you want at a price which makes sense. If you have a wine retailer you trust, this might be your best source of the Spanish wines, or at least, one of the best sources. But again, “trusted” is a key word here – and if you have a retailer like that, you are in luck, as hunting down good Spanish wines is a challenge.

One more (last!) general note: if you are looking for the particular wine (where to get it from) or just want to check if the price you see makes sense, Wine-Searcher is the place where you should start. Of course it has limitations – if the wine store, for instance, doesn’t sell online, you will not see it come up in the Wine-Searcher results. Also, even if you see the wine to be available in the particular store, especially if you plan to drive to the store, check with the store first if the wine is still available. And Wine-Searcher can’t tell you anything about the reputation and reliability of the store (had my share of issues). Still, it is a great tool to start your search. It is also available as an app on the mobile devices.

United States:

I have to start with my favorite wine store – the wine owned my friend Zak in Stamford, Connecticut – Cost Less Wines. Zak is exactly that “trusted retailer” – not just for me, but for hundreds and hundreds of his regular customers. The Spanish wines section in his store was built gradually over the last 2-3 years (your truly was a bit of a motivational factor, I have to modestly admit) – but at this point, Zak has an excellent selection – La Rioja Alta, R. Lopez Heredia, CVNE, Imperial, Bodegas Juan Gil, Alto Moncayo and many other wines I mentioned in my recommendations are readily available at his store. It is not just the selection – the prices are great too. For instance, you can’t even find 2001 La Rioja Alta Viña Ardanza Reserva Especial in the stores anymore. Using Wine-searcher, I found one place online where this exact wine was still available – at $89 per bottle. Zak has this wine on the shelf as $29.99. Unfortunately, Coast Less Wines doesn’t sell online, but if you live in a reasonable proximity to Stamford and looking for a good Spanish wine at a good price, this store would worth a drive.

Next store I have to mention is called PJ Wine, and it is located in New York City. This store and its owner, Peter Yi, literally put Spanish wines for me on the map (Peter is incredibly passionate about Spanish wines). First I discovered the store online, while looking for some specific wine, and this is how I ended up on their mailing list. Then I got an email advertizing free Spanish Rioja seminar – I signed up, drove to the city – the rest was a history and a love from the first sip (especially a first sip of 1964 Rioja). PJ Wine sells both in the store and online, and their selection is nothing short of incredible, including lots of Rioja from the best years – 1964, 1978, 1994 and lots more – all in stock. Again, if you live in New York city or a close proximity, this store absolutely worth a special visit (just do me a favor – decide on your spending limit before you come there, or better yet, leave all credit cards at home and bring limited amount of cash, as once you will start shopping, you will not be able to stop – and don’t tell me I didn’t warn you). Online selection is equally excellent.

One more store I have a good experience with is the Bottle King in New Jersey. It is not just one store, it is a number of stores, mostly located in Northern New Jersey –  plus an online store called The Wine Buyer. Overall Bottle King offers good selection of the Spanish wines at good prices. What is important to know about Bottle Kings, however, that the selection will vary from the store to the store, and most importantly, the selection and pricing online at The Wine Buyer might differ from the physical stores – stores often offer deals and discounts not available through the online outlet.

I wish I can offer you a selection of the stores in any of the large metropolis around the country, like Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas or Denver – but I’m not aware of any of the “Spanish wine” specialty retailers. By the way, if you know of any good “Spanish wine” specialist stores in your areas – please let me know, I will be glad to amend the post.

Going all the way to the west coast, there is not a whole lot I can offer as well. However. there is one store I would like to mention – K&L Wine Merchants. They operate three stores in California, as well as an online store. At the time of this writing, the online store offered selection of about 330 Spanish wines, many with the reasonable prices, so I believe it is worth mentioning here.

Last two sources I would like to bring to your attention are both online only. First of all, my beloved Wine Til Sold Out, WTSO.com (also available as an app). While there are other sites with the similar model (Last Bottles, Last Call Wines and more), WTSO has the best deals when it comes to the Spanish Wines. Yes, you have to be on a look out, true (sign up for email and twitter updates from them), and when the deal shows up, you have to act quickly, but still, they have by far the best selection alongside of recommendations I made. Just to give you an example of a recent deal I got there – 2002 R. Lopez de Heredia Reserva, $23 at WTSO and about $35 (give or take) most anywhere else.

The last one for the US is the online store called Wine.com. To tell you the truth, I never bought anything from Wine.com myself, but I checked their inventory, and at the moment they are offering about 300 different Spanish wines, including many of the names I talked about in this series (CVNE, La Rioja Alta, Carchelo “C” etc.), and the prices seem to be reasonable, so I feel inclined to include them into my recommendations ( if you have a first hand experience with Wine.com, I would appreciate your comments below).

