A country of many wines, grapes, and places
After the first two parts to my “The Wines of Spain: New and Recent Releases”, I realize there is still so much to say, and that even this third part in the series of Spanish articles won’t come close to all there is to know and learn. For instance, Span is yet another country that has more wine grapes it knows what to do with, and many wine styles for wine lovers to enjoy. Just as interesting is the great variety of Spanish natural habitats the grapes grow in, for the myriad diversities presented by Spanish landscapes have led through the centuries to the formation of numerous different biotypes of grape varieties that characterize each of the various countrysides. Each habitat delivers something to the final wine also by way of widely different geologic formations, topographies, exposures, macro-, meso- and micro-climates. It isn’t exactly easy, and so it is neither offensive nor an exaggeration to say that many of Spain’s grape varieties and terroirs are still not well-known or understood by the majority of wine lovers at large.
For example, the Canary Islands (from largest to smallest: Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera, El Hierro and La Graciosa) are one of the most beautiful, and I dare say most magical, vacation destinations on Earth. An archipelago not far off the coast of Marocco and Africa, they represent the southernmost of the autonomous communities of Spain, and are a real wine hotbed, featuring many incredible wines from a huge diversity of soils and different high-quality wine grapes, and their terroirs are a must-know for all those who look for interesting, delicious wines that are far removed from the Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon set, that when not at the top of the quality game but made in rote fashion, are just about the most boring wines you can rink on Earth. The La Orotava Valley on the North coast of the Tenerife Island is an example of a beautiful place that offers altogether different, exciting and good to excellent wines. The area hinges on the red wines made with the Listán Negro variety mostly from vines grown on the more eastern areas, where the heavier clay/sandy soil characteristics help fashion very specific wines. Over in the western side, the soils are sandier and stonier, contain basalt (a warm soil) and are apparently better suited to white varieties such as Listán Blanco, known elsewhere as Palomino Fino (careful, that’s not the same thing as saying “Palomino”, or shouldn’t be: see below). All-right now, after all that, how many reading this have tried a red a wine made with the Listán Negro grape? How many even know what an authentic monovariety Listán Negro wine should look, smell and taste like? There’s the beauty of Spanish wine in a nutshell.
A much better-known Spanish viticultural zone is the Ribeira Sacra, situated in the north-western corner of Galicia, gifted with a remote mountainous panorama that is beautiful to behold. Steep, terraced, high altitude (700 meters asl easy) vineyards are the norm here, and the panorama is one of rugged and barren refinement, rich in schistous/slate soils. The red grape Mencia does very well here, and of course, Albariño and Godello rule amongst the whites, but there are many others living forgotten in old vineyards and that deserve their time in the sun.
Of course, there are fewer more unique vineyards and wines than those of Jerez (where the Sherry wine of native English speakers comes from), with grapes such as Palomino (by far the main grape for Sherry production, it was named after Fernan Yanez Palomonio, one of King Alfonso X`s knights; beware that it is best called Palomino Fino rather than Palomino, or you will confuse it with Palomino Basto and Palomino de Jerez), Moscato Bianco (Moscatel Blanco), Muscat of Alexandria (Moscatel de Alexandria) and Pedro Ximénes thrive. The soil in Jerez is mainly of the albariza type, a soil that as its name implies is white coloured (albariza from the Latin albus, or white) which contains up to 60% chalk and therefore has excellent water-retention capacity, not at all a secondary matter in a place as hot and dry as Jerez de Andalucia (where irrigation of vineyards is prohibited). There’s the importance, the magic even, of terroir. But it’s not just the soils and grapes of course, because the area’s climate is pretty unique too, influenced by the nearby Atlantic Ocean and the Guadalquivir and Guadalete rivers. After all, North Africa is only a hop, skip and short flight away, and the winds blowing in from those shores are dry and hot, differing greatly from the moist cooler ones blowing in off the Atlantic. It all adds up to a very particular terroir and potentially exceptional, unique wines made. Come to think of it, the same is quite true of the rest of Spain’s wine production scene.
The following wines were all tasted in my office in Shanghai where I live and work, courtesy of importers and producers, during the months of October and November 2021 and January 2022.
2020 Camins de Priorat 93
Bright ruby-tinged red. Delightful aromas and flavours of sweet red cherries, sweet spices and pipe tobacco, but with a bright mineral overly. Suave and long, and showcasing mind-blowing purity. This truly outstanding wine is a blend of 55% Garnacha, 15% Syrah, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot and 8% Cariñena sourced in eight villages in Priorat. One of the best wine buys of the year, and I mean like top five or six, it’s that good, and so even though it clearly cannot be the last word in complexity, I’ll be very generous with my score. Drinking window: now-2027.
2018 Las Terrasses Priorat 92+
Grenache Carignan blend made from old vines that is currently a bit reticent though the purity and depth of the red fruit aromas and flavours, nicely complemented by herbs smoke and minerals is unmistakable. Settle this in a good cellar and come back to it in about three years time for maximum enjoyment and enjoy another ten years after that. Drinking window: 2026-2032
2018 Finca Dofi Priorat 96+
Deep ruby. Brooding aromas and flavours of red and blue fruit, sexy spices, high quality tobacco, mienrals ink and almond paste. Luscious and austere at the same time, with very noble tannins and harmonious acidity providing backbone and extending the finish to noteworthy lengths. A wine of translucent beauty but still tightly coiled on itself, this is an absolute showstopper but it would be such a shame to open it too soon, as it will develop into something exceptional. 100% destemmed and fermented with indigenous yeasts and then matured in large oak barrels for 16 months. A blend of Garnacha, with around 8% Cariñena and 2% various white grapes from twenty years old vines in Gratallops. Drinking window: 2026-2035.
Founded in 2004, the Grupo Jorge Ordóñez is a group of eight wineries, all owned and operated by Jorge Ordóñez, producing wines from thirteen different denominations of origin of Spain. The project was set up with the specific goal to help preserve and broadcast the quality of Spanish native grapes and wines (something that anybody who knows me even just a little knows all too well is a subject close to my heart, and a life-long passion). The wines are made as artisanally as possible and from very old vineyards (head-trained, dry farmed).
Bodegas Breca 2020 Garnacha de Fuego Vino de Aragón 91
In its infinite simplicity, the 2020 Bodegas Breca Garnacha de Fuego Vino de Aragón is just superb, beginning with the deep, almost impenetrable bright purple-ruby colour. Aromas and flavours are very fruity and juicy, with hints of ripe blueberries, dark plum and cherry, coffee, but with enough harmonious acidity to stay vibrant. The wine is soft, supple and virtually tanninless, as any self-respecting Garnacha wine will tend to be. Best of all, the wine is just a joy to drink: think of it like a dark fruit cocktail with alcohol. It may not make old bones, but who cares? It’ll probably age longer too, but go ahead, drink this beauty up over the next couple of years so as to enjoy all its gloriously plump, juicy-fruity goodness at its best. The wine is made with 100% Garnacha de Aragón, reportedly the world’s oldest Garnacha biotype, grown in the Barranco de la Rambla, Cerro Verde, Cerro del Cura, El Plano, La Laguna and other vineyards, planted between 1945 and 1985. Soils are mostly iron-rich red and black slate and quartz, with a thin calcareous layer. The majority of the vineyards receive no treatments and see minimal human intervention. The winemaking is likewise kept simple, with fermentation taking place with natural yeasts in stainless steel and concrete tanks (the wine is also aged briefly in tanks of those two materials). Drinking window: now-2024.
Bodegas Casa Primicia.
Created recently in Rioja by Julián Madrid, the oldest building on the Casa Primicia property actually dates back to the fifteenth century. Furtehrmore, documents show that wine was being made there already in the sixteenth century (the estate proudly states on a label Bodega Original del Siglo XV, more or less “original winery of the fifteenth century”) . The whole area dates farther back still, as legend would have it that King Sancho Abarca of Navarra once climbed a hill which overlooked the River Ebro and what is today the world-famous viticultural zone of Rioja. Because of the hill’s military strategic importance, he founded La Guardia de Navarra on the summit, and this was over a thousand years ago (in 908 AD, to be exact).
Bodegas Primicia 2016 Crianza Primicia 1420 Rioja 91
Good purple-ruby. Deep aromas and flavours of blackberry, mocha and minerals, with a creamy ripeness to the dark fruit but lifted by a distinctly sappy quality. Broad and soft, with excellent underlying structure. Polished tannins and lovely persistence on the suave but lifted aftertaste. Drinking window: now-2028.
2017 Vina al Lado de la Casa Yecla 89
A barrel-aged blend of 98%Monastrell and 2% Garnacha Tintorera (past vintages also included Syrah), the high-altitude vineyards benefit Monastrell greatly. Deep red-ruby, creamy well-integrated oak and plenty of red and dark fruit are complemented by herbs and spices on the nose and the mouth. He finish is medium-long, vibrant and clean. Drinking window: now-2025.
2017 Syrah Detrás de la Casa Yecla 90
Deep ruby-purple. Clean, juicy, floral and long on the inviting finish. Aged eighteen months in new French oak and you do taste it more here than you do in the winery’s lovely 2015 Monastrell wine, but at least, it’s not an unbearable oaky over the top presence. A second bottle I had of this wine was however quite candied and had a hot quality more in tune with the vintage, so my score is an average of the two bottles I tried, one outstanding and one not so. If you do pop open a bottle, make sure you chill it lightly before serving, as that will likely guarantee maximum enjoyment. Drinking window: now-2027.
