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Rioja Versus Rioja – Will One Tempranillo More?

November 10, 2017 11 comments

The time has come for a battle, where the brother will go against the brother and the blood will spill … – oops, let’s cull the drama before it sets in – it is the wine we are talking about, and if anything will be spilled, it will be the wine – but I promise to be very careful, as red wine is not easy to get off the clothes.

Today, in honor of the International Tempranillo Day, we will put glass to glass some of the best of the best in Rioja’s World. These wines are truly the siblings (brothers or not), as both wines are produced by Compañía Vinícola del Norte del España (the Northern Spanish Wine Company), also known as CVNE, and also sometimes referred to as Cune, due to an interesting style of writing used on the labels.

CVNE Rioja wines

Wines were produced in Spain forever. However, the story of Rioja as we know it, started in the late 19th century, after phylloxera epidemic wiped out most of the vines in Bordeaux, but England’s thirst for Claret Bordeaux was so famous for, was at its pick. Producers in Rioja wanted to become a new source of Claret, and some of the most ambitious producers even set up their new operations right by the train station in Haro, to ensure the best transport for their wines (you can read more here).

CVNE was created by two brothers in 1879, and the ownership stays in the family even today. In 1920, Viña Real line of wines was started to produce Rioja in new, modern style. CVNE owns about 1360 acres of vineyards, located in Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Alta. Both appellations have similar soils and Atlantic coastal climate exposure, however, Rioja Alta vineyards are located at the higher altitudes than Rioja Alavesa, which shows in the resulting fruit.

Before we will enter the battle, we need to establish some ground rules, to make sure that our fighters are in the same “weight category”. The rules are not difficult: there are 4 main varieties which can be used in Rioja – Tempranillo, Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuelo (Carignan). Together, these 4 varieties should represent at least 85% of the blend or 95% of grapes are destemmed; there are few other grapes allowed to be used in the leftover percentage.  Crianza wines should be aged for at least 2 years ( 6 months in the cask); Reserva – 3 years (12 months in the cask); Gran Reserva – 5 years (18 months in the cask).

Okay, now that we set the rules, let the fight begin.

Battle Crianza:

2014 Cune Crianza Rioja DOCa (13.5% ABV, $13, 85% Tempranillo, 15% Garnacha and Mazuello, appellation Rioja Alta)
C: Garnet
N: earthy smell, freshly crushed blackberries, acidity, cedar box,
P: medium body, pronounced minerality, restrained fruit, clear acidity, tart cherries, soft, round, hint of tobacco, asking for food
V: 8-, restrained and tart, definitely improved after a few hours of breathing

2013 Viña Real Crianza Rioja DOCa (13.5% ABV, $15, 90% Tempranillo, 10% Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuello, appellation Rioja Alavesa)
C: Garnet
N: surprisingly different, dark fruit, touch of tobacco, touch of sweetness
P: medium+ body, firm structure, cherries and tart of cherries pit, even brighter acidity than a previous wine, more present mouthfeel
V: 8-, a touch fruitier and more round than previous wine. Different but equally good.

Conclusion: Tie. You can definitely taste the difference – Cune Crianza is more restrained and tight, and Viña Real is more round and fruity from the get-go. Slight difference in age and vintage might play a role. The wines would ask for a different food, but otherwise, they are equally good wines.

Battle Reserva:

The Reservas match fair and square – same vintage, same age in barrel, very similar grape composition

2013 Cune Reserva Rioja DOCa (13.5% ABV, $28, 85% Tempranillo, 15% Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuello, appellation Rioja Alta)
C: dark garnet
N: medium+ intensity, leather, touch of sweet plum, cedar box, very inviting
P: medium weight, tart, acidic, a bit of sour cherries, explicit tannins. Needs time.
V: started opening after one hour in the open bottle. More fruit showed up, perfect structure, very pleasant. Excellent overall. 8+/9-

2013 Viña Real Reserva Rioja DOCa (13.5% ABV, $32, 90% Tempranillo, 10% Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuello, appellation Rioja Alavesa)
C: dark garnet
N: medium- intensity, touch of the forest floor, mushrooms, tobacco, eucalyptus
P: cherries, cigar box, medium+ presence on the palate, crisp acidity, very pronounced French oak tannins, needs a lot of time
V: more approachable than the previous one, but still should improve with time – get a case and forget it. Also a great improvement after an hour. Wow. Superb. 8+/9-

Conclusion: Advantage Viña Real. The wines are clearly stylistically different. Appellation might play a role, and the winemaking technique, of course. I slightly preferred Viña Real, as it was a bit more round versus more austere Cune.