Europe:

Okay, so let’s get things straight. As I live in US, I don’t have a first hand experience buying Spanish wines in Europe. So for the stores which I found, I made sure the selection looks good and the prices look reasonable. What I found was a link to an excellent article which pretty much summarizes the online sources for Spanish wines in Europe, so in essence, I only need to direct you to read this article here. Note that not all the stores in the article are equally reputable – for example, a reader told me that Uvinum is known to have problems (poor deliveries and bad customer service), so check the references before you will use them.

Now, this was the part of the original post: If you know if any wine stores with the good selection of Spanish wines (with good prices!) in your country in Europe – please let me know and I will be glad to add them to this post. Lastly, don’t forget that Wine-Searcher works internationally, so you can specify your country when searching for the specific wine.

As I have the reader suggestions now, I will include them below:

Germany:
As recommended by Julian of Vino in Love:
“I highly recommend the online retailer www.vinos.de. They have a great selection (I mostly buy my Spanish wines from them). Vinos also has stores in Berlin and Munich for those who do not like to buy wine online.”

United Kingdom:

As recommended by Mathias of The Winecurious (some stores are reviewed in the Mathias’ blog, so check it out):
“For those in the UK I can strongly recommend Moreno Wines (http://www.morenowines.co.uk) in Maida Vale. They have an excellent selection of Spanish wines and are almost every other year awarded Spanish wine merchant of the year.

Other good UK (or perhaps more London, but many of these deliver) options are:
Lea & Sandemanhttp://www.leaandsandeman.co.uk Perhaps not the largest or most innovative selection but they often have good prices and I really like the friendly service, especially in their Kensington shop.
The Samplerhttp://www.thesampler.co.uk. My overall favorite when it comes to wine shops in London. They are stronger on champagne but also have a good selection of Spanish wines.
Handford, http://www.handford.net  is also a good bet, not cheapest but not expensive either.
Zelashttp://www.zelas.co.uk Good Spanish wines at decent prices.
Two other places that deserves a mention are Hedonism Wines and Berry Bros & Rudd (http://www.bbr.com). Hedonism almost has everything when it comes to expensive and rare wines, not cheap but love to browse there and occasionally  they have good prices on really high-end wines. BBR are the oldest wine merchant in the UK (at least I think so), lovely shop, impeccable service and while not cheapest they do not overcharge so in the fair price category”
Nordic Countries (Finland, Norway, Sweden):
Again, as recommended by Mathias:
Viña Española http://www.tempranillo.nu
http://thewinecurious.com up and coming store, offering great selection of Cava at the moment, but expanding in the near future”

Australia:

Quite unexpectedly for me, it appears that Spanish wines represent a tough love when it comes to Australia. I understand that Australia produces a lot of their own wine, but so does the United States and many other countries. Yet searching for La Rioja Alta and CVNE for the whole of Australia yield only one result. Many of the Australian wine store web site don’t recognize the word “Rioja” and suggest correcting it to “Rosado”. I reached out to The Wine Wankers, very popular and knowledgeable wines bloggers who happen to live in Australia, and I got a few recommendations, out of which I would like to mention Dan Murphy’s, which is a chain of the wine stores in Australia, where you can find at least some of the wines we talked about in this series.  Well, not sure if Australia might be a next opportunity for the Spanish wines, but at least this is the story at the moment. Same as for all of my European friends – if you live an Australia and know of a wine store with a good Spanish wine selection, please let me know and I will be glad to include it here.

And we are done – now you have my Spanish wine recommendations as well as the some of the places where you can buy those wines. I still want to write one more post and summarize all we talked about here, therefore, I’m not waving good bye yet.

To be concluded…

Spanish Wine Recommendations, Part 3 – From $50 to Infinity

April 5, 2015 9 comments

In the first two posts I shared my recommendations for the Spanish wines under $20, and then between $20 and $50. In today’s post, we will drop all the limits and talk about the wines which will cost more than $50. Heck, most of them will cost way above $50. So let’s explore what the money can buy in the world of the Spanish wines.

Few notes before we dive in. First of all, there will be no white wines in this price category. There might be Spanish white wines which cost more than $50 – I simply not aware of them, hence they will not appear in this post. Now, it is important to explain my basis for the recommendations. No, I didn’t personally taste each and every wine I will recommend to you below. But – I was lucky enough to taste a lot of them – at various events and seminars, I was able to experience some of the best Rioja from the legendary 1964 vintage, Vega Sicilia Unico and even the untouchable 2005 Clos Erasmus. No, my point is not bragging, not at all. In the wine world, price can’t be equated with the quality. Not every $100 or $300 bottle of wine is worth paying for and drinking. There are no guarantees that you will get 10 times more pleasure from the $300 bottle of wine versus the $30 bottle of wine. But the wines I will be talking about below are special. If you like wine, if you consider yourself an oenophile, most of the wines I’m recommending here have a soul and worth experiencing, at least once. This is the rationale behind this list.

