STILL UNDER THE RADAR SPANISH GEMS

This particular traditional Rioja house has been a part of our set for at least fifteen years as well as being one of the prime grabbers for home ‘research’. You may not have heard of it under its formal name Ramon de Ayala Lete e Hijos Vina Santurnia Rioja. You quite possibly haven’t heard of it at all. We simply call it Vina Santurina. We have consistently carried one or more of the Crianza, Reserva, and Grand Reserva bottlings for a long time.

You likely haven’t read about it either unless you are one of those rare folks that reads archived wine review magazines. We have not been able to find anything more recently than 3 years ago in the Wine Spectator and, mind you, these weren’t the 100-pointers, usually grabbing high 80s to low 90s scores from the critics when they were mentioned at all. At this point you might be wondering why we are talking about them.

The simple story is that, while these are not the wine version of ‘super models’, they are character-filled, honest, classically rendered wines that deliver every time at prices that are pretty easy to swallow. Familiar notes of plum, cranberry, spice, leather, and vanilla play at every level. While they have that engaging Rioja muskiness and dusty note to the finish, they tend to be riper, more substantial, and fuller-bodied than your garden variety Rioja.

These folks are traditional to the core, as in organic farming (unless some seriously bad weather dictates otherwise) and even some foot-trodding in the cellar. The wines exude great authenticity will still delivering an ample blast of fruit. The Viña Santurnia Rioja Crianza 2016is a plumper-than-normal version of this wine. It is their best crianza we can recall. We usually play the reserva and gran reserva bottlings but this plays at that level qualitatively this time around. Plenty of dark cherry and red plum with notes of spice, coffee, sweet earth and vanilla. Made from 100% Tempranillo from vines planted between 1986 and 1998, sourced from both Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa, it is a lot of wine for the dinero and accessible now though there is no hurry.

Given the producer and vintage, the performance of the crianza wasn’t as big a surprise as this one. While 2008 isn’t necessarily considered an epic vintage, we have had a lot of very successful wines. But few have shown the plushness, roundness and flesh of this one. The Viña Santurnia Rioja Gran Reserva 2008 from a character standpoint is the reasonable upgrade from the delicious crianza, though more refined, resolved, better balanced, and classier. It is one of the better 2008s we can recall, and as you know we deal with a lot of bodegas. It’s the classic Spanish bargain of a high quality red with bottle age for under $30. This one is a blend of Tempranillo 90%, Mazuelo 5% and Graciano 5% that sees the traditional 24 months in a mixture of French and American oak.

We have been selling these wines for a long time as we said. But more importantly they are regular visitors to our own table as we appreciate quality and value as much as anyone. The wine media doesn’t tell you everything and some labels get overlooked simply because they don’t come from from some high profile, big budget importer. However these deliver where it counts, in your glass.

MEURSAULT’S NEXT BIG THING?

The relatively new importer that brings in this exciting Meursault domaine states that he believes this is the first time the wine has been in the country.  We cannot speak to that but can tell you this is our first go-round with this house and what a find it appears to be!  The domaine is centered in the village of Meursault and current winemaker/grower Francois Buisson represents the fifth generation at the helm of this estate comprised of a mere 8 acres of vines spread across 14 different appellations.

The style of winemaking here is based on what the vintage delivers.  There is no specific ‘stamp’ the winemaker feels must be present stylistically but rather they guide the wine to achieve what Nature has given it through minimal intervention.  Francois is sensitive to the vineyard and the ecosystem.  They plow rather than use herbicides and, while they might use a synthetic product in the case of some specific vineyard issue, are generally organic in treatments and harvest everything by hand. 

These wines have classic Meursault character of high-toned minerality, hazelnut, dried honey and crème brulee in the nose to varying degrees.  To us that is the signature of the appellation.   Stylistically these all come in towards the racier end of the spectrum with plenty of sleek fruit sitting atop refined acidity, plenty of energy and deceptive extract.

