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Showing posts with label Spain. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Spain. Show all posts

26 September 2013

Spain: a couple of Riojas of the moment

Further to A trio of Rioja posted a few months ago, and mucho mas outlined on the Spain archive page here, my terminal fascination with one of the world's favourite red wines continues featuring a couple of Riojas available in the UK in Co-op and Lidl stores (the ones equipped with their 'wine cellar' range, so not all of them). By coincidence, they're both 2008 vintage, which is 'officially' rated as 'very good' and with a touch of elegance too by my reckoning...

Soligamar Reserva 2008 Ortega Ezquerro (80% Tempranillo with Garnacha and Mazuelo from two 600 metre altitude vineyards, 24 months in new French oak; 14% abv) - smoky vanilla notes with sweet berry and cassis fruits, intricate maturing savoury touches vs still quite solid and firm, concentrated and rich vs nice dry texture, fairly big mouthful vs a certain freshness and elegance. The second day open saw more savoury, balsamic and 'cheesy' notes developing, smoother too with attractive sweet fruit/oak combo, still structured and alive as well. Very nice Rioja. £9.99 Lidl

Marqués de Válido Reserva 2008 Bodegas Muriel (Tempranillo, 13% abv) - similar in some ways to above with its smoked vanilla oak notes (although less oaky) and maturing sweet berry fruits, a touch lighter perhaps (maybe it doesn't have any Garnacha in it...) though has subtle concentration and balance, pretty classic style with mature savoury balsamic finish layered with sweet vs smoky fruit/oak. Surprisingly good with the chilli beef & veg stew thing I made (up as I went along), thanks to those generally soft tannins, smooth texture and sweet/smoky taste combo. Real bargain at the moment at the Co-op - £5.49 instead of 'usual' price of £10.99!

08 August 2013

Spain: Loxarel - Catalunya

Based at their Can Mayol estate near Vilobí del Penedès in the hills just to the north of Vilafranca (about 40-50 km west of Barcelona), the Mitjans family produces, following organic and biodynamic techniques, an interesting mix of 'local vs international' whites and reds, in addition to a variety of different rosés. From classic Catalan rosat (even if containing a large splash of Pinot) to an "extreme" style made from high-altitude late-picked Merlot; and a quirky barrel-fermented one from Xarel.lo vermell, a virtually extinct red-skinned version of this indigenous variety, which I wasn't that keen on though. And let's not forget the great range of traditional method sparklers (I won't call them Cava, as they've dropped that term...), most of them made in the Brut Nature style, i.e. no dosage added (= unsweetened). Check out their wild '109' at the bottom; hard to find fizz with much more flavour and complexity, except Bolly RD perhaps! € prices quoted are cellar door/online: click on the web link below the photo for more info.
Goat pruning method - from loxarel.com
2012 Xarel.lo (fermented in amphorae, 13% abv) - nutty 'mineral' nose, crisp and steely palate with light yeast-lees and pear notes, intense mineral bite vs lightly oily texture and bruised pear fruit; elegant and long. €12
2012 Petit Arnau rosat (Pinot noir, Merlot; 13% abv) - lively cherry fruit, full and creamy mouth-feel with fair weight vs crisp dry and tight with attractive raspberry and cranberry fruit. Nice dry rosé style. €6.40
2011 Gal Gran Arnau rosat (Merlot, 14.5% abv) - described as "extreme rosé", this has earthy, smoky even, raspberry and black cherry fruit, ripe vs crisp with a touch of grip on the palate, big mouthful; unusual! €12.50
2011 Eos Syrah (from a single vineyard in the upper Penedès at 600 metres altitude farmed organically, eight months in new Hungarian oak 500 litre barrels; 14.5% abv) - pure spicy/floral black cherry Syrah style, nice sweet fruit vs grippy texture, fairly intense finish; attractive "modern" red. €10.70
2008 '790' Reserva (single estate Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% abv) - maturing savoury 'oily' notes vs peppery cassis with cedary edges; quite smooth palate with enticing 'sweet/savoury' finish vs still a little firmness too; developed a bit of complexity as well. €13.80
2008 Cava Reserva Vintage Brut Nature (now labelled as D.O Penedès, old-vine Xarel.lo & Chardonnay; 12% abv) - light bready oat cake notes, crisp and dry mouth-feel vs rich and classy, long fresh finish with subtle toasted flavours. Very nice fizz, great value at €7.40.
2002 'Cent Nou' Gran Reserva Brut Nature (95% old-vine Xarel.lo: 'new' sparkling D.O Penedès style which isn't disgorged, i.e. fine lees sediment left in the bottle. Cent Nou = 109 in Catalan, as in 109 months bottle-ageing on the yeast lees!) Full-on rich nose, oat biscuit and chocolate with more exotic fruit too (dried apricot!) vs very yeasty, freshly baked bread notes; very intense flavour with nutty toasty finish vs lean mineral bite. Wow, not tried anything like that before! €64

Plenty more from Spain, Catalunya and Cava HERE.

19 July 2013

Spain: Quaderna Vía, Navarra

From organicwines.ie
Bodegas y Vinedos Quaderna Vía organically run estate winery, whose name seems to have something to do with Mediaeval poetry (guessing a bit from my limited grasp of Spanish: there doesn't appear to be an "in English" button on their site www.quadernavia.com), is located in the town of Igúzquiza on the western side of the Navarra region, an area known as Tierra Estella (not that far from Rioja actually). Brothers Raúl and Jorge Ripa had an impressive new cellar complex constructed 10 years ago that's supplied by 70 ha of vineyards they own around here: grape variety wise, they focus on Tempranillo, Cabernet and Merlot. Guided winery and vineyard tours are also available, with a tasting naturally; and you can book their groovy 'space' for private functions or wine dinners. Irish importer Dirk Flake Organic Wines in Galway stocks the first red (€8.80 a bottle, pic.); and cellar door in Spain they cost about €4 - €6 - €11 - €20 respectively for these four in ascending quality order, which I sampled earlier this year at Millésime Bio show.

2011 Initium (Tempranillo/Merlot) - nice juicy fruit with perfumed spicy notes, herby vs sweet, simple attractive quaffing red.
2011 Especial (90% Tempranillo + Cabernet Sauvignon) - herby cedar edges vs riper sweet blackcurrant and cherry, subtle grip and oak on the palate with plenty of fruit, elegant yet weighty, attractive style again with a touch more substance.
2008 Reserva (50-50 Tempranillo-Merlot) - more coconut oak vs maturing savoury notes and ripe berry fruit, nice meaty edges and still quite solid mouth-feel with a touch of oak grain vs oomph and dark vs savoury fruit. Good stuff.
2008 Quaderna Vía (100% Tempranillo) - richer berry fruit with spicy oak, nice ripe dark vs savoury flavours again, chunky and concentrated yet is well balanced with rounded tannins; drinking well now but should keep for a few more years. Lovely.