As you will see below, the list will be still dominated by Tempranillo, but the focus will somewhat shift down south, from Rioja to Ribera del Duero and Toro. And the wines of Priorat have much bigger play in this price category. Also, in this list, if the vintage is mentioned, it is a part of the essential information. This is different from the two previous lists, where prices were provided for currently available vintages. But here, a 1968 Rioja most likely will not taste as good 1964, and what is worth paying paying for 1964, might not be for the 1968. And the last note – availability of the wines. General availability was one of the factors I took into account when recommending the wine – the wines have to be available, at least online, in order to be included in the under $20 and $20-$50 categories. When it comes to this list, this will not be the case anymore. If you love Spanish wines, make it your dream list, this is your call – but many of the wines I will mention will have very scarce availability. Sorry about that, but this simply the way it is.

Well, pour yourself a glass of Rioja, and let’s talk about Spanish wine “best of the best”.

Tempranillo and Tempranillo-based:

Rioja:

CVNE Imperial Gran Reserva Rioja – powerful and always age-worthy – well, I will have to say this about most or even all. Around $70, but sometimes can be found on sale at around $50.
CVNE Pagos de Viña Real Rioja – 100% Tempranillo fruit for this wine is selected from the best plots of the vineyard. One of the very best wines CVNE makes, and scarcely available. About $90 in current releases?

La Rioja Alta Viña 904 Gran Reserva Rioja – balanced and delicious. Generally this wine costs above $50, but at the moment of the writing of this post, it seems to be widely available for about $45 – this is a steal for this quality.
La Rioja Alta Viña 890 Gran Reserva Rioja – La Rioja Alta flagship, the 890 commemorates the year (1890) when La Rioja Alta came into being. Restrained, earthy and extremely long living. I had a pleasure of tasting both 890 and 904 on multiple occasions (here is one of the posts), and this wine never ceases to amaze. Around $120, but price will vary from vintage to vintage.

R. López de Heredia Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva Rioja – restrained, balanced, delicious. Prices vary based on vintage, but you will probably pay more than $150.
R. López de Heredia Viña Bosconia Gran Reserva Rioja – never tasted this one. Expect it to be spectacular. Expect to pay around $300, but again, the price will depend on the vintage.

1964 Rioja – anything you can find from the legendary 1964 vintage is worth trying, if you are willing to pay – expect to pay at least $300 for anything in this group. Prepare to be awe-stricken after you will taste these 50+ years old wines. Of course there were other spectacular vintages – 1922, 1947, 1978, 1994, 1995 and so on – you can consult the Rioja vintage chart for more details.

Ribera del Duero:

While there are plenty of Rioja wines in this price category, their prices are vintage driven. The consistent lead in this price category belongs to Ribera del Duero wines, which are very expensive based even on their release prices.

Bodegas Emilio Moro Malleolus de Valderramiro Ribera Del Duero – Full throttle delicious expression of Tempranillo. Around $140.
Bodegas Emilio Moro Malleolus de Sanchomartin Ribera Del Duero – Luscious and spectacular. Around $170.

Bodegas Vega Sicilia – a legendary wine producer from Spain. Many countries have a producer, whose name is considered to be a legend, and alone is enough to solicit a dreamy and understanding “ahh” from the group of oenophiles, the people who loves wines, not necessarily the sommeliers and other wine pros. France might be an exception with multiple names capable of causing this reaction (Bordeaux first growth, DRC, Petrus, Chateau d’Yquem), but most other countries have one or very few, like Penfolds in Australia, Cloudy Bay in New Zealand, Screaming Eagle (may be) in US. Vega Sicilia is the one for Spain, a quintessence of creme of the crop. Here are three Vega Sicilia wines for you, oenophiles:

Bodegas Vega Sicilia Valbuena 5° – mostly Tempranillo with some addition of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Pretty much an introductory Vega Sicilia wine, perfectly balanced and delicious. Around $140
Bodegas Vega Sicilia Unico Gran Reserva – mostly Tempranillo with addition of Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is produced only in the best years, and it is only released 10 years after the vintage. Beauty and finesse. $500+
Bodegas Vega Sicilia Unico Reserva Especial – I never had this wine – this is a non-vintage blend of different Unico wines. I’m sure it is spectacular, and practically unavailable. I would guess that the price will be roughly the same as Unico, around $500

Dominio de Pingus Ribera del Duero – this might be the most cult wine coming from Spain. Tiny production, practically unavailable. I never tried that wine. If you will come across this wine and can afford it – I’m sure it should be spectacular. $700+

Toro:

