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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!

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…

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