2015 Monastrell Detrás de la Casa Yecla 91
Good full purple-ruby. Violet and peppery beef on the nsoe. Then big and tactile, with violet-accented notes of grilled beef notes and of iron filings. Very good underlying tannic structure and harmonious acidity, so very balanced but a little chunky and monolithic at present; this wine needs a little more time to fully disclose all it has to offer, which should be plenty. Closes long, clean and fresh. Well done, this is a very serious wine, and a great buy for the money. Drinking window: 2024-2030.
2015 Cabernet Sauvignon Detrás de la Casa Yecla 88
Moderately saturated ruby. Blue fruit and herbs on the nose and in the mouth. Big and broad, with a welcome floral component adding interest. Finishes long with very good juiciness but has less character than the winery’s Syrah and the Monastrell wines in the same range. Drinking window: 2023-2027.
2007 Ramon Castano Collecion 75 Anniversario Monastrell Yecla 90
Deep ruby. Smoke, grilled beef, Mediterranean herbs, plums and rocks on the nose and in the mouth. Big beefy Monastrell this could still use some aging as it is currently a little fruit-challenged, but this should develop nicely in a good cellar. Finishes long and suave, with smoky, flinty and herbal notes. A very successful, easy to like wine that clocks in at a whopping 15% alcohol, but you won’t notice. When I have tasted this wine from a Coravin-poured bottle (and I want to be clear I think Coravin is a wonderful invention that has helped wine lovers everywhere) it has always seemed a bit more reductive than the wine is otherwise, so make sure you air the glass out before you drink. The cute label shows the footprints of the father, mother and three kids. Drinking window: now-2030.
Bodegas Luis Cañas.
A family owned winery, at Bodegas Luis Cañas they have been associated with wine for something like two centuries, so it’s safe to say they know a thing or two about making it. But the modern-day history of the winery as we know it today really only begins with the 1970s, when they started selling bottled wines that met with success from the get-go, and even more so from the 1990s onwards, when the quality of the wines really skyrocketed. The winery farms close to 300 hectares of mostly old vines, part owned and part rented.
2017 El Palacio Rioja Alavesa 93+
Bright deep red. Concentrated but lively aromas and flavours of red cherry, coffee, herbs, peppery spices, and tobacco, with a tinge of cocoa for good measure. Harmonious acidity provides spine to the soft tannins and ripe fruit and coffee flavours, with the coffee-herbal-spicy nuance repeating on the long, fleshy finish. Still somewhat dominated by the oak, but the tannins are polished and there is more than enough fruit for this not to feel heavy or over-oaked. A blend of mostly Tempranillo with a small percentage of Graciano and Viura for freshness, El Palacio is made from a single vineyard planted in 1969 with grapes picked from three terraces, each characterized by different gradients and orientations; as was customary in the past, the three varieties are picked and pressed together, then co-fermented in French oak and aged for fifteen months in 500-litres barrels. A lovely wine, but considering there were only 3890 bottles made, get yours while you can! Drinking window: now-2030.
Bodegas Purisima Concepción.
Founded in 1958 in the province of Cuenca (also the name of the province’s capital city) in the D.O. La Mancha (Spain’s largest), this Bodega farms a number of different grape varieties including Bobal, Cabernet Sauvignon, Garnacha, Moscato Bianco (which they call Moscatel de Grano Menudo, one of Moscato Bianco’s various Spanish names much as the French Muscat d’Alsace or Muscat à Petitis Grains), Syrah and Tempranillo.
Vino Teatinos 2019 Moscatel de Grano Menudos Ribera del Júcar 91
Pale yellow-green. Fresh aromas of lime blossom, anise and white flowers are focused by a sweet spicy note. Rich, slightly sweet and pure, with lively acidity nicely framing the sweet orchard and fresh citrus flavours. The aftertaste is clean and fresh, if not especially complex. Offers lovely muscat character without being overly intense and pungent, a trait that will appeal to some wine drinkers more than others. Drinking window: now-2026.
Bodegas Terras Gauda.
2020 Albariño Finca Mariíero Abadia de San Campio 90
Very bright, translucent yellow. Explosive aromas of fresh citrus fruit, fresh apricot, tangerine and crushed stone. Quite dry, juicy and elegant, with hints of oyster shell, iodine, pit fruit, and powdered stone flavors lifted up by a nuance of white flowers. Finishes very long, with a subtle, dusty saline character. Only apparently simple, there’s a lot of wine here. Drinking window: now-2025.
2019 Albariño Finca Mariíero Abadia de San Campio 91
Vivid, pale green-yellow. Vibrant, pure aromas of lime, powdered stone, sea breeze and cilantro. Juicy and lemony-fresh but ripe, with inviting flavours of crystallized lemon peel and tangerine, plus a dusting of mineral dust and oyster shells. Finely-chiseled and weightless yet with sneaky concentration and even horizontal on its delivery of nicely building mineral and orchard fruit flavours on the long back end. Drinking window: now-2025.
Bodegas Vera de Estenas.
Bodegas Vera de Estenas is a small family winery dating back to the late nineteenth century that two years ago was recognized as a vino de pago, the highest rating bestowed on wineries in Spain. Established in 1945, the estate is one of the most traditional in the little known Denominación de Origen (DO) Utiel-Requena, located near the pretty seaside city of Valencia. The family has a long family history but was founded as such by Francísco Martinez Bermell, who became friends with Don Pascual Carrión, then director of the Requena Oenological Station. It was he who impressed upon the young man how great wines could be made in what was at the time a fairly unknown quality viticultural part of Spain. In the middle of the eighties, already installed in the Casa Don Ángel and helped by family members, he brought his first bottled wines to market. Vera de Estenas has come a long way since then and is truly noteworthy producer for a number of reasons, and one of the most important is that it owns some of the oldest plantings of Bobal in all of Spain. Commendably, the family believes its mission to safeguard these organically farmed vines and to preserve the production of Bobal wines by traditional winemaking methods. This is no moot point, given that Bobal (Spain’s third most planted) is a variety that was long used to make anonymous bulk wines or added to just as non-descript blends. It is thanks to Vera de Estenas and a small group of similarly quality-minded Spanish producers that Bobal is now being given a chance to shine and showcase exactly what it is capable of, when tended to properly and planted to in the right areas.
2020 La Tardana de Estenas Blanco Utiel-Requena 93
Vivid straw yellow. Captivating aromas of fresh apple, pear, pineapple, marzipan, spices and minerals, with a touch of green herbs that complements rather than overwhelms the wine. Bright, fresh and juicy, with complex, tactile flavours similar to the aromas and buffered by firm minerality. Closes suave and freshly citrus with a nicely rich, suave, almost oily mouthfeel. Aged two months in clay pot amphora, tis beauty clocks in at only 12.5% alcohol and offers a ton of flavour. This is an exciting local white grape that has been commendably brought back to everyone’s attention by this estate, so my hat’s off. Just please resist the temptation to make yet another boring, non-descript orange wine with it (the variety has skins that allow you to do that, but p-leazzzeeee!) Drinking window: now-2026.
2018 El Bobal de Estenas Utiel-Requena 93
The Vera de Estenas 2018 Bobal Utiel-Requena is an absolute joy to drink. Bright ruby-purple colour. Dark plums, blackberries, nutmeg, herbs are nicely complicated by touches of earth tones and violet. Then bright and fresh in the mouth too, with plenty of juicy sweetness and lively acidity to the dark berry and plum flavours, nicely complemented by notes of rhubarb and baking spices. Closes noticeably long for a wine at this extremely low price point (clearly, the wine broadcasts its 50-100 years old vines grown on clay-limestone soils very well). Made in a fruit-forward but also elegant style, this is just perfect for drinking in the near term. This really punches above its weight class. The winery has wisely chosen to ferment this little beauty in concrete, and to age it in mix of concrete and used American barrels, so as to not let anything mask the beautifully pure fruit flavours that come swinging at you in a very pure, unadulterated way. Drinking window: now- 2025.
2018 Estenas Crianza Utiel-Requena 88
Deep ruby. Dark fruit, balsamic oils coffee and cocoa on the nose and the palate. Ripe and round, with soft tannins, this leaves a fleshy, low acid impression on the nicely persistent finish. A blend of Bobal and Merlot, this is a very good wine but that ultimately speaks of neither one of the two varieties, coming across as a little generic. Perfect for uncomplicated sipping on the porch or at a Sunday barbecue. Drinking window: now-2027.
2017 Merlot Martinez-Bermell Utiel-Requena 87
Ruby-purple. Blackberry, violet, coffee and vanillin oak on the ripe nose. Then equally ripe in the mouth, with a sweet, lush and smooth quality to its very ripe dark berry and mocha flavors. Finishes almost porty, broad and lush, with substantial ripe tannins and lingering mocha nuance. Many wine lovers all over the world really like such rich, round, mouth-filling wines bordering on 15% alcohol, and so be it; but frankly I, and not just I, find such wines tiring, all too similar to many other low-acid coffee- and vanilla-rich red wine made anywhere else in the world and that hard to eat with at dinner. Drinking window: now-2027.
