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 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.
[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.
Now, 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!
I don’t like making decisions. Here, I said it. Not around the wines for sure. But I have a justification for this indecisiveness – and I’m sure many oenophiles will attest to the same. You see, I like to drink aged wines. Despite popular notion from many wine professionals that people don’t understand what is good for them and should drink their wines young (here is the latest piece from Steve Heimoff on the subject), I still like my wines with a little age on them. Heck no, I actually like them well aged. But most wines in my cellar are in the single quantities (yes, that means One bottle) – therefore, if I open it, I will not be able to find out if it will improve with age. As you can imagine, this can lead to many, many “indecisive moments”.
So for the people like myself, Open That Bottle Night was invented. I will not go again into the history of the OTBN – I already wrote about it extensively here. But the event itself really makes you to take decisions and “just do it”.
Yes, the decision making is frustrating. But once decision is made, frustration is out and anticipation and excitement are in. It would be so interesting to understand how the mind (subconscious?) arrives at a decision where there are lots of possibilities, all promising similarly happy outcome (in the end of the day, no matter what bottle you will open, as long as it is not spoiled, you will still be happy – with a 99% chance). Someone really have to study how the oenophile’s mind works. So in this mysterious way, all of a sudden the decision came to open two of the Spanish wines I had for a little while. To be absolutely honest – first I decided on those two wines, then I started figuring out what was making them special – and these wines are special.
How special? Both wines were made by pioneers, and they represent true passion and vision which makes winemaking so unique. The first wine was called Martinsancho, made out of the grape called Verdejo in Rueda, Spain. Martinsancho is the name of the vineyard in Rueda, where Verdejo had been planted since 17th century. But you see, in the mid 1970s, the whole size of the vineyard was only 1 acre, and it was pretty much the last of Verdejo left in Spain, due to natural (phylloxera) and man made (political, economic) causes. Angel Rodriguez had a passion, vision and tenacity to preserve that vineyard, replant the original cuttings on the 25 acres, and literally single-handedly restart Verdejo production in Rueda. Angel Rodriguez’s hard work was even honored by the King of Spain Juan Carlos.
How was the wine? One word – delicious. One of the very best Spanish white wines I ever had. Here are the notes:
2009 Ángel Rodrígues Martinsancho Verdejo Rueda DO (13% ABV, $17, 100% Verdejo)
C: light golden, very pretty
N: restrained, touch of grass, minerality, almonds
P: great deal of finesse, it is smooth, silky, good acidity, medium to full body, elegant
V: 8+, great world class wine
Our second started with this view once the top foil was removed:
From my experience, this doesn’t mean the wine is spoiled (at least so far it never happened), but it still makes you uneasy – there are no substitutes in this game. This was the only hiccup though, the wine itself was unaffected.
Similar to the first wine, this one was also a product of a passion, a dream. Clara Concejo Mir inherited the vineyard from her grandfather Mario. Located at the high altitude of 7,750 feet, this is first vineyard in teh Ribera del Duero region; the vineyard is also adjacent to the vineyards of legendary Vega Sicilia. While Tempranillo is a king in Ribera del Duero (often called Tinto Fino), Clara also had a vision to add Cabernet Sauvignon to her wine which she called Mario (yes, in honor of her grandfather). She also had perseverance to lobby the regulatory body of Ribera del Duero to allow officially put Cabernet Sauvignon on the label of the Ribera del Duero wine. The rest of this can be subsided to a moan which you will produce upon taking a sip of this wine.
