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Magnificent Tempranillo

December 24, 2019 3 comments

Let’s start with some definitions:

Of course, you know what “magnificent” means. Still, I feel compelled to start with the definition to explain my rather overzealous title. After looking at the Merriam-Webster and Google definitions for “magnificent”, I decided to go with the one from Dictionary.com, as it perfectly underscores the emotions which I tried to express with this title.

Wine is personal. Wine solicit the emotion, but it is personal – the appeal of the liquid in the glass is first and foremost for the person who is taking a sip. Two people can have a sip of exactly the same wine and have completely opposite reactions – one might love it and the other might hate it. Thus calling the wine magnificent is personal – and it is simply the expression of the emotion one had after taking a sip of that wine.

Today Tempranillo is grown around the world. You can find delicious renditions coming from Australia, Napa Valley, Oregon, Lodi. My first Tempranillo love, however, is Rioja, and this is where it still stays. A sip of La Rioja Alta, Lopez de Heredia, CVNE, or El Coto makes everything right with the world. Same as with any other wine, Rioja can’t be taken for granted – you need to know the producer. But in the hands of the right producer, Rioja becomes … magnificent. It is the wine of exceptional beauty, it is extraordinarily fine and superb, and it is noble and sublime – exactly as the definition above says.

Of course, it is not just Rioja which makes Tempranillo a star. Ribera del Duero, located a bit more down south and central, is another source of magnificent Tempranillo wines – if you had a pleasure to try the wines from Emilio Moro, Pesquera, Vega Sicilia you know what I’m talking about. Again, in the hands of the good producers, Ribera del Duero Tempranillo is every drop magnificent.

To make this conversation about magnificent Tempranillo more practical I want to offer you my notes on a few samples of Tempranillo wines I had an opportunity to enjoy recently.

CVNE (Compañía Vinícola del Norte del España) needs no introduction for the Tempranillo fans. Founded in 1879 (yes, this year is the 140th anniversary of CVNE) by two brothers, the CVNE is still run by the family, and today consists of 4 wineries – CVNE, Imperial, Vina Real, and Contino. However, those are the Rioja wineries and today CVNE is taking its 140 years of winemaking experience to the other regions. Here is an example for you – Bela from Ribera del Duero.

The grapes for Bela wine came from 185 acres Tempranillo vineyard, located at the altitude of 2,400 feet in the village of Villalba de Duero and planted in 2002. Here is the story behind the name of the wine and the picture on the label: “Bela’s label is a facsimile of an old CVNE label from the 1910’s. The stars represent each of the children of CVNE’s cofounder, Eusebio Real de Asúa. His brother Raimundo, the other co‐founder, had no descendants. Each star represents one of the children: Sofia, Áurea, and Ramón. Sofia was known as Bela. We descend from her.

2017 Bela Ribera Del Duero (14% ABV, $18, 100% Tempranillo, 6 months in 1-year-old American and French oak barrels)
Dark garnet, almost black
Roasted meat, coffee, cedar box
Beautifully complex palate, black cherries, blackberries, eucalyptus, fresh, balanced.
8-, excellent wine, built for the long haul, will evolve.

Contino was the first single-vineyard Rioja created by CVNE and the owners of the Contino estate (which takes its history from the 16th century). 150 acres Lacerna vineyard in Rioja Alavesa is the source of grapes for the Contino line of wines. Here is the story behind the name: “The “contino” was the officer in charge of a guard corps of a hundred soldiers who protected the royal family “de contino” (continuously) from the times of the Catholic Monarchs onwards. According to the tradition, Saint Gregory, the patron saint of vineyards, passed through the lands of this same Rioja property, giving rise to the use of his figure in the logo of this winery, and to the use of his name for some of the plots now planted with vines.”

2012 Contino Rioja Reserva Rioja DOC (13.5% ABV, $45, 85% Tempranillo,10% Graciano, 5% Mazuelo and Garnacha, 2 years in used American and French oak plus 2 years in the bottle)
Dark garnet, almost black
Cherries, cigar box
Bright, uplifting dark fruit medley, clean acidity, a touch of minerality, velvety texture with well-integrated tannins, perfect balance
8+, delicious, lots of pleasure in every sip

Bodegas Beronia was founded in 1973 by a group of friends who fell in love with La Rioja while visiting on a holiday. The name Beronia is not random – here is the explanation: “name linked to the history of the land where the winery is found. In the 3rd Century BC the area known as Rioja today was inhabited by a celtic tribe called the ‘Berones’. They inhabited the towns of Tricio, Varea and Leiva, marking the limits of the Berones region, today La Rioja.

