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One on One with Winemaker: José Moro of Bodegas Cepa 21

January 6, 2017 7 comments

When it comes to Spanish wines, Ribera Del Duero is probably most iconic and best-known region worldwide  – I know some will say it should be Priorat or Rioja, but let’s leave this argument for another time. Hold on, here is a bit of stats to support my statement. If you will look at the Wine Spectator Classic ratings (95-100, best of the best), you will find 38 wines from Ribera Del Duero, 24 from Rioja and only 11 from Priorat rated in that category. And while in Ribera Del Duero, do you know which wine has the top Wine Spectator rating of all times? 2004 Bodegas Emilio Moro Ribera del Duero Malleolus de Sanchomartin.

No, this is not the wine we will be talking about here, but – it is perfectly connected to our story. First commercial wine under Bodegas Emilio Moro name was released in 1989 – however, Moro family’s viticultural traditions and experience go all the way back to the beginning of the 20th century, starting with Don Emilio Moro, a first generation vigneron. Today, in its third generation, Bodegas Emilio Moro continues to build upon a century of traditions and tried and true techniques. And now we are getting to the actual subject of this post – the latest venture of the Moro family – Bodegas Cepa 21.

Bodegas CEPA 21

Photo Source: Bodegas CEPA 21

Bodegas Cepa 21 was created by brothers José and Javier Moro, the third generation vignerons. It is located in the heart of Ribero del Duero region, in the area known as “The Golden Mile”. It is worth noting the Ribera Del Duero comprise highest altitude vineyards in Spain, located at 2,400 – 3,300 feet above sea level. Bodegas Cepa 21 farms 125 acres of estate vineyards, and has another 125 acres under direct control through the agreements with wine growers. All 4 wines produced at Bodegas Cepa 21 are made out of one and the same grape – Tempranillo, albeit it is their own “Moro clone”, cultivated for more than a century.

Instead of inundating you with more information which you can easily find at Bodegas Cepa 21 website, I had an opportunity to [virtually] sit down with José Moro, an owner and winemaker at Bodegas Cepa 21, and inundate him with the barrage of questions – and now I can share that conversation with you:

[TaV]: Cepa 21 name implies that this is the winery for the 21st century. By the time when Cepa 21 was created, Emilio Moro was well known and very successful business. What was the motivation for the creation of the Cepa 21 winery and the brand overall? What sets Cepa 21 apart from the Emilio Moro?

[JM]: Cepa 21 is the project of the third generation of the Moro Family. We were eager to experiment with a different terroir and a diverse expression of the Tempranillo variety. Our goal was to find the maximum expression of the Tempranillo variety, respecting the finesse and elegance of the grape.
In that sense, Emilio Moro and Cepa 21 have several differences. For starters, Cepa 21 vineyards are orientated to the north whereas Emilio Moro vineyards have a southern orientation. The climate is another differentiating factor (colder in Cepa 21) and the way we classify our wines also differs. In Emilio Moro we classify attending to the age of the vineyard and its vines, whereas in Cepa 21 we classify according to the altitude of the vineyards.
The result: Cepa 21 wines are subtle but structured, fresh and yet complex, elegant and full of personality and they have an interesting aromatic palate.

Cepa 21 Winery

Cepa 21 Winery. Source: Bodegas CEPA 21

[TaV]: What is 21st century winery and how Cepa 21 fits into that image? Are you also trying to appeal to millennials with this wine?

[JM]: From the moment people see the building in Cepa 21, a black and white minimalist structure with an air of “chateaux française” raising among vineyards, they realize they are about to discover something made for this century.  Innovation has also been one of the key values throughout the winemaking process. It’s this union of modernity and our unique Tinto Fino clone that turn Cepa 21 wines into a traditional and yet modern wines made for today’s consumers. I believe it is them who define modern winemaking, and not the other way around… And in Cepa 21 we make a continuous effort so our wines exceed the expectations of these new consumers.