Two more wines from Eguren Family Teso La Monja:

Teso La Monja Victorino Toro – powerful, but with nice herbal undertones. Around $55
Teso la Monja Alabaster Toro – if there is one single wine which should identified with “power”, this is the one. I tried this wine a few times – it was always a young wine though – and within a second this wine takes all over your mouth and locks it completely for next 60 seconds or so – there is simply no other sensory elements except tannins. But – definitely the wine worth experiencing, just with an age on it. Around $180

Garnacha and Garnacha-based (yep, a.k.a Grenache):

In this price range, this is squarely a Priorat territory. Garnacha is a star there, but international varieties are used quite often as well. Before we get to Priorat, one beautiful wine from Campo de Borja:

Bodegas Alto Moncayo ‘Aquilon” Garnacha Campo de Borja – dark chocolate on the firm and powerful structure. Delicious. Around $110

Coming from Priorat:

René Barbier Clos Mogador, Priorat DOCa – a blend of Garnacha with Carignan, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon. An excellent wine. Around $80

Clos i Terrasses Clos Erasmus, Priorat DOCa – one of the very few Spanish wines to ever get a perfect score (100 points) from the wine critic (Robert Parker). As I mentioned before, I was lucky enough to try this specific vintage, and it was spectacular wine. New releases are about $200. The 2005 (this is the one with the perfect score) is about a $1000 and practically unavailable.

Alvaro Palacios L’Ermita Velles Vinyes, Priorat DOCa – this wine might be even more iconic that Vega Sicilia. Alvaro Palacios is an extremely important figure in the Spanish winemaking, well outside of Priorat, influencing lots of winemakers to do their best. Never had a pleasure of trying this wine, but it should be spectacular. It is hard to figure out the pricing, as this wine is practically not available anywhere. I guess you would pay $700+, but this is an extremely rough estimate.

Monastrell and Monastrell-based (a.k.a. Mourvedre)

Not the whole lot to present to you here – but this wine is typically big and delicious:

Bodegas Juan Gil El Nido D.O. Jumilla – 30% Monastrell, 70% Cabernet Sauvignon. Of course this is more of a Cabernet Sauvignon than a Monastrell wine. So here you get the power of Cabernet Sauvignon with playfulness of Monastrell. Lots of power. Around $140

And we are done here. This list is not all encompassing by all means, but it is based on what I know and/or have experienced. Yes, these wines are expensive. Do they worth it? I can’t answer this question for you, my mission is to enable you to make the right decision when the moment comes…

No, we are not done with the series – so far we talked about “what”, but we still have to talk about “where” and “how”.

To be continued…

Spanish Wine Recommendations, Part 2 – Wines under $50

March 30, 2015 22 comments

Here we are again, talking about Spanish wines recommendations. My previous post was dedicated to the wines under $20, and now we are moving up and will look at what few extra dollars can buy you. And I actually mean it – despite the fact that our prices can go to the $50, there are still plenty of amazing Spanish wines at the lower end of the price range, mostly under $30.

Another interesting note is that in this price category transition we will mostly see all the new producer names – this will not be so much the case when we will jump the $50 limit, but – you will have to wait until we get there. I also want to remind you of the same basic concepts we discussed last time –  1) this list is mostly based on my experience with particular producers throughout the years; 2) I’m recommending producers and some specific wines, but not the vintages – with these producers, you stand an excellent chance of been happy no matter what the vintage rating was; 3) The list will include mostly red wines – there are really very few Spanish white wines in that price category which I have the long-term experience with and feel comfortable to recommend.

Ahh, before I will forget – note that absolute majority wines in this list (with the exception of the first white wine), will age extremely well. If you will age these wines, you might want to pay some attention to the vintage charts, but you will be fine even without it.

And the last (I promise!) generic note. Rioja wines are a very big part of my love of Spanish wines. When it comes to Rioja, I’m somewhat conservative, and I might be missing on some of the modern experimental concoctions. By “conservative” I also mean that there are some producers I trust completely, which means that I will gladly drink any wines from those producers, whatever I can acquire or be offered to drink. There are only 3 producers like that – La Rioja Alta, La Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España (CVNE) and R. López de Heredia. While it is only 3 producers, all started in the late 1800s (if you are interested in a bit of a history, here is one of my older posts on the subject), each of the producers offers multiple lines of wines – 4 or 5 different lines. The reason I bring it up? While I’m familiar with many of their wines, I obviously didn’t taste each and every one of them. But – and this is why I wanted to mention them before we get to the exact recommendations – if you see the name of any one of these 3 producers on the bottle – go for it. There are a few reasons for such a blunt recommendation. First, a lot of their wines are produced only in a good years – for instance, you would never see a Gran Reserva from La Rioja Alta from the average vintage. Another good thing is that generally these producers release their wines when they are ready to drink, which is not based on the minimum aging requirements, so you will always stand a good chance to enjoy their wines once they get in your glass.