Originally, the wines were produced literally by friends for the friends, without much thought of commercial sales. In 1982, Bodegas Beronia became a part of González Byass family, and at that point wines of Bodegas Beronia started to appear on the international markets.

Bodegas Beronia Rioja wines represent an intersection of tradition and modernity. While “traditional” and “modern” styles of Rioja can be a subject of great debate with a lot of wine consumed to prove the point, I would offer a very simplistic viewpoint. Tempranillo has a great affinity to the oak; the resulting Rioja wine is well influenced by the oak regimen. Traditionally, Rioja is matured in American oak casks. Modern style Rioja often uses French oak. Here is your style distinction – American oak versus French. Bodegas Beronia goes a step further than many. They create their own barrels, using both American and French oak elements in one barrel. Thus the wine is not defined by blending of the separately aged components, but instead, it is aging in the mixed environment.

Here are the notes for the two wines I was able to taste:

2015 Bodegas Beronia Crianza Rioja DOC (13.5% ABV, $14.99, 91% Tempranillo, 8% Graciano, 1% Mazuelo, 12 months in American and French oak barrels)
Dark garnet
Vanilla, plums, cedar box
Fresh dark berries, ripe cherries, tobacco, a touch of sapidity, medium-plus body, clean acidity, a touch of eucalyptus, medium-long finish
8-, the second day was better than the first. 8+ day 2 and 3

2013 Bodegas Beronia Rioja Reserva DOC (13.5% ABV, $19.99, 95% Tempranillo, 4% Graciano, 1% Mazuelo, 3 years in American and French oak barrels and in the bottle)
Dark garnet
Plums, cherries, tobacco
Dark fruit, tar, tobacco, cherries, a touch of cherry pit, bright acidity, firm texture, noticeable minerality, medium finish
8, excellent. Day 3 is more open.

No, we are not done yet. I have one more Rioja to discuss with you – from Bodegas LAN.

Bodegas LAN was founded in 1972. Here is another winery name which is not random: “A name – LAN – composed of the initials of the three provinces that make up the D.O.Ca. Rioja: Logroño (now La Rioja), Álava and Navarra.” Bodegas LAN owns about 170 acres vineyard called Viña Lanciano, which is subdivided into the 22 parcels, each with a unique microclimate. These 22 parcels are growing Tempranillo, Garnacha, Mazuelo, and Graciano, most of them on the 40 -60 years old vines.

Grapes for LAN Xtrème Ecológico wine come from 12.5 acres parcel of 100% organically certified Tempranillo, located at the altitude of 1,200 feet.

2015 Bodegas LAN Xtrème Ecológico Crianza Rioja DOC (14.5% ABV, $15, 100% organically-certified Tempranillo, 14 months in new French oak, 9 months in the bottle)
Dark garnet, practically black
Cherries, cedar box, eucalyptus, tobacco, open and inviting
Gorgeous, layers of dark fruit, soft but present tannins, baking spices, firm and perfectly structured, tart cherries on the finish, tannins taking over.
8+, a long haul wine, will be perfect in 10 years or longer. A total steal at a price.

Culmen is one of the top wines made by Bodegas LAN, produced only in exceptional vintages. The grapes for this wine come from 13 acres El Rincón parcel, located at the 1,500 feet altitude.

2011 Bodegas LAN Culmen Rioja Reserva DOC (13.5% ABV, $55, 88% Tempranillo, 12% Graciano, 26 months in new French oak, 20 months in the bottle)
Dark garnet with a purple hue
Red and black fruit, roasted meat, warm granite, sweet cherries, medium-plus intensity
Fresh tart succulent cherries are popping in your mouth, changing into sour cherry compote with tar, tobacco and cedar box. Delicious long finish. Lots of pleasure in every sip.
8+/9-, outstanding.

Here you go, my friends. Six delicious, or shall we say, magnificent, Tempranillo renditions. I will be happy to drink any of them again, at a moment’s notice. What do you think of Tempranillo wines? Got any favorites to share? Cheers!

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…

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