04 May 2013

Spain: a trio of Rioja

Rioja is one of those (fairly) endlessly fascinating wine "topics" yet sometimes a bit of a minefield too, as there are a lot of Rioja wines out there at all sorts of prices and it's not always clear what kind of style you're going get. Fruity but a bit thin or rich fruity and good, lightly oaky or very oaky, young and old (okay, that one should be pretty obvious), cheap and expensive (ditto). What these three different styles and price points of red Rioja below have in common is, well, they're all good as far as I'm concerned; and have all seen some barrel ageing from a few months to a few years, which clearly can shape the style, flavour and texture of the wine. They're also mostly made from the Tempranillo variety, considered Rioja's flagship grape although sometimes a splash of Garnacha (Grenache), Graciano (called Morrastel in southern France, not the same as Monastrell in Spain or Mourvedre, just to confuse matters...) or Mazuelo (= Cariñena or Carignan), for example, can actually improve the blend. Having said that, the second wine here from Cantos de Valpiedra was, I think, 100% Tempranillo and went down very well at a recent tasting I held.

Carlos Rodriguez
Saxa Loquuntur uno 2010 Carmelo Ortega (Tempranillo, Garnacha; 14% abv) - aged 4 to 6 months in American and French oak barrels. And it doesn't really show, just adding a little spice and light dark chocolate texture to its quite lush ripe berry fruit and dry yet fairly rounded tannins. Good value at £6.99 from Lidl (part of their 'Wine Cellar' range, so not all stores).
Cantos de Valpiedra 2008 Tempranillo (13.5%) - showing nice savoury meaty maturing side vs still quite rich and lush blackberry/cherry fruit, hints of spicy vanilla wood in the background vs fairly concentrated and stylish. £8.99 James Nicholson.
Carlos Rodriguez Reserva 2007 - pretty typical traditional style with developing volatile 'cheesy' notes and dried raspberry / cassis fruit, underpinned by smooth vanilla oak notes / texture and gentle 'sweet' fruit, hint of dry tannin to finish with savoury edges. A touch light perhaps and beginning to fade so it's ready to drink now; quite good though on the dear side - £12.99 from Naked Wines, or £9.49 if you're an 'Angel' (what's that all about by the way, paying them money to get the wine for the price it's worth?) Photo of Carlos copied from their site.

Mucho mas Rioja HERE (goes to Spain archive page with links) featuring, among others:
CVNE / Contino rare vintages of top Reservas and Gran Reservas ("If it's the 52, you were expecting me...").
Alvarez AlfaroRioja duet: LagunillaLa Rioja AltaGarnacha rosé...
Y mas!

27 February 2013

Spain: Garnacha / Garnatxa, red white and rosé

Following in the red-stained footsteps of my 'World Grenache Competition' series (part 1, part 2, part 3), this time we're turning the spotlight on Garnacha/Garnatxa from different parts of northeast Spain (Rioja, Aragon, Catalonia) with a little vinous wandering beyond the timeframe of the WGC event, which took place in Perpignan, south of France (Catalan side) recentlyMy favourites from the Garnacha-based rosados tasted in the competition are highlighted below, along with a few reds sampled/enjoyed in the afternoon or evening with food and some background info on this sumptuous variety in the regions of Aragón and Catalunya. I've noted any medals awarded and/or my 100-point style score as appropriate. Some of the other wines crossed my path last year but haven't seen the on-line light of day yet.

Rosé / rosado - Rioja

2012 Castillo de Albai Felix Solis Avantis - full-on cherry nose, fresh lively and lees-y with plenty of aromatic red fruits, zippy long finish with nice lingering fruit. Gold Medal winner. My score 87+
2012 Valcaliente rosado Ruiz Jimenez - fresh lees-y nose with attractive cherry fruit, crisp and zippy mouth-feel with long ripe vs tart finish, nice weight too vs tight and crisp. Silver Medal. 87
2012 Arnegui Felix Solis Avantis - almost red, rich and aromatic with ripe cherry fruit, full-bodied 'sweet' vs crunchy palate, impressive big rosé style even if a little heavy on the winemaking (then again, that is rosé, no?!). 85
2012 Vina Herminia Garnacha - even richer in colour than above, has plenty of extract and fruit, rich and full-on yet fresher and more elegant than above. Gold. 87


2010 Las Rocas Garnacha viñas viejas Calatayud (Bodegas San Alejandro co-op winery, from 80 year-old bush vines) - lovely ripe minty blackberry fruit and spice, concentrated and powerful with 'sweet' vs peppery profile, silky tannins layered with tasty dark lush fruit and savoury-edged finish. Yum: 'modern' style but good with it. Silver Medal. UK/Ireland importer: Liberty Wines (I copied the photo above from libertywines.co.uk).
2009 Aquilon Garnacha Campo de Borja - lots of sweet coconut and chocolate oak vs lush fruit and layered tannins, rounded and ripe vs a touch of firmness; nice but rather oaky.
2010 Coto de Hayas Garnacha Centenaria Campo de Borja - touches of oak grain, lovely tobacco notes vs ripe sweet fruit, powerful yet with some fresh bite and grip too. Nice old-fashioned style. The 2011 vintage won a Gold.

Whereas only 10% of Spain's vineyards overall are planted with Garnacha, there's "much more in Aragón..." (also suggested as the variety's origin), Juan Cacho told us giving an overview of the region (professor of winemaking at Zaragoza University). Looking at the main 'DO's (appellation areas) within this province, Garnacha accounts for at least half of varieties planted in Calatayud and Campo de Borja (both on the western side), and nearly a third of the surface area in Cariñena yet just 5% of Somontano (more mountainous zone to the northeast). "Garnacha was declining but now we're replanting it," Juan explained, "it suits dry climates and low-yields. Old vineyards are now sought after. I think the increased investment in technology and winemaking have had a very positive effect on Garnacha in particular, in quality terms, and especially for the co-ops." There's also a new emphasis on export marketing e.g. joint Grenache promotions in North America. "We're looking for EU funds to work with people in the Roussillon etc. Home wine consumption is falling, so we have to look elsewhere," he concluded logically.
More Garnacha wines from Aragón here ("wines of the mo" Oct 2011) and here (Spain archive page).


2011 Viladellops Garnatxa Penedès - nice 'sweet' aromatic floral minty and spicy blackberry/cherry fruit, firm and peppery vs ripe and soft palate, powerful yet fairly easy going with tasty fruity finish. (The 2009 vintage won a Silver Medal).
Nuria Ruiz from the Catalan Wine Association added that "this vineyard was replanted, or rather grafted 28 years ago so the vines are 'older' than that. The wineries in our association export less than in Spain overall (meaning those thirsty Catalans drink most of it presumably), and a quarter of wine exported is red Garnacha." They promote them in e.g. the US, London, Switzerland, Barcelona and Perpignan (!); the average bottle price is €34, which is pretty high value wine.