Battle Gran Reserva:

Here we have different vintages (both considered excellent, but I think 2010 has a slight edge up over 2011), different appellations and different grape compositions.

2011 Cune Gran Reserva Rioja DOCa (13.5% ABV, $47, 85% Tempranillo, 10% Graciano, 5% Mazuello, appellation Rioja Alta)
C: dark garnet, practically black, with Ruby rim
N: dark fruit, roasted meat notes, sage, eucalyptus
P: forthcoming tannins, tar, cherry, tart, with lip-smacking acidity, really long finish.
V: 8+, within 20 minutes of opening, not ready even remotely. After about 3 hours in the open bottle, the wine became opened up enough to become delicious.

2010 Viña Real Gran Reserva Rioja DOCa (13.5% ABV, $47, 95% Tempranillo, 5% Graciano, appellation Rioja Alavesa)
C: dark garnet, just a shade lighter than the previous wine
N: more open than previous wine – blackberries, graphite, pencil shavings, cedar box, iodine
P: incomparably more drinkable, fresh cherries, open, bright, perfect structure, eucalyptus, nicely integrated tannins
V: 8/8+, you feel the need for time, but the wine is a lot more approachable

Conclusion: Advantage Cune. First, nobody should drink 2010 Gran Reserva now. It is simply a waste. Buy it at a great price, and put it aside for another 15-20 years, especially from the outstanding vintage such as 2010. Just to explain the result here, I slightly preferred the firm structure of Cune versus fruity appeal of Viña Real.

As you can see, we didn’t find a winner of our Tempranillo battle – all 6 wines Tempranillo perfectly, as one would expect from such a great producer as CVNE.

I wish wine would be the only real battle we ever have to fight – wouldn’t that be great? Enjoy your glass of Tempranillo, no matter where it came from and celebrate the noble grape of Spain! Cheers!

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!

Celebrate Tempranillo!

November 11, 2015 2 comments

I hope you are done with that celebratory bottle of Merlot from the last week, as a brand new grape celebration is upon us. This time, it is about the grape which is not as widespread as Merlot, but still a foundation of some of the absolutely best wines in the world – dark skinned grape called Tempranillo. On Thursday, November 12, we will be celebrating International Tempranillo Day, with festivities around the world as you can see at the TAPAS web site.
First and foremost, Tempranillo means Spain – Rioja, Ribera deal Duero, Toro and many other regions in Spain craft world class wines which rival in their longevity wines of Northern Rhône and Bordeaux (but still quite affordable, opposite to the latter).
Of course Tempranillo’s success is not confined to Spain only – Texas makes excellent Tempranillo wines, with some interesting efforts in California (for instance, Irwin Family – delicious!), Washington, Oregon and Australia. Tempranillo also shines in Portugal under the names of Tinta Roriz and Aragonez.
I can spend hours going through my favorite Tempranillo wines and experiences – just search this blog for “Tempranillo”, you will see what I’m talking about. Instead, I want to mention just my most recent encounter with Tempranillo wines from two weeks ago – Ramón Bilbao Rioja.


2011 Ramón Bilbao Rioja Crianza (13.5% ABV, $14, 100% Tempranillo, 14 month in oak) – open inviting nose of the fresh dark fruit with touch of cedar box. Fresh, firm, well structured on the palate, nice core of ripe cherries, eucalyptus, pencil shavings and touch of espresso, good acidity, overall very balanced. A perfect example of wine which is drinkable now, and will gladly evolve for the next 10–15 years. Also at the price – very hard to beat QPR.
What are your Tempranillo experiences? Got any favorites or celebration plans you care to share? Please do so below. And until the next grape holiday – cheers!