The Buisson-Battault Bourgogne Blanc 2016 shows its colors out of the gate.  The fruit is sourced from the Les Clous Perrons and les Magnys lieu-dits. The vine age ranges from 15-65 years of age and the wine is aged 1 year in barrel, 10% of which is new oak.  As Bourgognes actually sourced from Meursault terroir go, you can pay a lot for something from a Coche Dury or Roulot.  This one delivers that identifiably classic profile and, at $29.98, is a relative bargain for the juice inside the bottle.

The Buisson-Battault Meursault Vieilles Vignes 2016 comes from two lieu dits, Les Malpoiriers and Les Pellans, that are on opposite sides of the village of Meursault.  They weren’t kidding about the ‘old vines’ (vieilles vgines) as these were planted in 1930 and 1935.  The nose is a classic tapestry of brioche, honey, buttered toast and toffee, and all of that presents itself on the palate in a rich-but-lifted fruit component of apple and quince, with an elegant cut of salinity to the finish.  We have tasted a lot of Meusaults that, while they have the correct terroir notes and mouthfeel up front, don’t finish with sufficient flourish.  This one absolutely seals the deal in an expressive but harmonious way.

This Premier Cru vineyard has been the source of a number of favorites of ours over the years.  For some reason the Goutte d’Or wines come across as particularly and gloriously ‘Meursault-y’.  The Buisson-Battault Meursault 1er Cru Goutte d’Or 2016 came from a variety of plots within the vineyards, some owned by the domaine and others controlled through metayage for a total of five hectares, a sizeable piece in a vineyard this size.  The plantings range over a period (1955 – 1968 – 1974 – 2005) and everything is, of course, harvested by hand and put in French oak for 12 months, 25% new.  This one has it all and, again, the price is justified given the performance.  We have identified more than a few houses that went on to be a really big deal and, given this impressive first encounter, these guys may well be one of those.

TASTY, SUB-$15 CABERNET

Wines like this really test our communication skills. So many times whether or not someone might be interested in a wine we are offering can hinge on a single word. As merchants, it is to our advantage to be as honest as we can and convey as much information about a wine’s profile and value to consumers and explain what we saw in it to bring it in. This wine came in primarily because it answered one of the great dilemmas on our time…delicious Cabernet for under $20.

The search for Cabernet values can take us some pretty far-flung locales, in this case the Gilgal Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 comes from the Upper Galilee mountain range. Sitting atop the mountain range, the innovatively designed winery is committed to revitalizing the region’s rich history of winemaking. Over 2,000 years ago, these mountains, among Israel’s highest at more than 1,000 meters above sea level, was a choice location for the cultivation of quality grapevines.

Gilgal has an American winemaker, California-born and UC Davis educated Victor Schoenfeld, who has occupied the post as head winemaker for Golan Heights Winery, makers of Yarden and Mount Herman as well, for some 28 years. The area is warm enough to ripen grapes, but also has the cooler evenings to help preserve a wine’ freshness. This is a generally competent producer that makes a lot of solid wines but has the occasional hits. This Cabernet is one of those that stood out of the lineup.

If you want to profile the flavors, think ripe blackcurrant and a plush texture reminiscent of a warmer vintage in California, with a round mouthfeel and just enough acidity for brightness. We sure as heck can’t do a Cabernet like this for this kind of price here at home, so in that regard this is potentially an important find. Apparently, 2016 in the Golan Heights was one of the shortest harvests on record and there were no weather ‘events’ during the growing season to create issues. Maybe next year won’t be as easy, but we concern ourselves with the here and now with respect to go-to Cabernet candidates.

In the end, the only question was the winery telling us we shouldn’t say the ‘K’ word (kosher). Why not? We have been told that before but we don’t see the argument. We bought the Gilgal because we thought it was quite a performer for the fare and good value Cab isn’t easy to find. We wouldn’t buy something we didn’t like because it was ‘kosher’ any more than we would do that because something was ‘organic’ or ‘natural’. Quite the contrary, we see that fact that it serves the Kosher need as an added utility bonus for a tasty, low-priced, 100% varietal Cab that saw 12 months in oak and sells for under $15.

SOLANERA’S BEST YET, AND UNDER $10

We never stop looking out for the rare, amazing deal.  These can come at any time, from anywhere, and we have turned more than our share of these kinds of opportunities over the years.  But, frankly, given what is currently available in the marketplace, something has to be pretty spectacular to get our attention.  This one is.