[TaV]: It seems that previous vintage for Cepa 21 was 2011, and now the current vintage is 2014. Does it mean that Cepa 21 wines are only produced in the best years?

[JM]: We have maximum quality standards for our wines, so if a vintage doesn’t have enough quality, we simply don’t bottle it. This is a way of guaranteeing consumers that if they buy a bottle of our wine, it will meet their expectations, whatever the vintage they choose to purchase.

[TaV]: Ever since the inception of Cepa 21, what were your most favorite and most difficult vintages and why?

[JM]: 2011 was an excellent vintage, one of the best in the Ribera del Duero. The climatology was perfect for our variety, with sequential rainfall that resulted in a powerful vintage of great quality wines. 2015 was also an outstanding vintage; hot temperatures and hard work resulted in very promising wines.
2009 was a really difficult vintage. It was extremely rainy and cold, with frequent hails that stopped the vegetative cycle of the plant. It was a vintage to forget.

[TaV]: What are your biggest/most important markets for Cepa 21?
[JM]: Cepa 21 is a young winery, but its growing at a fast pace. We export our wine all over the world, from Asia to the United States, and we continue to grow internationally. The US is one of our key markets this year, but we also focus in European countries and in our own, Spain.

[TaV]: Along the same lines, do you sell in China, Cepa 21 or Emilio Moro wines? Even broader, are Ribera del Duero wines known/popular in China?

[JM]: Yes, we do sell in China and we are proud to say our wines are very well regarded in this market, although we recognize there is still a lot of work to be done. I often visit China and talk about the potential of our DO, which is popular in China but still has a lot of potential.

[TaV]: Do you grow any other grapes than Tinto Fino at any of the Emilio Moro/Cepa 21 properties? If you don’t, do you have any plans to start growing any other grapes?

[JM]: We recently announced in Spain that we are starting a project in El Bierzo. We are looking into producing a white wine that’s 100% Godello, a grape that stands out for its elegance and finesse. We are only in the initial phase, but we are sure of the potential of this relatively unknown grape.

[TaV]: It seems that Tinto Fino is one and only grape used at Cepa 21 (and also at the Emilio Moro too). Do you ever find it limiting (the fact that you only have one grape to work with)?

[JM]: Tempranillo is king in Spain, it is the national grape, and our Tinto Fino clone we use to graft each and every one of our vines is what moves us, our reason of being. No, we don’t find it limiting at all.

[TaV]: On your website, I saw a reference to “Moro clone” – is Tinto Fino from your vineyards actually different from the mainstream Tempranillo?

[JM]: Definitely. We grafted our vines with a unique Tinto Fino clone to achieve the maximum expression of the variety. It allows us to produce wines that age beautifully, that embrace the flavors given by the barrel during ageing and of great quality.

The cluster is smaller and looser, the vines produce less grapes – For us, quality is more important than quantity – but offer fruit that ages beautifully in the bottle.

[TaV]: Are the general challenges facing Ribero del Duero region, or is everything great in its winemaking world?

[JM]: We had to reinvent ourselves due to the economic crisis that Spain has been experiencing for the last years. The Moro family embarked on a new project with Cepa 21. It was a winery that was only going to produce the wine that bears its name, but during the worst part of the crisis we launched “Hito”. It means “milestone” – And it definitely was one. We have never stopped evolving since then.

[TaV]: To the best of my understanding, Cepa 21 practices what is called a “sustainable viticulture” – dry farming, etc. Do you have any plans to advance to organic methods, or maybe even biodynamic?

[JM]: Not at the moment. But we respect the climate 100%… We only work with what our environment gives us, and we use no artificial irrigation.

[TaV]: When it comes to the wines of Ribera del Duero, outside of your own wines, do you have any other favorite wineries?

[JM]: The Ribera del Duero is an area known for its viticulture tradition. There are many great wineries in this area – Apart from Emilio Moro and Cepa 21, I wouldn’t be able to pick a favorite.