2008 Vegaclara Mario Ribera Del Duero DO (13.5% ABV, $25, 77% Tempranillo, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13 month in oak – 33% French, 33% American, 33% Hungarian)
C: dark garnet
N: fresh berries, touch of barnyard, eucalyptus, black currant
P: yum! (is that a good descriptor?) silky smooth, polished, great depth and concentration, black currant, dusty mouthfeel, flawless, perfect balance
V: 9, a wine of an outstanding finesse
Now that I told you about wonderful wines and passion we experienced, I want to give you a glimpse into what the others were drinking. First of all, I was very happy to see an increased number of posts about OTBN all over the social media – or as at least it seemed as an increased number of posts to me. And then over the course of the week I inundated lots of people on Twitter, keep asking them what are they going to drink (and making sure they will remember about OTBN) – I hope it didn’t cost me any followers, but oh well, it is a good cause. So below is a small collection of tweets plus some blogs posts about the OTBN wines, in no particular order:
Wine Raconteur wrote about the wines he will not be opening for OTBN:
Margot Davies: (by the way, I would really love to try that wine)
These are the snippets of conversations I had about #OTBN – I’m sure I missed some too. So what did you end up opening for OTBN and did you like your choice after the cork was pulled out? I would love to know – you know where the comments section is.
Before we part, I want to remind you that actually you have the power to make any night an Open That Bottle Night – no need to wait a year to open That Bottle. Just do it! Cheers!
I’m sure that any proud oenophile and wine aficionado is acutely aware of the high class, delicious Spanish wines. Considering that Spain has the biggest planted area under vines in the world, and that wines had been made there for thousand of years, it is a no-brainer that Spanish wines are so well known and well recognized. Right? Well, the interesting fact is that for many casual wine drinkers, Spanish wines are still largely unknown. And, to top it of, you also need to understand that measly 30 years back, the only way to talk about Spanish wines, at least in the US, was by presenting them strictly as “value wines”.
30 years doesn’t sound like a lot – but the notion of time is relative, it fully depends on what is happening during that time. Wines from Spain mission was established in New York in 1984 to increase awareness of the Spanish wines in USA. Spanish quality control system, D.O., was established in 1986. Modern Priorat wines started in 1989. The pace of success and recognition only accelerated from there, with Parker awarding 100 points ratings to 5 Spanish wines in 2007 and Rioja named “Wine Region of the Year” by the Wine Enthusiast magazine in 2007. In 2012 Ribera del Duero became Wine Enthusiast magazine’s “Wine Region of the Year” and 2004 Cune Imperial Gram Reserva became Wine Spectator’s wine of the year in 2013.
To celebrate all the success of the Spanish wines in the USA, Wines from Spain recently conducted special tasting event in New York, called “Spain’s Great Match – wine food design”. The tasting consisted of a number of seminars and traditional walk-around tasting which included both wine and the food. The seminars were hard to get into, I only managed to attend one out of 4 (there rest was sold out almost before they were offered) – but boy, what a seminar it was!
The seminar was led by the wine educator Steve Olson, who was one of the early proponents of the Spanish wines and who was instrumental in helping Spanish wines to gain market recognition in the US.
We started tasting from the toast of NV Freixenet Cordón Negro DO Cava, which was surprisingly (yes, please pardon my inner snob) nice, with some toasty notes and good mousse. It turns out that Freixenet was one of the very first importers of the Spanish wines in US, starting from 1974.
Next we had two beautiful whites:
2012 Bodegas Fillaboa Selección Finca Monte Alto Albariño DO Rias Baixas ($30) – Single vineyard, hand-harvested and sorted, made to age. Beautiful complex nose, white fruit, herbal nose. On the palate – pronounced minerality and acidity, literally devoid of fruit – will be interesting to see how this wine will evolve. Extremely long finish. Needs food.
2012 Rafael Palaciós As Sortes Valdeorras DO ($30, 100% Godello) – beautiful nose, white fruit, spices, a good Burgundy-rivaling complexity. On the palate -great acidity, white fruit, perfect balance – excellent texture, minerality and finish. The wine was double decanted before serving.
And then there were [spectacular] reds. All the red wines with the exception of 1984 were double-decanted to help them open up.
1984 Bodegas Alejandro Fernandez Tinto Pesquera DO Ribera del Duero ($30/current release, 100% Tempranillo) – 1984 was very unusual year – grapes were harvested in December(!). Nose – wow! Everything you want in the red wine – cedar box, red fruit, spice cabinet – warm, inviting. Palate – young, astringent, with very present tannins, blackberries – outstanding wine.
