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Rioja Versus Rioja – Will One Tempranillo More?

November 10, 2017 13 comments

The time has come for a battle, where the brother will go against the brother and the blood will spill … – oops, let’s cull the drama before it sets in – it is the wine we are talking about, and if anything will be spilled, it will be the wine – but I promise to be very careful, as red wine is not easy to get off the clothes.

Today, in honor of the International Tempranillo Day, we will put glass to glass some of the best of the best in Rioja’s World. These wines are truly the siblings (brothers or not), as both wines are produced by Compañía Vinícola del Norte del España (the Northern Spanish Wine Company), also known as CVNE, and also sometimes referred to as Cune, due to an interesting style of writing used on the labels.

CVNE Rioja wines

Wines were produced in Spain forever. However, the story of Rioja as we know it, started in the late 19th century, after phylloxera epidemic wiped out most of the vines in Bordeaux, but England’s thirst for Claret Bordeaux was so famous for, was at its pick. Producers in Rioja wanted to become a new source of Claret, and some of the most ambitious producers even set up their new operations right by the train station in Haro, to ensure the best transport for their wines (you can read more here).

CVNE was created by two brothers in 1879, and the ownership stays in the family even today. In 1920, Viña Real line of wines was started to produce Rioja in new, modern style. CVNE owns about 1360 acres of vineyards, located in Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Alta. Both appellations have similar soils and Atlantic coastal climate exposure, however, Rioja Alta vineyards are located at the higher altitudes than Rioja Alavesa, which shows in the resulting fruit.

Before we will enter the battle, we need to establish some ground rules, to make sure that our fighters are in the same “weight category”. The rules are not difficult: there are 4 main varieties which can be used in Rioja – Tempranillo, Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuelo (Carignan). Together, these 4 varieties should represent at least 85% of the blend or 95% of grapes are destemmed; there are few other grapes allowed to be used in the leftover percentage.  Crianza wines should be aged for at least 2 years ( 6 months in the cask); Reserva – 3 years (12 months in the cask); Gran Reserva – 5 years (18 months in the cask).

Okay, now that we set the rules, let the fight begin.

Battle Crianza:

2014 Cune Crianza Rioja DOCa (13.5% ABV, $13, 85% Tempranillo, 15% Garnacha and Mazuello, appellation Rioja Alta)
C: Garnet
N: earthy smell, freshly crushed blackberries, acidity, cedar box,
P: medium body, pronounced minerality, restrained fruit, clear acidity, tart cherries, soft, round, hint of tobacco, asking for food
V: 8-, restrained and tart, definitely improved after a few hours of breathing

2013 Viña Real Crianza Rioja DOCa (13.5% ABV, $15, 90% Tempranillo, 10% Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuello, appellation Rioja Alavesa)
C: Garnet
N: surprisingly different, dark fruit, touch of tobacco, touch of sweetness
P: medium+ body, firm structure, cherries and tart of cherries pit, even brighter acidity than a previous wine, more present mouthfeel
V: 8-, a touch fruitier and more round than previous wine. Different but equally good.

Conclusion: Tie. You can definitely taste the difference – Cune Crianza is more restrained and tight, and Viña Real is more round and fruity from the get-go. Slight difference in age and vintage might play a role. The wines would ask for a different food, but otherwise, they are equally good wines.

Battle Reserva:

The Reservas match fair and square – same vintage, same age in barrel, very similar grape composition

2013 Cune Reserva Rioja DOCa (13.5% ABV, $28, 85% Tempranillo, 15% Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuello, appellation Rioja Alta)
C: dark garnet
N: medium+ intensity, leather, touch of sweet plum, cedar box, very inviting
P: medium weight, tart, acidic, a bit of sour cherries, explicit tannins. Needs time.
V: started opening after one hour in the open bottle. More fruit showed up, perfect structure, very pleasant. Excellent overall. 8+/9-

2013 Viña Real Reserva Rioja DOCa (13.5% ABV, $32, 90% Tempranillo, 10% Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuello, appellation Rioja Alavesa)
C: dark garnet
N: medium- intensity, touch of the forest floor, mushrooms, tobacco, eucalyptus
P: cherries, cigar box, medium+ presence on the palate, crisp acidity, very pronounced French oak tannins, needs a lot of time
V: more approachable than the previous one, but still should improve with time – get a case and forget it. Also a great improvement after an hour. Wow. Superb. 8+/9-

Conclusion: Advantage Viña Real. The wines are clearly stylistically different. Appellation might play a role, and the winemaking technique, of course. I slightly preferred Viña Real, as it was a bit more round versus more austere Cune.

Battle Gran Reserva:

Here we have different vintages (both considered excellent, but I think 2010 has a slight edge up over 2011), different appellations and different grape compositions.

2011 Cune Gran Reserva Rioja DOCa (13.5% ABV, $47, 85% Tempranillo, 10% Graciano, 5% Mazuello, appellation Rioja Alta)
C: dark garnet, practically black, with Ruby rim
N: dark fruit, roasted meat notes, sage, eucalyptus
P: forthcoming tannins, tar, cherry, tart, with lip-smacking acidity, really long finish.
V: 8+, within 20 minutes of opening, not ready even remotely. After about 3 hours in the open bottle, the wine became opened up enough to become delicious.