[TaV]: The same question, now going beyond Ribera del Duero – any favorites in Rioja and Toro?

[JM]: I enjoy drinking wines from Bodegas Muga, Bodegas Eguren, and Bodegas Sierra Cantabria. They all produce amazing wines.

[TaV]: Are the Cepa 21 wines made for the immediate consumption or will they benefit from some age?

[JM]: Hito Rosado and Hito are our rosé and our young wines and, as such, they are better when drunk shortly after they are released. Cepa 21 and Malabrigo, even though they can be enjoyed when they are released, will greatly benefit from ageing in the bottle: They will evolve beautifully.

[TaV]: What is next for you? Are there any new projects in the making, maybe even outside of Ribera del Duero?

[JM]: Like I said before, we do have a project in El Bierzo with 100% Godello grape. Until we release that wine, whenever that may be, we will continue promoting our wines abroad to show the true potential of the Spanish Tinto Fino and our unique clone.

Cepa 21 tempranilloNow, after reading all this, it is time for some wine! 2011 Cepa Tempranillo made it to the Wine Spectator 2016 Top 100 list, so obviously it instantly disappeared from all of the stores. I was very happy to try the 2014 rendition, which now should be getting into the stores near you:

2014 Bodegas Cepa 21 Tempranillo Ribera Del Duero (14% ABV, $25, 100% Tempranillo, 12 months in French oak)
C: dark garnet, inky
N: lavender, fresh blackberries, cigar box, typical Tempranillo nose
P: ripe plums, well integrated, dusty tannins, eucalyptus, smooth, clean acidity, excellent balance.
V: 8/8+, excellent now and will evolve.

That’s all I have for you, my friends. Great history, great present, great future – all through the hard work and passion. And luckily, we all get the wine we can enjoy. Cheers!

Terrenal: Delicious Kosher Wines, and Great Values Too

March 30, 2016 2 comments

What I like about wine world is that many things are changing, and most of them changing for the better. Winemakers around the world are more in tune with the nature, their means and ways are greatly improved, and it shows in the wines. The best testament to that is when you are poured a random glass of wine, you take a sip, you say “ahh, this is good”, and only then you care to look at the label to find out what you are drinking.

Over the past 5-8 years, Kosher wines improved so dramatically that there is no need anymore to defend them and advocate that “they can be good too” – if you are still wondering what Kosher wines are, I can offer you a short crash course in this post. Kosher wines today are definitely in that category I described above – you take a sip, then look at the back label and say “wow, this is actually a kosher wine!” – been there, done that.

When it comes to Terrenal, I knew that these are the kosher wines, but only from the experience – here is the link to the blog post about selection of Terrenal wines which I found at Trader Joe last year, and they were excellent as the wines and simply outstanding as a value.

Few weeks ago I got a sample of two of the new wines from Terrenal. First wine is made out of one of my most favorite red grapes – Tempranillo. The second wine closely mimics composition of one of the Spanish flagship wines – El Nido from Gil family estates, with the same blend of Monastrell and Cabernet Sauvignon in similar proportions. For what it worth, below are the tasting notes:

2014 Terrenal Tempranillo Yecla DO Spain (13.5% ABV, $4.99, 100% Tempranillo, kosher non-mevushal, certified Vegan )
C: dark garnet
N: blackberries, eucalyptus, sage, plums
P: nicely restrained, mouthwatering acidity, fresh fruit, tart blackberries, short finish, easy to drink
V: 7+, nice and simple, will work well with wide range of dishes

2014 Terrenal Seleccionado Yecla DO Spain (15% ABV, $7.99, 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Monastrell, kosher non-mevushal, certified Vegan)
C: dark garnet, almost black
N: sweet plums, hint of cinnamon, nutmeg, mocha
P: polished, round, restrained fruit, silky mouthfeel, hint of chocolate, good structure.
V: 8-, excellent wine, easy to drink and “dangerous”. Will evolve in 4-5 years.