2017 Bobal Estenas Casa Don Angel Utiel-Requena 92+
Fully saturated bright purple-ruby. Sexy, expressive aromas of blueberry nectar, strawberry, violet, coffee and dried rose. Juicy, fruity, and nicely delineated, brimming with delightful juicy fruitiness and excellent acid/tannin cut but given real spine by a coating of oak. Finishes big and broad, with rising polished tannins and with noteworthy clarity and persistence. A really lovely but ultra-serious Bobal wine aged fifteen months in French oak barrels that hasn’t lost all of its magical scent and juiciness despite its obvious oaky presence, but has gained in size and complexity. Really a very nice use of oak here; this will very likely age more and improve still, hence my + sign next to the score. Well done. Drinking window: now-2028.
2016 Vera de Estenas Reserva Utiel-Requena 93+
Bright deep red-ruby. High-pitched, suave aromas of red cherry, blueberry, licorice and violet. Then very dense, pure and concentrated, with red and black fruit flavours nicely lifted by lively but balanced acidity and framed by polished, rising tannins. High in alcohol at close to 15% but not at all hot, this is another wine from Vera de Estenas that has noteworthy clarity and cut. Finishes powerful and long, not to mention with excellent precision and grip. I personally prefer Bobal wines that are bright and juicy as I find them to be uniquely charming, but it’s hard to argue with more “serious” versions such as this one that will prove ageworthy and collectible. Drinking window: now-2030.
The Gramona family’s history relative to grape growing and winemaking is along one, dating back to 1850 when Josep Batlle (not a typo, there really are two “l” in the name) managed a local family’s La Plana vineyard. His son Pau began selling the La Plana wines to sparkling wine producers in France, and by 1881 he bought the vineyard, establishing his own winery called Celler Batlle. Pau’s daughter Pilar married Bartolomé Gramona and the two expanded their vineyards and sparkling wine business. In 1921, the name “Gramona Cava Champagne” graced the labels of their sparkling wine. Interestingly, throughout the winery’s existence, it has always relied on the local Xarel.lo grape variety (also written Xarel-lo), a native of Catalunya that has the ability to sparkling give very ageworthy sparkling wines. And this winery’s is perhaps the longest average cellar-aged sparkling wines of Spain (eighty-six percent of Spanish sparkling wines are released after only nine months while Gramona’s are aged a minimum of 30 months; in the case of Enoteca for as much as fifteen to seventeen years). At the top of their range, III Lustros, Celler Batlle and Enoteca are all aged under cork and are riddled and disgorged by hand. III Lustros and Enoteca Brut Nature are dosage-free while it is 7g/L (from a sweet wine solera over 100 years old) for the Celler Batlle (this solera is also the source for the dosage of La Cuvee and Imperial). Over the years the winery has invested heavily in technology but also converted itself to organic and biodynamic farming. Today, Gramona makes wines from close to 400 hectares of vineyards planted on different soils, ranging from the mostly clay-limestone of the Alt Penedès to the more alluvial ones near the Anoia River and the mainly slate ones near the Montserrat mountain.
2016 Imperial Brut Corpinnat 92
Good strong bead of small bubbles on a medium straw yellow backdrop. Aromas and flavours of white flowers, baked bread, yeast and anise. Quite structured but fresh on the palate, with an easy to like accessible quality. Long and ripe but vibrant on the aftertaste. A blend of 47.5% Xarel·lo, 30% Macabeo, 7,5% Chardonnay, 15% Parellada, with each grape variety is vinified separately, this spent more than fifty months on the lees. Gramona is one of the founders of Corpinnat, a sparkling wine alternative to Spain’s Cava. Drinking window: now-2028.
2009 Gewürztraminer Vino Dulce de Frio Vi de Glas 93
Bright yellow. Very pure nose offers delicate aromas of exotic fruits, honey, sweet spices and orange blossom. Glyceral-rich and sweet, but not excessively so, with a very nice thrust of harmonious acidity giving grip and lift to ripe, sweet but not especially complex flavours of yellow tropical fruits (lychee, guava, mango), honey and candied roses. Wonderfully smooth, finishing scented and long, this sweet beauty is neither too rich nor too heavy, and provides just the right amount of sweetness. Even better, at twelve years of age, this gives no sign of aging, and will last a number of years still in a good cellar. Gramona created this range of icewine-inspired wines, previously called Vin de Gel, back in 1997: they are one of the two lines of sweet wines the winery makes, the so-called Vinos de Frio (wines of the cold) as opposed to the Vinos de calor (wines of heat), sweet wines made by air-drying the grapes thanks to light and heat. The icewine-inspired wines are born from freezing late-harvested grapes not in the vineyards but within special winery chambers endowed with liquid nitrogen dropping the room temperature to -15 degrees Celsius, a technological process Gramona has studied and worked with extensively over the years in order to refine and improve it. Wines such as this one confirm they have more than gotten the hang of it, but I want to point out that the winery is not just about technology, as it practices organic and biodynamic farming too. Drinking window: now-2026.
La Rioja Alta.
2020 Albariño Lagar de Cervera Rias Baixas 90
Bright, pale straw-yellow. Expressive aromas of peach, flowers and herbs. Sweet, bright and subtle, with stone fruit and herbal flavours framed by harmonious acidity. Lovely, elegant, concentrated Albariño with a zingy, classically dry finish. Drinking window: now-2026.
2015 Vina Alberdi Reserva 91
Bright red-ruby. Lovely violet lift to the fresh aromas of blueberry, red cherry, licorice, chocolate and balsamic oils. Fine-grained and lifted, but also plush and concentrated, with flavours of musky blueberry and sweet spices. The finish is long and deep, with repeating licorice and red cherry nuances. I like the fine use of oak and edge-free texture here. Drinking window: now-2027.
2015 Viña Arana Gran Reserva Rioja 94
Bright red-ruby. Concentrated aromas of blackberry and blueberry are complicated by hazelnut, coffee and caramel. Lush and sweet in the mouth but nicely delineated too, with dark berry and toasted brioche flavours that speak of good quality oak that manages to complement the fruit nicely and stay in the background. Lovely focus and energy here, finishing very long and balsamic, with fine-grained tannins and mouth-saturating extract. This 95% Tempranillo and 5% Graciano blend commemorates one of La Rioja Alta’s historic families. The wine is aged three years in oak and another three in bottle before being released for sale. Drinking window: now-2030.
2012 Viña Ardanza Reserva Rioja 95
Bright medium ruby with a garnet rim. Musky but fresh aromas of black cherry, blackberry, cocoa and figs macerated in alcohol, complemented by faded flowers. At once graceful, and creamy, with a compelling sweetness of fruit, and well-integrated acidity energizing the dense black and red cherry and tobacco flavours. Serious concentration and impeccable balance here, but also plenty of juicy lift on the long, slowly building finish featuring very polished tannins. An 80% Tempranillo and 20% Garnacha blend that is a textbook example of what classic Rioja wines are all about. I really quite liked this, and readers should note that there was no 2011 Viña Ardanza made (the Garnacha suffered that year) and the previous vintage released, the 2010, was labeled as Selección Especial. Drinking window: now-2032.
2011 Gran Reserva 904 Rioja 94
Bright red-ruby with a garnet rim. The nose jumps from the glass with aromas of crushed red berries, sweet spices and coconut. Fleshy flavours of cherry, leather, wild game, and mocha linger nicely on the suave finish. A blend of old vine 89% Tempranillo and 11% Graciano, the former picked in the Villalba, Briñas, and Rodenzo vineyards and the latter from the Montecillo vineyard, this is a classic Rioja that is accessible and soft yet complex and concentrated too. Drinking window: now-2030.
Yet another high-quality Spanish wine project from Rául Perez, this time using the hillside grapes (mostly Mencia, but many others are included in the blends) grown around his hometown of Vatuille de Abajo. The single vineyard wines are made from old vines (usually over fifty years of age, with some of the vines a great deal older). Relative to the name “vizcaína”, readers may be acquainted with a delicious traditional dish of Mexico that goes by a similar name: Vizcaina-style salted cod is eaten especially on Christmas Eve in Mexico City, a dish of slow-cooked salt cod with olives, tomatoes, potatoes and parsley. Just for fun, why not try it with the wine of same name?
2016 Rául Pérez La Vitoriana Lomas de Valtuille Bierzo 93
Good full ruby. Deep, rich, brooding nose is redolent of earth tones, ripe plum, smoke and leafy underbrush. Then very smooth and rich on the palate, with flavours similar to the aromas, but richer and more concentrated than the nose suggested, with excellent acid-fruit-tannin balance. Closes long and juicy. Reportedly made with Mencia, but this is obviously so much darker than other Mencia wines from other parts of Spain such as Ribera Sacra that there is no way this is really 100% Mencia. The reason for this is that the old vineyards where the grapes are picked are also planted with many other grapevines that have long gone unnoticed and that may or may not even be included in the official production guidelines. Drinking window: now-2028.
2015 Ultreia Valtuille Bierzo 93
Very pure aromas of black and blue fruit are complemented by notes of violet, white pepper, and Asian spices (you can believe me, I live in Shanghai). Finishes long and suave but with rising tannins that benefit from plenty of aeration, so decant ahead. A blend of mostly Mencia with Bastardo (Jura’s Trousseau), Garnacha Tintorera (Alicante Bouschet), Godello and Dona Blanca; rather impressively, the Mencia vines were planted back in 1908. The wine is aged one year in oak. Drinking window: 2024-2030.