Yes we know we have gone to the well with Solanera  number of times in the past, but the darn wine just keeps delivering, consistently improving and presenting one of the best bang-for-the-buck options out there.

It all starts with Eric Solomon, a consistent source for some of the best wine deals on the planet and his massive portfolio of wines.  Simply put, when you are trying to market some 300+ wines in the marketplace, and transitioning through various configurations of purveyors to accommodate distribution of so many brands, there are times a wine or two can get lost in the shuffle. 

It’s nobody’s fault, but opportunities get created all the same and, when the wine is already a pretty sensational value with a long proven track record, an aggressive deal can make the offer almost laughable.  We have told this story more than once with Solanera, and here we go again with the latest and greatest, the Castano Solanera Vinas Viejas 2015. 

Over the years a lot of Solanera has passed through our doors.  Why wouldn’t it?  You’ve got Monastrell, Cabernet Sauvignon and Garnacha from 40-100 year-old vines in clay/limestone soils at nearly 3000 feet elevation.  It’s ‘always sunny’ in Yecla, and the altitude keeps everything in perspective as the nights cool to preserve sufficient freshness in the wine.  You get a rich, substantial, character-filled red year in and year out and, because the real estate isn’t as famous here in southeastern Spain, you don’t pay a lot of money for the quality of juice you are getting. 

Hey, it might seem like unfair competition, but it’s just the way it is.  It is no wonder that we have sold so much Solanera in our history, and why all thirteen vintages of the stuff that were reviewed in Wine Advocate have scored 90 points or better.  Wine Advocate’s Luis Gutierrez was pretty high on this one  again, handing it a 92 point score with lengthy comments, “The 2015 Solanera used to wear the ultimate Spanglish label, which said “Viñas Viejas of Monastrell” even if it was always a blend (in this vintage, the blend includes 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Garnacha Tintorera)…

“… they used part of full clusters and sourced the grapes from Casa Marta, a nine-hectare, head-pruned, dry-farmed plot on very stony soils in the north of Yecla at the foot of the Mount Arabí. It fermented in concrete vats and open-top barrels and matured in barrique, each variety separately, for some ten months, after which it was blended and bottled. This is the vintage of the big change in this wine, where, as with the majority of its siblings, there is better balance and more integrated oak, more freshness and better balance.

“The nose is quite captivating, especially after some time in the glass, when it starts developing some floral aromas, perfect ripeness, no warmth or alcohol and a powerful, yet terribly balanced palate with concentration and elegance, fine-grained tannins and clean, focused flavors. This is my favorite Solanera to date.” 

Like we said, ours, too.  This is a more refined effort that definitely plays above its category in the glass even more than past efforts.  This jump in quality may have had something to do with the vintage and most assuredly reflects the touch of Jean-Marc Lafage who consulted on this vintage for the first time.  It’s a kinder, gentler, more polished and more engaging bottle of Solanera and for under $10 (the best price in the country), it’s almost like stealing.  Good hunting.

ROCHIOLI DIRT, ROCHIOLI WINEMAKER, NEED WE SAY MORE

“Castalia is a legendary spring on Mount Parnassas in Ancient Greece favored by Apollo.  Its waters bestowed upon those who drank from its fountain the gifts of poetry and inspiration…”

The above quote is from the back label of this hidden gem of a Pinot, but the connection with Greece ends with the name. It did, however, seem as good a place as any to start a story with a rather close connection to one of California’s legendary producers.  We are always looking for the next remarkable find and, because of our apparently ‘unusual’ (so we are told) open door policy, sometimes the ‘next big thing’ simply walks in the door.

Now in all fairness, the ‘next big thing’ might be a little strong. It’s certainly not a question of quality as this is a screamer of a wine. But Terry Bering’s wine may never be ‘the next big thing’ simply because there isn’t enough of it and he doesn’t bother to court the media.  But there is certainly enough pedigree and experience behind this label-you-likely-never-heard-of to give it the kind of immediate credibility afforded few labels in today’s highly competitive market.