Here you go, my friends. Two very tasty wines with an unbeatable QPR and a number of bonus points – Kosher and Vegan. Terrenal Seleccionado will not match El Nido in the extraction level and concentration, but $7.99 versus $150+ puts it in a very interesting perspective. Yes, of course, conduct your own experiment –  get a bottle of each and taste them blind side by side – I wounder what you would think.

The only challenge might be that the Terrenal wines are only available at Trader Joe’s stores, at least in the United States, so if you have one close by, you are in luck. If you will see them anywhere else, please comment so the others would know where to look for them. Happy [Kosher, Vegan] value wine hunting. Cheers!

Garnacha from Cariñena

November 13, 2015 2 comments
Beautiful Cariñena Vineyards. Source: Cariñena DOP

Beautiful Cariñena Vineyards.
Source: Cariñena DOP

Today we will be talking about Garnacha, better known around the world under its French name of Grenache.  But the region we will focus on is located in Spain,  so let’s use regionally-appropriate name.

Garnacha is one of the most important grapes of Spain, rivaled only by Tempranillo. It is planted practically in all the regions, and used both solo and as a blending grape, delivering tremendous range of expression.

Let’s narrow down our focus a bit and talk about Garnacha from Cariñena. Cariñena is a region in the central part of Spain, second oldest official DO (protected origin) in Spain and one of the first in Europe, created in 1932. Most of the vineyards in Cariñena are situated on the mountains, from 400 meters to 800+ meters (1300 ft – 2600 ft) above sea level. One of the best known grapes from the region is … Cariñena, which I find quite  confusing considering that this is also the name of the region itself. However, the most planted grape is…yes, Garnacha, which takes 55% of all the grape plantings. Another interesting fact is that Garnacha plantings in Cariñena are some of the oldest in Spain, with age of some vines more than 100 years old.

I will not inundate you here with information which you can find on your own, for instance, on the official D.O.P. Cariñena web site. I recently heard that Andrea Immer Robinson, one of the 18 women Master Sommeliers, and an official Sommelier for Delta Airlines, selected Cariñena Garnacha wines to serve to the Business Class passengers on Delta flights due to its affinity to the high altitude. Obviously I got intrigued with this statement, and I was lucky enough to reach out to Andrea and ask a few questions about it. Here is what I was able to learn:

Q: It sounds like different wines might have different affinity to showing best at the high altitude? Is that really true? Can you elaborate on this a bit?
A: Yes it is true. At altitude your sense of smell is muted and your palate is less hydrated. Consequently, more restrained wine scent/flavor profiles or more intensely tannic wines may not present as well in-flight.

Q: Do you have an example of the wine which is delicious on the ground, and doesn’t taste that well up in the sky?
A: It is less that a wine doesn’t taste well in the sky, and more that it may seem less expressive or flavorful. The subtlety of Italian Pinot Grigio is an example of a style that classically seems muted and less flavorful at altitude. But I did find a great one that belies the broad-brush experience I have had which is exciting.
[TaV comment]: Obviously this is where the limitations of the virtual conversation kick in, as I would love to ask Andrea what was that great Pinot Grigio which she was able to find to serve at the high altitude.

Q: What do you think makes Garnacha from Cariñena good wines to drink at the high altitude? Do you think all Garnacha from Cariñena wines are equally good to drink at the high altitude, or is it only few particular wines?
A: The Garnacha from Carinena is expressive and concentrated and the tannins though present, are soft and ripe – so, the wine shows a lot of character and is not drying to the palate in flight. The particular example that is getting rave reviews presently is a 9 year old Reserva – that extra bottle age gives complexity that customers are going ape over. I don’t thin every wine would garner this type of response–I think the bottle age and complexity of the Reserva level are a big part of it.
[TaV comment]: Yep, here we go again – would love to know what Reserva wine was that…

Q: What are your favorite Garnacha from Cariñena wines, whether on the ground or on the board of the plane?
A: I love the Monasterio de las Vinas Reserva that we are serving on Delta now. I also really love the Castillo de Monserran and the Paniza Vinas Viejas on the ground (haven’t tried them in flight). Perfect as we get into stew season!