2010 Viña Real Gran Reserva Rioja DOCa (13.5% ABV, $47, 95% Tempranillo, 5% Graciano, appellation Rioja Alavesa)
C: dark garnet, just a shade lighter than the previous wine
N: more open than previous wine – blackberries, graphite, pencil shavings, cedar box, iodine
P: incomparably more drinkable, fresh cherries, open, bright, perfect structure, eucalyptus, nicely integrated tannins
V: 8/8+, you feel the need for time, but the wine is a lot more approachable

Conclusion: Advantage Cune. First, nobody should drink 2010 Gran Reserva now. It is simply a waste. Buy it at a great price, and put it aside for another 15-20 years, especially from the outstanding vintage such as 2010. Just to explain the result here, I slightly preferred the firm structure of Cune versus fruity appeal of Viña Real.

As you can see, we didn’t find a winner of our Tempranillo battle – all 6 wines Tempranillo perfectly, as one would expect from such a great producer as CVNE.

I wish wine would be the only real battle we ever have to fight – wouldn’t that be great? Enjoy your glass of Tempranillo, no matter where it came from and celebrate the noble grape of Spain! Cheers!

Samples Galore: Few Wines For The Fall

November 8, 2017 4 comments

Are there different wines for the different seasons? In general, the answer is no. And for sure, in theory, the answer is no. The wines should be paired with food, with mood, with the company, and the actual season should have no effect on your desire to drink Champagne, or Rosé, or ice cold, acidic white or a full-bodied, massive red. Nevertheless, as the temperatures are sliding down, our desire to drink bigger wines proportionally increases. Thus, instead of fighting the trend let’s talk about few wines which would perfectly embellish any cooler autumn night.

So you think we will be only talking about red wines? Nope, we are going to start with the white. Cune Rioja Monopole requires no introduction to the wine lovers – one of the pioneering white Riojas, produced in 1914 for the first time. If you tasted Cune Monopole recently, I’m sure you found it fresh and crips. Turns out, this was not always the style. The traditional, “old school” Monopole was produced as a blend of white grapes (not just 100% Viura), with the addition of a dollop of Sherry (yep, you read it right), and was aged in the oak (read more here). To commemorate 100 years since the inaugural release, Cune produced 2014 Cune Monopole Clásico Blanco Seco (13.2% ABV, $20 ) which is a blend of Viura and other white grapes. After fermentation, a small amount of Manzanilla Sherry from the Hidalgo Sanlúcar de Barrameda was added, and the wine aged in the used Sherry casks for about 8 months. This wine had a great added complexity while remaining fresh and vibrant. Drinkability: 8. You should definitely try it for yourself – if you can find it.

Let’s stay in Spain now for the red. What do you think of the wines from Castilla y León? Castilla y León region is home to some of best of the best in Spain, such as Vega Sicilia and Pingus, both located in Ribera del Duero sub-region. But there are plenty of outstanding wines which are simply designated as Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León. Vino de la Tierra is considered a lower quality tier than DO or DOC – but some of the winemakers prefer VdT designation as it gives them a lot more freedom to experiment with the wines.

Case in point – Abadia Retuerta winery. Historical roots of Abadia Retuerta go back almost thousand years when Santa María de Retuerta monastery was built on the banks of Duero River, and the first vines were planted. Today, Abadia Retuerta exercises modern approach to winemaking, which they call “plot by plot” – the winery identifies 54 unique parcels of land, each one with its own terroir – no wonder they find DO rules too limiting for the wines they are creating. Here are my [more formal] notes for 2013 Abadia Retuerta Sardon De Duero Selección Especial Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León – Sardon De Duero (13.5% ABV, $30, 75% Tempranillo, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Syrah and other red varieties such as Merlot and Petit Verdot):
C: dark garnet
N: inviting, bright, ripe cherries, mint, roasted meat, very promising, cedar box
P: wow, smooth, layered, luscious, fresh fruit, ripe, cherries, sweet oak, excellent balance
V: 8, lots of pleasure

Now, let’s quickly jump to the other side of the Earth – to Australia, it is. If we are talking about Australia, you probably expect the subject of the discussion will be Shiraz – and this is a perfect guess. The story of Two Hands winery started in 1999 when two friends decided to start making world-class wines showcasing capabilities of different Australian regions, starting with Barossa. Gnarly Dude is one of the wines made by Two Hands, and the name here comes from the way the old Shiraz vines look like. Here are my notes for the 2016 Two Hands Gnarly Dudes Shiraz Barossa Valley (13.8% ABV, $35, 100% Shiraz)
C: dark ruby
N: fresh blackberries, baking spice, tobacco
P: more blackberries, pepper, save, savory notes, medium to full body, good acidity, good balance
V: 7+, very nice overall

Let’s go back to Europe – to Italy to be more precise. Italy is home to lots and lots of world-famous producers, but there are still a few which have more of a “legend” status. One of such producers is Gaja – anyone who is into the wine would immediately jump off the chair at the slightest opportunity to drink Gaja wines.