Finally, done with introductions – let’s talk wine now.

White Wines:

NV Segura Viudas Reserva Heredad – one of my favorite Sparkling wines, has medium body with a good weight for the Sparkling wine, and lots of complexity on the palate. As an added bonus, beautiful bottle makes it a nice conversation piece. Around $22.

R. López de Heredia – as I already mentioned, one of my absolute favorites. Here are two white wines from López de Heredia:

R. López de Heredia Viña Gravonia Rioja – an interestingly complex white wine. Around $25.
R. López de Heredia Viña Tondonia Blanco Reserva Rioja – usually has very nice age on it by the time of the release. Combination of incredible complexity and freshness. Around $40 (I put is at $35 initially, but it seems that $40 is more realistic).

Red Wines:

Tempranillo and Tempranillo-based:

Rioja:

Multiple wines under CVNE brand:
CVNE Viña Real Reserva Rioja – usually bright with a good fruit presence. Around $25
CVNE Viña Real Gran Reserva Rioja – usually has more powerful structure compare to the regular Reserva. Around $35
CVNE Cune Reserva Rioja – similar to Viña Real Reserva in style. Actually, in price as well – around $25
CVNE Imperial Reserva Rioja – in the old days, this wine was specifically created for the England markets to compete with Claret. Good structure and complexity. Around $40

R. López de Heredia Viña Tondonia Reserva Rioja – very complex, earthy, usually more restrained than the others in the similar category. Around $40
R. López de Heredia Viña Bosconia Reserva Rioja – nice and classic. Around $32

La Rioja Alta Viña Ardanza Reserva Rioja – bright and dangerous – once you open a bottle, you can’t stop. Around $30
La Rioja Alta Viña Arana Reserva Rioja – a bit more restrained than the Viña Ardanza, but typically round and polished. Around $30
La Rioja Alta Viña Alberdi Reserva Rioja – Most structured out of 3 Reservas. Typically 100% Tempranillo. Around $25

Ribera del Duero:

I’m sure there are many worthy wines from Ribera del Duero in this price range – but I don’t have lots of consistent experiences there, hence only two recommendations:

Bodegas Alejandro Fernandez Tinto Pesquera Crianza Ribera Del Duero – soft and approachable, very round Tempranillo rendering with herbal undertones. Generally under $30.

Bodegas Emilio Moro Malleolus Ribera Del Duero – this is an “introductory” wine from the magnificent Malleolus wines. A beautiful expression of Tempranillo, full of fragrant power. Around $45.

Toro:

I probably should’ve mentioned Toro in the previous post. This is the third Tempranillo-based region in Spain, after Rioja and Ribera del Duero. Tempranillo is known here under the name of “Ink of Toro”, and typically has the most powerful expression compare to any other wines. I don’t have a consistent experience with any of the Toro wines in “under $20” range, but there is one I can recommend here:

Teso La Monja Almirez Toro – dark and dense, very powerful wine. Around $25

Garnacha and Garnacha-based (yep, a.k.a Grenache):

Again, I have a limited experience with the Garnacha wines in this price range, unfortunately. I’m sure there should be some excellent Garnacha wines from Priorat, but most of the Priorat wines I know of are in the next price range up. Therefore, just two recommendations from the same producer  – Alto Moncayo:

Bodegas Alto Moncayo Veraton Campo de Borja – fruit forward, with excellent balance. Around $25
Bodegas Alto Moncayo Alto Moncayo Grenache Campo de Borja– shows more power than Veraton, but still has an excellent balance. Around $40

Monastrell and Monastrell-based (a.k.a. Mourvedre)

Again, not the whole lot to present to you here – but this wine is typically big and delicious:

Bodegas Juan Gil Clio D.O. Jumilla – 70% Monastrell, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon. Bodegas Juan Gil produces a lot of wines in a lot of different regions in Spain. However, I’m only including one wine here, which I happened to like more often than not. Bright, fresh and lip smacking. Around $40

And that concludes our list. If you had any of these wines, I would be curious to know what do you think of them. In any case, stay tuned for the part 3, as it will include a lot of drool-worthy wines.

To be continued…

Spanish Wine Recommendations, Part 1 – Wines under $20

March 24, 2015 23 comments

List, list, list – who doesn’t like to make lists? Especially the lists of your favorites, where you basically regurgitate something familiar, and you can happily stumble on each and every entry, basking in the happy memories for a moment or three. Yep. That’s the wine list I’m talking about, people. Nope, not the restaurant wine list (that one more often than not is only a source of frustration) – the list of your favorite wines it is.

