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Spanish Wine Recommendations, Part 3 – From $50 to Infinity

April 5, 2015 9 comments

In the first two posts I shared my recommendations for the Spanish wines under $20, and then between $20 and $50. In today’s post, we will drop all the limits and talk about the wines which will cost more than $50. Heck, most of them will cost way above $50. So let’s explore what the money can buy in the world of the Spanish wines.

Few notes before we dive in. First of all, there will be no white wines in this price category. There might be Spanish white wines which cost more than $50 – I simply not aware of them, hence they will not appear in this post. Now, it is important to explain my basis for the recommendations. No, I didn’t personally taste each and every wine I will recommend to you below. But – I was lucky enough to taste a lot of them – at various events and seminars, I was able to experience some of the best Rioja from the legendary 1964 vintage, Vega Sicilia Unico and even the untouchable 2005 Clos Erasmus. No, my point is not bragging, not at all. In the wine world, price can’t be equated with the quality. Not every $100 or $300 bottle of wine is worth paying for and drinking. There are no guarantees that you will get 10 times more pleasure from the $300 bottle of wine versus the $30 bottle of wine. But the wines I will be talking about below are special. If you like wine, if you consider yourself an oenophile, most of the wines I’m recommending here have a soul and worth experiencing, at least once. This is the rationale behind this list.

As you will see below, the list will be still dominated by Tempranillo, but the focus will somewhat shift down south, from Rioja to Ribera del Duero and Toro. And the wines of Priorat have much bigger play in this price category. Also, in this list, if the vintage is mentioned, it is a part of the essential information. This is different from the two previous lists, where prices were provided for currently available vintages. But here, a 1968 Rioja most likely will not taste as good 1964, and what is worth paying paying for 1964, might not be for the 1968. And the last note – availability of the wines. General availability was one of the factors I took into account when recommending the wine – the wines have to be available, at least online, in order to be included in the under $20 and $20-$50 categories. When it comes to this list, this will not be the case anymore. If you love Spanish wines, make it your dream list, this is your call – but many of the wines I will mention will have very scarce availability. Sorry about that, but this simply the way it is.

Well, pour yourself a glass of Rioja, and let’s talk about Spanish wine “best of the best”.

Tempranillo and Tempranillo-based:

Rioja:

CVNE Imperial Gran Reserva Rioja – powerful and always age-worthy – well, I will have to say this about most or even all. Around $70, but sometimes can be found on sale at around $50.
CVNE Pagos de Viña Real Rioja – 100% Tempranillo fruit for this wine is selected from the best plots of the vineyard. One of the very best wines CVNE makes, and scarcely available. About $90 in current releases?

La Rioja Alta Viña 904 Gran Reserva Rioja – balanced and delicious. Generally this wine costs above $50, but at the moment of the writing of this post, it seems to be widely available for about $45 – this is a steal for this quality.
La Rioja Alta Viña 890 Gran Reserva Rioja – La Rioja Alta flagship, the 890 commemorates the year (1890) when La Rioja Alta came into being. Restrained, earthy and extremely long living. I had a pleasure of tasting both 890 and 904 on multiple occasions (here is one of the posts), and this wine never ceases to amaze. Around $120, but price will vary from vintage to vintage.

R. López de Heredia Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva Rioja – restrained, balanced, delicious. Prices vary based on vintage, but you will probably pay more than $150.
R. López de Heredia Viña Bosconia Gran Reserva Rioja – never tasted this one. Expect it to be spectacular. Expect to pay around $300, but again, the price will depend on the vintage.

1964 Rioja – anything you can find from the legendary 1964 vintage is worth trying, if you are willing to pay – expect to pay at least $300 for anything in this group. Prepare to be awe-stricken after you will taste these 50+ years old wines. Of course there were other spectacular vintages – 1922, 1947, 1978, 1994, 1995 and so on – you can consult the Rioja vintage chart for more details.

Ribera del Duero:

While there are plenty of Rioja wines in this price category, their prices are vintage driven. The consistent lead in this price category belongs to Ribera del Duero wines, which are very expensive based even on their release prices.

Bodegas Emilio Moro Malleolus de Valderramiro Ribera Del Duero – Full throttle delicious expression of Tempranillo. Around $140.
Bodegas Emilio Moro Malleolus de Sanchomartin Ribera Del Duero – Luscious and spectacular. Around $170.