2009 Domènech 'Teixar' Montsant (Garnatxa "pelut" = furry Grenache!) - showing a fair dose of coconut and vanilla oak, rich and ripe palate though vs nice firm and peppery finish, enticing tasty savoury fruit with layers of coco/choc oak, but not too much in the end.
2009 Domènech 'Furvus' Montsant (Garnacha & Syrah, 14.5%) - 'sweet' and maturing nose and palate vs grippy and structured, attractive lingering savoury fruit vs solid and tight still; good stuff. Silver medal (I tasted it in the special 'Grenache room' at last year's London International Wine Fair actually).
Josep Ignaci Domènech showed his first wine here representing the 'Terra de Garnatxes' group, which is funded by half a dozen wineries including him. Catalunya has diverse vineyard areas running from the coast right up to 700-1000 m altitude (2300-3300 ft roughly); the Montsant DO region lies inland and not far from the city of Tarragona. Josep told us "there are 5837 ha (approx 14,500 acres) of Garnatxa in Catalunya," splitting down as about 3900 of red, 1780 white "...plus the three other Garnachas..." ('grey', 'furry' and ..?).

El Miracle Cava rosado Vincente Gandia - attractive fruity style with a touch of intense toasty yeast-lees character.
2011 Herencia Altés Benufet Garnatxa Blanca - soft rounded and oily with interesting aniseed flavours, nice food white.

Parés Baltà organic wine and Cava producer based in the Penedès region.
2011 Indigena white Garnatxa (11.5%) - from La Plana Molinera, Finca El Subal at 700m altitude. Juicy lees-y and light, attractive mineral side vs honeyed fruit, crisp and delicate actually.
2009 Hisenda Miret (Finca Cal Miret, 400m) - nice juicy Garnacha style with peppery liquorice notes, full bodied and grippy with a touch of class too.
(Tasted in a special 'Grenache room' at last year's London International Wine Fair).

More Catalan Garnatxa here.

06 February 2013

World Grenache Competition part 1: Spain, Sardinia, Australia, South Africa.

The first of its kind, I/they believe (? and set to become a regular event I hope), an international wine competition in celebration of one of my fav varieties, Grenache / Garnacha / Garnatxa / Cannonau: red, white, rosé and fortified wines. And absolutely why not, I hear you say. Ah, yes, Cannonau: it took me a while too to remember that Sardinia's Cannonau di Sardegna red is made from what they call Grenache!
I was on one of the tasting panels in Perpignan on 24th January; my table of tasters (two Spanish winemakers - erm, one Valencian, one Catalan - three French and yours truly) sampled and marked about 30 wines: one flight of Spanish rosés, one of Cannonau and one of Roussillon 'table' reds (my pick of the latter appear in part 2 of this report on my French Med Wine blog). Being held in Perpignan, there were naturally a lot of local entries, which is probably reflected in the amount of medal winners from this region (and some good wines of course). Then again, most of the world's Grenache is planted in France - split between the Rhone valley, Roussillon and Languedoc - and Spain, Garnacha's spiritual home (I have/found contradictory info disagreeing over whether Spain or France has the most!). There were also some entries from Australia (probably not as many as there could/should have been?) and South Africa (again, medal winners and my favs are below), accompanied by surprise samples from Brasil and Republic of Macedonia! But what about California? I believe the main criterion applied for the contest was for large-majority Grenache (red, white, grey or 'furry'...) wines, which perhaps also explains the dominance of the Roussillon and lack of Chateauneuf-du-Pape or Languedoc in the 'French category' and wines from Aus and SA (tends to be a lower % of the blend), although you'd still have expected more Rhone wines in the medal line-up.
Talking of which, this is where I might make myself unpopular. I counted 163 Gold and Silver medals including nine Trophy winners: out of only 364 wines tasted, that's nearly 45% of them, which is too high a proportion compared to other international competitions; and in fact OIV regulations, the organisation that dreamed up the frankly stupid 'official' system used, apparently state that "awards are limited to 30% of samples entered..." I've come across this system before, where you have to allocate a set amount of marks to all aspects of each wine, including e.g. colour and clarity as if that really matters when making a quality judgement. Especially since Grenache isn't naturally known as a variety with lots of rich colour (you can if you really extract it), compared to say Syrah or Cabernet. Anyway, this very long-winded methodology does at least add up to 100, but it's more generous - or the opposite - than the 100 point system used by some wine critics. Scoring works as follows: 84 to 87 Silver medal, Gold 87 to 92 and Trophy 92 to 100 (see what I mean). It's too easy to award too many or too few marks to a wine by adding them all up for each 'category' (visual, olfactory, mouth-feel, overall impression and totally subjective 'typicity'), as you're supposed to. So I judged them applying the 'traditional' 100-pointer in my mind while asking myself: "is this really a silver or gold wine?" Then did the silly math afterwards.
Rant over: you have to use some scoring system or other obviously. And I'm certainly not knocking any attempt to promote great wines made from Grenache from around the world. The nine 'trophy' winners were as follows, which include a fair few Vins Doux Naturels fortified reds and 'whites' from the Roussillon (red highlight = link to profile on my other blog):
Château de Péna Hors d'âge AOP Rivesaltes Tuilé, Roussillon.
Dom Brial 2010 AOP Rivesaltes Grenat, Roussillon.
Domaine Rossignol 2008 AOP Rivesaltes Ambré, Roussillon.
Albera En croisade Hors d'âge AOP Rivesaltes Ambré, Roussillon.
GT-G 2010 LePlan-Vermeersch AOP Côtes du Rhône Villages.
Lafou Els Amelers 2011 Roqueta DO Terra Alta white, Catalonia.
Saint Roch Kerbuccio 2011 Maison Lafage AOP Maury Sec, Roussillon.
Sartiglia 2011 Azienda Vinicola Attilio Contini DOC Cannonau di Sardegna (actually my top wine in our flight from Sardinia).
Sur Grains 2011 Domaine Boudau AOP Rivesaltes Grenat, Roussillon.

The full results are viewable here: www.grenachesdumonde.com.

My pick of the Spanish rosados and Cannonau di Sardegna reds (tasted in the competition blind) (will) feature in separate posts (click on highlighted links), along with a few succinct points plucked from the presentations given in the afternoon on Grenache and pen names in Sardinia, Aragon, Catalonia and Australia. Plus more wines worth mentioning sampled / quaffed that evening at a food & wine tasting bash or the previous night over dinner. Any medals awarded appear in brackets and/or my 100-point style score afterwards...
AND "WGC Part 2" including my favs from the Roussillon and Rhone Valley IS HERE, with the first outing, for me at least, of some exciting Maury Sec dry red wines (the appellation rules were amended from vintage 2011 to embrace 'dry' and fortified sweet reds from the same area based on Grenache)...