I also was able to taste a few of Garnacha from Cariñena wines, and below are my impressions:

2012 Viñas Viejas de Paniza Garnacha Cariñena DO (14% ABV, $18, 100% Garnacha, 6 month in oak)
C: dark ruby
N: lavender, espresso, touch of dark fruit
P: hint of chocolate, cherries, medium body, good acidity
V: 7+

2012 Bodegas San Valero Particular Garnacha Old Vine Cariñena DO (14% ABV, $14.99, 100% Garnacha, 14 month in oak)
C: dark garnet, almost black
N: intense, whiff of alcohol, dark fruit, raspberries
P: fresh raspberries, open, bright, medium body, herbal undertones, pronounced acidity, short to medium finish, but then tannins come in after a while.
V: 7+ at the moment, needs time. Judging by the acidity and late tannins, this wine needs at least 5 years to develop

2013 Corona de Aragon Special Selection Garnacha Cariñena DO (13.5% ABV, $14, 50% Garnacha, 50% Cariñena, 5 month in oak)
C: Dark garnet
N: restrained with herbal undertones, pencil shavings (rarely use this descriptor, but it was very deserving here), hint of blackberries
P: fresh, delicious, dark chocolate, cherries, classic Grenache rendition with good acidity and excellent balance
V: 8-, my favorite of the tasting, would happily drink this wine every day – definitely an excellent QPR

Have you had any of the Garnacha Cariñena wines? What are your thought on the wines at the high altitude? Don’t be shy, comment away! Cheers!

P.S. I would like to thank kind folks at Gregory White PR for providing samples and reaching out to Andrea Immer Robinson

Wednesday’s Meritage – #MWWC18 Theme, Decanter Top Wines 2015, New Spanish Wine Video and more

July 15, 2015 6 comments

Meritage Time!

First and foremost, the theme of the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #18 (#MWWC18) was announced by the winner of the previous round, Wayward Wine,  and it is … “Crisis“.  I don’t readily associate wine with crisis – thus I find this theme quite challenging. But so where many other themes before, and this is why it is called a “challenge”, so all we can do is to put on a crisis-handling hat and deal with it. Write, don’t wait – the submission deadline is Monday, July 27th, which is less than 2 weeks away… Crisis!

Decanter magazine is unquestionably one of the most influential publications in the wine consumer world.  Every year, Decanter conducts a competition and recognizes the best wines in the multiple categories with both international and regional awards. In 2015, the most prestigious award, called International Trophy, was awarded to the 35 wines out of 15,929 wines submitted for the competition between December 2014 and May 2015 – that sure sounds very impressive. The most interesting part for me was the fact that Australia, France and South Africa heavily dominated that list of 35, with Italy and Portugal been barely present, and US, Germany, Austria and many other winemaking countries absent completely. In any case, this makes it an interesting read, so here is the link where you can find complete information about competition process and awards.

Wines from Spain, an organization promotes the knowledge about Spanish wines worldwide, started a new series of videos, aimed to educate wine consumers about Spanish wines. The first video in the series introduces four of the popular Spanish grapes, and promises to come back with a lot more information. The video is short (less than 3 minutes) and very cute, so I would suggest that it’s worth your time – you can find the video here.

That is all I have for you for today – the glass is empty, but the refill is on the way. Cheers!

Rare and Beautiful

July 11, 2015 19 comments

Wine Regions of SpainIf you read this blog even on a semi-regular basis, you probably noticed that I’m a sucker for the obscure grapes. So let me just proclaim it in the simple and direct way – I love rare grapes. The more obscure, the lesser known the grape, the better it is.