Gaja Pieve Santa Restituta Brunello di Montalcino (1)Gaja is most famous for their Piedmont reds – Barolo and Barbaresco. It appears that in addition to the first two Bs (Barolo and Barbaresco), the third “B” group of wines is not foreign to Gaja – if you thought “Brunello”, you were right. Gaja acquired Pieve Santa Restituta estate in Montalcino in 1994, its first venture outside of Piedmont. A “Pieve” is a parish church, and the estate was named after the church which is still present on site – the winemaking history of the estate can be traced all the way back to the 12th century.

In 2005, Gaja produced the first vintage of non-vineyard designated Brunello di Montalcino wine from Pieve Santa Restituta estate – the wine is a blend of Sangiovese Grosso grapes from 4 different vineyards. I had an opportunity to taste 2012 Gaja Pieve Santa Restituta Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (15% ABV, $75, 100% Sangiovese Grosso, 12 months in barrel, 12 months in Botti). I have one single word which would be enough to describe the experience – and the word is “Superb”. The wine had an intense welcoming nose which was unmistakably Italian – ripe cherries and leather. The palate? Where do I start… velvety, perfectly extracted, dense, firmly structured, ripe cherries, lavender, sweet oak, impeccable balance. And dangerous, very dangerous – once you start, you can’t stop (nevermind the 15% ABV). Drinkability: 9

What are your favorite wines to enjoy in the Fall? Cheers!

 

Rosé Showdown – California Versus Spain

May 30, 2017 4 comments

A glass of wine as an “adult beverage of choice” continues its growth in popularity. If we will take a closer look at that world of wine, we will discover that there are two types of wine which are leading that growth pattern – those two types would be Sparkling and Rosé. I’m not talking about the growth in the dollar amounts or number of bottles produced, but rather a growth in attention and demand. Today, you will be pressed hard to find a winery around the world which doesn’t produce at least one type of Rosé and one type of sparkling wine – for sure this is the case with Rosé. The production might be tiny (few hundreds of cases or even less) and far less than the demand is – but it is the wine which commands lots of attention.

Rosé from California and Spain

Another “phenomenon” makes me happy about the Rosé – it is slowly losing its “Rosé is only for a summer” connotation and becomes more and more acceptable and requested as a year-round drink. Rosé is a serious wine, with its own unique taste profile and capability to showcase terroir and grape variety, same as any other red or white, with two additional benefits. For one, I would dare to say that in general terms, Rosé’s versatility around food surpasses the white and the red wines – oh well, this might be only me. And the second one is pure aesthetics – the pink palette of Rosé, with possibly more shades than the proverbial 50, looks gorgeous, sexy and inviting – just take a look above and see if you are agreeing with me.

When I was offered to try two Rosé samples, of course, I couldn’t say no. The first wine was familiar to me, as I had a pleasure of trying 2015 vintage of Hacienda de Arinzano Rosé last year. The second one was the wine which I never saw before – Isabel Rosé from California. Thus it became an interesting experiment to see how the two wines would fare side by side.

If anything, putting Rosé from Spain and California on the “same page” makes sense as Rosé is clearly a “new phenomenon” for both regions, growing to prominence over the last 3-4 years at the most. Of course, Rosé was produced in Spain and California in much earlier days – but it was rather an exception and not the norm – unless we want to count white Zinfandel as a Rosé which I personally refuse to do. Until a few years ago, the only Spanish Rosé I knew about was the one from Lopez de Heredia ( which was outstanding). For the American Rosé, even if they were produced, they were really not that good (take a look at the blog post on Vinography called “Why Does American Rosé Suck” – no further comments needed?). Fast forward to today, and you can find lots of beautiful Rosé wines coming from Spain; American Rosé became a standout, as proven in the virtual tasting last year at the #winestudio.

Our first contender today comes from the first Pago estate in Northern Spain – Pago denomination signifies the highest quality of wines, this coveted level is not easy to achieve. Hacienda de Arinzano Rosé is made out of the 100% Tempranillo, in the “proper” way – by macerating the juice with the skins for 6-8 hours. Don’t you love the color of this wine?

The California’s Isabel Rosé is definitely a formidable opponent, as you can see starting from the bottle itself. Glass enclosure, beautiful shape and painted bottle – really curious how many people dare to discard the bottle once they finish the wine instead of keeping it (all I can tell you that I kept mine). A different but equally beautiful color on the mostly Cabernet Sauvignon wine, again produced in the classic style from one of the very best vintages in California (2016 had almost ideal growing conditions, watch out for those Cab prices) – and at one of the well-respected wineries, Michael Mondavi family estates.

As you can tell, it is definitely a game of equals, and for what it worth, my tasting notes are below:

2016 Hacienda de Arínzano Rosé Tempranillo (14% ABV, $20, 100% Tempranillo)
C: bright concentrated pink
N: onion peel, fresh crunchy berries
P: intense, red fruit, plums, crisp, good acidity, medium body, will stand to wide variety of dishes
V: 8-, excellent

2016 Isabel Rosé by Michael Mondavi Family Estate California (13.5% ABV, $15, 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23.5% Barbera, 1.5% Muscat)
C: light pink
N: intense fresh strawberries, herbal undertones
P: strawberries, good acidity, very dry – not bone dry, but quite dry, refreshing
V: 8-/8, light but affirmative, don’t overchill – needs to warm up a bit to become richer

Well, here we are, my friends. There was only one winner in this competition – me. Yes, I got to enjoy two outstanding wines, which will perfectly fit any table at any occasion,  and at the price, an absolute majority of the budgets. Both will be great on a summer day, a winter day, with food or without it. Grab one or both, chill and enjoy! And if you had any one of these wines, I would be really interested in your opinion. Cheers!