A short while ago, I was asked by one of the readers for some Spanish wine recommendations. Spanish wines as a group are probably my most favorite, so I happily engaged in the e-mail conversations. After few e-mail exchanges, I got the idea – how about I would simply create a list – a list of Spanish wines I would gladly recommend? Yep, I liked the idea, hence the post which I’m presenting to you.

Before we start, let me clarify a few things. First, I will split this list into the 3 parts – wines under $20, wines from $20 to $50, and the last one will be from $50 onward, with no limitations – no, Spanish wines can’t really compete with Petrus or DRC, but there are some wines there which would clearly require an expense account or lots and lots of passion. Another important note is that I will bring to your attention particular wines from the particular wineries – but for the most cases, without specifying the particular vintages – I tried absolute majority of recommended wines throughout the years, and wines had been always consistent, hence they are on the list. Ahh, and one more thing – I will not be trying to make balanced recommendation – the wines will be heavily skewed towards the reds – sorry about it. Okay, let’s get to it.

While I promised to focus on the reds, I have a few perennial favorites among Spanish whites which I have to mention.

White  Wines:

Bodegas La Cana Albariño – the wine is more round than a typical Albariño, with lesser acidity, but it is nevertheless delicious. Typically around $15.

Botani Moscatel Seco DO Sierras de Malaga – incredible aromatics followed by the dry, perfectly balanced body. One of my favorite summer wines. Around $16

Bodegas Angel Rodriguez Martinsancho Verdejo Rueda – might be the best Verdejo in Spain from a small artisan producer. Wonderfully complex. Around $16

Red Wines:

Let’s start with Rioja. Believe it or not, but good Rioja is hard to find in this price category, so here are few names which I know are consistent:

Bodegas LAN Rioja – one of the best values in Rioja, typically at $12 or less. Consistent, round, balanced. Not going to blow your mind – but not going to disappoint either. A perfect party wine too – often available in magnums.

CVNE Vina Real Rioja Crianza – outstanding introductory level Rioja from one of the best Rioja producers. Once you try it, you wouldn’t want to drink anything else. Typically around $15.

Grupo Olarra Bodegas Ondarre Reserva Rioja – soft and round, with nice brightness and acidity. A great introduction into the Rioja wines. Around $15.

Continuing with Tempranillo, here are a few more recommendations:

Bodegas Emilio Moro Ribera del Duero DO – Ribera del Duero is a source of powerful, clean 100% Tempranillo wines – but there are practically none available for under $20. Emilio Moro is a happy exception at around $18. Layered wine with broad shoulders. Great introduction into the Ribera del Duero region.

Viña Mayor Reserva Ribera del Duero DO – another excellent Tempranillo rendition from Ribera del Duero – dark, concentrated and polished. Can be found under $20.

Bodegas Ochoa Tempranillo Crianza Navarra – Tempranillo is the most planted red grape in Spain, so of course the wines are made everywhere. This wine is an excellent rendition of Tempranillo – round, polished, with nice fruit and traditional tobacco notes. Around $16.

Bodegas Volver Volver Red Wine DO La Mancha – another Tempranillo rendition, this one simply bursting with raw power. Powerful, brooding, very muscular wine – which is a great pleasure to drink at the same time. Around $16.

Here comes another darling of the Spanish red wine grapes – Garnacha, a.k.a. Grenache in the rest of the world.

Bodegas Borsao Tres Picos Garnacha DO Campo de Borja – one of the best red wines you can buy overall for $12. Simple and delicious.

Alvaro Palacios Camins del Priorat, Priorat DOCa – okay, this is a Garnacha blend, but considering that this wine comes from Priorat, one of the most exclusive winemaking regions in Spain, you should hardly complain. An excellent introduction into the region – dialed back red fruit and mineral complexity. Around $15.

And the last from the best known traditional Spanish varietals – Monastrell, a.k.a. Mourevdre in the rest of the world.

Bodegas Luzón Luzón Red Wine, DO Jumilla – simple, fruity, approachable, and nicely balanced. Almost an exception in this list at about $10.

Bodegas Carchelo Carchelo “C” Red Wine, DO Jumilla – a blend of Monastrell, Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon. After my first encounter with this wine I coined the term “dangerous wine” (or at least I think this was the wine) – what makes this wine dangerous is the fact that after the very first sip you can’t stop until the bottle is empty. Perfect balance of fruit and power. Around $15.

Torres Atrium Merlot, Penedes – as a fun fact, did you know that Torres is the biggest wine producer in Spain? Well, this might not be a fair recommendation, but still. I had this wine only once, but it was extremely memorable. The recommendation might be not fair as I’m not sure you can get it in the store – in Connecticut, it reserved for the restaurants only. I had it in Florida in a restaurant for $26, and if you will be able to buy it in the store, it would be around $12. If you can find it anywhere – go for it, as the wine is simply stunning, with or without taking the price into account.