What I like about rare grapes is a complete mystery in the glass. As the grape is unknown, nothing gets in the way of perceiving it exactly for what and how it is. The closest thing to this experience is a blind tasting, but even then you have some knowledge for what you might be tasting, so instead of been focused on just what is in the glass in front of you, your brain is also trying to place it into some potential brackets, fit it into something familiar – but not in case of the unknown and rare grape. Tasting the unknown grape is an open book without any restrictions – you can write there whatever you want.

In addition to the mystery element, I have to say that most of of my “rare grape” encounters so far were quite pleasant. Of course there were some wines I didn’t care for, but still, the majority were interesting and thought provoking. If anything, my only gripe with the rare grapes is that the respective wines are equally rare – the production is usually very small, and even smaller quantities are imported (for sure in U.S.), which makes those wines very hard to find.

Now you understand that when I was asked if I would be interested to participate in the virtual tasting of rare Spanish grapes, I enthusiastically said “yes, of course!”. I’m a big fun of the Spanish wines in general, and now the rare grapes? That doubles the fun on the spot!

The wines arrived, and then the day of the tasting. The tasting was done in the virtual format, with Lucas Payà presenting over the ustream TV, and all the bloggers and media asking questions through the social media channels (Twitter, primarily). Lucas Payà is a well known figure in the wine industry – particularly, he worked for 5 years as head sommelier for acclaimed chef Ferran Adrià’s elBulli, and he was definitely a wealth of knowledge on the subject of Spain’s lesser known wine regions and rare grapes.  I will not be trying to recite here an hour long presentation – if you have a bit of time, the recording is available here. Instead, I will give you my thoughts and tasting notes on the 8 excellent wines we had an opportunity to taste.

Here we go:

2014 Baron de Ley Rioja White (12% ABV, SRP $10.99, 90% Viura, 10% Malvasia) – out of 123,000 acres of vineyards in Rioja, less than 10% is planted with white grapes (11,000 acres), so it is given that white Rioja wines are rare. This wine was simple and well quaffable.
C: pale straw
N: touch of the candied fruit, white peach, expressive
P: intense fresh white fruit, good acidity, short finish
V: dangerous wine, too easy to drink 7+

2013 A Coroa Godello Valdeorras DO (13.5% ABV, SRP $23, 100% Godello) – Valdeorras region is located in Galicia, and it is a part of so called Green Spain – a territory with wet and cool climate. Godello grape was nearly extinct with only 400 vines remaining in 1980. Today Godello is starting to compete with Albariño in popularity, and it is capable of a great depth of expression.
C: light yellow
N: white stone fruit, touch of vanilla, spices
P: fresh, light white fruit, lemon, grapefruit, clean
V: good, 7/7+, finish is a bit sweet

2013 Raventós i Blanc Silencis Xarel-lo Penedes DO (12% ABV, SRP $21, 100% Xarel-lo) – Penedes region is best known for its sparkling wines, Cava, and Raventós is the oldest producer of Cava. Xarel-lo, difficult to pronounce grape (listen to it here), is one of the main components of Cava, but increasingly it is bottled as a dry still wine, and I would say it is  worth seeking.
C: light straw, almost invisible
N: hazelnut, vanilla, touch of tropical fruit
P: creamy, intense, plump, green apple, good acidity, reach
V: 8-

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2013 Guímaro Tinto Ribeira Sacra DO (13% ABV, SRP $18, 100% Mencía) – Ribeira Sacra is another region classified as Green Spain (cool and wet), and this is second region focused on the indigenous Spanish grape called Mencía. The first region is Bierzo, where Mencía makes powerful, concentrated reds. Here in Ribeira Sacra, Mencía shows totally different, with the emphasis on fresh, fruity profile.
C: garnet red
N: bright, fresh fruit, gamay-like
P: beautiful! Pepper, dark fruit, touch of smokiness, earthy, bright, delicious
V: 8-