06 November 2012

Rioja: old and rare CVNE and Contino

I recently rediscovered and have just re-posted a rather nice Rioja blast from the past entitled "a tutored tasting of CVNE and Contino old and rare Riojas by winemaker Jesús Madrazo Mateo," (click there to view it) originally scribbled in 2001. Includes (at times slightly surreal) notes on elderly Viña Real and Imperial Gran Reserva reds and Contino Reservas with vintages going back to 1952. But quite a few from the best years of the 70s, 80s and 90s; as well as "an oddball finale" from 1939... Enjoy a little retro Rioja chic! Mind you, one or two of them were towards dodgy though.

16 August 2012

Spain: Catalan "wines of the moment"

Specialist Spanish wine importer Oliver Burridge & Co. (based in the UK but they also sell to wine merchants in Ireland; click on that link to go to their site) has just added to their burgeoning selection from Catalan country, including two Cavas, white and rosé, and a few reds and a white from the lesser-known regions of Terra Alta and Montsant. These two wine areas can both be found in Tarragona province (about 100 km/60 miles southwest of Barcelona) on the higher ground (the red 'Cims del Montsant' below means MS Peaks) away from the coast, and I've featured three wines from here. The red and white from the Edetaria winery are particularly sexy, made from black and white Grenache or Garnacha or Garnatxa Negra and Garnatxa Blanca in Catalan. And the two Cavas tasting-noted and reviewed are made by Capesa and are pretty typical good examples of this tasty refreshing sparkling wine.

Cava Olivella Ferrari Brut Rosé Capesa (mostly Trepat, 11.5% alc.) - tasty refreshing style, fruity and elegant with lovely fine frothy mousse; has delicate oat biscuit flavours vs red fruits and rose aromas, drier than some rosé Cavas with crisp lively finish. £11.50 Spirited Wines.
Cava Olivella Ferrari Brut Reserva Capesa (Macabeu, Xarel.lo, Parellada; 11.5% alc.) - subtle delicate style with refreshing fizz and mineral notes vs very light toasted almond and floral fruit, gets even more refreshing and quaffable as you sip it. £10.50 Spirited Wines, Merchant Vintners, Flourish and Prosper.

2010 Cims del Montsant Garnatxa i Carinyena Cellers Baronia del Montsant (13.5%) - better than their 2011 Codols del Montsant Garnacha (a bit over-extracted and lacking roundness), this one is smoother with a layer of vanilla/coconut oak, quite lush dark and spicy fruit with dry vs rounded tannins. £11 Spirited Wines.

2011 Via Terra Garnatxa Negra Edetaria, Terra Alta (14.5%) - rich punchy and peppery, black cherry/berry with fig and liquorice notes and savoury black olive edges; light touch of coconut/vanilla oak but it's well done, lovely dry/firm vs ripe texture, powerful yet balanced. Nice lingering dark fruit vs meaty savoury side. Yum. £11.50
2011 Via Terra Garnatxa Blanca Edetaria, Terra Alta (13.5%) - attractive juicy pear notes vs nutty oily side with mineral bite, a tad honeyed and weighty too vs crisp and juicy, nice subtle length and style with lingering almond and pear flavours. £11 Guildford Wine Company; The Wine Library; Spirited Wine (with own label Vinya d'Irto); Liquid Pleasure.

Lots more Cava and Spanish wine HERE.

12 April 2012

Spain: Terras Gauda - Galicia and Castilla León

A batch of worthwhile-mentioning bottles, and the story behind them naturally, came my way recently from this, what appears to be go-getting Spanish wine group. It features three wineries stationed across northern Spain: Bodegas Terras Gauda from Rías Baixas in Galicia (the far northwestern corner bordering northern Portugal), Bodegas Pittacum in the Bierzo region (next door to the latter heading eastwards, the most north-westerly part of Castilla y León province) and Quinta Sardonia in better-known Ribera del Duero (still in Castilla y León, heading east and a little south towards the centre of Spain). Here's a hopefully enlightening smidgen of blurb on each place plus my notes/reviews of half-a-dozen of their generally tasty wines, even if occasionally a little overambitious on the oak front for the reds: more info @ terrasgauda.com.

Bodegas Terras Gauda

Established at the end of the groovy 80s, this fairly sizeable winery, in the heart of Spanish white wine country, is encompassed by 160 hectares (an expansive 400 acres) of rolling green vineyards lying in the Val do Rosal "close to the mouth of the River Miño." The guys here have apparently been doing some serious research on clones of this region's star grape variety, Albariño (also found just over the border in Portugal as Alvarinho), and indigenous yeasts (yawn, yes, but it's useful if you're trying to make good quality wine). As well as flaunting a claim to fame for resurrecting an almost lost local white variety called Caíño, which I'm informed is present in two of the wines featured below although isn't mentioned on the labels. US retail price is approx $24; they're also targeting the UK, so I'll update this with details of where and how much when I know more.

2010 La Mar Rías Baixas (Albariño & Loureiro, 12.5% alc) - much deeper golden/white colour compared to the 2011s with exotic apricot and honeysuckle aromas/flavours, rounded and quite fat/oily texture vs lightly ‘chalky’ and citrus tones to finish; shades of a 'Viognier/Riesling' mix! Drinking nicely now.
2011 Abadia de San Campo Rías Baixas (Albariño, 12.5%) - lovely ‘Sauvignon blanc/Riesling’ style-cross showing attractive citrus gooseberry and blackcurrant leaf / celery notes, intense gummy yeast-lees edges then nice crisp vs oily finish. Good.
2011 O Rosal Rías Baixas (Albariño, 12.5%) - similar zesty citrus and aromatic ‘gummy’ profile vs more exotic peachy tones, more intense and concentrated too with nice oily vs crisp mouth-feel; enticing ripe apricot-tinged fruit vs zesty bite, plenty of lingering flavours and good ‘chalky/mineral length. Hints of 'Australian Riesling' with more natural crispness and intensity, delicious dry white wine.

Bodegas Pittacum

One of the pioneers of the possibly up-and-coming, and certainly very beautiful Bierzo region (I went on a trip here a couple of years ago: click here to read that feature), Pittacum is a relatively small 8-ha estate (20 acres), although cellar and vineyards are currently being expanded and upgraded. They have lots of old Mencía vines planted here, an intriguingly successful local red variety, "aged between 50 and 80 years old" according to their blurb; as well as Garnacha (Grenache) which is the base of a newly launched label called La Prohibición.

2007 Pittacum Bierzo (Mencía, 8 months in French and American oak, 14.5% alc) - toasty smoky and dark chocolate aromas layered with rich ripe black cherry fruit, dark choc texture and flavours run onto the palate with lush rounded mouth-feel; dry vs 'sweet' tannin/fruit/oak profile, powerful too with attractive developing savoury/earthy notes. Quite oaky but it does have substance and silky texture vs roasted coffee and bitter choc tones/twist. Drinking well now although should last a few years, becoming more savoury and liquorice-tinged after a day or two open vs ripe concentrated peppery fruit. Approx $24.
2007 Pittacum Aurea Bierzo (Mencía, aged 14 months in oak, 14.5% alc) - sourced from a 100+ year-old vineyard called Finca Areixola. Shows a fair coating of coconut/chocolate oak at first, moving on to a thick-textured rich wine with attractive smooth vs dry tannins; those touches of oak grain and coco/choc flavours did melt into the wine after it was open for a day, revealing more blue and black fruits, spices and a tad of fresh bite even too. Tasty with lamb meatballs actually.