The L’Origan line of bubblies is part of the ‘Uvas Felices’ wine project formed between the high-end retail outfit Vila Viniteca in association with Gastón Coty. The name “L’Origan” is derived from a legendary perfume created by by François Coty in 1906, as it was the inspirational force for Manuel Martínez and his son Carlos in founding the bodega in 1998 (the winery building was reportedly built in the same year in which the perfume was launched), in Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, the capital of the Cava denomination. These are very stylish sparkling wines with a good deal more depth than many other Cava sparklers you may come across.
NV Bocchoris Brut Cava 89
Medium straw yellow. Anise, white flowers, and juicy yellow fruit on the nose. The big bubbles repeat in the mouth, but there is a nice suave texture here and good sweetness without being over the top. The flavours are similar to the aromas and the finish is long and clean. An entry level Cava aged a minimum of nine months that is fun and easygoing to drink; this is the most recent addition to the portfolio as the winery realized it needed an entry level wine. Drinking window: now-2024.
2017 Aire Brut Nature Cava 90
Bright deep golden-tinged yellow. Pear, apple and vanilla on the nose. Maybe not the most refined bubble in the world, but juicy, round and easygoing on the strongly-accented anise on the finish. Made with local varieties plus a little Chardonnay aged 24 months on the lees, making this a reserve though the estate does not follow the new classification yet with its labels. Drinking window: now-2026.
2015 Aire Rose’ Brut Nature Cava 91
Pink. Meaty and saline aromas at first, then floral with a little more aeration. In the mouth, flinty and smoky nuances dominate the fruit. Finishes clean, classically dry and fresh; strikes me as drier-tasting than the Brut Nature. This is a blend of 96% Pinot Noir and 4% Xarello sourced from eighteen to fifty years old vines planted in the countryside of the villages of Torrelavit and Can Bas, in the Alt Penedès area. Drinking window: now-2026.
NV L’Origan Brut Nature Cava 92
Luminous medium-dark straw colour. Fresh, deep notes of fennel, honey, apples, butter, hazelnuts, and nectarines on the nose and in the mouth. Finishes ripe and with good length. Strikes me as the richest and most complex of the Cavas I tried from this winery. The bottle shape recalls that of the perfume the name of the estate is derived from. Made with traditional grapes and Chardonnay, the base wines are 2004 and 2008; in fact, it’s safe to say these sparkling wines from L’Origan are more like still wines than Cavas. Lots of leesy notes here, more so than even the Rosé. The L’Origan line of bubblies is part of the ‘Uvas Felices’ wine project formed between the high-end retail outfit Vila Viniteca in association with Gaston Coty. This is a blend of 40% Xarel·lo, 30% Macabeu, and 15% Parellada all from the 2008 vintage, plus 10% Chardonnay from 2005 and 5% Chardonnay from the 2004 vintage, but aged in barrels. The wine stayed in contact with its lees for something like one hundred months. Drinking window: now-2027.
NV L’O de l’Origan Rosado Brut Nature Cava 90
Orange-pink colour. Saline and floral nuances accent the aromas and flavours of red berries and herbs. Clean and very fresh on the long, tapering finish that features a steely edge to the repeating floral nuances. A blend of mostly Pinot Noir and a little Chardonnay. The L’Origan line of sparkling wines is part of the ‘Uvas Felices’ wine project formed between the high-end retail outfit Vila Viniteca in association with Gaston Coty. Drinking window: now-2026.
A super large producer not unlike C.V.N.E. and just like that name, Lustau is a name immediately recognized and well-known to wine lovers all over the world because the house is associated with fantastic Sherries and because it offers a range of wines for all price pockets. But make no mistake about it, Lustau’s best wines are in my view some of the most unforgettable you’ll ever drink; by the way, most people don’t know that Lustau is especially famous for its very high-quality vinegar (Xerès) production.
Amontillado de Salucar Lustau Single Cask 95
Vivid pale amber-gold. Salted, roasted almonds, gingerbread, orange sponge cake, white chocolate wafer and just the slightest hint of caramelized sugar on the ultra-complex, refined nose. Then also beautifully saline, even salty in the mouth, with subtle flavours of grilled hazelnut and roasted almonds, but enlivened by hints of orange peel, olive tapenade, coriander and fresh green tomato. Very long and precise on the energetic aftertaste. Lovely. Do not confuse this with the regular “Almacenista” bottling from Lustau; the one I am describing here is a rare bottling of a single cask made especially for Vila Viniteca, one of Spain’s leading wine retailers with shops in Barcelona and Madrid, that periodically releases exclusive Lustau single cask bottlings. For example, in 2002-2004 they presented single cask bottlings, and have recently done so again, but on a wider scale. Drinking window: now-2036.
NV Oloroso Very Rare Emperatriz Eugenia 93
Bright old gold-amber colour. Piercing aromas of sandalwood, grilled nuts, baking spices, varnish and leather. Then rich and mellow in the mouth, with polished flavours of raisins, caramelized almonds, prunes, smoky wood, and cocoa, lifted by orange peel. Complex and smooth on the palate, with the lingering aftertaste featuring repeating notes of herbs, cocoa and sandalwood. The solera for this Oloroso was established in 1921, when Eugenia de Montijo, the last empress of France who married Napoleon III (he of the very famous 1855 Bordeaux classification), visited Jerez. Drinking window: now-2038.
Oloroso Very Old Rare Sherry 30 Years Old 93
Vivid dark amber color. Despite its oxidative makeup, this was initially reduced on the nose, and needed plenty of aeration to blossom in the glass, revealing aromas of grilled almonds and hazelnuts, toffee, roasted chestnuts, strawberry tree honey and sweet orange marmalade. Rich and creamy in the mouth, with suave flavours of nougat, crystallized apricots, and sweet spices, plus a boatload of grilled nuts. Closes long with a saline edge. This VORS (Very Old Rare Sherry) Oloroso is the result of the study and selection that Manuel Lozano, former Cellar Master of Lustau, had made among the oldest solera casks of this wine (this Oloroso derives from a selection of nine casks, and was drawn straight from the barrels). Drinking window: now-2040.
Marqués de Murrieta.
Marqués de Murrieta is one of the best-known Spanish wine producers, the wines of which can be found all over the world. Reportedly, it was Peruvian-born Don Luciano de Murrieta y Garcia-Lemoine who not only founded the winery but also made the first ever Rioja wine in 1852 by applying wine making techniques he had learned in Bordeaux. He was also the first Rioja producer to export his wines (to Mexico and Cuba). In 1983, the winery was bought by Vicente Cebrián Sagarriga, and since his death has been run by his descendants. Today the headquarters of the company are located in the Castillo Ygay complex, bought by Don Luciano back in 1872, and which, given its historical significance, has been declared a museum. Not by chance then, it won’t surprise to know that the estate’s flagship wine, or at least its best-known, is called Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial (in fact, one of the world’s best-known Spanish wines).
2015 Albariño Pazo Barrantes Rías Baixas 91
Pale yellow. Orange peel and minty herbs on the reticent nose. Fairly impressively packed with sweet stone fruit and minerals on the nose and in the mouth. Finishes saline, suave and very long, with notes of oyster shell, fresh citrus and green apple. Drinking window: now-2025.
2014 Blanco Reserva Capellanía Rioja 88
Named after the plot in which the Viura grapes used to make this wine grow (six hectares planted in 1945), this is rather fun to drink. Deep yellow in colour, it boasts aromas and flavours of yellow apple, pear, lanolin and coconut. Nicely vibrant in the mouth, with ripe yellow fruit and vanilla tones that are nicely persistent. Aged fifteen months in new French oak barrels, and though the oak presence is obvious, it is not so obvious that it gets in the way of being able to enjoy this. After all, if all we wanted to taste in our wines was wood, we’d just suck on a pencil or a piece of plywood, right? Drinking window: now-2026.
2012 Marqués de Murrieta Gran Reserva Rioja 92
Bright ruby-purple with a hint of garnet at the rim. Ripe, soft aromas of chocolate-covered blackcurrant, blueberry and herbs, complicated by hints of mocha. Rich and suave with cocoa-tinged dark fruit flavours and a creamy texture, it closes broad and long, with noteworthy but polished tannic spine and good thrust. Aged twenty-three months in American oak (nine months in new barrels), this is a blend of 77% Tempranillo, 10% Garnacha, 8% Graciano and 5% Mazuelo (menaing there is a lot more Garnacha and Graciano than usual). Drinking window: now-2030.
Marqués de Riscal.
One of Spain’s better-known and larger estates, it was the first winery in the Rioja to produce wines following the Bordeaux method of slow fermentation and careful blending, and this as early as 1858, when it was founded by Camilo Hurtado de Amézaga, Marquis of Riscal. Bodegas Marqués de Riscal (the real name is actually a little more complicated than that: Bodega de los Herederos del Marqués de Riscal,) owns and rents about 1500 hectares of vines and makes roughly six million bottles of wine a year, much of it exported and so this is one of the best-known Spanish wine estates outside of Spain. The estate is not just known for its round smooth and flavourful wines, but also for the beautiful winery and its Frank Gehry-designed hotel in its City of Wine.