2013 Suertes del Marques 7 Fuentes Valle de la Orotava DO Tenerife (Canary Islands) (13% ABV, $22, blend of Listán Negro, Tintilla) – Canary Islands, and Tenerife in particular, have a lot of unique climatic zones – and unique grapes. The two grapes used in production of this wine – Listán Negro and Tintilla – are the new grapes for me, adding up to the count. The volcanic soil influence is spectacular, and this wine is a treat for any wine geek.
C: ruby red
N: smoke, mushrooms, forest, dark intensity
P: smoke, forest floor, campfire, spice, beautiful
V: 8

2012 Bodegas Margón Pricum Primeur Tierra de León DO (13.5% ABV, SRP $28, 100% Prieto Picudo) – another indigenous grape, Prieto Picudo, coming from the vineyards which are 60  – 100 years old. Truly special wine, definitely worth seeking.
C: dark garnet red
N: slightly vegetative, touch of plums, earthy, unusual, chocolate
P: texture, velvety, silky, good dark fruit, very round
V: 8, excellent

2012 Navaherreros Garnacha de Bernabeleva Viños de Madrid DO (15% ABV, SRP $25, blend of Garnacha, small quantities of Albillo, Macabeo) – Garnacha is definitely not a rare grape in Spain, but here it has yet a different expression compare to Priorat or Borsao. The grapes for this wine come from the 40 – 80 years old vineyards, and the wine itself is a perfect rendition of Garnacha.
C: bright garnet red
N: dark chocolate, fruit, open, nice, touch of blueberries
P: dark chocolate, good acidity, good fruit, clean and excellent
V: 8, excellent

Lustau Palo Cortado Península Jerez (19% ABV, SRP $22, 100% Palomino Fino) – Sherry (Jerez) is grossly under-appreciated wine as a category, which allows wine aficionados to enjoy unique taste without having to spend a fortune.
C: dark golden yellow
N: mint, herbs, caramel, hazelnuts
P: perfectly balanced, touch of salinity and expressive acidity, begging for some aged cheese
V: 8-

There you have it, my friends – a unique experience of the rare grapes and regions, and beautiful wines which I would be happy to drink every day. Are you familiar with any of these wines, grapes or regions? When presented with an opportunity to try the new and unknown grape, would you gladly go for it, or would you ask for Pinot Noir instead? Comment away! Cheers!

Spanish Wine Recommendations, Part 1 – Wines under $20

March 24, 2015 19 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…

From Value to World-Class – Celebrating 30 Years of Spanish Wines in USA

December 28, 2014 13 comments

Glasses at the Spanish Wine TatsingI’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.

Steve Olson presenting at Spanish Wines SeminarWe 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.

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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) – ++-|

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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!

 

 

 

 

 

Axial Vinos – Spanish Wine Intro

November 8, 2013 13 comments

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:

Axial Vinos

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):

Avial VinosOkay, so we are done looking at the bottles, let’s talk about the content.

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-

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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!

Weekly Wine Quiz #61: Grape Trivia – Tempranillo

June 15, 2013 13 comments
Tempranillo grapes as captured in Wikipedia

Tempranillo grapes as captured in Wikipedia

Welcome to the weekend! Here is your new wine quiz you’ve been waiting for so hard (yeah, okay, I know I’m pushing it, but may be at least a bit?)

And yes, we are continuing the grape trivia subject – by the way, if you are tired of it, do tell me – I will come up with something else. Just to let you know, we have two more red grapes to go through, and then we will switch to the whites for may be 8 different white grapes – then will see where we will end up.

Today’s subject is – Tempranillo! Just saying the word Tempranillo makes me very excited, as Rioja, one of the most well-known wines made out of Tempranillo grapes, are some of my all time favorites.

Tempranillo is indigenous grape  originating in Spain, 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. 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 successfullygrowing in many other regions, including Portugal, California, Texas (up and coming star), South Africa, Australia and others.

And now, to the quiz!

Q1: What is the meaning of the name Tempranillo?

Q2: Name 3 grapes,  traditional blending partners of Tempranillo

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?

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?

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

Enjoy the weekend and good luck with the quiz. And don’t forget to celebrate Dad tomorrow – Father’s Day, yay! Cheers!