Before we part, one more note. Outside of well-known grape varieties, such as Tempranillo, Garnacha and Monastrell, don’t be afraid to take the risk with lesser known Spanish varietals in the under $20 range. Look for the white wines made from Godello, or the reds made from Mencia, Bobal, Trepat and the others – there is a good chance you will not be disappointed.

And we are done! I was not trying to give you a comprehensive list – theses are all my favorites, you can just print this post and go to your local wine store, if you feel inclined, and then we can compare notes. The next post will cover wines in the $20 – $50 range – there are lots of treats there, my mouth starts watering as soon as I start thinking about those.

To be continued…

World-class American Tempranillo

June 13, 2015 22 comments

If you will ask me “what is your favorite wine”, I would always honestly tell you that I don’t have one. Which is generally a true statement. With may be an exception of the Spanish wines – and Tempranillo wines in particular. Deep, deep down, I know that I have a tiny bias towards Tempranillo. Or at least if you will ask about the most memorable wine experiences, Tempranillo wines would be definitely at the forefront.

The “world-class” is not necessarily a generic term when it comes to wines – but this is how I like to refer to the wines which are best of the best in my opinion. The “world-class” in my vocabulary is reserved to the wines which don’t leave you indifferent; these wines solicit emotional response from the person drinking them, and for the most cases that response is a simple three letter “word” – wow (is this actually a word? Not so sure…).

Tempranillo is a great grape of Spain. Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Toro are close to any oenophile’s heart, with lots of unquestionably world-class wines, with hundreds years of winemaking history. Tempranillo made it to the California at the beginning of the 20th century, but was planted in the wrong places too many times (Tempranillo does the best on higher appellations and in the cooler climates), and was mostly used in the blends. In the 1990s, it made it to Oregon, Washington and then Texas, where it started showing excellent results in the single-varietal wines. I had an opportunity to taste single-varietal Tempranillo from Abacela winery in Oregon, and few of the Tempranillo wines from Texas, and they all were good and promising wines.

Couple of days after I published my Spanish Wine Recommendations posts, I got an email from Danielle Irwin, who I knew as a blogger at Naggiar Vineyards, the winery in the Sierra Foothills region in California, where her husband Derek works as a winemaker. Danielle offered to send me a sample of their Tempranillo wine, bottled under their own label as Irwin Family Vineyards. As you can imagine, I gleefully agreed (I rarely refuse a sample, never mind a bottle of Tempranillo), and in a few days the package arrived with two bottles and a letter from Derek inside. The letter included all the technical details regarding the Tempranillo bottle, as to where the grapes were growing (specific plot of the estate vineyard at 1,500 ft elevation), when the grapes were picked (in October 2010), how grapes were fermented (stainless steel and large format French oak barrels) and then how the wine was aged. I let the wine rest for a few days after the trip (to try to avoid “bottle shock”), but then patience worn out, and I opened that bottle…

Irwin Family Vineyards Tempranillo

2010 Irwin Family Tempranillo Piedra Roja Block 22 Sierra Foothills ($36, 13.5% ABV, 90% French Oak, 10% American Oak, 28 month)

Color: Dark garnet
Nose: Cherries, cedar box, spices
Palate: Dense, chewy, layered, blackberries, dusty texture (reminiscent of the famous Rutherford Dust). Great complementing tannins, soft but well supporting the structure. Perfect balance. Coffee and mocha in the long lingering finish.
Verdict: outright delicious, world-class wine. Drinkability: 8+. I would drink this wine in a heartbeat at any time. As an interesting side note, the wine paired amazingly well with the Comte cheese.

Derek mentioned in his note that this wine was inspired by the wines of Toro region, which typically are the most concentrated renditions of the Tempranillo, and I definitely see that parallel.

The second bottle was a Tempranillo blend:

Irwin Family Vineyards The Bull

2013 Irwin Family Vineyards The Bull Sierra Foothills ($24, 13.8% ABV, 44% Tempranillo, 28% Malbec, 28% Petite Sirah)

Color: Dark Garnet
Nose: sweet plums, vanilla, nutmeg, dark chocolate
Palate: medium body, touch of spices, perfect acidity, nice textural presence, nutmeg, impeccable balance, lots of dark chocolate both on the palate and in the medium-long finish
Verdict: Delicious! Drinkability: 8. Bonus: works very well with food, especially charcuterie (meat and cheese).

There you go, my friends – two delicious wines from the region which I really want to explore in depth (Sierra Foothills), and the world-class American Tempranillo. You don’t have to believe me – head over to the Napa and taste it at Irwin Family Vineyards, or sign up for their wine club (Tempranillo is only available for the club members). Cheers!