2019 Verdejo Rueda 89
Vivid straw-yellow color. Tropical fruit, chamomile and anise dominate the fresh nose, while it is richer and creamier on the palate, boasting a marmelady nuance to its yellow fruit and vanilla flavours but lifted by vibrant acidity. Drinking window: now-2025.
2018 Verdejo Rueda 88
Bright golden-tinged yellow. Low-key aromas and flavours of orchard fruit, sweet spcies and botanical herbs. Round and smoothe in the mouth on the long finish. Not the most complex wine you’ll ever drink, but boasts just enough intensity and nuance to keep your attention level high. Easygoing and smooth, it will match perfectly with shellfish and simple fish preparations. Drinking window: now-2024.
2016 Marqués de Riscal Reserva Rioja 92
Good full ruby with a pale garnet rim. Deep aromas of blackcurrant, dark cherry, and mocha, with a balsamic note adding complexity. At once sweet and juicy, with very good depth and sappiness to the dark cherry, plum, cinnamon and licorice flavours. Easygoing and accessible owing to its ripe fruit, but there’s sneaky concentration here and harmonious acidity to support several years more aging in a good cellar. The bottle is immediately recognizable from afar given the presence of the reproduction of the old XIII Exposition de Bordeaux Diplôme d’Honneur on the classic, elegant label. Marqués de Riscal Reserva wines are those made with Tempranillo picked from vines planted before the 1970’s, grown in the better vineayrds planted on clay-limestone soils in the Rioja Alavesa. Graciano and Mazuelo round out the blend (they constitute about 10% of the blend in total) add lightness and colour. Drinking window: now-2029.
2015 Marqués de Riscal Reserva XR Rioja 93
Deep opaque medium ruby. High-toned aromas of blackberry, dark plum, coffee and sweet mocha oak. Sweet blackberry and plum flavours are complicated by vanilla and smoky cocoa. Closes smooth and long, with a hint of violet and of blueberry syrup. The wine’s name, XR, reserves to the Bordeaux-derived cellamaster’s habit of writing XR in chalk on those barrels that they felt exhibited special characteristics, different from all the other wines in the cellar. In other words, the barrel or barrels had quality and characteristics that elevated it/them above the others and would make for a potentially outstanding reserve wine. This tradition continued uninterrupted from 1869 to 1964, then beginning with the 2015 vintage, Marqués de Riscal decided to honour its past winemakers by releasing a wine with this specific name. Drinking window: now-2030.
Pago de Carrovejas.
José María Ruiz is very famous as the owner of the “José María” restaurant in Segovia, world-famous for its roast suckling pig (“cochinillo”). Given that background, and his love not just for food and wine but the Ribra del Duero region, it was only natural to start producing wines, especially one which would match well with his signature dish; and so it was that in 1987 Ruiz and a group of like-minded wine lovers bought a sixty hectare estate in Peñafiel (located in the province of Valladolid, in the heart of the Ribera del Duero), renaming it Pago de Carraovejas in the process (the first vintage released was the 1991). The southwest-facing high altitude vineyards (750 metres above sea level) are planted on mostly sand, limestone and rocky soils to the likes of Tinta fina, but also Cabernet Sauvignon. It is also worth knowing that the Pago de Carraovejas team pioneered the use of French oak barrels in the region.
2015 Pago de Carrovejas Ribera del Duero 92
Opaque ruby-purple. Plum and blackberries, chocolate and coffee on the very ripe, thick nose and mouth. Very good juiciness and freshness despite its inherent creaminess, the 2015 Pago de Carrovejas finishes smooth but spicy, with repeating notes of coffee liqueur. A blend of 90% Tempranillo (called locally Tinto or Tinta Fina), 6% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Merlot that is very modern in its rich, ample, forward style but not all unberarably over the top. Drinking window: now-2027.
Part of the ‘Uva Felices” project, Paisajes Valsalado was created in 1998 between Miguel Angel de Gregorio, one of the most historic and important Rioja winemakers (he of Finca Allende fame), and high-end wine retail expert Vila Viniteca. The word “paisajes” means landscape, and so there are three wines in this range in which the winery wishes to showcase the landscape each is associated with, from the Rioja Alta, Alavesa and an old vineyard in the Rioja Oriental (formerly known as the Rioja Baja).
2014 Paisajes La Pasada Rioja Alta 92
Good full ruby. Forward aromas of blueberry, red plum, violet, minerals, licorice and sweet pipe tobacco. Very pliant and nicely ripe, offering noteworthy charm to its floral flavours of dark fruits and aromatic underbrush. Inky and saline on the long, fresh very tapered finish that features a lingering juiciness and a candied violet note. 100% Tempranillo. Drinking window: now-2028.
2012 Paisajes Valsalado Rioja Alavesa 90+
Bright red. Red cherry and violet on the nose. Then nervous on entry, with mineral and floral strokes, but leaner and somewhat reticent in the middle. A little shrill on the high acid, very juicy finish, this left me wishing for a little more fruit and size, or a plate of food to pair it with to see if that might help it open and blossom some. A blend of mostly 40% Grenache, 40% Tempranillo, 10% Graciano and 10% Mazuelo. Drinking window: now-2026.
- López de Heredia Viña Tondonia.
Founded by Rafael Lopez-Heredia, a Basque who moved from Chile back to Europe and who began working in wine in France by joining a Bayonne wine merchant. When he returned to Spain, he brought ideas and winemaking techniques he had gleaned over the years from his time spent visiting Bordeaux’s wine region. And in the belief that Rioja shares elements with Bordeaux, he decided to try his hand at making wine there, settling in Haro (the capital of the Rioja Alta) in 1877, intelligently near the train station, and investing all his money in five vats and winemaking equipment. At first, he made inexpensive table wine, but success came quickly and he aimed to sell a quality product to the wealthy (“those who wore ties”, for example). In 1877 he began the design and construction of the López de Heredia bodega, the oldest in Haro and one of the first three wineries of the Rioja region (here tradition and modernity go hand in hand: while the estate’s hand-excavated wine gallery dates to around 1890, the wine shop is a modern construction designed by famous architect Zaha Hadid, and the estate has its own barrel cooperage). The rest, as they say, is history, with López de Heredia one of Spanish wine’s most iconic (and still family-run) wine businesses the wines of which are generally higher in acidity and lower in alcohol compared to other similarly famous Spanish reds, and are sought after by wine lovers and collectors all over the world.
2012 R. López de Heredia Viña Gravonia Blanco 91
Bright yellow. The nose has a pungent quality, with aromas of faded flowers, almond paste, vrystallized tropical fruits, herbs (tarragon, cilantro, thyme), vanilla, orange cordial and earth tones. Then more tones of earth and orange in the mouth, with a starchy quality to the compact, reined in fruit that fails to expand on the palate as I might have liked. Finishes medium-long and dusty, with a noteworthy oaky presence and a rising lemony-lime note. Blessed with very good acidity and a lemony-lime quality that is not always evident in this wine, I probably caught this at an awkward, still imploded and oak-dominated stage, but I also muct say that the wine does taste like it’s the product of a dry year. In fact, 2012 was just that, with 25% less rainfall than normal and about 35% of that rain concentrated in the last three months of the year (meaning that the 2012 growing season really was a dry one). I’d give it plenty of air in a decanter prior to happily guzzling away, but I doubt the 2012 R. López de Heredia Viña Gravonia Blanco will ever fleshen out and emerge from its tannic bent. Still, it’s an immensely flavourful white wine that will match well with many hearty dishes including white meeats. Viña Gravonia Blanco is a 100% Viura (called Maccabeo or Maccabiu elsewhere in Spain and France) wine (the white grape typical of the Rioja) made in an oxidative style that is fast disappearing, and it’s a shame. The 30–40 years old vines are planted in the twenty-four hectare large Viña Zaconia vineyard right by the River Ebro and the winery on poor, gravelly, well-draining and south-facing calcareous-clay slopes. The wine is fermented in extremely old oak vats and aged for four years in eight to ten years old American oak barrels. Drinking window: now-2028.
2010 R. López de Heredia Viña Gravonia Blanco 94
Maybe I need to say outright that the 2010 is one of my favourite R. López de Heredia Viña Gravonia Blanco wines ever. The wine is just gorgeous, with a deep yellow colour that is very inviting and pretty to look at. The aromas and flavours of orange peel, lemon custard, almond paste, vanilla and spices are both concentrated yet refined, and reflect the cool nature of the 2010 vintage a truly outstanding one for Rioja. The wine’s finish is very long, nicely textured and saline. Great stuff, this is full developed and won’t gain much by any further aging. Drinking window: now-2030.
2009 R. López de Heredia Viña Tondonia Blanco Reserva 93
Deep yellow. Forward aromas of ripe yellow fruit, caramel and diesel. Then more diesel in the mouth, with hints of mushrooms and underbrush, this is at once ripe and fresh, finishing nicely long and textured, but will not likely evolve with protracted cellaring. A 90% Viura and 10% Malvasia Rojana blend picked from sixty-years plus old vines, the 2009 vintage was described as a very good one in Rioja, characterized by a hot and dry summer but marked by copious June rain. And so, careful sorting was necessary come harvest time and only those estates to proceeded to do so scrupulously enjoyed a measure of success. Drinking window: now-2027.
