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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…

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…

Magnificent Rioja

May 20, 2012 14 comments

The title for this post didn’t come up easily. I was back and forth with myself many times. The reason? Tasting these Rioja wines was a phenomenal experience, something which  doesn’t happen often during one’s lifetime. The brightness and openness of the 65-years old Rioja was nothing but stunning – but I think I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s go back to the beginning.

I happened to fall in love with Rioja wines about 4 years ago, after attending a Rioja seminar at PJ Wine store (the owner, Peter, is anything but fanatical about Spanish wines – of which PJ Wines houses an amazing selection all the time). At that seminar I was lucky enough to try 1964 Monte Real Gran Reserva Rioja and that was a revelation – the wine was fresh and bright, as it would’ve been may be 5 years old, not 40+. After that tasting I became Rioja fan for life. I have to also mention that even today, you can buy 1964 Rioja starting from less than $300 – for comparison, a bottle of 1966 DRC will set you back for about $10,000. I rest my case.

When my friend Zak told me that we can get a bottle of 1947 Rioja directly from the winery for less than $400, the decision was instantaneous – this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and it is worth it (don’t remember how many bottles were still available, but surely there were not that many). So we got that 1947 bottle and after a little while, were able to set the date for the tasting.

To make sure our 1947 Rioja will not feel lonely, we got a few more bottles to keep it company. You can see the full line up on the picture above, and here is an exact list:

2008 Raventos & Blanc Reserva Brut Cava
1993 Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Reserva Blanco
1947 Imperial Gran Reserva Rioja
1976 Imperial Gran Reserva Rioja
1995 Imperial Gran Reserva Rioja
Pinord Moscatel NV

There is one more bottle in the picture – Jorge Ordonez Malaga – but, guess what – we never opened that, being quite overwhelmed by the desert time (it is a great bottle of desert wine, but – oh well, there is always a next time).

We started with Cava, of course. It was fresh, round and pleasant – not necessarily hugely distinguishable, but definitely a nice bottle of wine to have before dinner starts.

The first foray into magnificent world of Rioja was with the 1993 Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Rioja Blanco. I will gladly challenge you to find a bottle of 19 years old white wine which will taste as fresh as this 1993 Rioja. May be you will have some luck with white Hermitage, Chablis or some of the white Burgundies, or may be some of the really obscure grapes like Romorantin – but in any case I’m sure it will not be easy. This wine was fresh and complex, with mineral notes, hint of white apple, perfect mid-palate weight and still bright acidity. Definitely a ”wow” introduction into the ”wow” lineup of reds.

Needless to say that we started with 1947 Rioja. Considering the tender age of 65 years, the first challenge of course was to get the cork out. I wish we had one of those glass cutting devices described in the PJ Wine blog post, which simply allows you to cut the whole neck of the bottle with the cork in it, and not worry about cork crumbling into your wine – well, we don’t drink wines of that age often enough, so we had to stick with more conventional tools, like the two-prong cork puller.

It almost worked.. and then not. It took two people and good 5 minutes of time to get cork our, little by little, piece by piece – but we managed to do it almost clean, with may be one or two tiny pieces falling back into the bottle.

Cork is out, and wine goes into the glasses. First thing to note is color, which is still red and not brown – of course it is not purple, but it is dark garnet red. And for the taste… Should I simply tell you that wine was magnificent and leave it at that? Well, okay, it wouldn’t be fair. Let’s continue. On the nose – coco powder, cedar dust, hint of cinnamon, smoked paprika. On the palate – good amount of red fruit, wine comes in bright and youthful, with good acidity. Then second wave came in as wine opened up a bit, with more sweet fruit and then tannins kicking in. I don’t want to bring in exotic animals to describe this wine, as Joe Roberts did with a black panther, so my description will be simple – grace and elegance. I can only wish to have the same grace and elegance myself when I will reach that age.

Moving along, it is now time for the 1976 Rioja. 29 years younger than the previous wine and… ahh, so different! Barnyard on the nose, very pungent, savory, with hint of the same barnyard on the palate, dried cherries, earthiness. If umami is a part of the wine tasting profile, this wine definitely had it.

And for the 1995, we decided to give it a little breathing time – it spent 2 hours in the decanter. The wine was fresh, with beautiful garnet color, bright fruit, very good acidity and soft tannins, touch of eucalyptus and cedar box. Very youthful and upbeat, if you will.

After tasting this line up of the magnificent Rioja wines from the same producer, the most interesting question in my mind is ”how will these wines evolve?”. Even the 1947 didn’t reach the end of life considering the way it was showing, never mind 1976 and 1995. Will pungency of 1976 stay, or will it evolve to something akin to 1947 in 29 years? How will 1995 taste in 48 years, and will it even last that long? These are all great questions I will not get an answer to – but this is part of the wine connoisseurship game – think about the future but definitely appreciate and enjoy what you have right now (huh – feel free to beat me up in the comments for banalities).