Wednesday’s Meritage – #MWWC16, Grape and Wine Holidays, Spirits Talk on the Radio, M. Chapoutier Tasting, LBW Marathon

April 15, 2015 Leave a comment

Meritage Time!

Today’s news are a very eclectic mix – from big international grape celebrations to the interesting, but very local updates. Nevertheless – let’s get to it!

First – this is the last reminder for Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #MWWC16, “Finish” – the deadline to submit your entry is Monday, April 20th. I don’t think I saw a single entry so far, which is sad, as I think the theme is great. Come on – I know you can do it (addressing myself as well as part of the group) – so let’s just do it!

Grape and wine holidays, anyone? I don’t know who, where and how comes up with all of those holidays, but still, as oenophiles, we must support them, aren’t we? First of all, April is the Michigan Wine Month. Well, this might be a tough celebration for those who don’t live in Michigan – don’t know about your state, but Michigan wines are nowhere to be found in the state of Connecticut. If you don’t have an access to the Michigan wine, at least you can read about it – here is the link to the Michigan Wine web site.

Up and coming in the glass next to you is… Malbec! Friday, April 17th is a Malbec World Day. Unquestionably associated with Argentina today, but really one of the core Bordeaux varietals, Malbec often creates soft, luscious and approachable wines well appreciated by the wine lovers everywhere. Your celebration instructions are simple – open a bottle of Malbec, pour, smell, sip and savor. Don’t forget to say “ahhh” if you really enjoy it, and tell the world about it #MalbecWorldDay.

Next holiday is a Sauvignon Blanc Day (#SauvBlancDay), which will be celebrated on April 24th, less than 10 days from now. Actually, when it comes to this holiday, we know where and when – it was created by the folks at the St. Supéry winery in California 6 years ago, to celebrate one of the most popular white grapes in the world, Sauvignon Blanc. If should be easy for you to join the festivities by opening the bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, and then sharing your impressions in the social media.

The last wine holiday for today is a 2nd annual Rioja Week, which will start on May 2nd with the Wine and Tapas Festival taking place in Chicago. Again, easy to celebrate – get a bottle of Rioja and drink it with friends!

How familiar are you with the wines of Michel Chapoutier, one of the oldest producers in France (established in 1808), best known for his Rhône wines? Whether you are well familiar or not, you are not going to miss out on a tasting of a few of Chapoutier’s Hermitage wines, wouldn’t you? On April 19th, Total Wines & More, one of the largest wine retailers in US, will be conducting a virtual tasting event, where you will have an opportunity to taste (for real) some of the great wines made by Michel Chapoutier. The tasting will take place at the Total Wines stores near you – for more information and to get tickets (priced at $25) please use this link.

Be forewarned – the madness is coming! Nope, not the apocalypse type. Just a simple wine madness.  Last Bottle Wines, purveyor of great wines at value prices, will conduct their Madness Marathon tomorrow (04/16), starting at 12 PM Eastern/9 AM Pacific time, and continuing for the next 48 hours, or until the Last Bottle cellar will be empty.

During the Madness Marathon, all the wines will be offered in the rapid succession, without any notifications – no twitter, no e-mails, no text messages. The only way to follow the madness is by constantly refreshing your browser window. There are no minimum purchases to get a free shipping – you can buy 1 bottle at a time, it is fine. All the wines you will buy will ship together after April 27th.

You will need to have an account with Last Bottle Wines, and all account information should be pre-filled – speaking from the experience, the wine you want might be well gone by the time you will finish putting in an expiration date for your credit card. In case you don’t have a Last Bottle account already, I will be glad to be your reference – not that you need a reference, but if you will sign up using this link, you will get $5 credit on your first order  – and yes, I will get $20 credit after your first purchase – but once you are in, you will be the one who will tell your friends about it. In case the link doesn’t work, feel free to send me an e-mail to talkavino-info (at) yahoo (dot) com.

Lastly, two updates more of a local nature. First, last Friday I had an opportunity once again to talk (yep, that is something I like to do) about my favorite subject. Well, with a slight twist – the conversation was about liquid pleasures outside of wine – Vodka, Scotch, Bourbon and the others. Once again, I was a guest at the Off the Vine Radio Show with Benita Johnson – and you can listen to that show here. Next time, you should call in and ask questions – will make it more fun!

Before we part, I want to mention that I finally produced a post #4 in a series of the Spanish Wine Recommendations – this post is focused on the places where you can buy Spanish wines around the world. The reason I’m mentioning it here is because after I published the post, I got very useful comments extending the coverage of the good places to get Spanish wines around the world. I updated the post with those comments, so if you read the post already, you might want to check it out again. Here is the link for you to make it easier. If you also got any suggestions or comments, please make sure to share them.

And we are done here. The glass is empty, but the refill is on the way. Cheers!

 

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