2007 R. López de Heredia Viña Tondonia Blanco Reserva 97
Now this is phenomenally good. You don’t need to be a wine expert to recognize greatness once you taste it, and anybody will be able to realize this is outstanding at first sip. Good full golden-tinged yellow. Complex aromas and flavours of crystallized apricot, dried mango, honey, minerals and potpourri are deep, layered and multifaceted. Despite its mouthcoating richness, this is light and lively and extremely long and vibrant on the long profoundly interesting finish that features anintriguing umami-like quality that does not dominate the still lively fruit present. An absolute knockout of white Rioja in which all the elements come together as do only in truly great wines, hence the high score. Drinking window: now-2030.
2010 R. López de Heredia Viña Tondonia Rosado Gran Reserva 94
Medium-deep pink. Strawberry, dried flowers and spices on the earthy nose. Nicely expressive in the mouth, with the spicy red cherry and plum and spices complemented by notes of musky and earth. The aftertaste is long and hints at wood, licorice, anise, chalk, even diesel, and Oriental spices. In a bigger style than most rosé/blush wines you’ll ever taste, and much more savory too, this is actually more like a light red wine than a pink wine. A blend of 60% Garnacha (but they call it Garnacho at this estate), 30% Tempranillo and 10% Viura, a white grape, aged four years in American oak. A little reduced on entry, give this plenty of air in a large decanter before imbibing happily away. Drinking window: now-2028.
2009 R. López de Heredia Viña Cubillo Tinto Crianza 92
Deep ruby-red. Ripe and juicy aromas and flvours of plums, sweet spices and herbs. The polished tannins provide the ripe fruit with good support and the sufficient acidity helps extend the flavours on the back end. Easygoing and ripe, this will match well with a variety of simply prepared foods, and I suggest chilling it just so slightly prior to pulling the cork. Aged for three years in used American oak barrels, this 70% Tempranillo, 20% Garnacha (or the masculine version Garnacho they prefer to use at López de Heredia, but they are one and the same grape) plus 5% each Graciano and Mazuelo most likely benefited from the clay-rich limestone soils the grapes are planted in because while soft, creamy and pliant, this is in no way smells or tastes over the top or the product of a hot, dry year (which the 2009 vintage was in Rioja). Nicely done here. Drinking window: now-2030.
2008 R. López de Heredia Viña Tondonia Tinto Reserva 93
Good full, deep red-ruby with a garnet rim. Dark berries, kirsch, plum, cocoa, tobacco leaf, dried rose and smoked meat on the nose. Sweet, lush, and pliant, with lovely ripeness to the dark berry and licorice flavors. Medium-bodied, precise, mostly Tempranillo blend that is big and broad, with suave tannins and good thrust on the long finish. Drinking window: 2026-2033
2007 R. López de Heredia Viña Bosconia Tinto Reserva 91
More Burgundy to Tondonia’s Bordeaux, the Viña Bosconia is usually characterized by autumnal nuances to its ripe juicy red (not blue or black) fruit but with a real tannic spine that can sometimes make the wine seem quite tannic when young. The 2007 R. López de Heredia Viña Bosconia Tinto Reserva offers all that and then some, given the excellent 2007 vintage. Deep red-ruby colour. Smoky redcurrant, licorice, flowers and graphite. Then intensely flavoured, with dusty earth-tones and underbrush dominating the fruit somewhat, not to mention a strong tannic spine further keeping the red berry and underbrush notes under wraps. Finishes with building tannins that will require patience. This is a blend of Tempranillo (80%), Garnacha (20%), Graciano (5%) and Mazuelo (5%); average vine age is forty years, and the wine is aged for five years in American oak barrels. Given that 2007 was an excellent vintage here I expected more from this wine; perhaps I caught it at an awkward stage? Drinking window: now-2028.
2006 R. López de Heredia Viña Bosconia Tinto Reserva 94
Good full garnet-tinged red. Redcurrant, red cherry, anise, fennel and tobacco leaf soar from the glass. Li-smacking but harmonious acidity nicely carry the flavours similar to the aromas on the long aftertaste. This has a multilayered quality and boasts uncanny precision. A mostly Tempranillo blend, with 15% Garnacha and 5% Graciano and 5% Mazuelo and that ages in used American oak barrels for five years, this is a real winner for the estate that managed to fashion a ripe, well-balanced wine despite the generally hot year (both the altitude -about 460 metres asl- and the cooler part of Rioja that López de Heredia is located in helps greatly too). This wine takes is name from the vineyard called El Bosque, and is often said to have the most “Burgundian” quality of this estate’s wines; in fact, the original Viña Bosconia was used to be made with a high percentage of Pinot Noir and was called “Rioja Cepa Borgoña”. Drinking window: now-2029.
A member of Rioja’s famous Palacios winemaking clan (his brother Alvaro Palacios is perhaps Spain’s best-known winemaker today), Rafael Palacios left the family estate in 2004, settling in the rugged Val do Bibei, a sub-zone of Valdeorras close to Ribera Sacra. Here, Palacios has shown uncanny ability in coaxing greatness from the Godello grape, a result of the combination of his undeniable talent, the wine grape that was capable of much better things than it had been associated with by perhaps lesser winemakers, the extremely old vines of the area, and the well-draining, nutrient-poor sandy-granitic soils that he chooses to farm (as opposed to lower-lying vineyards planted on mostly schistous-limestone soils). Palacios makes two wines each vintage, Louro and As Sortes, but in good vintages will also make three single-vineyard wines called Sorte Antiga, Sorte O Soro and Sorte Souto.
2019 Godello Louro Valdeorras 93
Bright yellow. Flint, lime and minerals on the nose. Then juicy, complex and long, with a mineral overlay to the white stone fruit and fresh citrus fruit flavours. Lovely freshness and sweetness here, this delicious wine has impeccable balance and enticing juiciness on the clean, precise mineral finish. This little beauty leaves you salivating and certainly wanting more, always a good sign. Almost 100% Godello along with a little less than 10% Treixadura that was co-planted among the Godello all those years ago, this wine bears a striking family resemblance to the higher end As Sortes. Made with organic grapes picked in 20-40 years old vineyards in the territories of the villages of Chandoiro, Lentellais, Outardepregos and Santa Cruz, the wine is fermented in large French oak barrels with indigenous yeasts, and aged on the lees for 4 months. Drinking window: now-2028.
2019 Val do Bibeo As Sortes Valdeorras 95
Luminous deep straw yellow. Very clean sweet spice and herbs complement on the bright, ample nose. Very mineral and fresh on entry, then steely and lemony in the middle, closing very juicy, long, and creamy thanks to a honeyed undertone. Though it is quite similar to its more entry-level Louro sibling in the Rafael Palacios portfolio of wines, the As Sortes kicks everything up a notch. Reportedly 100% Godello not from 20-40 years old vines like the Louro but from roughly 30 to almost 100 years old organically farmed vines, the grapes gently pressed, the must fermented in large French oak barrels with indigenous yeasts, and aged on the lees for 7-8 months in 500 litre barrels of which 20% are new. Drinking window: now-2036.
Ramón de Casar.
2020 Ramón de Casar Ribeiro 89
Bright straw yellow. Intense notes of banana dominate the nose, but also peach and apricot. Then more banana in the mouth but complicated by minerals and tangerine, buffering the impression of banana-dominance somewhat. A blend of Treixadura, Albariño and Godello, this wine has a unique back label that features a copy of the letter that the grandfather of the estate’s founder wrote to his wife back home when he moved to Venezuela in search of a better life for his family. I’m not sure where the intense note of banana is coming from but it’s certainly noticeable. Drinking window: now-2026.
2018 Ramón de Casar Nobre Ribeiro 91
Vivid yellow. Mineral and fresh, with citrus and stone fruit and long suave mouthfeel that is sweetened and made creamier by a gentle oaking. Much less banana and more oak than Casar’s entry-level wine, and also a mineral touch more. The name noble refers to the nobility of Treixadura, the grape this wine is made with. Drinking window: now-2027.
Remelluri boasts some of the highest altitude vineyards in all Rioja, that they choose to organically farm while also applying biodynamic principles and concoctions. Owner Telmo Rodriguez has been a leading light in the renaissance of great Spanish wines and likes to experiment.
2017 Remelluri Blanco Rioja 91
Deep yellow. Hay, nougat, peach, apricot and caramel on the rich nose. Then also rich and creamy in the mouth, where the heat of the 2017 vintage shows through ripe fruit and a suvae mouthfeel that lingers nicely. Made with nine different organically farmed varieties (including Garnacha Blanca, Viura, Roussanne, Marsanne and Viognier) co-planted in ten to seventy years old vineyards on limestone and clay-calcareous soils, this is fermented with indigenous yeasts in wooden barrels and cement tanks of various sizes. Aged for twelve months in barrels, foudres, and 1200 liter concrete eggs, the single volumes are blended and aged for a further eight months in oak barrels. As much as I appreciate the will to attempt to showcase terroir, I think it’s a pity to camouflage the contributions of the single grape varieties. Drinking window: now-2026.