Let’s start with the vineyard designation on this lovely, precise, layered Pinot Noir.  The Burgundians had centuries to figure out the best places to grow Pinot Noir.  While California was definitely late to that party, we are definitely getting it figured out.  The Russian River is one of the premier, if not the premier spot for Pinot here in the golden state.  If this was like Burgundy, and there were Grand Crus, the Rochioli Vineyard would certainly be among of them.  This Pinot comes from that venerable property.

Getting Rochioli fruit is no easy task either.  It’s like those ‘friends and family’ arrangements…your name is Rochioli or you have been working with their fruit since long before they were recognized as one of the elite sites for Pinot (a la Williams-Selyem and Gary Farrell).  It’s a short list.  How did Terry Bering get on such an exclusive list?  He knows people. 

What people?  Well, the Rochiolis.  Terry has been winemaker at Rochioli for about a quarter century.  Talk about an insider, here’s a guy with intimate knowledge of the entire estate.  According to his notes, he has been making this Castalia label since 1992 and over that time has built the volume of this Pinot Noir up to a whopping…300 cases in 2016.  The core of the Castalia Pinot Noir Rochioli Vineyard Russian River Valley 2016 is from the Flad and Riverblock vineyards planted in the late 80s to the West Block clone, and the balance from three other vineyards on the property planted with 777,115 and 667 clones. This Pinot spent 15 months in 100% French oak, 25% new.

Given the extremely limited production and the fact that Terry has a ‘day job’, Castalia didn’t get very far in the ‘distribution chain’.  He decided to make the trek to SoCal a few years back (we started with the 2013) and actually physically dropped those first cases here himself. 

This is a special effort, but most folks could figure that out without tasting it.  It’s Rochioli Pinot made by Rochioli’s winemaker in what has already proven to be a grand vintage for Pinot Noir.  It’s not rocket science. We can tell you this is fabulous juice with classic Russian River spice (clove, cinnamon) beautifully woven with intense cherry and red currant and touches of vanilla. This is a classy, refined, exceptional Pinot that bears an incredible resemblance to those collectible Rochioli Pinots because it’s the same guy making it from the same hallowed vineyards.

Would we call this great California Pinot? Absolutely, and you know we’re pretty careful with our superlatives!  Give it a few minutes to unfold and you’ll see how all of the elements evolve in the glass.  We’d rather drink this than a lot of those blowsy, overoaked ‘mailing list’ Pinots from some of those other ‘famous’ wineries that cost a lot more.  Will Calstalia get a big score?  Not likely as few people even see it.  That also helps keep the prices reasonable and we have a special offer on this 2016 to boot (click here). There are still a few bottles of the Castalia Pinot Noir Rochioli 2015 as well.

ROCKIN’ RASTEAU FROM AN OLD FRIEND

Every so often we stop and think about just how many wines have come through these doors in the last 37 years. Many labels are gone, many new ones are popping up all the time here, and new (or maybe just unfamiliar) names are making their way here from distant shores because the world is far more accessible these days. Every day it seems there’s a lot more information to digest, so much so that we forget some of the grand labels we used to sell. Sometimes we catch a break.

As we were going through some open market offers in Europe, we ran across an offer for a Winex favorite from years past, Domaine de la Soumade in Rasteau. “Hey, we know those folks,” we said, “they used to make pretty impressive juice. Wonder what they are up to these days, and why no one is bringing them in.” Our research showed us two things. The wines were supposedly imported by someone in New York, but there was no New York outlet offering the wine for sale. Even now, wine searcher only shows four people that have the wine in the U.S., again none in New York.

We also noted that Domaine de la Soumade’s 2016s received the highest reviews that they ever had, and this is an accomplished producer. Our course was clear. We were big fans of Rasteau long before they received the official A.O.C. upgrade (with the 2010 vintage), and Soumade was among the crème of the appellation.

Domaine la Soumade was established by André Roméro in 1979. Since 1990 the whole production has been bottled at the domain. In 1996 when his son Frédéric Roméro had earned his BEPA Diploma in viticulture and oenology, he returned to the domain to join his father. These days André is dialing it back, essentially semi-retired, and the reins are now in Frédéric’s capable hands. The domain covers 27 hectares, one of which is Gigondas and the rest is situated in Rasteau. They make nine different wines including four selections of Rasteau. The trend here is to use larger foudres (really big barrels) with the idea of keeping the star of the show, the super ripe Grenache, as fresh and bright as possible.

