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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…

Wednesday’s Meritage – Wine Quiz Answer, WTSO Cheapskate Wednesday in Progress, How To Taste Wine and more

June 19, 2013 7 comments

Meritage Time!

P1130189 Rioja 1947Let’s start with the answer to the wine quiz #61, grape trivia – Tempranillo. In the quiz, you were supposed to answer 5 questions about Tempranillo, the noble Spanish grape. Here are the questions with the answers:

Q1: What is the meaning of the name Tempranillo?

A1: Name Tempranillo comes from Spanish word temprano, which means “early”. Tempranillo typically ripens two weeks earlier compare to many other grapes.

Q2: Name 3 grapes,  traditional blending partners of Tempranillo

A2: Traditionally, in Rioja wines, Tempranillo is blended with Mazuello, Grenache and Graciano.

Q3: What is common between Bodegas Muga, La Rioja Alta, Lopez de Heredia and Vina Real outside of the fact that all four are very famous Rioja producers and of course make wines out of Tempranillo?

A3: This was definitely a difficult question. What this four wonderful Rioja producers have in common is … location. All for wineries are located within walking distance from each other around old train station in Haro.

Q4: Tempranillo is used in production of the wine outside of Spain, which is at least equally famous to Rioja. Do you know what wine is that?

A4: Port. Tempranillo is known in Portugal under the name of Tinta Roriz, and it is one of the essential grapes in Port production.

Q5: Name two producers of Tempranillo wines – one is the most famous and another one is probably the most expensive.

A5: Another pretty difficult question. Vega Sicilia is definitely the most famous producer of Tempranillo wines with their flagship wine called Unico. And while it is quite expensive at $500+ per bottle, Dominio de Pingus makes probably the most expensive Tempranillo wines. Both wineries are located in Ribera del Duero region.

Based on the low participation in this quiz I can only say – people, you have to drink more Spanish wines (see, I’m only using bold font instead of capitalizing  = screaming)! Especially from Rioja and Ribera del Duero. Anyway, as I said, at least two questions were quite difficult. We don’t have clear winner today, with Emil ( he doesn’t have a blog) coming the closest with about 3.5 points, so he definitely gets an honorable mention.

And now to the interesting stuff around vine and web!

First – don’t miss the WTSO Cheapskate Wednesday which is taking place today, June 19th. Yes, it is not super convenient to keep WTSO open in the browser and hit refresh all the time, but you have very few alternatives to that. You can also follow WTSO on Twitter – the only medium where new wine information is updated in real time. Make sure you have all your correct information on file with WTSO  – shipping address and the credit card – otherwise you are risking to miss on the wine you want while you will be filling up the details (being there, done that). I posted many times before about WTSO events – if you are interesting in taking the look at the past sales, use this link.

Next, I want to bring to your attention an interesting article by Master Sommelier Tim Gaiser, called “How to taste wine”. I’m sure that many of you tried at various occasion to figure out what exactly is in your glass – it is a fun challenge to take random glass of wine, look, sniff, swirl, sip – and confidently say “Shiraz, Barossa, Penfolds, 1998 or 1999” and then find out that you’ve been right, or may be it was actually an Argentinian Malbec. Using techniques offered as part of any serious wine education (Master Sommeliers, WSET, Master of Wine, etc.) can actually increase your chances of being right. This article explains in good detail the approach to the blind tasting taken by Master Sommeliers.

If you are a Pinot Noir aficionado, this article might be for you. Written by Jay McInerney for Wall Street Journal, it is dedicated to David Hirsch of Hirsch Vineyards, one of the pioneers of Sonoma cool climate Pinot Noir.

Last but not least, here is an interesting blog post by W. Blake Gray, where he is talking about the study regarding cork taint. According to that study, 10% of the people actually prefer corked wines! For the first 10 minutes after I read it, I had mostly expletives roaming through my head – then I was able to compose myself and leave a [decent] comment. Yeah, well, no further comments – read it for yourself…

That’s all I have for you for today – the glass is empty! Refill is coming, and until the next time – cheers!

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