Bodegas Vega Sicilia – a legendary wine producer from Spain. Many countries have a producer, whose name is considered to be a legend, and alone is enough to solicit a dreamy and understanding “ahh” from the group of oenophiles, the people who loves wines, not necessarily the sommeliers and other wine pros. France might be an exception with multiple names capable of causing this reaction (Bordeaux first growth, DRC, Petrus, Chateau d’Yquem), but most other countries have one or very few, like Penfolds in Australia, Cloudy Bay in New Zealand, Screaming Eagle (may be) in US. Vega Sicilia is the one for Spain, a quintessence of creme of the crop. Here are three Vega Sicilia wines for you, oenophiles:

Bodegas Vega Sicilia Valbuena 5° – mostly Tempranillo with some addition of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Pretty much an introductory Vega Sicilia wine, perfectly balanced and delicious. Around $140
Bodegas Vega Sicilia Unico Gran Reserva – mostly Tempranillo with addition of Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is produced only in the best years, and it is only released 10 years after the vintage. Beauty and finesse. $500+
Bodegas Vega Sicilia Unico Reserva Especial – I never had this wine – this is a non-vintage blend of different Unico wines. I’m sure it is spectacular, and practically unavailable. I would guess that the price will be roughly the same as Unico, around $500

Dominio de Pingus Ribera del Duero – this might be the most cult wine coming from Spain. Tiny production, practically unavailable. I never tried that wine. If you will come across this wine and can afford it – I’m sure it should be spectacular. $700+

Toro:

Two more wines from Eguren Family Teso La Monja:

Teso La Monja Victorino Toro – powerful, but with nice herbal undertones. Around $55
Teso la Monja Alabaster Toro – if there is one single wine which should identified with “power”, this is the one. I tried this wine a few times – it was always a young wine though – and within a second this wine takes all over your mouth and locks it completely for next 60 seconds or so – there is simply no other sensory elements except tannins. But – definitely the wine worth experiencing, just with an age on it. Around $180

Garnacha and Garnacha-based (yep, a.k.a Grenache):

In this price range, this is squarely a Priorat territory. Garnacha is a star there, but international varieties are used quite often as well. Before we get to Priorat, one beautiful wine from Campo de Borja:

Bodegas Alto Moncayo ‘Aquilon” Garnacha Campo de Borja – dark chocolate on the firm and powerful structure. Delicious. Around $110

Coming from Priorat:

René Barbier Clos Mogador, Priorat DOCa – a blend of Garnacha with Carignan, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon. An excellent wine. Around $80

Clos i Terrasses Clos Erasmus, Priorat DOCa – one of the very few Spanish wines to ever get a perfect score (100 points) from the wine critic (Robert Parker). As I mentioned before, I was lucky enough to try this specific vintage, and it was spectacular wine. New releases are about $200. The 2005 (this is the one with the perfect score) is about a $1000 and practically unavailable.

Alvaro Palacios L’Ermita Velles Vinyes, Priorat DOCa – this wine might be even more iconic that Vega Sicilia. Alvaro Palacios is an extremely important figure in the Spanish winemaking, well outside of Priorat, influencing lots of winemakers to do their best. Never had a pleasure of trying this wine, but it should be spectacular. It is hard to figure out the pricing, as this wine is practically not available anywhere. I guess you would pay $700+, but this is an extremely rough estimate.

Monastrell and Monastrell-based (a.k.a. Mourvedre)

Not the whole lot to present to you here – but this wine is typically big and delicious:

Bodegas Juan Gil El Nido D.O. Jumilla – 30% Monastrell, 70% Cabernet Sauvignon. Of course this is more of a Cabernet Sauvignon than a Monastrell wine. So here you get the power of Cabernet Sauvignon with playfulness of Monastrell. Lots of power. Around $140

And we are done here. This list is not all encompassing by all means, but it is based on what I know and/or have experienced. Yes, these wines are expensive. Do they worth it? I can’t answer this question for you, my mission is to enable you to make the right decision when the moment comes…

No, we are not done with the series – so far we talked about “what”, but we still have to talk about “where” and “how”.

To be continued…

Spanish Wine Festival, In Pictures

June 28, 2011 3 comments

About 10 days ago, I attended Spanish Wine Festival, organized by PJ Wine in New York. I can give you a summary of the event using only one word: Overwhelming. It is challenging to produce any kind of detailed summary, because there are literally no bad wines in such a well organized tasting event. There are some wines which will leave you indifferent, then there are some which are great, but not ready, and then there is great amount of wines where you go from “wow” to “wow, this is great” and to “wow” again. Therefore, I will simply give you a report in pictures. No, I didn’t get a picture of each and every wine I tried. All the wines shown below are personal favorites, and they are all highly recommended. And the good thing is that PJ Wine regularly carries most of them.

Well, let’s go.

1999 Vega Sicilia Unico and 2000 Vega Sicilia Unico, from Ribera del Duero. These are the wines to be experienced – balanced and luscious:

2006 Clos Mogador, Priorat – powerful and balanced:

Lopez de Heredia Vino Tondonia Rioja – 1976 Gran Reserva, 2000 Rosado and 1993 Blanco: 18 years old White Rioja and 11 years old Rioja Rosado – both are fresh and vibrant. Wow! And Gran Reserva – beautiful and mature wine, which will still keep going for a while.