2010 Bodegas Muga Reserva Especial DOCa Rioja ($40) – Beautiful, warm nose, complex, touch of rhubarb, ripe fruit. Dry, perfect acidity, blackberries, restrained, great balance, dust on the palate, firm structure.
2005 Descendientes de José Palacio Corullón San Martin, Bierzo DO ($75, 100% Mencia) – this wine was produced for the first time in 1998 at the biodynamically farmed estate. Production is tiny, about 120 cases. Ripe fruit on the nose, eucalyptus, herbs. On the palate – firm structure, great minerality and acidity, spices, great depth, textural dust.
2007 Pago Marqués de Griñon Emeritus, DO Dominio de Valdepusa ($75, 66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Syrah, 17% Petite Verdot) – wow! Amazing – would beat any California Cabernet. Green bell pepper, touch of cassis, great concentration, firm structure, great balance. Drinkability: 9
2004 Bodegas Mauduros San Román, Toro DO ($150, 100% Ink of Toro) – baking spices, concentrated dark fruit, tar, hazelnut. On the palate – delicious, complex, starts from sweetness and evolves almost to astringency. General Tempranillo traits with tremendous concentration.
2005 Clos Terrasses Clos Erasmus Priorat DOCa (~$1,000 for 2005 vintage, about $300 current vintage, 85% Garnacha, 15% Syrah, 100 points Parker) – elegant, open nose, sage, cherries, incredible palate, sweet fruit, spices, blackberries, blueberries, tight frame, impeccable balance, just beautiful. Drinkability: 9
Williams & Humbert Jalifa Amontillado VORS Jerez DO ($35) – this wine is about 50 years old. Very complex nose with anchovy, almonds, hazelnuts. Wow – incredible complexity on the palate – leather, spices, truffle oil – wow! Craves food – and will work with variety of foods.
To say that this was a great tasting would be an understatement – I also like the fact that the wines were selected to showcase major regions and capabilities of the Spanish winemaking.
Yes, this was one and only seminar I was able to attend – but the tasting continued with the extravaganza of other Spanish wines and food. One interesting observation from the tasting was the fact that most of the big name in Spanish wines were absent in the tasting itself – La Rioja Alta, Cvne, Lopez de Heredia, Vega Sicilia, none of the great Grenache wines, like Alto Moncayo, Bodegas Gil – the list can go on and on – none of them were represented. Yes, I understand that for the most part the tasting is run through the distributors and not directly by the wineries, but still. This was the only peculiar observation I made.
And here are two more interesting observations for you (here interesting = positive). First, Godello is coming! Godello is a white grape, indigenous to Spain, which is capable of producing Chardonnay-comparable wines. There were a lot of Godello wines presented at the tasting, most of them of a very good quality. I can definitely say that Godello is squarely joining the ranks of Albariño, Viura and Verdejo, the best known Spanish white grapes. You should definitely look for Godello wines in the store if you want to try something unique and different.
And the second point: in the “inexpensive wines” category, Spain clearly kicks butt! Some of the wines priced at $10 or less were simply outstanding, but even outside of that price range, it is almost impossible to beat Spanish wines in the QPR category.
Before we we will talk about the wines, a few words about the food. There was a lot of delicious Spanish food presented at the event. First of all, there was cheese. For anyone who likes Spanish cheese, that was simply a heaven – lots of different Manchego, Iberico and other cheeses – different age, different pasteurization – a lot more options than you can find at the average store. There were also anchovy, called boquerones in Spain – white boquerones were simply delicious (yes, of course it is a personal opinion). And there was lots of tapas, masterfully prepared right in front of the desiring crowd. The tapas were made periodically, and every time that process would create a crowd of people, all hoping not to miss the new and interesting dish. Food at this event definitely commanded as much attention as the wine had. Here are a few pictures, just to attest to what I just said.