 

New and Noteworthy: Few Spanish Wine Samples

May 16, 2017 3 comments

If you read this blog for any period of time, you know that Spanish wines have my unquestionable love. From Rioja to Rias Biaxas to Priorat to La Mancha – Spain offers lots of tasty wines, often at an unbeatable value.

Spanish wines

I would rarely refuse a sample of Spanish wines, as this is the best opportunity to try new vintages and share my thoughts. What you can see below are few of the samples I got during February and March – all new vintages and all should be available right now at your favorite wine store.

Bodegas Beronia well known for its Rioja wines, but this time it is a white wine from Rueda we are talking about, made from 100% Verdejo. I love Verdejo wines when they have enough of the crisp acidity but don’t go too far into the grassy notes to become Sancerre twin. This wine was excellent, and a great value:

2015 Bodegas Beronia Rueda DO (13% ABV, $12, 100% Verdejo)
C: Light Golden
N: bright, inviting, invigorating, white stone fruit, ripe peach, touch of tropical fruit with a distant herbal underpinning
P: fresh, perfect acidity, touch of fresh cut grass (tiny), sweet lemon notes, refreshing
V: 8-/8, excellent wine, lots of pleasure, and a great QPR

Bodegas Torres might not be a household name in the USA, however, Torres Family is the biggest wine producer in Spain – which, luckily, doesn’t affect the quality of the wines. I had many different Torres wines from many different Spanish regions, and those wines rarely disappoint:

2013 Torres Celeste Crianza Ribera Del Duero (14% ABV, $20, 100% Tempranillo)
C: dark garnet
N: muted nose of baking spices, lavender, touch of roasted meat
P: dark fruit, good acidity, refreshing, open, plums
V: 7+, fresh, simple, easy to drink

Rioja Gran Reserva for $25? Yes, please, but let me taste it first? Gran Reserva is expensive to make – think about all the cellaring time the wine requires (5 years total) to be officially marked as Gran Reserva. So $25 is a great price for the Gran Reserva if it tastes good – and this wine was outstanding:

2005 Rioja Bordon Gran Reserva Rioja DOC (14% ABV, $25, 80% Tempranillo, 10% Garnacha, 5% Mazuelo, 5% Graciano)
C: garnet
N: delicious, touch of barnyard, ripe black fruit, intense
P: black fruit, cedar box, sweet tobacco, succulent, fresh clean acidity, delicious.
V: 8/8+, outstanding, great example of Rioja potential, no sign of age, great QPR

Txakolina still can be considered a rare wine in the US – those wines are trickling in, but can’t compete for attention in any way compared to Albariño, Verdejo or even Godello (yes, I’m mixing grapes and places – Txakolina is a region in the Basque area, where the white wines are typically made form the grape called Hondarrabi Zuri – the rest of them are grapes). Txakolina wines are usually “unique and different”, as was this particular wine:

2014 K5 Arginano Uhin Berdea Hondarrabi Zuri Getariako Txakolina DO (11% ABV, $22, 100% Hondarrabi Zuri)
C: golden
N: touch of vanilla, ripe white fruit
P: very interesting, cut through acidity of Muscadet, but plump body and mouthfeel of Marsanne. Outstanding pairing with herb-crusted goat cheese – might be the best cheese pairing I ever experienced.
V: 7+, worth trying, especially with the food

Let’s finish today’s line with practically a classic – Albariño from Rias Baixas area in Galicia. Albariño typically is a seafood friendly wine – and the one below was a perfect example:

2015 Fillaboa Albariño Rias Baixas DO (12.5% ABV, $20, 100% Albariño)
C: light golden
N: fresh white fruit, tropical, guava, inviting
P: clean, medium body, good acidity, lemon, refreshing, very quaffable, medium lemon zest finish
V: 8-, very good rendition of Albariño

That’s all I have for you today, my friends. What were your new and noteworthy discoveries? Cheers!

One on One with Winemaker: José Moro of Bodegas Cepa 21

January 6, 2017 7 comments

When it comes to Spanish wines, Ribera Del Duero is probably most iconic and best-known region worldwide  – I know some will say it should be Priorat or Rioja, but let’s leave this argument for another time. Hold on, here is a bit of stats to support my statement. If you will look at the Wine Spectator Classic ratings (95-100, best of the best), you will find 38 wines from Ribera Del Duero, 24 from Rioja and only 11 from Priorat rated in that category. And while in Ribera Del Duero, do you know which wine has the top Wine Spectator rating of all times? 2004 Bodegas Emilio Moro Ribera del Duero Malleolus de Sanchomartin.

No, this is not the wine we will be talking about here, but – it is perfectly connected to our story. First commercial wine under Bodegas Emilio Moro name was released in 1989 – however, Moro family’s viticultural traditions and experience go all the way back to the beginning of the 20th century, starting with Don Emilio Moro, a first generation vigneron. Today, in its third generation, Bodegas Emilio Moro continues to build upon a century of traditions and tried and true techniques. And now we are getting to the actual subject of this post – the latest venture of the Moro family – Bodegas Cepa 21.