This domaine has always played above their appellation, but the 2016s are another level. The reviews are more akin to top Chateauneufs, but the prices certainly are not. The star of today’s offer is the Domaine la Soumade Rasteau Cuvee Prestige 2016 made from 70% Grenache Noir, 20% Syrah, and 10% Mourvèdre harvested from 30-50 year-old vines. It is done 50% in 4000-liter wooden barrels (those are the foudres) and 50% in concrete for 18 months. They do get a little help from a friend, the talented Stephane Derenencourt who is mostly associated with Bordeaux but is clearly comfortable letting the Rhone be the Rhone.

The results speak for themselves and we could enlarge on our ‘stop and smell the Grenache’ but the scribes provided more than enough print for the quantities we have. Joe Czerwinski of Wine Advocate offers, “…it starts with aromas of crushed stone and ripe black fruits. Full-bodied and richly concentrated, it picks up hints of cocoa and garrigue on the long, dusty finish…94 points.”

That is the highest Wine Advocate score ever for this illustrious bottling.

Jeb Dunnuck raises the bar a little more, “A rock star in the vintage, the 2016 Rasteau Cuvée Prestige offers more cedary garrigue, graphite, earth, and chocolate-laced dark fruits. It’s big, rich, beautifully concentrated, with a medium to full-bodied mouthfeel, and will have 10-15 years of prime drinking…95 points.”

That is the highest Jeb Dunnuck score ever for this illustrious bottling.

Getting the picture?

Rasteau as an appellation offers some of the prettiest reds in the region, with plenty of weight but a bit more elegance and tenderness, and a little less rusticity. We have ours and you can rest assured we are going to enjoy getting reacquainted with these wines (We have the 2016 Confiance as well). You need to get yours. Brilliant stuff!

A ‘POTENTE’ DEAL FROM PRIORAT’S NEIGHBOR

One of our greatest beefs about most of the ‘value’ wines out on the marketplace these days, besides the obvious inconsistencies and marginal quality, is the absence of ‘soul’. By the time all of the blending of appellations, wood staving, dilution because of high production in the vineyards, and using additives and/or residual sugar to cover that up is done, what you have can be legally called wine. But it is usually an amorphous glob of fruit with little personality or grace.

If you have wondered why we often go far off the beaten path to find exciting wines to drink, it is because such places are typically unfettered by the influences of ‘control groups’ and ‘market surveys’. They make what the land gives them and, if they have the skills, offer up some of the more compelling and character-filled beverages out there. Apparently, Eva Lopez is of the same mind. She founded a company called Cuvee that is working in Spain to find “… vines, trustworthy wineries and wines that respect terroir, fruit, traditional winemaking and of course exceptional value.” While that slogan sounds like a lot of things you might hear out in the marketplace, the results we have seen are clearly are out of the ordinary.

For this surprisingly pure, authoritative mouthful, she hooked up with a locally owned, accomplished cooperative located south of Priorat called Celler de Capcanes. We have sold wines from Capçanes before, perhaps the most recognizable being Mas Donis (from nearby Tarragona) and Costers de Gravet (from Monsant). They know their business in an area that has been producing wines since the Middle Ages but whose most recognizable appellation, Priorat, was only designated in 1989.

Montsant’s official history is even shorter having achieved its designation only in 2001. Priorat is best known for powerful wines grown in rugged, high altitude, naturally low-yielding vineyards covered with a black shale called llicorella (yi-kor-ra ya). Montsant, carved from the broader Tarragona appellation, shares many of those characteristics…the naturally low yields, higher altitude (even a little higher than Priorat), and that unique llicorella terroir. In general, they differ from Priorat by not being as unyielding in their youth and considerably less expensive, both extreme positives.