Quinta Sardonia

Found in the blink-and-miss-it village of Sardón del Duero, about half-an-hour east of Valladolid, this 20 ha/45 acre estate lies "close to the banks of the River Duero (= Douro) at an altitude of 2500 to 2750 feet (750-850 metres)," which must have a moderating effect on otherwise sunny temperatures (although it's cold here in winter). They claim to have identified 11 different parcels and apply biodynamic techniques "to achieve balance between soil, climate, variety and natural environment." French winemaker Jerome Bougnaud and local resident Dane Peter Sisseck (of Pingus fame) are called upon as consultants.

2007 QS (52% Tinto Fino = Tempranillo, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon plus Merlot, Syrah, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, kitchen sink... 16 months in 50/50 new/old French oak) - punchy 15% alcohol vs lush rounded palate, layers of smoky dark chocolate oak merge with darker fruit, maturing meaty edges and earthy/peppery tones; big mouthful of wine coated with bitter choc tannins giving grippy vs rounded mouth-feel, long powerful finish suffused with lush fruit, oak and enticing savoury flavours too. Wow, quite demanding and would suit red meat or game best.

04 September 2011

Belfast Wine Festival, the aftermath…

Belfast's first Wine Festival appeared to go swingingly last Bank Holiday Monday at St. George's market, which proved a perfectly satisfactory venue for the show (light enough, laid-back, has a lived-in food & drinkie feel to it). As I mentioned in my previous post, Olly Smith was on hand to liven up a couple of tastings with his usual enthusiasm or throw in wine matching tips for the chef demos that also took place live. There were a few good food stands there too, including Spanish caterer Tapitas who did a tasty wee platter of tapas for a fiver (paella, cured ham, chorizo, tortilla...) and the Co. Down Honey Farm (Crossgar) matching it with goats' cheese, sweet wines etc.
One small criticism perhaps: seems a tad mean to charge £16.50 entry, then another £5 if people wanted to try a further wave of ten wines (and then another fiver for the big samplers...). I appreciate the organiser would want to make a decent profit and it's not wise to let people 'try' as many as they like... But why not, e.g. put out more tip-buckets and encourage punters that they don't have to drain every drop in their glass (naïve, moi)?! I've knocked up notes on my twenty-something favourite wines deemed to be very good for one reason or another: post a comment if you agree or disagree, or with yours…

Torres' Fransola vineyard, Upper Penedès

Italy: 2009 Primo Bianco Vermentino di Sardegna (13% alc.) – lovely example of the usually pleasant-surprise Vermentino grape variety, with floral honeysuckle aromas and peachy lightly tropical fruit notes, weighty vs elegant mouth-feel, tasty and intense finish. £10.99
France: 2009 Patrick Piuze Petit Chablis (Chardonnay, 12.5% alc.) – riper and fruitier (and less expensive) than a still good 2008 Chablis on show (by Domaine des Marronniers), this has nice classic creamy vs quite ‘mineral’ profile, attractive juicy fruit with good bite and zest. £14.99
2010 La Croix Gratiot Roussanne, Domaine Sainte Croix, Languedoc (13.5%) – quite rich with perfumed honey blossom and subtle toasty / yeast lees edges, nice balance of oomph and interesting flavours as the Roussanne grape often delivers. £9.49
South Africa: 2010 Paul Cluver Noble Late Harvest Riesling, Elgin (the most southerly region on the coast, 10.5% alc.) - gorgeous linseed-oily and honeyed tones, rich sweet palate with dried apricot, pineapple, honey and citrus flavour combo vs attractive underlying fresh acidity. £12.49 half-bottle.
Spain: Torres 2009 Waltraud Riesling, Penedès (13%) - Torres must be the only one in Spain to plant Riesling (?), up in the hills northwest of Barcelona (see photo above taken from torres.es), and what a result! Floral 'mineral' style, quite intense and definitely Riesling-like showing hints of ripe citrus and oily development on nose/palate with enticing 'chalky' bite. £9.99

Rosé: Torres 2010 De Casta rosado, Catalunya (13.5%) - much simpler wine than above, and totally different of course, but this typical Catalan rosé is always enjoyable vintage after vintage. Ripe perfumed raspberry and rose petal notes, quite full-on mouth-feel with rounded vs crisp finish. £7.99

Italy: 2010 Gran Sasso Montepulciano d'Abruzzo (the grape, the region) - tasty chunky red with liquorice tones and hints of coconut, powerful firm palate with well-integrated oak and ripe vs dry finish, good stuff. £9.99
2005 Allegrini La Poja, Verona (100% Corvina variety from a single vineyard, 14.5%) - complex maturing nose with savoury and old-wood tones, has a fair kick and acidity too lending nice bite to its grip, quite fine actually with attractive maturing fruit. £57!
2007 Allegrini Amarone Classico (same area as above, different grapes and winemaking 15.5%) - full-on style with maturing fig, date and liquorice fruit; grippy vs sweet-fruit palate, pretty classic Amarone style, tastes rounder and older than the above, funnily enough. £49
South Africa: 2010 Ernie Els Big Easy, Western Cape (Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Viognier; 14.5%) - some varietal blend that, giving a punchy spicy red with herby minty tones vs dark fruits and liquorice, concentrated solid mouth-feel with 'sweet/savoury' profile and plenty of flavour; very South African but 'modern' if you follow me. £14.99
2008 Glenelly Cabernet Sauvignon, Stellenbosch (14.5%) - hints of coconut oak layered with concentrated 'inky' cassis fruit, quite extracted tannins vs rich liquorice too, big smoky and lush vs tangy finish. Pretty serious stuff, successful SA / Bordeaux combo (the owner was a top chateau owning nob from the latter). £10.99
2008 Glenelly Lady May Stellenbosch (91% Cabernet Sauvignon & 9% Petit Verdot, to be precise! 14.5% alc.) - even more Pauillac leaning, leafy vs spicy new-oak edges, concentrated firm and tight palate vs tasty long finish and lingering 'sweet/savoury' fruit. Wow. I'd perhaps prefer a touch more ripeness / less austere style although classy stuff. £25
2008 Spice Route Mourvèdre (14.5%) - spicy minty nose with a bit of slightly clunky oak, this has good substance though with again those herbal red pepper tones vs punchy dark fruit palate and chocolate oak texture. £9.99