And of course, for what it worth, here are the notes from the rest of the tasting. I have to say that the tasting was organized in a bit of a strange way. My major complaint was the fact that there was no reasonable handout of any sort, so taking any notes of essence was simply impossible. Also the whole tasting was not logically organized, with packets of regional wines mixed with individual wineries and also distributors – the was no system of any sort, which made the overall tasting experience frustrating rather than productive. Anyway, below are my notes, in the usual tasting style, using “+” signs. You will not see any “+” wines, “++” only if really deserve mentioning, so most of the wines should be above “++”. On a positive side, I picked up again a few grapes, which I will mention in the notes. Here we go:
2005 Agricultura y Bodega Renacimento de Olivares Rento, Ribera del Duero ($55) – ++-|, overextracted
2011 Alejandro Fernández Tinto Pesquera, Ribera del Duero ($40) – +++, excellent
2009 Bodega Matarromera Matarromera Crianza, Ribera del Duero ($30) – +++, restrained, nice, ready
2011 Bodegas Emilio Moro Ribera del Duero ($25) – +++, delicious, round
2010 Condado de Haza, Ribera del Duero ($28) – +++, beautiful
2011 Legaris Crianza, Ribera del Duero ($27) – ++-|, not ready
2010 Bodegas Reyes Teofilo Reyes Crianza, Ribera del Duero DO ($31.50) – +++
2013 Bodegas Marqués de Vizhoja Torre La Moreira Albariño, Rias Baixas DO ($19.99) – ++
2012 Condes de Albarei Albariño, Rias Baixas DO ($15) – ++-|, nice, clean
2013 Adegas Morgadio Albariño, Risa Baixas DO ($22) – +++-|, wow! fruit, great! delicious!
2009 Bodega Prado Rey PR3 Barricas Verdejo Rueda DO ($22) – ++-|
2013 Bodegas Angel Rodriguez Martinsancho Verdejo Rueda DO ($22) – +++
NV Finca Hispana Fino DO Montilla Moriles ($8.99)- +++, unbeatable QPR!
2013 Finca Hispana Xarel.lo DO Penedés ($8.99)- +++, unbeatable QPR!
NV Finca Hispana Cava Brut Imperial Reserva Cava DO ($14.99)- +++
2013 Vitivinícola do Ribeiro Viña Costeira Ribeiro DO – +++, clean!
2013 Moure Vinos Artesans Moure Tradicion Blanco, DO Ribeira Sacra ($40) – ++-|
2013 Nivarius Rioja DOCa ($24.99, Tempranillo Blanco and Viura) – ++-| new grape!
2011 Quinta de Muradella Alanda Blanco, DO Monterrei ($35, 30% Dona Blanca, 30% Treixadura, 30% Verdello, 10% Monstruosa de Monterrei) – ++-|, new grapes!
2013 Bodegas Nivarius Nivei Rioja DOCa ($11.99) – ++-|
2011 Losada Vinos de Finca Bierzo DO ($22) – +++, great!
2013 2013 Finca Hispana Garnacha Terra Alta DO ($8.99)- +++, unbeatable QPR
2009 Martinez Lacuesta Crianza, Rioja DOCa ($17.50) – +++
2005 Bodega de Sarria Reserva, Navarra DO ($16.95) – +++
2011 Terra de Falanis Muac! DO Montsant ($16.95) – +++, delicious, spicy!
2012 Pagos Los Balancines Crash, VT Extremadura ($10.50) – ++, mnice!
2012 Moure Vinos Artesans Moure Tradicion Barrica, DO Ribeira Sacra ($29, Merenzao) – ++-| new grape!
Here we are, my friends – a delicious Spanish wine experience with many personal discoveries (like Marqués de Griñon Emeritus – you have to taste it believe it) and the new grapes. Let me finish this post with the question – are the Spanish wines part of your regular “wine lifestyle”? Do you look at the Spanish wines only as a source of value, or do you consider them world-class and the best hidden secret of the wine world? Let me know and cheers!
Tempranillo is an indigenous grape originated in Spain (by the way, do you know that Spain has the biggest area of grape plantings in the world?), with more than 2000 years of history. It is black, thick-skinned grape, capable of surviving temperature swings of Mediterranean climate, with very hot days and cool nights. Name Tempranillo comes from Spanish word temprano, which means “early”. Tempranillo typically ripens two weeks earlier compare to many other grapes. Tempranillo also one of the most widely planted red grapes in the world, with about 500,000 acres planted world-wide.