The Cellar Capçanes Montsant Potente 2016 (potente literally means powerful/potent in Spanish) comes from a unique spot of vines up to 50 years old in Capçanes’ highest vineyards. The blend is of classic regional varietals Garnacha and Carignan (called Samso around these parts), along with Cabernet and Merlot. The grapes are hand harvested, destemmed, and macerated in cement tanks then aged nine months in oak (from new to 5-yr-old barrels).

The resulting wine is quite ‘potente’, particularly for the price. To say that even this jaded Spanish wine-pioneering crowd was blown away would be an understatement. This is not just another face in the crowd. Pure, expressive notes of wild red and black berries that taste like fruit not candy, competing notes of spice and savory, and an underpinning described as ‘crushed rock’ which alludes to the influence of that local slate all buttress this uplifting juice with plenty of stuffing and an abundance of soul.

We are not alone in our enthusiasm for this character-filled beverage. Josh Raynolds of Vinous Media writes, “Bright violet color. Spice-accented red/blue fruits on the nose, along with a suave floral overtone. Lively and incisive on the palate, offering mineral-inflected boysenberry and raspberry flavors that show a Pinot-like light touch. Silky tannins add subtle grip to the finish, which leaves a zesty red berry note behind…90 points.”

From James Suckling, “Very attractive nose of black cherries, sage and chocolate. Ripe and generous with nice, warm tannins that fill out the full body very nicely. Long and very harmonious finish. Drink or hold…93 points”

Given that this wine comes in through the most aggressive importer we work with, and a finger or two in the markup pie are skipped, means we can offer this tasty, versatile Montsant for a song at $9.98. Montsant is still kind of under the radar, though we have been fans of the region for a long time. You will likely never have a better opportunity to find out why.

RESERVE CAB AT ‘REGULAR’ PRICE FROM GORDON BROS.

One of the descriptions that someone here proffered with regards to the offer of Gordon’s Cabernet at a price like this is like just walking along minding your own business and a $20 bill is just sitting on the ground in front of you waiting to be picked up.  Imagine sitting quietly at your computer and a new email pops up that isn’t trying to sell you insurance, diet pills, or new phone service.

This email is about wine. In fact, it’s about a Washington State Cabernet that, thanks to a set of events, is one of the best values that you’re going to come across on a quality Cab.  Are you seeing sunshine, rainbows, cherubs and puppies?  Maybe hearing a harp? Well certainly that is a bit of an endorsement for a Cabernet that isn’t from the Napa Valley. 

Yeah, over the decades we have learned about trying never to ‘oversell’ anything. So instead we’re going to calmly, rationally explain why you should be excited to find a quality Washington Cabernet to add to your holdings with summer ahead of you and barbecue season in full swing.

Gordon’s wines have graced our pages, particularly for their relative value and varietally true style. But this particular offer bears special attention.  The 2013 Gordon Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is from the Columbia Valley, Washington, an area that long ago earned its wings as a source for excellent Cabernet.

Gordon Brothers pride themselves on being the oldest family estate winery in the region (starting grape planting back in 1980). They have been dependable producers that have relied on innovative farming to create fine wines.  In baseball terms, these folks would be solid performers that could occasionally get the big hit.  The 2013 vintage was one that provided such an opportunity.

The 2013 growing season was one of the hottest on records, right in stride with 1998 and 2003. Hot, 90-degree temperatures came on in early spring, prompting an earlier than average bud break. This heat spell was followed up by welcome spring rains that helped establish healthy canopies early in the season with bloom occurring early in June. Intense heat hung around from late June into mid-September when a dramatic shift in weather brought us a nice cool, but dry fall allowing for good hang time and a great finish for the harvest.

All of that lead to a riper than normal (for Washington) vintage that provided more amplitude  and flesh to the this blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Petit Verdot.  Tasted by a broader collection of our team, descriptors ran the gamut of melted grape Jolly Rancher kiss, new saddle leather, fresh turned earth, rose/floral bouquet and baking spices. The secondary aromatics are beautiful, pretty and “happy” with notes of nutmeg, fresh tobacco leaf, blackberry, pencil shavings, dark cocoa powder and toast.  The wine shows more open drinkability and palate impressions of confectionary black cherry, caramel, and black tea.