So far we I didn’t tell you about the food – there was a lot of great food. While you can’t taste it anyway, here is at least a picture of one of the dishes – roasted potato encrusted striped Bass:

We also had “death by chocolate” desert which perfectly paired with Pinord Moscatel, which happened to be well aged (the bottle simply got lost under the shelf and was “discovered” many years later).

Overall, this was a great experience, which will stay in memory for a very long time. To tell you honestly, I think it will not be easy to top off this experience, but as the very least I can promise to share all that with you. Wish you all great fun with wines – cheers!

Must Try Wines, with Updates and Explanations

May 6, 2012 Leave a comment

After publishing the first post about Must Try Wines, I had an extended dialog with @PeterZachar on Twitter, where Peter provided good suggestions as to more ”must try wines” to be added to the list. Then I thought about whole rationale of ”must try”, ”must do”, ”must see”, ”must experience”, and I believe it makes sense to talk about it first.

When it comes to ”must experience” in the wine world, I believe there are few deciding factors to get a given wine into that category. First one probably is a price. In the end of the day, this is how first known ”must try” classification came about – famous Bordeaux 1855 classification was made out solely on the price of the wines sold by various Chateaux. Of course price is just a consequence, an artificial showing of other, more fundamental factors, such as quality, reputation, demand and availability – but it is easy for us, humans to comprehend numbers, so the price serves as an aggregate measure instead of quantifying all other fundamentals independently. Looking at Chateau Petrus, Screaming Eagle or Seppeltsfield Port, each one faring at about $2500+ a bottle, it is easy to say ”if ever possible, I really really want to try it”.

Next factor is a reputation of the wine. Reputation in general is hard to assess, right? Well, when it comes to the wine world, one side of reputation also happened to be quantified for us – in the form of the infamous wine ratings. All over the wine blogosphere you can find beating and bantering of the various point rating systems – however, whether good or bad, consumers like to have some simple numerical indication of one ”thing” being better than another ”thing”. No, I’m not planning to divert into the 100-points scale discussion – what I’m alluding to is the fact that it is very easy to include wines rated 100 points into the ”must experience” category. Probably 98 to a 100 points will do just fine, as I can bet I would never be able to tell the difference between 98 and 99 rated wines, so 98 to a 100 is a good range. Should all 100 points rated wines be included into ”must try” list? I don’t think so, simply because you have to draw a line somewhere.

Another side of reputation shows up in the form of someone’s opinion – not a single person, but rather as a collective opinion. If the wine receives multiple [substantial] praises from multiple people, it is probably worth considering for the ”must try” subject – however, all these praises will most likely become reflected in the price, and almost certainly will affect one more ”must have” deciding factor – availability.

What do we usually want the most? That’s right – something we cannot have. In the industrial world, if we run out of something, we can make more of it. It doesn’t work the same way in the wine world. Deeply engrained in the concept of terroir, the most sought after wines are produced from the very specific vineyards – yes, you can plant more vineyards, but they will not bear the same fruit and you will not be able to produce the same wine. Therefore, you can’t address the increased demand by just making more – and your wine becomes less available (and its reputation most likely is increasing). The next step is for the wine to be sold only through the mailing lists thus injecting some sanity into that supply and demand equation. And in many cases price of wine goes up, completing the full connection between our three key ”must have” factors – price, reputation and availability.

I hope I gave you enough insight into my logic. To come up with the additions to the original ”must try” list, I did two things. First of all, I used the exact recommendations from Peter. Second approach was based on using the Wine Spectator online and searching for the wines with 98 to 100 ratings in particular regions and countries – then looking at the prices and styles to decide if I would be interested in experiencing that wine. The result can be found in the updated table which is available as a standalone page on this site (please click this link).

Few more comments, if I may. For most of the wines from France, actual vintage is not essential – all these wines show remarkable consistency in good years and in bad years. Also for Bordeaux, Burgundy and Sauternes the actual ”must try” wine is a flagship which usually goes under the same as the winery itself. Same is true for California ”cults” outside of Rhone Rangers. For all other wines, the exact wine is listed. Also for Port, Madeira and Spanish wines the exact vintage is listed and important.

I just want to repeat the same disclaimer as last time – this list is a personal reflection – feel free to criticize it or make it yours and change it. I’m sure there are plenty worthwhile wines which can be added to this list – this is why I’m sharing it with you. Yes, you are welcome.

Let’s raise the glass for the best experiences of our lives! Cheers!

Top Dozen Wines of 2011

December 27, 2011 10 comments

I’m not sure I fully believe it, but time has come to sum up another year. Same as last year, I’m going to present you with a dozen of most exciting wines of 2011. I keep mentioning that quality of the wines available from all over the world is getting better and better, and it was very hard to decide on only 12 wines out of many hundreds of great wines I had an opportunity to experience throughout the year. This list is unequivocally subjective, and to make it even more subjective my criteria was the “wow” moment experienced when I tasted the wines – this is always dangerous, as depending on the circumstances of the “wow” tasting, the same wine might not be as exciting the next time. Nevertheless, without further ado, here are my twelve  best wines of 2011.