Bodegas CEPA 21

Photo Source: Bodegas CEPA 21

Bodegas Cepa 21 was created by brothers José and Javier Moro, the third generation vignerons. It is located in the heart of Ribero del Duero region, in the area known as “The Golden Mile”. It is worth noting the Ribera Del Duero comprise highest altitude vineyards in Spain, located at 2,400 – 3,300 feet above sea level. Bodegas Cepa 21 farms 125 acres of estate vineyards, and has another 125 acres under direct control through the agreements with wine growers. All 4 wines produced at Bodegas Cepa 21 are made out of one and the same grape – Tempranillo, albeit it is their own “Moro clone”, cultivated for more than a century.

Instead of inundating you with more information which you can easily find at Bodegas Cepa 21 website, I had an opportunity to [virtually] sit down with José Moro, an owner and winemaker at Bodegas Cepa 21, and inundate him with the barrage of questions – and now I can share that conversation with you:

[TaV]: Cepa 21 name implies that this is the winery for the 21st century. By the time when Cepa 21 was created, Emilio Moro was well known and very successful business. What was the motivation for the creation of the Cepa 21 winery and the brand overall? What sets Cepa 21 apart from the Emilio Moro?

[JM]: Cepa 21 is the project of the third generation of the Moro Family. We were eager to experiment with a different terroir and a diverse expression of the Tempranillo variety. Our goal was to find the maximum expression of the Tempranillo variety, respecting the finesse and elegance of the grape.
In that sense, Emilio Moro and Cepa 21 have several differences. For starters, Cepa 21 vineyards are orientated to the north whereas Emilio Moro vineyards have a southern orientation. The climate is another differentiating factor (colder in Cepa 21) and the way we classify our wines also differs. In Emilio Moro we classify attending to the age of the vineyard and its vines, whereas in Cepa 21 we classify according to the altitude of the vineyards.
The result: Cepa 21 wines are subtle but structured, fresh and yet complex, elegant and full of personality and they have an interesting aromatic palate.

Cepa 21 Winery

Cepa 21 Winery. Source: Bodegas CEPA 21

[TaV]: What is 21st century winery and how Cepa 21 fits into that image? Are you also trying to appeal to millennials with this wine?

[JM]: From the moment people see the building in Cepa 21, a black and white minimalist structure with an air of “chateaux française” raising among vineyards, they realize they are about to discover something made for this century.  Innovation has also been one of the key values throughout the winemaking process. It’s this union of modernity and our unique Tinto Fino clone that turn Cepa 21 wines into a traditional and yet modern wines made for today’s consumers. I believe it is them who define modern winemaking, and not the other way around… And in Cepa 21 we make a continuous effort so our wines exceed the expectations of these new consumers.

[TaV]: It seems that previous vintage for Cepa 21 was 2011, and now the current vintage is 2014. Does it mean that Cepa 21 wines are only produced in the best years?

[JM]: We have maximum quality standards for our wines, so if a vintage doesn’t have enough quality, we simply don’t bottle it. This is a way of guaranteeing consumers that if they buy a bottle of our wine, it will meet their expectations, whatever the vintage they choose to purchase.

[TaV]: Ever since the inception of Cepa 21, what were your most favorite and most difficult vintages and why?

[JM]: 2011 was an excellent vintage, one of the best in the Ribera del Duero. The climatology was perfect for our variety, with sequential rainfall that resulted in a powerful vintage of great quality wines. 2015 was also an outstanding vintage; hot temperatures and hard work resulted in very promising wines.
2009 was a really difficult vintage. It was extremely rainy and cold, with frequent hails that stopped the vegetative cycle of the plant. It was a vintage to forget.

[TaV]: What are your biggest/most important markets for Cepa 21?
[JM]: Cepa 21 is a young winery, but its growing at a fast pace. We export our wine all over the world, from Asia to the United States, and we continue to grow internationally. The US is one of our key markets this year, but we also focus in European countries and in our own, Spain.

[TaV]: Along the same lines, do you sell in China, Cepa 21 or Emilio Moro wines? Even broader, are Ribera del Duero wines known/popular in China?

[JM]: Yes, we do sell in China and we are proud to say our wines are very well regarded in this market, although we recognize there is still a lot of work to be done. I often visit China and talk about the potential of our DO, which is popular in China but still has a lot of potential.

[TaV]: Do you grow any other grapes than Tinto Fino at any of the Emilio Moro/Cepa 21 properties? If you don’t, do you have any plans to start growing any other grapes?

[JM]: We recently announced in Spain that we are starting a project in El Bierzo. We are looking into producing a white wine that’s 100% Godello, a grape that stands out for its elegance and finesse. We are only in the initial phase, but we are sure of the potential of this relatively unknown grape.

[TaV]: It seems that Tinto Fino is one and only grape used at Cepa 21 (and also at the Emilio Moro too). Do you ever find it limiting (the fact that you only have one grape to work with)?

[JM]: Tempranillo is king in Spain, it is the national grape, and our Tinto Fino clone we use to graft each and every one of our vines is what moves us, our reason of being. No, we don’t find it limiting at all.