The best part is that, while this is a well-performing wine at its original $36.50 fare, some ‘market factors’ allowed us to pick off the last few cases of this reserve Cabernet at a greatly reduced fare.  The Columbia Valley has come a long way since the Gordons put down roots here. A little cooler stylistically than typical Cali Cab and positioned somewhere between that and a Bordeaux in weight, getting a reserve level Cabernet for under $20 ($19.98 to be exact) is a great ‘score’ for Cabernet fans.

‘PRODIGAL’ DEAL: 96 points, for $19.98?

Remelluri has been on our radar since the first ‘Spanish invasion’ in the 90s.  We originally became aware of them through Jorge Ordonez who was the importer at the time.  Two of the WInex team visited the property separately about four years apart on an importer tour and the notes were consistent.  First, it was way up the hill.  Remelluri’s vineyards are located along the slopes of the Sierra de Toloño mountains in the valleys of Valderemelluri, Villaescusa and La Granja  at the highest elevation in the region.

Second, we were treated to something we had never experienced before.  People from the winery brought out bundles of cut grapevines and built a bonfire in the courtyard.  They then took the smoldering sticks, spread them out on the ground and proceeded to cook dinner over them.  It was a great show, the meat was delicious, and the wines were spectacular.  We still remember the event some two decades later, although we have seen this meat-cooked-on-sticks elsewhere in Spain since then.  But you always ‘remember the first time’ and none of that would be relevant if we didn’t really like the wines. 

We were big fans back in the day, though there were some distribution changes and a few wines that were a ‘walk on the wild’ side in the years that followed.   Remelluri became a solid option but not a slam dunk, and then we didn’t see it at all for a while.   Perhaps not entirely coincidentally, one of the emerging hot winemakers of the era, and someone that was followed by enthusiasts thereafter, was a guy named Telmo Rodriguez.  His story, in a sense, is similar to the one we have told about Alvaro Palacios. 

Telmo, like Alvaro, left his Rioja home (Remelluri) to learn and create his own name.  He has achieved something of a ‘rock star’ status among Spanish winemakers, advises on a number of project all over Spain, and has a number of his own labels (Gago, Basa, and Lanzaga among them).  Like Palacios, Telmo Rodriguez has returned to his family’s winery after years of perfecting his craft and gaining international recognition for his winemaking abilities.

The Remelluri Farm itself has origins that date back to the 10th Century, and there are local documents that make account of winemaking here since 1596. Labastida Town Hall has records of pitchers of wine made by the Nuestra Senora de Remelluri Farm for every year up to the last century. The modern winery was established in 1967 when Jaime Rodríguez Salis purchased the vineyards at the heart of the former estate.  Poor, stony soil, with layers of clay help to retain freshness, with the Atlantic influence providing adequate rainfall and lower temperatures than there are in the rest of the region, this is a great environment for Tempranillo.  Remelluri also uses an integrated system of agriculture with great respect for the environment and is currently in the process of gaining organic certification.

With Telmo, of course, comes ‘Telmo’s way’.  He is a great proponent of terroir and terroir based bottlings.  Remelluri’s newest project is Lindes de Remelluri which means “the borders of Remelluri.”   This is one of two specific bottlings now produced, this one from San Vincente and the other from Labastida.  The overall plan is for the sites themselves to be the primary focus, with winemaking, trellising, and even varietal decisions based entirely on the best expression of the vineyard.  We’ll see how that manifests down the road, but in the meantime this current offering is a screamer and, because of our acquisition scenario, a remarkable buy.

The Remelluri Rioja Lindes de Remelluri Vinedos de San Vicente 2014 is a striking Rioja that toes the line between traditional and modern.  You’ve got outgoing, lifted, ripe, insistent plum, currant, and mulberry fruit that exudes freshness but also classic notes of dusty spice and damp earth.  It is simply a beautiful, versatile bottle of Rioja .  James Suckling was pretty taken with it as well writing, “Some richer, darker and deeper fruit character with plums, blackberries and a dark, earthy streak. The tannins are more upright, more elevated, and the fruit is richer and darker than in the Labastida. This has real presence, grip and energy…96 points.”