12. 2005 Maisuradze Wines Mukuzani ($NA) – power and more power. This wine is a monster powerhouse, and you are hypnotized by that power and don’t want to put your glass aside. Tremendous tannins, complemented by acidity and good fruit. Very big wine. Will be very interesting to lay it down for 10-15 years. Transformation should be remarkable, if you can wait, of course.

11. Bodegas Hidalgo Pedro Ximenez Viejo Triana ($24) – first, there is an element of awe when you drink this wine, as it is 250 years old ( at least in the trace amount, thanks to the Solera method when the new wine is added to the barrel which was never emptied completely for the last 250 years). Then the taste is spectacular – liquified fig jam, but very light and balanced with nice acidity.

10. 2009 Montalbera Laccento Ruche di Castagnole Monferrato ($30) – the wine opened up with a nice earthy smell, with fresh unadulterated grapey taste on the palate, somewhat similar to Beaujolais Noveau, but then quickly evolved to deliver the  power punch of big voluptuous wine. This wine needs lots of time, but in the end, it will be glorious, multi-layered beauty. If you can find it, put a few bottles to rest and experience later for yourself (ability to wait is required).

9. 2009 Bodegas Shaya Habis Rueda DO ($28) – this wine is made out of old vines Verdejo (100+ years old vines). This is one of the most unanticipated wines I ever had, as while you are expecting Verdejo wines to be somewhat simple and easy, this wine delivers complexity of a top-class Chardonnay, with toasted apple, vanilla and hint of butter on the palate, all with the great balance.

8. 1982 Chateau Prieure-Lichine Margaux ($130) – This was a 1982 Bordeaux! Do I need to say anything else? A Bordeaux from Grand Cru producer from legendary year – it doesn’t get much better than that. The wine was beautiful,  fresh, with great fruit and great balance of tannins and acidity. I rest my case.

7. 1993 Lopez de Heredia Vino Tondonia Rioja Blanco  ($33) – it is rather expected that 1976 Vina Tondonia Rioja Gran Reserva would be good, but 18 years old white Rioja? Hmmm, I couldn’t imagine that – but then came 1993 Vina Tondonia Rioja Blanco, and it was beautiful, fresh and acidic, coming through as a very youthful wine, with lots of fresh fruit. You can still get it at PJ Wine, and I believe it’s worth every penny.

6. 2009 Wente Vineyards Small Lot Grenache Livermore Valley ($35) – opens up with a nose of ripe plums, continuing into plush, soft, round wine with velvety mouthfeel, very balanced. Very similar to great Spanish Grenache wines, like Alto Moncayo Aquilon, only coming from California. This wine is available only at the winery, but definitely worth a trip if you are in the area.

5. 1991 Justin Cabernet Franc, San Luis Obispo County – ($25) – this was a gorgeous wine, great structure, ripe fruit, balance and finesse – without showing any sign of age. The only problem was that I got only one bottle from the Benchmark Wine Company…

4. 2009 Peter Michael “Belle Cote” Estate Chardonnay – ($80) – this Chardonnay was a beautiful song, or may be rather a dance of impeccable synchronicity. Absolutely stunning in its balance of fruit, acidity and minerality, with the hint of white peaches and golden delicious apples on the palate, but just a hint – not a single element taking over and pushing others aside. From the moment I tasted this wine, it became my golden standard for what Chardonnay should be – you can even see it throughout my posts.

3. 2007 Inniskillin Cabernet Franc Icewine ($130) – This was definitely the best Icewine I ever tried. Light and effervescent (not your usual descriptors for the icewine), with perfect acidity complementing beautiful fruit. True masterpiece.

2. 2001 Masi Mazzano Amarone della Valpolicella ($130) – this was an Amarone I’m constantly looking for and can’t find. Stunning nose of the raisined fruit, a dried fruit extravaganza – with powerful, structured and balanced body – not a glimpse of overripe fruit which is so common in the nowadays Amarone. Truly beautiful wine for the special moments.

1. 2010 Fiction Red Wine Paso Robles by Field Recordings ($20) – First and foremost, it is a smell which doesn’t lets you put the glass down. Fresh flowers, meadows, herbs, fresh summer air – it is all captured in the smell of this wine. On the palate, this wine shows bright red fruit, like raspberries and cherries, all perfectly balanced with a great finesse. Any time you want to experience beautiful summer day, reach out to that wine.

For what it worth, these are my favorite wines of 2011. I’m sure 2012 will bring many more exciting discoveries – it is great to be an oenophile today! What were your favorites of 2011? Please share it here! Cheers!

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