2013 Remelluri Reserva Rioja 92
Luminous purple-ruby. Blackberry and blueberry vie for attention on the nose and in the mouth, along with nuances of smoke, flint and herbs. Gently tannic and long on the bright close. This is quite pretty, boasting a high acid, lower alcohol personality than it does in most years, thanks to the difficult, coolish 2013 vintage. Drinking window: now-2027.
2012 Remelluri Gran Reserva Rioja 93
Good full ruby. Red cherries, faded flowers, flint and smoke on the complex, perfumed nose. Then spicy and piercing flavours of blackberry, cherry coulis and candied violets, with harmonious acidity allowing for outstanding clarity and cut. A gently tannic blend of Tempranillo, Garnacha and Graciano aged twenty-six months in oak. Drinking window: now-2029.
2018 Albariño Cíes Rías Baixas 93
Pale straw yellow. Hints of balsamic oils, chamomile and sweet herbs on the fragrant green citrus fruit-accented nose. Enters creamy, then lively and savory, with a ripe long mouthfeel on the long suave, saline finish that features repeating notes of minerals and fennel. Ages 70% in used oak barrels (the rest in stainless steel) but you really can’t taste it. Only 8000 bottles made a year, this is the result of graes from the Meaño valley (marked generally by higher acidity), fermented and matured in 225, 300 and 400-liter oak barrels. For many local wine lovers, Mendez is one of the best Albariño producers in all of Spain. The wine’s name, Cíes, is that of a most beautiful Spanish island archipelago, off the Galicia and the northwest coast of Spain. Drinking window: now-2027.
Many consider San Román to be one of the top three or so estates in all of Toro; the estate practices organic farming and incorporates some biodynamic principles as well in all it does. The 60-100 years old vines are planted on sandy gravelly-clay soils at roughly 700-800 meters asl, and even higher up.
2018 San Román Toro 91
Deep ruby. Spicy blue and black fruit with notes of herbs, flint and ink on the nose and in the mouth, with plenty of toasty-chocolaty oak notes too. Bright, fresh and elegant, this boasts a liquid mineral core reverberating on the long, perfumed aftertaste, but the oak presence is not at all shy and may not be to everyone’s taste. Made with 100% organically farmed Tinta de Toro (Tempranillo) grapes picked by hand in the villages of Morales de Toro, Pedrosa del Rey and San Román de Hornija, the must was fermented in stainless steel tanks with indigenous yeasts. Aging took place for twenty-four months in a mix of French and American oak barrels. Drinking window: 2025-2032.
Teso la Monja.
The Eguren family of San Vicente de la Sonsierra in Rioja Alavesa owns the Bodegas Serra Cantabria winery in the Rioja D.O., but has been active in the Toro D.O as well for close to fifteen years, helping the denomination gain world stature for its wines in the process. Teso La Monja was founded in 2007 by Marcos and Miguel Angel, the fourth generation of the Eguren family after they travelled to Toro with Jorge Ordóñez, and realized the amazing potential of the local Tempranillo biotype and the many extremely old ungrafted vines.
2019 Teso la Monja Romanico Toro 92
Very deep ruby-purple. Notes of inky herbs, pot pourri and black fruit on the nose and in the mouth have good freshness and verve. Finishes lively but needs plenty of aeration to avoid coming across as a little fruit-challenged, something that then makes it appear more tannic than it really is. Instead, the overall balance is excellent, making this entry-level wine a pretty good value from Toro. Made from 15-20 year Tinta de Toro grapes from the Valdebuey and La Jara vineyards characterized by mostly sandy-clay soils with a limestone subsoil and many rounded stones that help capture heat and release it at night allowing for full , optimal grape ripeness in an area that has a very dry continental climate. Vinification includes temperature-controlled fermentation in stainless steel, with part of the wine transferred to barrel for malolactic fermentation. Aging takes place in used oak barrels for six months. Drinking window: now-2032.
2019 Teso la Monja Almirez Toro 88
Very chocolaty, very toasty, very vanilla-dominated, this is a plush, rich, ripe wine that will please specific palates who look for and like just this sort of wine. Drinking window: 2024-2028.
2019 Teso la Monja Victorino Toro 93
This deep, brooding ruby-purple wine showcases much more focus and energy, not to mention complexity, than in the 2019 Almirez, this is a concentrated but refined red that finishes long and pure, with savory herb and aromatic wood notes nicely complementing, not overpowering, the deep blue and black fruit aromas and flavours. Well done. Drinking window: 2025-2032.
2016 Mas la Plana Penedès 93
Deep opaque ruby. Forest floor, aromatic herbs, blackcurrant and dark plums dominate the nose and the mouth. Smoothly tannic and with lively but harmonious acidity, this is suave but not soft and finishes long, clean and precise. This 100% Cabernet Sauvignon wine, for many the most prestigious red of the Torres portfolio, is produced from a twenty-nine hectaress vineyard planted on grey-yellow-brown alluvial soils made of alternating layers of clay gravel and sand, this wine was fermented in stainless steel tanks and oak foudres, and aged eighteen months in 65% new French oak but the oak is very well dosed. Drinking window: now-2030.
2015 Grans Muralles Conca de Barberà 95
Moderately saturated ruby-purple. Nuances of licorice and garrigue complement dark smoky plum and vanilla aromas. Then similar flavours to the aromas, but the palate seems to have more depth and more layers than does the nose. Big and bold, with harmonious acidity and polished tannins, the aftertaste is long and complex. A blend of Garnacha, Cariñena, Querol, Monastrell and Garró, this was fermented in stainless steel tanks and aged eighteen months in new French oak barrels. The presence of Querol and Garró, two rare local grapes makes this an especially interesting wine worth seeking out. The name of the wine derives from the large walls that surrounded and protected the Poblet monastery, the burial place of the Catalan royal members. Drinking window: now-2032.
2016 Crianza Ribera del Duero
Smooth and easygoing, with well-integrated acidity nicely lifting the dark berry, licorice, coconut and graphite aromas and flavours on the long bright finish. Very nicely done here, this offers easy accessibility and lots of charm.
2016 Finca Azaya Vino de la Tierra de Castilla Y Leon 90
Dark ruby. Aromas and flavours of sweet spices, red plum dried prune, licorice and earth, with a medium-bodied but chewy mouthfeel. The tannins will need a little time to resolve further. Made with grapes picked from roughly twenty years old vines planted to the Valduero biotype of Tempranillo in the Azaya La Grande and Las Barridas vineyards at 950 meters asl. Aged fourteen months in a mix of French and American oak. Drinking window: now-2026.
2015 I Unacepa Crianza Ribera del Duero 91
Dark fruit, mint and cocoa dominate on the nose and in the mouth. Solid tannic spine provides backbone on the long creamy finish. 100% Tempranillo. Drinking window: now-2028.
2012 Reserva Ribera del Duero 93
Coffee, tobacco and dark fruits are nicely combined with suave oak and a creamy, opulent mouthfeel. Long and rich on the aftertaste. This 100% Tempranillo wine spent thirty months in new American and French oak barrels. Drinking window: now-2030.
2010 Reserva Premium 6 Años Ribera del Duero 91
Strongly oaky with notes of vanilla, sweet spices and cocoa dominating the ripe black fruit and herbal nuances. Big and bold but low acid, this coats the palate with wave after weave of decadently ripe fruit, but lovers of more austere French and Italian styled wines may be left non-plussed. Though I am sure many wine lovers will adore this creamy big sweet style, sometimes there’s too much of a good thing: too much oak, too much vanilla, too much sweetness and palate-fatigue is the result. Drinking window: now-2030. Drinking window: now-2030.
2016 Alion Ribera del Duero 94
Moderately saturated red-ruby. Blackberry, licorice and cocoa aromas are accentuated by pepper and herbal strokes freshened up by a vivid violet topnote. Juicy and spicy but also suave, with refined flavours of black fruits, spices and mocha that are quite similar to the aromas. Closes long, broad and evry polished with nuances of espresso and cocoa. A big wine clocking in at 15% alcohol, but nevertheless light on its feet and very-well balanced. This spent twelve months in 80% new French oak barrels (5% American oak) and another 10% of the wine matured in 15,000-liter concrete vats. The use of the latter type of vessel is a very good idea because their presence has a noteworthy effect on the finished wine, greatly reducing its cloying sweetness and creaminess, making this much easier to taste and drink and a better food wine. I may be completely off the mark, but this really struck me as one of the better Alion wines ever made. Drinking window: now-2030.
2015 Valbuena N.5 Ribera del Duero 93
Spices (white pepper, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, vanilla) dominate floral red fruit and balsamic oil aromas and flavours. A blend of 95% Tinto Fino blended with 5% Merlot, this has a polished tannic spine and comes across as well-delineated. Drinking window: now-2030.
2015 Macán Clásico Rioja 90
Fully saturated ruby-purple. Oaky spices (cinnamon, clove, nutmeg and black pepper) dominate the nose of grilled beef and ripe blackberry coulis. Then more black fruit nectar flavours and plenty of oak leaving a massively mouthcoating tannic mouthfeel on the long finish. Not the last word in refinement but certainly a showy wine. A joint venture by Benjamin Rothschild and Vega Sicilia, Macán and Macán Clásico to express the particular terroir of San Vicente de la Sonsierra in Rioja Alta. Differently from other Rioja wines, these wines are not aged in traditional American oak barrels but in 50% new and 50% one year old oak barrels from Burgundy. Drinking window: now-2028.