All the wines above were supplied by Nick's Wines (Belfast, on-line) / Harry's Road Fine Wines (wholesale to restaurants). 
These reds below are available from Mundus Wine Company (Belfast):
Australia: 2008 Crackerjack Riverbend Shiraz/Viognier, Victoria (14%) - oak spice and black pepper notes plus sweet black cherry and blackberry; rounded mouth-feel with sweet fruit vs oomph and dry grip, aromatic too on the finish and fairly classy in the end. £11.99
2008 Nick Faldo Selection Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra/South Australia (made by Katnook Estate, 13.5%) - cassis and coconut on the nose, quite intense palate with 'sweet/savoury' fruit, attractive tannins and punch vs tasty maturing and subtle too.
2007 O'Leary Walker Pinot Noir, Adelaide Hills/S. Australia (12.5%) - elegant and juicy with typical 'sweet/savoury' perfumed Pinot style, fresh bite and a bit of oomph too, quite fine and long on the finish. £15.99
2003 O'Leary Walker The Ghan Sleeper Reserve Shiraz, Southern Flinders Ranges/S. Aus (15%) - delicious maturing meaty nose with liquorice and spice too, complex and big chewy mouthful, lush and concentrated, powerful yet with soft tannins; tasty foodie red with lots of flavours. £25

And a trio of tantalizing reds from Nouveau Wines (Groomsport):
Argentina: Pascual Toso 2009 Malbec, Mendoza region (14%) - spicy and punchy, hints of oak layered with red and black fruits, rounded tannins and 'sweet/savoury' finish. £10.25
South Africa: Simonsig Pinotage 2008 - smoky maturing complex nose with liquorice notes too, lively tangy mouth-feel vs lusher smoother side, powerful finish with 'earthy'/'tar' characters even! £10.25
Spain: 2008 Carlos Serres Old Vines Tempranillo, Rioja (13%) - light oak tones enhanced by developing savoury meaty and dried fruit, intense concentrated palate with rich maturing finish. Classy. £9.99

France: Chateau de la Ligne, Bordeaux - owned by N. Ireland businessman Terry Cross, more info and stockists @ chateaudelaligne.com - 2008: slightly leafy blackcurrant nose, quite smooth and tasty, fairly light but has substance too for not a great vintage. 2007: also a difficult year in Bordeaux weather-wise, this is a touch richer and firmer with a bit more oak, well-balanced though and more closed up than the 08 actually. £12.99

Finally, back to Spain and a couple of Torres reds:
2009 San Valentín Garnacha (14%) - aromatic ripe Grenache style with juicy cherry fruit and liquorice, soft vs punchy mouth-feel; attractive sweet vs dry texture, powerful yet very drinkable! £7.99
2007 Celeste Crianza, Ribero del Duero (relatively new wine and territory for Torres, this is probably mostly made from Tempranillo in this increasingly trendy region of northern-central Spain; 13.5% alc.) - scented cedar-y aromas with ripe berry and cassis fruit, quite lush and structured yet elegant and stylish, even if a little too Rioja like. £12.99

Anyway, enough of my ramblings: see you there next year. I might think about doing a tutored tasting or something like that, if the organiser is game on. Watch this futuristic space...

28 November 2010

Couple of Cavas

Both of these excellent value (well, in Spain at least) trad-method (bottle-fermented) sparklers were acquired and enjoyed following a little raid across the border:
Freixenet Excelencia Brut Nature (11.5% alc. Grapes: Macabeu, Xarel.lo, Parellada) - not sure if this Freixenet label makes it out of the country? Dry crisp style with elegant almond biscuit nuances, floral vs oily touches and light refreshing finish. €3-€4
Bach Rosé Brut (12%, Monastrell/Garnacha/Pinot Noir) - very attractive red-fruity profile with bready chocolatey edges, rounded and off-dry but still quite crisp and lively though. €3.50

18 August 2010

Fizz of the moment: Bach Cava

Bach Extrísimo Cava Brut Nature (varieties: Macabeu, Xarel.lo, Parellada. 11.5% alc.) - not the greatest "Brut Natural" style Cava (very dry, no added dosage) but one of the most consistently brilliant value: I've tried it several times before and recently bought a bottle in Spain on offer for under €3! Attractive combo of floral bready and light oat-biscuit notes, with hints of honeyed almond flavours too; followed by refreshingly appley, crisp and dry finish. Good with light summer food or very easy quaffing as an "apero." Bach also makes a delicious dry still rosé ("rosat" or "rosado") and is part of codorniu.com. Lots more Cavas in my WineWriting.com Cava guide here. Photo from bach.es.

26 June 2010

Spain: Llopart Cava - Upper Penedès

Or "Alt" in Catalan: the Can Llopart wine estate is indeed lost up in the Penedes hills a few kilometres south of Sant Sadurni (and about 45 minutes west of Barcelona, or two hours if you time it wrong traffic wise like I did) with vineyards planted from 370 to 420 metres altitude (1300 ft above sea level). The elegantly landscaped winery and old family villa lying a little higher up, surrounded by 85 ha (210 acres) of handsome terraced vineyards (planted with Catalan and French varieties), do make a pretty picture as you'll see from the sumptuous photos on their website (link at bottom. This peaceful spot has lovely views all around, and you quickly forget you're not that far from the not-so-pretty western side of Barcelona with its big airport, heavy industry, towering new development etc.
Llopart is still very much a family affair - they all appear to have a role whether office, cellar or vineyard - as I discovered in late June 2010 when tasting with Jesi Llopart i Llopart (the full family name) and soon met her brother and dad. There's a 14th Century Latin document displayed on the wall mentioning an ancestor (Leopardi, whose name's used for one of their Cava cuvées: see notes below) who was allocated some vineyards here; and they first made bottle-fermented wines in the late 19th Century. Fascinating stuff, I hear you say, but what are the wines like now? I first tried their Cava range back in 2008 and was very impressed, so it was good to have the opportunity to call in and taste them again in situ; confirming they really do give you quality and style (and hence the prices starting at €10 a bottle in Spain).
"We're now almost entirely certified organic," Jesi added, "but we've always only ever used sulphur and copper sulphate treatments (sanctioned by organic viticulture regs) in the vineyard." She continued: "We usually start picking in mid August, which is later than elsewhere in the region... the Cavas are aged from 18 months to five years on the lees, with an average of about three years (i.e. longer than most), and we shake up the lees half way through (adds extra flavour complexity)." Their Brut Nature styles (= "zero dosage"), which I'm particularly fond of if done well, are very dry and even the Brut Cavas have half as much residual sugar (RS) as many producers' (and Champagnes too, by the way). US importer Fine Estates from Spain in Massachusetts lists the Leopardi and rosé; and some of their wines are available in Belgium, Germany and Japan (but not the UK at the moment unfortunately).