World-class American Tempranillo

June 13, 2015 21 comments

If you will ask me “what is your favorite wine”, I would always honestly tell you that I don’t have one. Which is generally a true statement. With may be an exception of the Spanish wines – and Tempranillo wines in particular. Deep, deep down, I know that I have a tiny bias towards Tempranillo. Or at least if you will ask about the most memorable wine experiences, Tempranillo wines would be definitely at the forefront.

The “world-class” is not necessarily a generic term when it comes to wines – but this is how I like to refer to the wines which are best of the best in my opinion. The “world-class” in my vocabulary is reserved to the wines which don’t leave you indifferent; these wines solicit emotional response from the person drinking them, and for the most cases that response is a simple three letter “word” – wow (is this actually a word? Not so sure…).

Tempranillo is a great grape of Spain. Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Toro are close to any oenophile’s heart, with lots of unquestionably world-class wines, with hundreds years of winemaking history. Tempranillo made it to the California at the beginning of the 20th century, but was planted in the wrong places too many times (Tempranillo does the best on higher appellations and in the cooler climates), and was mostly used in the blends. In the 1990s, it made it to Oregon, Washington and then Texas, where it started showing excellent results in the single-varietal wines. I had an opportunity to taste single-varietal Tempranillo from Abacela winery in Oregon, and few of the Tempranillo wines from Texas, and they all were good and promising wines.

Couple of days after I published my Spanish Wine Recommendations posts, I got an email from Danielle Irwin, who I knew as a blogger at Naggiar Vineyards, the winery in the Sierra Foothills region in California, where her husband Derek works as a winemaker. Danielle offered to send me a sample of their Tempranillo wine, bottled under their own label as Irwin Family Vineyards. As you can imagine, I gleefully agreed (I rarely refuse a sample, never mind a bottle of Tempranillo), and in a few days the package arrived with two bottles and a letter from Derek inside. The letter included all the technical details regarding the Tempranillo bottle, as to where the grapes were growing (specific plot of the estate vineyard at 1,500 ft elevation), when the grapes were picked (in October 2010), how grapes were fermented (stainless steel and large format French oak barrels) and then how the wine was aged. I let the wine rest for a few days after the trip (to try to avoid “bottle shock”), but then patience worn out, and I opened that bottle…

Irwin Family Vineyards Tempranillo

2010 Irwin Family Tempranillo Piedra Roja Block 22 Sierra Foothills ($36, 13.5% ABV, 90% French Oak, 10% American Oak, 28 month)

Color: Dark garnet
Nose: Cherries, cedar box, spices
Palate: Dense, chewy, layered, blackberries, dusty texture (reminiscent of the famous Rutherford Dust). Great complementing tannins, soft but well supporting the structure. Perfect balance. Coffee and mocha in the long lingering finish.
Verdict: outright delicious, world-class wine. Drinkability: 8+. I would drink this wine in a heartbeat at any time. As an interesting side note, the wine paired amazingly well with the Comte cheese.

Derek mentioned in his note that this wine was inspired by the wines of Toro region, which typically are the most concentrated renditions of the Tempranillo, and I definitely see that parallel.

The second bottle was a Tempranillo blend:

Irwin Family Vineyards The Bull

2013 Irwin Family Vineyards The Bull Sierra Foothills ($24, 13.8% ABV, 44% Tempranillo, 28% Malbec, 28% Petite Sirah)

Color: Dark Garnet
Nose: sweet plums, vanilla, nutmeg, dark chocolate
Palate: medium body, touch of spices, perfect acidity, nice textural presence, nutmeg, impeccable balance, lots of dark chocolate both on the palate and in the medium-long finish
Verdict: Delicious! Drinkability: 8. Bonus: works very well with food, especially charcuterie (meat and cheese).

There you go, my friends – two delicious wines from the region which I really want to explore in depth (Sierra Foothills), and the world-class American Tempranillo. You don’t have to believe me – head over to the Napa and taste it at Irwin Family Vineyards, or sign up for their wine club (Tempranillo is only available for the club members). 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…

Pleasures of the #GrapeDay – Delicious Tempranillo

November 15, 2014 15 comments

2004 Viña Mayor Ribera del Duero Once again I’m confessing my love for the “grape holidays” – knowing that the day has a special dedication to the specific grape variety makes selection of the wine to drink a much easier process. It also creates a feeling of the “special moment”, thus forcing you to open that-special-bottle-saved-for-the-special-occasion. Last grape holiday, the #GrenacheDay, prompted me to open a special bottle which was a lucky occasion, as the wine was about to turn over the hill.