2014 Macán Rioja 91
Dark fruit, smoke and spices and noteworthy tannic bite call for some patience still. The close is long and promising. A 100% Tempranillo wine aged in 50% new and 50% one year old oak barrels from Burgundy, then aged another three years in bottle in the estate cellars prior to going on sale. Probably the best Macán I’ve tasted to date. Drinking window: now-2028.
2014 Pintia Toro 89
Leather, smoke, toasty oak, sweet pipe tobacco, and black fruits on the glossy palate and showy nose. Ripe and plump but not especially deep or long. For its first venture outside of Ribera del Duero, Vega-Sicilia chose Toro in 1997, and started the production of Pintia in 2001. Drinking window: now-2027.
2010 Unico Ribera del Duero 98
Now this is superlative. Fully saturated deep ruby-red. Black cherry, blueberry pie, potpourri, sweet pipe tobacco, and medicinal herbs on the very intense, concentrated smoky-smoky mineral and vanilla accented nose. Enters sappy and fruity, then piercinga dnmore austere in the middle, with floral flavours of black currant, black cherry, tobacco, and mocha. Brightly energetic and impeccably focused, finishes deep and rich not to mention very long on the youthfully chewy and spicy finish. A 94% Tinto Fino (Tempranillo) and 6% Cabernet Sauvignon blend, with 14.5% alcohol (that doesn’t seem like it’s that high at all). Fermented with indigenous yeasts and aged in a combination of French and American oak barrels plus 20,000-liter oak vats for almost six years. Drinking window: now-2040.
Venta Las Vacas.
2018 Uvas Felices Venta Las Vacas Ribera del Duero 90+
Deep red-ruby. Ripe fruit, tobacco, ink and herbs on the nose and in the mouth. Suave and juicy on the long clean finish. I think this can improve further with another year in the bottle. Part of the ‘Uva felices’ Vili Viniteca project of fine wines. Drinking window: 2024-2026.
2016 Venta Las Vacas La Cuartilleja Reserva Ribera del Duero 93+
Deep ruby-purple. A really big, strapping wine but that has good precision and focus, without quite the power of Tempranillo from Toro but perhaps more elegance. Some oak is still peeking through but the lush fruit and herbal aromas and flavours are obvious and clean. Still youthfully chewy and can develop further complexity and nuance in a good cellar. Good stuff. Drinking window: 2025-2033.
Venus la Universal.
2019 Macabeu Garnatxa Blanca Cartoixa Dido La Universal Monsant 87
A little neutral on the nose then oak-dominated on the palate and on on the finish 24 months in different volume oak. A 50% Macabeu (better known as Macabeo, and as Viura in Rioja, 40% Garnatxa Blanca and 10% Cartoixà (known more commonly as Xarel.lo), from up to seventy-years old vines planted on limestone-containing soils. About 20% is macerated on the skins for 24 hours, 70% is aged in 400-500 liter old oak barrels and 30% in 3000 liter clay amphoras. Maybe this needs to age a little or perhaps I caught it at an awkward time, but despite the many accolades this wine has received, I admit to not understanding it. I’ll try it again in six months and if it’s different will be more than happy to write a new tasting note and score. Drinking window: now-2026.
2019 Dido La Universal Monsant 92
Medium ruby-red. Sweet juicy and peppery red berried fruit is complicated by herbs and earth tones. Long sweet and suave with some alcohol-derived heat that is manageable, and that most people won’t notice when enjoying along with hearty meat dishes. Sub-titled “sols de granit”, this is a blend of roughly 70% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 10% Carignan, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot aged in variety of more or less neutral vessels. Another project and yet another exciting wine by the ultra-talented duo of Sara Perez and Renè Barbier. Drinking window: now-2030.
2018 Dido Rosat La Solucio Rosa Monsant 92
Medium bright pink. Clean fresh and very saline on both the nose and the mouth, with pleasant red currant and violet notes lifted by fresh acidity. Finishes long and clean, with a surprisingly tactile, suave mouthfeel. This wine is a blend of three Garnacha varieties (but also Macabeo and apparently even Carignan). This winery project by Sara Perez and Rene Barbier out of Monsant, an area mostly known for big red wines rather than Rosé wines, but this is a beauty. Drinking window: now-2027.
2017 Venus de Cartoirà Montsant 93
Bright yellow. Pungent peach, smoke and caramel on the nose and in the mouth. Enters soft and creamy, then peppery and sharp, with fruity and oxidative notes dominating on the finish. Perhaps more fruity and less acid than usual. Closes long, precise, and clean. About 900 bottles from Rene Barbier and Sara Perez, this spent 16 months in used barrels. Readers beware, lease do not confuse this wine with similarly named wines from previous vintages. Rather interestingly, the estate used to make a Dido Blanco wine that was a blend of Xarel.lo, Macabeo and Garnacha Blanca, but the Xarel.lo was so good they decided in 2017 to make this wine, a 100% Xarello, from a single vineyard at about 900 meters above sea level. I’d say it was a real good idea! Drinking window: now-2028.
Viñedos del Contino.
Owned by C.U.N.E today, Viñedos del Contino was officially founded in 1973, but its history dates back to the sixteenth century. In fact, the winery’s name derives from its historical roots in that back then, the officer in charge of the one hundred soldiers who watched over the royal family continuously (or de continuo in Spanish), from the Catholic Monarchs era onwards, was known as the ‘contino’. Today, Viñedos del Contino is credited with being the first Rioja château concept winery. Located in the Rioja Alavesa in the municipality of Laguardia, the 62 hectares under vine are protected by the Cerro de la Mesa and located in a meander of the Ebro River, which explains why the estate’s soils are mostly (not all) alluvial in nature. The sixteenth-century cellars are amongst the oldest of the Rioja region.
2017 Viña del Olivo Rioja 94
Good saturated ruby. Earthy, soil-accented aromas and flavours of blackberry jam, mocha, truffle and smoke, complicated by hints of wild herbs and crushed rocks. Juicy and spicy but a bit youthfully imploded, with a strong savory quality buffered by brisk acidity (you can tell there’s limestone in the soil here). Most impressive today on the long, energetic, softly tannic finish, which features repeating notes of blackberry, and mocha. The Viña del Olivo is Contino’s most important wine, a single vineyard wine that is a blend of 85% Tempranillo, 10% Graciano, and 5% Mazuelo planted on a limestone and clay south-facing slope, and aged for roughly sixteen months in barriques and another three in larger oak barrels. No herbicides and organic fertilization only. A rather minerally wine that is not exactly the last word in fruitiness, but those who like bold, savoury wines with plenty of acid lift will take a real shine to this. The vintage weather certainly contributed: 2017 will not be remembered as an especially easy vintage to work in Rioja, rather cool and with 7% less rainfall than 2016, but ultimately, at least in this specific section of La Rioja (that avoided frost problems unlike other sections of the denomination), the quality of the fruit picked was exceptional. Drinking window: now-2030.
2015 Graciano Rioja 93
A good Graciano is always a marvel to behold and to taste, and this is certainly one such wine. Very deep in colour and fully opaque, it offers chocolaty and peaty nuances to its dark cherry and plum fruit aromas. Then rich, dense and suave in the mouth, with a powerful tannic spine that is partly oak-derived, but with a whiplash of citrussy acidity that helps lift the ripe thick dark fruit and chocolaty flavours on the long sultry finish. Aged for eighteen months in French and Hungarian oak (only 10% of the total), this is a wonderful Graciano that benefited from the very good 2015 vintage that allowed the grapes to ripen to perfection, and then some. Drinking window: now-2026.
2011 Contino Gran Reserva Rioja 91
Full dark-ruby plus a hint of garnet at the rim. Rich, superripe aromas of blackberry nectar, figs macerated in alcohol, grilled beef, coffee and chocolate. Pliant and sweet on entry, but then turns slightly tough in the middle, with a porty ripeness to the flavours that are similar to the aromas but kicked up a notch by a savory edge. Closes long, with serious tannins that hints at a little grittiness due to the hot growing season. An impressive a mouthful of wine, but to be clear, I doubt anyone will ever describe it as “plush”. Reportedly a blend of 70% Tempranillo, 15% Graciano, 12% Garnacha and 3% Viura (which is quite different from the 2014 blend of 70% Tempranillo, 15% Graciano, 10% Mazuelo and 5% Garnacha, this was aged for three years in large used oak barrels and then another three years in bottle prior to going on sale. I wish to point out to readers that the latter is a noteworthy piece of information, given that the rules and regulations of the D.O. for the Gran Reserva wines demand only two years to be spent in oak, but at Contino, in a sign of their qualitative aspirations, they up the ante and age this wine for an extra year in oak. Drinking window: now-2030.
2020 Albariño El Jardin de Lucia Rias Baixas 93
Straw yellow. Enters creamy then turns lemony in the middle and then creamy again and almost smoky on the lemon- and mineral-accented finish. Three months in contact with the lees. A lovely wine that ahs more balance and depth than is initially obvious and that really grows on you taste after taste, acid freaks will love this; in fact, I’d say any oyster’s chances of survival are next to zero with a bottle of this beauty in the vicinity. Drinking window: now-2028.