2009 Vitis (Xarel.lo, Subirat Parent, Muscat 12% alc.) - juicy lees-tinged and aromatic with banana and grape notes; turning to greener fruit edges with crisp juicy and gummy mouth-feel, quite zingy finish although not so dry. 80+
2009 Clos dels Fossils (mostly Chardonnay + Xarel.lo 12.5% alc.) - very light creamy oak vs peachy and slightly exotic fruit; zesty and crisp with subtle lees notes, refreshing and quite elegant finish. 85+
2007 Cava Reserva Brut Nature (Macabeu Xarel.lo Parellada Chardonnay, 11.5% alc., 2 g/l RS, 2+ years lees-ageing) - subtle toasted oat cake vs aniseed notes; clean crisp and intense palate with attractive subtle acidity, turns a touch toastier and richer to finish vs crisp and very refreshing. 89+
2004 Leopardi Gran Reserva Brut Nature (Macabeu Xarel.lo Parellada Chardonnay, 12% alc., 4+ years, 2 g/l RS) - enticingly toasty oily nose, richer and "sweeter" profile than above (although not sweet) vs still very crisp vs oily finish; has more flavour perhaps but somehow a bit flatter too in the end, lacks the poise of some of the others. 89+?
2005 Imperial Gran Reserva Brut (Macabeu Xarel.lo Parellada, 3.5+ years, 5 g/l RS) - pretty toasty with fruit cake and chocolate aromas/flavours vs fine and intense with refreshing acidity; quite mouth-coating and textured yet still surprisingly nimble with only 11.5% alc. Nice balance and class. 90+
2004 Ex-Vite Gran Reserva Brut (old vine Xarel.lo & Macabeu, 12% alc., 5+ years incl. some barrel ageing and reserve wines, 6 g/l RS) - rich and creamy nose and palate, oily and rounded with yeasty bite and again fresh acid underneath; delicious oat cake and chocolate finish vs elegant cut, wow. A foodie Cava: dessert or main course even I'd say! 94
2006 Microcosmos Reserva Rosé Brut Nature (85% Pinot Noir 15% Monastrell, 12% alc., 2+ years, 2 g/l RS) - attractive mix of yeasty intensity, ripe red fruit cocktail and cherry cake; tight crisp mouth-feel with light red fruit bitter twist, long and lively finish. Delicious. 92+
2007 Rosé Brut (Monastrell Garnacha Pinot Noir, 11.5% alc., 18+ months, 7 g/l RS) - lovely fruity style, a tad sweeter than above although still lively and quite crisp; nice strawberry and oat biscuit to finish vs intense and refreshing. 89+
2006 Castell de Subirats Tinto Selección (Merlot, Ull de Llebre = Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon 13.5% alc.) - touches of coconut and vanilla oak on the nose vs maturing savoury notes, smoky vs cassis and soy sauce too on the palate; fairly concentrated and soft textured vs a bit of grip with nice balance; attractive style with "sweet/savoury" finish and underlying oomph too. 88+

01 June 2009

Undiscovered Spain: Castilla y León

"The vast evocative Castilla & León region, which lies roughly between Madrid and the north coast stretching almost from Rioja across to Galicia and Portugal, isn't exactly "undiscovered," for Spanish wine lovers at least. Hip Ribera del Duero needs little introduction and other areas such as Toro (for reds) and Rueda (for whites), which are found to the east, south and west of Valladolid, appear to have gained some ground in the recognition stakes in the UK and US. But on this winery tour..."
CLICK HERE for the full works (at the bottom of this long Spanish archive page)...

"Saucy winery fresco @ Zamoranas"
by Brett Jones

21 March 2001

Spain: CVNE and Contino old and rare Rioja

Tutored tasting of CVNE and Contino old and rare Riojas
by winemaker Jesús Madrazo Mateo

St. Stephens Club, London SW1, 21 March 2001

"I was chuffed bordering on surprised at my apparent organisation surrounding three days of events from 20 – 22 March: train ticket from Manchester purchased sufficiently in advance to get the £20 fare, several tastings slotting neatly into place around the big Spanish affair including a tutored Italian on the Wednesday morning, if I/they got my/their skates on. Then the above, last minute-ish invitation landed in my inbox (I’ll resist any facetious speculation about second-tier bums-on-seats). I thought about it for perhaps 1.6 seconds – sorry ICE (Italian trade office) but I guess I’m a tasting-slut. So, time to squeeze in the Swiss first... “I’m afraid, sir, we’re going to have a problem… you can’t wear jeans upstairs,” informs the ‘bouncer’ at the Institute of Directors. Pity they didn’t mention that on the invitation, methinks. Still, there’s nothing like some time to kill in a wet and miserable Westminster to enhance your anticipation (caught a wet and miserable cold afterwards, from memory). On to St. Stephens Club – looks a bit posh. I wonder if you can wear jeans…"

Viña Real Gran Reservas – sourced from their vineyards close to El Ciego in Rioja Alavesa in the north of the region. (E = excellent, VG = very good and G = good, according to official vintage rating by the Rioja Consejo Regulador. Approx retail prices per bottle indicated after notes.)

1952 (E) – still has amazing colour, browning and red brick but good intensity for its age. First bottle was very mushroomy; the cork had fungi on it. The second was totally different with smoky and balsamic tones, a bit oxidised and ‘cheesy’ but delivering nice sweet (dried) red fruits and a touch of earthiness. Silky dried red fruits in the mouth with some dry tannin on the finish coupled with light, mature liquorice flavours. Quite good length but has the fruit gone? In retrospect, not really as it did actually develop and open up after 2 hours! Paradoxically, it doesn’t taste as old as you’d expect. Jesús commented that he believes they used much more Graciano in the varietal blend than they do now (these wines are mostly Tempranillo). (£150+)
1964 (E) – showing greater depth of colour in the middle with brown/orange outside. Beautiful classic mature Rioja nose with plenty of volume of intense ‘cheesy’, leathery dried fruits; concentrated red fruits on the palate give way to liquorice with a bit of alcohol on the finish and moderate tannins still adding grip. Lovely length, the fruit is still rich and lingering. (£80-85)
1970 (VG) – not as deep in appearance as above but perhaps displaying similar age character; pungent and leathery on the nose the fruit is less obvious. Fuller in the mouth with more extract and firmer tannins on the finish, again liquoricey but perhaps it’s more closed (or less concentrated). However the flavours certainly linger with warm alcohol and higher acidity. (£72-78)
1975 (VG) – looks older and thinner with odd herbaceous asparagus aromas; this carries through to the palate but supported by some liquorice and surprisingly cooked fruit. Firm tannins rather contrast and jar with rapidly maturing fruit. (£35-45)
1981 (VG) – appears quite brown and light with some red in the middle; caramelized sweet liquorice aromas but fruit is also a bit reticent (and minty too). Smooth vanilla texture enhanced by red fruits but it’s beginning to oxidise; fading tannins manage to keep it up on the finish for the moment. (£50-60)
1982 (E) – much deeper and less advanced in colour; bit 'dusty' on the nose but rather closed although there are hints of game and spice. Rich and concentrated in the mouth, again liquorice and red fruits, with lovely length and quite firm finish; this still needs time! (£92-98)
1991 (VG) – showing just a hint of browning, the first bottle is a little more farmyard-y than you might like (we conclude it’s brettanomyces.) but full with sweet oak. The second has greater volume on the nose, rich and gamey but lots of sweet fruit too; lush and smooth, big concentrated fruit with liquoricey hints and great intensity and weight. Moderate to firm tannins but silky and good acidity too. The ’91 is made from 80% Tempranillo, 15% Garnacha and Mazuelo, and 5% Graciano. 5 days fermentation in stainless vats controlled at below 33 degrees, followed by malo-lactic fermentation in barrel and 4 years ageing in American and French oak. (£18-25)

Comments – the winemaking is very similar between VR and Imperial; it’s a question of "source material" determining the style, although perhaps they do a slightly longer maceration with VR. Both are racked every 6 months or so. All are fermented with indigenous yeasts and the malo usually starts naturally too. 