Two days ago we were celebrating Tempranillo, a noble grape of Spain. Tempranillo is the most planted red grape in Spain, with the best and most famous wines coming from Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Toro regions. But over the last decade, Tempranillo lost its status of Spain’s exclusive treasure – it spread all over the world, with Australia, Texas, Oregon, California, Washington and other regions producing world-class wines.

Now, to select the bottle of wine for the proper celebration, one have to go to their own cellar or the local wine store – of course, with the exception of the lucky ones who live in a close proximity of the right winery. Unless you actually live in Texas, Oregon or Washington, your chances of finding those Tempranillo wines in the store are pretty much non existent. So for me, the choice was simple – Spain. I love Spanish wines, especially Rioja – and my cellar shows that. For the most of the day, my plan was to open the Rioja bottle in the evening – I was thinking about 2003 La Rioja Alta Vina Alberdi, which I had before and it was outstanding, despite a very difficult growing year. But then many of the twitter friends stated that they plan to open Ribera del Duero wines – and it got me thinking – do I have any options? Not a lot, but I do have a few bottles of Ribera del Duero, so actually, why not?

The bottle I pulled was 2004 Viña Mayor Reserva Ribera del Duero DO (13.5% ABV, ~$20). I was under impression that I wrote about this wine before in this blog – nope, I didn’t. The 2004 was an excellent year in Ribera del Duero, and Viña Mayor is an excellent producer. You put two and two together and what do you get? Five, of course! I love it when my wife takes a sip of the wine and says “wow” – one thing is to enjoy the wine by yourself, and it is totally different experience when someone else shares your enthusiasm – and it is not easy to impress my wife that much. Beautiful dark fruit on the nose, touch of herbs. The palate is just “wow” – multiple layers of fruit, touch of espresso, firm, dense, perfectly present, youthful, fresh, excellent acidity and overall very balanced. I’m glad I have another bottle – but it will have to wait for a while. Drinkability: 8+

There you have it, my friends – another successful grape holiday. How was your #TempranilloDay? Share your special moments, don’t be shy!

By the way, in case you are wondering – the next grape holiday is coming! #ZinfandelDay is on November 19th – luckily, you still have a bit of time to prepare. Cheers!

International Tempranillo Face Off – USA Fares Well

July 1, 2014 9 comments

DSC_0504Thinking about Tempranillo, what wines come to mind first? Rioja is an unquestionable champion, with its bright fruit expressions packaged into eucalyptus laden cigar box. Ribera del Duero is definitely next, with its perfect, firm structure, and then Toro, with layers upon layers of power. Tempranillo has one of the most synonyms, most of which point back to the different areas in Spain, so it is given that outside of three regions we just mentioned, the grape is very popular all around Spain. And then… well, there is not much outside of Spain. Portugal, where Tempranillo is known under the names of Aragonez and Tinta Roriz, is the only internationally renown source of Tempranillo wines outside of Spain – even then mostly using Tempranillo as a part of the blend. Australia and a few other countries also experiment with the grape – but I’m not sure they produce something worth bragging about.

And then, of course, there is the USA. Tempranillo made it into the California at the beginning of the 20th century, but really didn’t find much success there as a single varietal wine. You can find some of the Tempranillo made in the southern California, in places like Temecula Valley, but those wines are little known outside of the wineries which produce them. On a big scale, Texas probably is having the biggest success with Tempranillo in USA, where the grape is considered a signature state grape, and Tempranillo wines produced by many wineries. But our conversation today will not be about Texas Tempranillo – we are going a lot further North on the map, to the state of Oregon.