[TaV]: On your website, I saw a reference to “Moro clone” – is Tinto Fino from your vineyards actually different from the mainstream Tempranillo?

[JM]: Definitely. We grafted our vines with a unique Tinto Fino clone to achieve the maximum expression of the variety. It allows us to produce wines that age beautifully, that embrace the flavors given by the barrel during ageing and of great quality.

The cluster is smaller and looser, the vines produce less grapes – For us, quality is more important than quantity – but offer fruit that ages beautifully in the bottle.

[TaV]: Are the general challenges facing Ribero del Duero region, or is everything great in its winemaking world?

[JM]: We had to reinvent ourselves due to the economic crisis that Spain has been experiencing for the last years. The Moro family embarked on a new project with Cepa 21. It was a winery that was only going to produce the wine that bears its name, but during the worst part of the crisis we launched “Hito”. It means “milestone” – And it definitely was one. We have never stopped evolving since then.

[TaV]: To the best of my understanding, Cepa 21 practices what is called a “sustainable viticulture” – dry farming, etc. Do you have any plans to advance to organic methods, or maybe even biodynamic?

[JM]: Not at the moment. But we respect the climate 100%… We only work with what our environment gives us, and we use no artificial irrigation.

[TaV]: When it comes to the wines of Ribera del Duero, outside of your own wines, do you have any other favorite wineries?

[JM]: The Ribera del Duero is an area known for its viticulture tradition. There are many great wineries in this area – Apart from Emilio Moro and Cepa 21, I wouldn’t be able to pick a favorite.

[TaV]: The same question, now going beyond Ribera del Duero – any favorites in Rioja and Toro?

[JM]: I enjoy drinking wines from Bodegas Muga, Bodegas Eguren, and Bodegas Sierra Cantabria. They all produce amazing wines.

[TaV]: Are the Cepa 21 wines made for the immediate consumption or will they benefit from some age?

[JM]: Hito Rosado and Hito are our rosé and our young wines and, as such, they are better when drunk shortly after they are released. Cepa 21 and Malabrigo, even though they can be enjoyed when they are released, will greatly benefit from ageing in the bottle: They will evolve beautifully.

[TaV]: What is next for you? Are there any new projects in the making, maybe even outside of Ribera del Duero?

[JM]: Like I said before, we do have a project in El Bierzo with 100% Godello grape. Until we release that wine, whenever that may be, we will continue promoting our wines abroad to show the true potential of the Spanish Tinto Fino and our unique clone.

Cepa 21 tempranilloNow, after reading all this, it is time for some wine! 2011 Cepa Tempranillo made it to the Wine Spectator 2016 Top 100 list, so obviously it instantly disappeared from all of the stores. I was very happy to try the 2014 rendition, which now should be getting into the stores near you:

2014 Bodegas Cepa 21 Tempranillo Ribera Del Duero (14% ABV, $25, 100% Tempranillo, 12 months in French oak)
C: dark garnet, inky
N: lavender, fresh blackberries, cigar box, typical Tempranillo nose
P: ripe plums, well integrated, dusty tannins, eucalyptus, smooth, clean acidity, excellent balance.
V: 8/8+, excellent now and will evolve.

That’s all I have for you, my friends. Great history, great present, great future – all through the hard work and passion. And luckily, we all get the wine we can enjoy. Cheers!

Celebrate Tempranillo! 2016 Edition

November 10, 2016 7 comments

Tempranillo is one of the most popular red grapes in the world, requiring no introduction to the wine lovers, now even less than before. The star grape of Spain, a foundation of the timeless beauty of Rioja, finess of Ribera del Duero and dark raw power of Toro. Today (if I manage to publish this post before midnight) is International Tempranillo Day, the day when we acknowledge this early ripening grape, capable of bringing lots and lots of pleasure to the wine lovers everywhere.

I discovered Tempranillo in 2010, at the wine seminar at the PJ Wine store in Manhattan – and fell in love with it. And how you can not, after tasting 1964 Rioja Gran Reserva, which was still young and exuberant. I was seeking Tempranillo ever since, trying it at every occasion – some encounters happier than the others.

What interesting in this journey is that when I discovered Tempranillo for myself, my world was squarely limited to Spain, and even inside Spain, it was all about Rioja, Ribera del Duero and a little bit of Toro. I was always happy to celebrate the Tempranillo Day, so here is the collage which I produced based on the wines I knew, back in 2011:

Tempranillo_AutoCollage_23_ImagesTo my total delight, it appears that my Tempranillo worldview was inexcusably narrow. Texas, Oregon, Napa Valley and my newfound oenophile’s heaven, Lodi, are all producing world-class, delicious, complex, exciting Tempranillo wines. I heard about Tempranillo in Australia; never tried them, but now I’m a believer – great Tempranillo wines don’t have to be only from Spain. Thus I created a new collage, to better represent my latest discoveries:

Tempranillo wines collageAbacela from Oregon, Duchman from Texas, Irwine Family from Napa, Bokisch, McCay, Fields, Harney Lane from Lodi – lots and lots of tasty discoveries over the past few years – I hope you had your share of Tempranillo fun too.

Do you have your favorite Tempranillo wines? Where are they from? Who is the producer? Tell the world about them. Cheers!