Tempranillo grapes are naturally low in acid and sugar content, so they often rely on blending partners to complement on both. Flavor profile of Tempranillo typically includes berries, leather (so famous in Rioja wines) and tobacco. Most famous Tempranillo wines come from Spain, from Rioja and Ribera del Duero regions, but Tempranillo is successfully growing in many other regions, including Portugal, California, Texas (up and coming star), South Africa, Australia and others. It is also interesting to note that Tempranillo is known under lots of different names (and as such, can throw some curve balls to The Wine Century club aficionados) – it is known in Spain as Tempranillo, Tinto Fino, Ull de Llebre, Tinto de Toro (this grape actually has clonal differences, similar to Sangiovese/Sangiovese Grosso), Cencibel and many others. It is known in Portugal as Tinta Roriz, Aragonez and Tinta Aragonez. But for the rest of the world it is simply known as Tempranillo.
So what is so great about Tempranillo? It has a few qualities which squarely set it on the line with the bets of the best in the wine world.
First, it has a great affinity for oak – Tempranillo wines can age and improve for the very long time in the oak barrels, and the resulting wine will pick up subtle nuances and complexity from that oak.
Tempranillo wines are very good at ageing. Best Tempranillo wines will rival best Bordeaux and Burgundy when it comes to improving with age and maintaining its youthful character. I have a first-hand account I can share with you – here is my experience with 1947 Rioja Imperial.
Last but absolutely not least in my book – Tempranillo wines are affordable! You can drink absolutely fabulous wines in the price range of $20 to $50, occasionally going into the $80+ – can you say the same about California Cabernet, or Burgundy, or Bordeaux? Not really… But with Tempranillo wines you do have this luxury. Of course there are Tempranillo wines which will cost $600+, but those are the exception, not the norm.
So what Tempranillo wines should you be drinking today, or any other day for that matter? I would love to give you a variety of recommendations, but come to think of it, I can only mention a few names coming strictly from Spain. There is nothing I can tell you about about Portuguese Tempranillo wines, as Tinta Roriz is typically blended with other grapes to produce Port. And while Tempranillo wines are made in Texas, California, Oregon, Washington and probably other states in US, most of those wines are available only at the wineries and rarely leave state limits.
But – when it comes to Tempranillo from Spain, I got favorites! Let me give you a few names of the producers – all the recommendations are personal, as I tasted many of their wines.
Rioja: La Rioja Alta, Bodegas Muga, Vina Real, Lopez de Heredia, Cune Imperial
Ribero del Duero: Emilio Moro, Vega Sicilia, Hasienda el Monsterio, Bodegas Alion
Toro: Teso La Monja, Numanthia
DO La Mancha: Bodegas Volver (one of the singularly best wines money can buy for around $15)
So I think it is the time to have a glass wine. Before we part let me leave you with a few interesting resources:
A vintage chart of Rioja wines, going all the way back to the 1925
A general vintage chart of Spanish wines, starting from 1992
A map of Spanish wine regions
And we are done here. Ahh, before I forget – Tempranillo Day now has a permanent spot in the calendar! It will be celebrated every second Thursday in November. Have a great Tempranillo Day and cheers!
A while ago I got an email from the Axial Vinos marketing, informing me that two of the Spanish wines from Axial Vinos portfolio had been recently added to the Trader Joe’s wine selection. I was also asked if I would accept a sample of the wines. As you might now, I have a difficult relationship with the samples – I don’t actively solicit them, and I consider each request individually. To be entirely honest, I had less than a handful of requests for sending the samples, and so far I didn’t reject any. I don’t have a strong criteria for rejection, it would probably have to be something like a Crane Lake of Sutter Home, for me to say “no, thank you”, but nevertheless, that makes me feel better.