Imperial Gran Reservas – made from 50+ year old vines yielding around 4 tonnes/ha; 85-90% Tempranillo, about 10% Graciano and a tad of Mazuelo (all Rioja Alta fruit from their high vineyards around Villalba northwest of Haro.) 

1970 – quite intense big colour but browning a touch; full and gamey nose, attractively pungent but with plenty of dried fruits too. Lively ripe red fruits in the mouth; concentrated, smoky and herby and offering quite firm tannins on its sound length. Lovely. (£65-75)
1975 – looks older than above, very perfumed with a hint of mushroom but also sweet red fruits, which carry through to the palate; rich and velvety with concentrated cherry and liquorice plus a tad earthy too, super length and quite firm but less grip than the ’70; fair acidity and alcohol complement the finish. (£35-45)
1982 – big colour and still fairly youthful, powerful nose delivering lots of wild fruits with floral and spicy nuances; getting gamey but ripe and sweet too, reasonable grip coupled with nice fruit, weight and length. Very good but perhaps lacks the elegance/class of above, then again it might develop better. (£85-95)
1987 (VG) – showing just a hint of age, surprisingly intense colour; full-on ripe fruit with vanilla wood lurking in the background and light ‘cheesiness’ too. Rich and earthy, lots of fruit to counter the oak with gamier finish, firm dry tannins and high-ish acidity. Needs time. (£32-38)
1991 – similar colour to above, perhaps a shade more orange; quite sweet fruit on the nose and oaky with it, but that sweet fruit is quite concentrated in the mouth although actually oxidising a bit too; quite firm and long with some noticeable acidity, but lacks elegance somehow. (£20-25)
1994 (E) – very deep and full, red/purple; quite closed aromas, a tad herby and minty with black cherry fruit. Fiery and rich, very concentrated with monster tannins, oak and acidity too and bold elongated finish. A long way to go yet! (£25-30)
1995 (E) Real de Asúa Reserva – pretty youthful looking but less intense than above, perfumed toasty vanilla oak and up-front black cherry fruit followed by more wood, extracted and fruity. Attractive now but lacks elegance (nearly 14% too). Fermented in barrel and left for 5 weeks in total, then transferred to (more) French oak for malo. (£40-50)

Contino Reservas – the first single-estate Rioja they produced, the grapes come from a 62 ha property near Laserna in the Alavesa, which is owned 50/50 by the family and CVNE. The old (11th Century) farmhouse and cellars were renovated in 1974 and a new winery fitted in situ to re-create a ‘Chateau’ concept. Vintage is usually earlier here than elsewhere in Rioja due to the "special microclimate" formed by proximity to the river and vineyard aspect; combine this with old vines (some 70 years) and low yields and the result is higher fruit extract, acidity and alcohol, we were told. The wines are matured for 2 years in a mix of French and American oak.

1974 (G) – quite orangey/brown in colour; gamey nose, lightly herbaceous too, with mature liquoricey notes; smooth and mature, a little dried out actually but there’s some red fruit there blended with dried herbs, then finishing with overly dry tannins. (n/a)
1982 – deep dark red gives way to a shade of brown/orange; pretty farmy and rustic on the nose, warm and pruney with big fruit concentration balanced by maturing earthy tones; quite high alcohol, firm tannins, fair acidity, great structure and length with lingering liquorice fruit. Fantastic, needs more time as it’s just beginning to open up. (£92-98)
1985 (G) – (1st bottle) similar colour to above but perhaps less intense and appearing a tad ‘older’, rather closed with light leathery aromas. The fruit is resiny followed by chunky tannins and grip with liquorice undertones, not sure if it has the concentration to survive those tannins.
2nd bottle is more open and gamey on the nose, it’s not as hard on the palate with richer fruit to balance those tannins; still attractively resiny and liquorice but perhaps fades quickly in the end compared to the alcohol and firmness of tannins. (£45-55)
1994 – quite youthful complexion with maybe less depth than the Imperial; rich dark cherry fruit reveals itself, quite peppery and leathery too but distinctly fruity (although with baked edge); firm but ripe tannins, hot-ish alcohol and long finish. (£25-30)
1996 (VG) – deep purple (“…smoke on the water”… sorry, couldn’t resist it), chocolatey oak and damsons on the nose; lots of sweet fruit, ripe and concentrated and also juicy with dry but ripe tannins to balance, finishing quite smoothly with reasonable length. Very nice now, maybe lacks finesse to go long term. (£18-25)
1996 Viña del Olivo Reserva (a ‘special project’ experiment using 60% French oak, 39% American and 1% Hungarian, medium-toast) – purpley black colour, pretty toasty aromas but fruit is rich underneath. Ripe and sweet, the spicy oak is softened by attractive fruit; moderate grip with quite high acidity and alcohol but good length. Lacks subtlety perhaps but style is towards in-your-face ‘modern’; some bitterness from the oak (?) on the finish (must be the 1% Hungarian!) (£40-50)

Oddball finale – 1939 (a ‘standard’ vintage apparently) white Rioja (made from Malvasia and Viura late harvested in December, re-corked in 1970 with 15% of wine from that vintage added): It’s mushroom-y, lightly oxidised, showing coconut oak and alcohol / volatile notes on the nose, quite intense with a touch of botrytis rot character too! Oxidised undertones in the mouth but also plenty of citrus fruits and dried apricots, just a bit of sweetness with quite high acidity giving back some freshness, plus actually a little wood tannin too! Weird but wonderful.

Further tit-bits of info:
CVNE farms 530 ha of vineyards making it one of the biggest vineyard owners in Rioja; the highest yields are around 6 tonnes/ha (so what? Yields huh...). A new winery was finished for the ’91 harvest at the original bodega in Haro, extending capacity to enable them to vinify separately by grape variety, vineyard and quality. Just to show off, they’re building another one at Assa close to the Ebro not far from Logroño, where production will start from this year’s vintage. Fruit from the river vineyards close to Torremontalbo are used for CVNE Reservas. Jesús Madrazo Mateo is a fifth generation descendant of the Real de Asúa brothers, joint founders of CVNE in 1879.
UK stockists include La Vigneronne (London SW7), Lay & Wheeler (Colchester), Berry Bros & Rudd, selected branches of Bottoms Up, William Morton (Glasgow), SWIG (NW3) and Nickolls & Perks (Stourbridge).


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