Bodegas El Nido line, including flagship 2006 El Nido – gorgeous layered and balanced, and requiring another 10 years to really blossom:

Emilio Moro Ribera del Duero, including full Malleolus line – wines of incredible balance and elegance:

More Rioja – Rioja Imperial Gran Reserva 1995 and 1999, as well as CVNE Vina Real Gran Reserva 2001

1997 La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904, 1995 La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 890 and 2001 Vina Ardanza Reserva Especial – probably the best Rioja wines. Period. Classic and amazing.

Representing Toro: 2007 Numanthia and 2007 Termanthia, silky smooth, balanced and powerful:

More Rioja – 2004 Martinez Lacuesta Reserva, great wine from the great year:

Starring Garnacha from Campo de Borja – 2008 Alto Moncayo and 2007 Aquilon – beautiful, soft and spicy:

Jerez, a.k.a. Sherry  is coming back – take a note of it. All Barbadillo wines were simply delicious, and Colosia Amontillado was also right in the league:

I would like to thank PJ Wine folks profusely for arranging such an amazing line up of wines for the event. And if I can make a suggestion, myself (and I’m sure, hundreds of other wine lovers)  would really enjoy PJ Wine Grand Tasting event in the Fall – we can only hope that PJ Wine will be kind enough to organize one…

Tasting Wines of Sierra Cantabria and Teso La Monja

May 26, 2011 Leave a comment

As you know by now, PJ Wine is one of my favorite wine stores (you can find some of my impressions here). It is not just due to the great selection of wines, with Rioja being a superstar. It is also based on the fact that PJ Wine is a great source of education and experience (double-winner – education is free most of the time). Store runs great seminar program, where (if you are fast enough to get on the list) you can experience many great wines of the world.

Few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be able to get into the seminar about wines of Sierra Cantabria and Teso La Monja (the event was sold out in a matter of hours). Both Sierra Cantabria and Teso La Monja wines are produced by Eguren family (you can find complete information here), and of course you already figured out that both are produced in Spain.

Sierra Cantabria wines come from Rioja. In addition to producing full line up of traditional Rioja wines ( Crianza/Reserva/Gran Reserva), of course made out of Tempranillo ( for more information about Rioja wines you can click here), Sierra Cantabria also produced the series called Collection Privada, with each wine being made only in exceptional years. Currently, it includes wines made in 1996 ( first ever vintage for Sierra Cantabria), 1999 and 2000. Tasting the Collection Privada wines, the first one from 1996 was very nice, with good bouquet of spices, acidic and bright. There were only 300 cases produced in 1996, so this wine is not easy to find. While 1996 was drinking well already, both 1999 and 2000 were simply not ready and needed more time in the cellar. These wines are produced from 55-60 years old vines, and made with the focus on quality, not quantity.

Second group of wines presented at the seminar were also made by the same Eguren family, but come from another region in Spain called Toro. Teso la  Monja is the latest project for the winemaker Marcos Eguren. Toro wines are made out of the grape called Tinta de Toro. If you would look in Wikipedia, you would see that Toro is designated as another name for Tempranillo. In reality, it is actually a clone of the Tempranillo grape, which has it’s own characteristics and is different from Tempranillo itself – same as famous Brunello, made out of Sangiovese Grosso grapes, tastes totally different from regular Sangiovese-based wines, Chianti.

Three wines from Teso la Monja had being represented in the tasting. First was 2007 Teso La Monja Almirez Toro – the wine had nice balance and lots of dark fruit – blackberries, black currant and spicy oak. Next wine was 2007 Teso la Monja Victorino Toro – beautiful, round with plums and blackberries, showing nice minerality. This wine is produced from 65+ year old vines and aged for about 18 month in oak.

Last but not least in the tasting was 2007 Teso la Monja Alabaster Toro. This wine was simply outstanding. Very dense, very big , with lots of fruit and in the need of time. Just to give you an example of care which goes into the making of this wine – the grapes are de-stemmed by hand, and then pressed with the feet. This wine definitely needs time before it will show off in its true beauty. The only challenge with this wine is related to the fact that at $156, it is not a bargain, and essentially QPR is becoming more of an issue, at least for me. Of course, if we will compare Alabaster with El Nido or Vega Sicilia wines, QPR might be on par – nevertheless, I think some time is needed before Alabaster has enough recognition to demand such a price.

All in all, it was a great experience with 6 exciting wines and lots of information – and I can’t thank folks from PJ Wine enough for continuing bringing great events to the wine lovers. And while on the subject of great experience, I can’t help to note that PJ Wine is organizing Spanish Wine Festival, which will take place on Friday, June 17th at 6 PM in Metropolitan Pavilion, 123 West 18th Street in New York City (please click here for more information). This event is not free, but for $99.99 I think it constitutes a great value – you will be able to experience wines of Vega Sicilia (keep in mind that typical bottle of Vega Sicilia costs in excess of $400, plus, it is very difficult to find), El Nido, La Rioja Alta, Clos Mogador and hundreds of others. The Festival will also include food from many good places in New York. I believe Spanish Wine Festival is a great value and shouldn’t be missed.

And as this was the post about Spanish wines, I think we need to finish it appropriately: Salud!

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