And This Is Why I Love Spanish Wines

July 7, 2016 8 comments

Yes. Confessed uncountable number of times, in this blog and everywhere (want proof? Click here, here, here, here or here).

I love Spanish wines. Never tried to hide it, so no, there is nothing to look for in the closet.

Spain is one of the so called “Old World” wine countries, with biggest grape area plantings in the world and one of the highest volumes of the wine production. But of course this is not the reason for my high sentiment towards Spanish wines.  What is important, however, that if we will take 10 random wines produced in any country, in about the same price range, I will find the most of the wines to my liking out of those hypothetical 10 among Spanish wines – compare to any other region. Another equally important point for me is the value – Spanish wines offer one of the best values in the world; not only that – they are possibly the best QPR wines in the world. For example, if you will compare 1964 Rioja, which is still perfectly drinkable today and still can be found for less than $150, to majority of the wines of the similar age but from the other regions, most of them will not come anywhere close in the amount of pleasure they deliver, never mind the cost.

And then we have to talk about innovation and drive forward. Spanish wines are not standing still. Styles are changing, wine quality is improving, new and unexpected grapes are made into delicious wines. To make this conversation more practical, let me share with you some of my recent Spanish wine encounters.

Today, Albariño needs no introduction. The star white grape of the Rias Baixas region in Northern Spain is known to produce wines with explosive acidity and profile of salinity, which makes them an ideal companion to oysters and anything seafood for that matter. While Albariño wines are generally very good, there is one word I would rarely associate with them – finesse. Or at least I was not, until I had an opportunity to try these two Albariño.

2014 Bodegas LA VAL Albariño Rias Baixas D.O. (12% ABV, SRP $17, 2 month sur lie) had greenish/straw pale color; intense and open nose of minerals, wet stone and lemon. On the palate, the wine was plump with invigorating acidity, intense lemon finish, crisp, fresh – excellent overall (Drinkability: 8).
2014 Viña Moraima Albariño Rias Baixas D.O. (12.5% ABV, SRP $19, 7 month sur lie) had light golden color. Nose was very unusual, with candied lemon, intense, tropical, guava notes. On the palate, the wine showed remote hint of sweetness, full body, round and layered with hint of salinity, good acidity. This was definitely the next level of Albariño, thought provoking and different. (Drinkability: 8)

As you can see, Albariño is really starting to deliver on the next level, and I can’t wait to see how far it can go. What is interesting, however, is that all of the best Spanish white wines – to my knowledge, of course – are made from the indigenous varieties – Albariño, Godello, Verdejo and Viura would be the “major four”. The situation is slightly different for the reds, where the local stars, Tempranillo and Garnacha, are joined by the international best, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Going back to the whites, outside of some experimental plantings, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are nowhere to be found in Spain, yes? Well, that would be my statement as of the month ago, but not anymore.

Enters Hacienda de Arínzano. Having tasted recently Hacienda de Arínzano Rosé, which was outstanding, I know that Pago de Arínzano, first Pago (highest denomination of quality in Spain) in Northern Spain, can produce excellent wines. Still, this 2014 Hacienda de Arínzano Chardonnay Pago de Arínzano DOP (13.5% ABV, SRP $19.99, 100% Chardonnay. 12 month French oak barrels – 30% new) far exceeded my expectations. From the first smell the wine in the glass was screaming “Chardonnay” – touch of vanilla, hint of golden delicious apples, just classic Chardonnay. The palate reaffirmed the “classic Chardonnay” impression – fresh, open, creamy, with perfectly balanced white fruit, vanilla, distant hint of butter, perfect amount of acidity – a delicious world-class Chardonnay which I would be glad to drink at any time – and almost a steal at this price. Drinkability: 8+.

Rioja Beronia ReservaWe talked about new wines and new styles. Let’s talk about quality now – well, not the quality per se, but let’s talk about changing mindset. If you would ask me “should I open 5 years old Rioja Reserva”, my immediate answer would be “absolutely not – give it at least another 5 years to enjoy it fully”. By law, Rioja Reserva has to spend at least 1 year aging in the barrel, and most of the producers age it for much longer, so the resulting wines typically should be given ample time in the bottle to evolve. But once again I was proven wrong. I opened the bottle of 2011 Bodegas Beronia Rioja Reserva (14% ABV, SRP $21, 94% Tempranillo, 4% Graciano, 2% Mazuelo, 18 month in barrel, 20 month in the bottle) and was absolutely blown away. Concentrated nose of dark fruit, cigar box and eucalyptus was supported by bright, dense, perfectly structured palate, with dark fruit and touch of sweet oak. This was definitely one of the best PnP (Pop ‘n Pour) wines I ever experienced, and a nice surprise. Drinkability: 8+

Coto de Imaz Rioja

I want to mention one more beautiful Rioja wine – this one with a bit more age on it. I like it when I have a reason to open a nice bottle of wine, which otherwise would be still laying down and waiting for the “perfect moment”. The special reason was my son’s high school graduation, and as he was born in 1998, this was the first 1998 bottle I pulled out of the wine fridge (well, I’m not telling all the truth – this was the one I knew the exact location of).