No, Oregon is not an internationally renowned source of Tempranillo wines, not yet anyway. However, while I was recently participating in the #winechat about Oregon Pinot Noir, someone mentioned Tempranillo as one of the grapes in Oregon which might have a bright future. As I’m very partial to the Tempranillo wines with the great love of Rioja, that piqued my interest. Tempranillo? From Oregon? Really? How good can that be? I was told that Abacela winery in Oregon produces excellent Tempranillo wine. I reached out to the winery, and – got the bottle to taste. But – I didn’t want to taste this wine on its own – I wanted to create some frame of reference. Yes, I would love to get the Texas Tempranillo, but – that would take a lot of time. Of course the best available source of Tempranillo wines is Spain, so I decided to get a few different wines from Spain. I purposefully avoided Rioja – those wines are rarely 100% pure Tempranillo, and the winemaking style is very specific to Rioja, so it wouldn’t be a good reference. Ribera del Duero wines also might be a bit too specific for this exercise, and Toro wines pack way too much power. I looked for generic Tempranillo renditions in my local wine store, and came up with two bottles from Spain – one from Navarra and one from La Mancha.

Before we talk about our “face off”, let me say a few words about our competitor from USA – Abacela winery. According to the winery’s web site, Abacela name comes from “an ancient and now almost obsolete verb, ‘abacelar’ common to three Iberian languages-Spanish, Galician and Portuguese-and which means “to plant a grape vine.”” Abacela winery started in 1992, when Earl and Hilda Jones purchased a 19th century property in Umpqua Valley in Southern Oregon. This purchase was the result of a very long and intense research on the climate, soil and landscape, to find the place ideally suited to produce a Tempranillo wine on par with the best Spanish Tempranillo. If you are interested to see how the pursuit of passion looks like, read the section called Story on Abacela web site – I wish the other wineries will give you even half of the information about their wines and vineyards.

Our tasting, which I proudly called Face Off, was very simple – I sat down with my wife to try these three wines. We tried the wines in the exact order as you will see it below.

Here are the detailed notes:

2010 Venta Morales Tempranillo La Mancha, Spain (13.5% ABV, $7.99)
Color/visual: Dark garnet, almost black. Very substantial legs
Nose: Baking spices, ripe plums, touch of earthiness
Palate: Prunes, touch of figs, nice acidity, slight imbalance at midpalate
Verdict: Shows slightly “overboard”. Drinkability: 7

2011 Abacela Fiesta Tempranillo Umpqua Valley, Oregon (13.6% ABV, 17 months in barrel, $23)
Color/visual: Garnet, noticeable rim variation as well as legs
Nose: dark chocolate, herbs
Palate: Very elegant, nice fresh fruit, good acidity, very noticeable cherries, present tannins, medium to long finish
Verdict: overall very nice wine. Should be able to stand up against Ribera del Duero. Drinkability: 8-

2009 Bodegas Ochoa Finca Santa Cruz Tempranillo Crianza Limited Edition, Navarra, Spain (13.5% ABV, aged 1 year in American oak, $15.99)
Color/visual: Garnet color, very slight rim variation, noticeable legs
Nose: Touch of sweet fruit, sweet cherries, eucalyptus
Palate:Elegant, perfectly balanced, soft sweet fruit, tobacco, smoke, incredible textural complexity, touch of dust
Verdict: An outstanding Tempranillo, one of the very best I ever tried. Drinkability: 8

As you can see, Abacela Tempranillo definitely worth its salt soil, and I would highly recommend it (if you can find it). I also want to note that Abacela Fiesta is only an introductory Tempranillo – they produce another 3 wines out of Tempranillo, plus a full range of very unusual for the Oregon (or even USA) wines, such as Tannat, Dolcetto and Tinta Amarela – full list looks very impressive and tempting.

As for my little Tempranillo competition, we are done here. Have you ever had an “unusual” Tempranillo wine? Have you ever tried Abacela Tempranillo or any of their wines? What do you think?  Cheers!

Celebrate Tempranillo!

November 14, 2013 9 comments

Tempranillo_AutoCollage_29_ImagesToday is an International Tempranillo Day 2013!

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!

 

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

June 19, 2013 7 comments

Meritage Time!

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

Q1: What is the meaning of the name Tempranillo?

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

Q2: Name 3 grapes,  traditional blending partners of Tempranillo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now to the interesting stuff around vine and web!

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

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

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

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

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

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!