Because we purchased this in a way that eliminated a good chunk of ‘extra’ markup, we are able to offer this $32 list wine at a substantially lower fare and post one of our best price/review interplays (referred here as ‘the delta) so far this year.  The name is kind of long, as is the story though it is one that needed to be told.  Thanks for reading, but we probably had a lot of folks just with the ‘numbers’ at 96 points for $19.98! We bought all there was but we expect it will fly.  Good hunting and welcome back Remelluri.

SERIOUS VALUE RED? JUST SAY SUL

We spoken over the years about the South African enigma and why, after all this time, does the category only move when there is some promotion.  It seems any kind of continuous market traction is fleeting.  We realized the same could be said about Portugal to some extent.  Sure, in the 60s and 70s everyone was drinking fizzy rosés, then there was Periquita, followed by dry Duoros sometime later.  But, other than the tried and true dessert areas of Port and Madeira, there seems to be little lasting interest. 

There are the occasional hits.  We have done well with certain Vinho Verdes and upscale versions like those from Soalheiro.  They sell and people like them.  But in the end people don’t come in and ask where the Portuguese section is.  Granted, historically, overall quality has been, um, sporadic. Unfamiliar varietals and regions don’t make it any easier.  The Portuguese government has gotten involved in raising the quality levels overall, and the ‘hit’ ratio has definitely increased.  But the prices of some of the potential ‘game changers’ severely limits their potential audience. With all due respect to Bruno Prats, wines like an $80 Chryseia aren’t likely to get a lot of new wine drinkers to take a flyer on it for the sake of learning. 

For our part, the door is always open.  Bring us your Alentejos, Daos, Bairradas and dry Douros and, if they excite, we will deliver the message.  Touriga Nacional, Tinto Roriz, Sausao, Baga, Trincadeira,are not household names, but they can make compelling wine under the right circumstances.  To carry the message, there needs to be something that those people will want to give a whirl.  Something that is character-filled, delicious, and laughably inexpensive has a much better chance of turning heads towards Portugal.  We have found one of those. 

Heredade de Sao Miguel is owned by the  Relvas family who purchased it in 1997.  It is located in Alentejo, an appellation southeast of Lisbon almost to the Spanish border, and within the subregion of Redondo at the northeastern end of the appellation.  The estate it self covers 175 hectares, 35 of which are planted to vines setting soils of loam and schist, with 97h/a planted to cork trees.  They also dedicated part of the property to reviving and breeding of near extinct local species, the ‘Mirandela’ donkey and the ‘Garrano’ horses of Gerês.

The story isn’t complicated.  The family farms sustainably and makes the wine in an efficient ‘minimalist’ facility they built in the middle of the vineyard.  They state that all of the fruit in Sul (Portuguese for ‘south’) comes from the estate.  These folks are all about the land and their aim with all of their wines (they make 10 different bottlings) is to showcase the unique terroir of this far-from-the-crowd region.  We were presented with a number of their wines a few weeks back. We kept coming back to this one for its plush texture, unabashed purity, and honest flavors.  We asked the question, “how much did you say this was?” more than once. 

If there are wines that can carry the banner for Portugal and make a lasting impression, this is certainly one of them.  The blend here is 50 % Aragonez (the local name for Tempranillo), 30% Alicante Bouschet, 15% Trincadeira (indigenous varietal also known as Tinta Amarela in the Douro…yeah this part can get a little complicated), and 5% good old Cabernet Sauvignon.  The wine is cold-soaked then vacuum pressed and fermented in stainless steel where it sees some exposure to staves plus 10% in 400L barrels.  Sure we can do the geek-speak, but that is not the story here.

The unfettered juice is the star, and the Herdad de Sao Miguel delivers well above its station with a mouthful of dark red fruit tinged with spice and dusty notes, relatively low acidity and modest ripe tannins.  The pleasing mid-palate lots of inviting fruit and it’s very Portuguese in that it’s a delicious wine on the table alongside some grilled meats and some lively conversation.  In short order, you’ll wonder where that bottle went and, at $10, there are few financial consequences.  It’s a fine ambassador for Alentejo, and Portugal, and a great choice for a go-to value ‘house red’ without qualification.