As the wines which were offered to me were Spanish wines, which are some of my favorites in the world, of course I said “yes, please”. A few weeks later, the wines arrived, and then I had an opportunity to taste them – and now I would like to share my impressions with you.
Before we get to the wines, a few words about Axial Vinos. It appears that Axial Vinos is an export company, which works with the wineries in different regions of Spain, where it sources all of their wines. Axial Vinos portfolio includes more than a dozen of different wineries, located in all the leading regions, such as Ribera Del Duero, La Rioja, Penedes and others.
Now, let’s talk about the wines. From the get go, I really liked the packaging:
You know, this additional layer of paper, wrapped around the bottles, enhances an element of mystery. Wine in the bottle is always a mystery, this is what makes it such fun – you really don’t know what is there, behind the cork, so your imagination can run wild, simply based on all the visual cues – the shape of the bottle, the label, the capsule. Here you can’t clearly see even those details, so the mystery multiplies.
But of course the next step is to unwrap the bottles (and admire the labels):
2012 Zumaya Tempranillo Ribera del Duero DO (13.5% ABV, 100% Tempranillo) – nice and simple, food friendly wine. Hint of dark fruit on the nose, some blackberries and espresso notes on the palate. Tannins are soft and light, good acidity, good balance. Easy to drink. Drinkability: 7
2011 LA MANO Mencía Roble Bierzo DO (13% ABV, 100% Mencía) – what I like about Mencía-based wines as a whole is energy. Somehow all the Mencía wines I tasted to the date have this universal bright and uplifting character. This wine had nice, freshly pressed juice on the nose with the prevailing aromas of the fresh cherries. Similar cherries/plum profile on the palate, simple, clean, medium body, round dark fruit, easy to drink. Drinkability: 7+
NV La Granja 360 Cava Brut (11.5% ABV, 70% Xarel-lo, 30% Parellada) – simple and elegant, perfectly refreshing, just a touch of sweetness, good acidity, very balanced overall. Drinkability: 8-
All in all, this 3 wines can serve as a perfect introduction into the wonderful world of Spanish wines. To all the lucky people who can buy their wines at Trader Joe’s (Trader Joe’s in Connecticut doesn’t sell wines, so I’m not one of them), I highly recommend not to miss on all these wines. Considering that the Turkey Day is coming, I believe all three wines will pair quite well with the Thanksgiving feast, and I’m sure you will not break the bank to get them. If you will try or have tried these wines already – let me know what do you think.
That’s all I have for you for today, folks. Enjoy your Friday – and the weekend is coming! Cheers!
Celebrate Two Noble Grapes in One Day – What Are You Drinking Tonight? #CabernetDay and #TempranilloDay
I’m honestly puzzled, but somehow September 1st had being declared an international #CabernetDay and #TempranilloDay – it feels like there are not enough days in the calendar to properly celebrate all the grapes? Anyway, it is what it is, right? And the celebration is on, which means … oh boy… you have a reason to have a glass (or two or …) of wine tonight!
To celebrate Cabernet Day, all you need to do is to open a bottle of your favorite (or better yet, the one you never had) Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc wine (and of course Cabernet blend will do quite well too), and then tell the world how great it was (if you will only tell your neighbor, that will also count). With abundance of choices from Bordeaux, California, New York, Washington, Australia, Canada, Italy, Argentina, Chile, Spain, Israel and pretty much everywhere else, you will have no problems finding a good bottle of Cabernet to enjoy. And instead of giving you any particular recommendations, I would like to simply reflect on some of the past experiences:
Next, we definitely should acknowledge Tempranillo, a noble grape of Spain. While this grape is slowly trickling into other winemaking regions, it is a true star in Spain, where it shines in Rioja and Ribero del Duero regions, making some of the most beautiful (and age-worthy) wines in the world. You can also find it producing good results in Portugal, however, under the names of Aragonez and Tinta Roriz. Again, no particular recommendations as to what wine to open, just some reflections here for you:
Whatever bottle you will end up opening, the routine is not new – all you need to do is to enjoy it. And if you will be kind enough to leave a comment here, I will be glad to enjoy it together with you. Cheers!