To begin with, I was impressed with the state of the cork on this 18 years old wine – it was perfect, showing literally no age on it whatsoever. 1998 Coto de Imaz Rioja Reserva (13% ABV, 100% Tempranillo) still had enough freshness on the nose, with the notes of ripe plum, and the palate had ripe fruit with the distant hint of sweetness without any tertiary aromas, good acidity, medium to full body and excellent balance. I’m sure this wine would go on happily for many years. Drinkability: 8+

Okay, we are done here. Do you think I explained my passion for Spanish wines well enough? Great wines, great values, great QPRs, and lots and lots of pleasure – what is not to love? If you had any of the wines I mentioned here, I would love to know your opinion. Until the next time – cheers!

Terrenal: Delicious Kosher Wines, and Great Values Too

March 30, 2016 3 comments

What I like about wine world is that many things are changing, and most of them changing for the better. Winemakers around the world are more in tune with the nature, their means and ways are greatly improved, and it shows in the wines. The best testament to that is when you are poured a random glass of wine, you take a sip, you say “ahh, this is good”, and only then you care to look at the label to find out what you are drinking.

Over the past 5-8 years, Kosher wines improved so dramatically that there is no need anymore to defend them and advocate that “they can be good too” – if you are still wondering what Kosher wines are, I can offer you a short crash course in this post. Kosher wines today are definitely in that category I described above – you take a sip, then look at the back label and say “wow, this is actually a kosher wine!” – been there, done that.

When it comes to Terrenal, I knew that these are the kosher wines, but only from the experience – here is the link to the blog post about selection of Terrenal wines which I found at Trader Joe last year, and they were excellent as the wines and simply outstanding as a value.

Few weeks ago I got a sample of two of the new wines from Terrenal. First wine is made out of one of my most favorite red grapes – Tempranillo. The second wine closely mimics composition of one of the Spanish flagship wines – El Nido from Gil family estates, with the same blend of Monastrell and Cabernet Sauvignon in similar proportions. For what it worth, below are the tasting notes:

2014 Terrenal Tempranillo Yecla DO Spain (13.5% ABV, $4.99, 100% Tempranillo, kosher non-mevushal, certified Vegan )
C: dark garnet
N: blackberries, eucalyptus, sage, plums
P: nicely restrained, mouthwatering acidity, fresh fruit, tart blackberries, short finish, easy to drink
V: 7+, nice and simple, will work well with wide range of dishes

2014 Terrenal Seleccionado Yecla DO Spain (15% ABV, $7.99, 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Monastrell, kosher non-mevushal, certified Vegan)
C: dark garnet, almost black
N: sweet plums, hint of cinnamon, nutmeg, mocha
P: polished, round, restrained fruit, silky mouthfeel, hint of chocolate, good structure.
V: 8-, excellent wine, easy to drink and “dangerous”. Will evolve in 4-5 years.

Here you go, my friends. Two very tasty wines with an unbeatable QPR and a number of bonus points – Kosher and Vegan. Terrenal Seleccionado will not match El Nido in the extraction level and concentration, but $7.99 versus $150+ puts it in a very interesting perspective. Yes, of course, conduct your own experiment –  get a bottle of each and taste them blind side by side – I wounder what you would think.

The only challenge might be that the Terrenal wines are only available at Trader Joe’s stores, at least in the United States, so if you have one close by, you are in luck. If you will see them anywhere else, please comment so the others would know where to look for them. Happy [Kosher, Vegan] value wine hunting. Cheers!

Celebrate Tempranillo!

November 11, 2015 2 comments

I hope you are done with that celebratory bottle of Merlot from the last week, as a brand new grape celebration is upon us. This time, it is about the grape which is not as widespread as Merlot, but still a foundation of some of the absolutely best wines in the world – dark skinned grape called Tempranillo. On Thursday, November 12, we will be celebrating International Tempranillo Day, with festivities around the world as you can see at the TAPAS web site.
First and foremost, Tempranillo means Spain – Rioja, Ribera deal Duero, Toro and many other regions in Spain craft world class wines which rival in their longevity wines of Northern Rhône and Bordeaux (but still quite affordable, opposite to the latter).
Of course Tempranillo’s success is not confined to Spain only – Texas makes excellent Tempranillo wines, with some interesting efforts in California (for instance, Irwin Family – delicious!), Washington, Oregon and Australia. Tempranillo also shines in Portugal under the names of Tinta Roriz and Aragonez.
I can spend hours going through my favorite Tempranillo wines and experiences – just search this blog for “Tempranillo”, you will see what I’m talking about. Instead, I want to mention just my most recent encounter with Tempranillo wines from two weeks ago – Ramón Bilbao Rioja.


2011 Ramón Bilbao Rioja Crianza (13.5% ABV, $14, 100% Tempranillo, 14 month in oak) – open inviting nose of the fresh dark fruit with touch of cedar box. Fresh, firm, well structured on the palate, nice core of ripe cherries, eucalyptus, pencil shavings and touch of espresso, good acidity, overall very balanced. A perfect example of wine which is drinkable now, and will gladly evolve for the next 10–15 years. Also at the price – very hard to beat QPR.
What are your Tempranillo experiences? Got any favorites or celebration plans you care to share? Please do so below. And until the next grape holiday – cheers!

World-class American Tempranillo

June 13, 2015 21 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!