We’ve been telling the Raul Perez story for a while now.  If you haven’t heard it, think of it as one of those ‘local guy makes good’ as long as that locale is northwestern Spain.  The Raul Perez ‘legend’ has grown over the years and, thanks to some ‘market changes’, the prices have come down a bit.  Meanwhile Raul is making some of the best wines he has ever made.  If it all sounds like a pretty advantageous situation for consumers, it is!

While his portfolio is chock full of stunning examples made from the native grape of Bierzo, Mencia, some difficult to tell apart because the label nomenclature is so similar, we have chosen to focus on his entry-level bottling called Ultreia.  Why?  Well it might be one of the most amazing red wine values in Spain, if not the world.

Raul has been working at a high level for quite a while now and certainly the raw materials play a part in the wine’s success. The Mencia grapes for this cuvee are grown in clay soils in the village of Valtuille de Abajo and were harvested from vines that were planted between 1900 and 1940. The Raul Perez Bierzo Ultreia St. Jacques 2015, which we sold last year, was the wine that gave Raul a spotlight like none of his previous, brilliant efforts ever had.

The 2015 vintage was perfect for Raul’s style. The flavors ranged from ripe cranberry to dark cherry. Weight-wise this Mencia plays like a hefty Pinot from the Santa Lucia Highlands flavor-wise, but with more florality to the nose, more lift and freshness to the palate, and striking harmony. Sometimes Mencia can be a little inward and unyielding at first, but there is none of that here! This is a beautifully proportioned and surprisingly sophisticated red for the fare.

It got plenty of attention from the critics including 93 points from Luis Gutierrez of Wine Advocate with comments, “…The 2015 Ultreia St Jacques …is amazingly good for the price. Produced from old vines, this is a serious wine, with juicy fruit, a fine palate and good freshness…”.  James Suckling tossed a 91 on that ’15 saying, ” …Cherry and floral accents sing through the finish. Energetic…”

We finished our comments on that at the time by saying, “We are sure there are more reviews to come but we suspect they will arrive a little late.”  Sure enough, the Wine Spectator came along and not only gave it a 91 point score but included it in the Wine Spectator Top 100 (#51) for 2017.

We’re reminding you of all of that to tell you this.  The Raul Perez Bierzo Ultreia St. Jacques 2016 just hit the floor and it is another striking effort.  Plenty of explosive red and black fruits in the mid-palate, maybe a touch less fleshy at the moment but with tremendous drive through the back palate, this is quite aristocratic for something in this price range.    We’re finding that 2016 is making its own mark in Spain as a vintage.

Once again the wine features mostly Mencia, with touches of other indigenous varietals Bastardo (Trousseau) and Garnacha Tintorera (Alicante Bouschet).  This wine was done via 80% whole cluster fermentation in large oak vats then aged in a variety of vessels from 225L and 500L barrels to upright vats to cement. It is bottled unfiltered and unfined.  Expressive and attention-getting, with a slightly cooler edge, it is once again an incredibly impressive beverage for a modest fare comfortably under $20 ($17.98).

We haven’t seen any press yet (3/12/2018) but given the performance here, and Raul’s recent track record, we are pretty confident there will be plenty.  We love the stuff.  Meanwhile we have ours, get yours.

The Ribera’s Ravishing ‘Rogue’

One thinks typically of the Ribera del Duero as a more ‘serious’, what with the neighborhood harboring such heavyweights as Vega Sicilia, Hacienda del Monasterio, Pingus, and Pesquera.   The term ‘Picaro’, the brainchild of Dominio di Aguila, refers to someone who is a rascal, or a rogue.  The question posed by Picaro is, can a Ribera be, well, fun?  The answer apparently is…yes!

Dominio del Aguila Picaro Ribera del Duero 2015 definitely operates outside the box for an area like the Ribera.  Sure you’ve got your Tempranillo here, the backbone grape of the region, but Aguila co-ferments it with an unusual mixture of Garnacha, Bobal (a grape we associate with climes further south), and Albillo (the rare, indigenous white of the Ribera).  So what do you get?  Well, let’s call it a rogue within the typical confines of the region, but more accurately it is Ribera with its ‘party hat’ on.

There’s plenty of richness here, but there is also a lift to the flavors that is unlike anything else we have tasted from the area.  Gushing berry and cassis flavors but also a streak that is like a marinated black cherry to let you know that this is no ordinary Ribera.

The winemaking is more than serious with the vine age here somewhere north of 50-years-old, farmed organically/biodynamically, trodden by foot before being put in French oak for malo-lactic fermentation and a sojourn of 12-20 months in wood (though there is no obvious wood in the flavors).  The vineyards here are north-facing, which give the wine a little cooler profile to begin with.  It all sounds formal enough yet the wine’s wild fruit notes, more lifted personality, and outgoing spiciness can only be described as tasty and, yes, fun.

Jorge Monzon and Elizabeth Rodero founded the winery only in 2010 after Jorge spent years selling his produce to ‘several high profile neighbors’.  They have definitely separated themselves from the pack in a very good way and we can only marvel at their successful new approach and how Aguila takes such a stylistic diversion and makes you wonder why more people haven’t done this.

We aren’t the only fans either.  This juicy, unique red got high marks from two very different palates, James Suckling (95 points) and Advocate’s Luis Gutierrez (92+ points).  Suckling’s words were concise, if jubilant, “This has impressive fragrance and aromatic detailing with bright cherry and red plum fruits, cinnamon and sappy notes. The palate has vivid fleshy fruit that floats amid filigree tannins, anchoring it precisely in place. A great wine.”

Among Luis’ extensive comments, “…This is a fresh interpretation of 2015. I wish more Crianzas from Ribera del Duero had this joviality and approachability while keeping the balance and the serious quality profile.”   Sadly, there isn’t enough of the  2015 to have too much market impact as yet.  Get yours while you can.

They make a very cool ‘rogue’ rosé as well called Dominio di Aguila Picaro Clarete 2014 as well, intended to be released with bottle age.  A blend of red and white wine (rather than a saignee), this is an attention getter.



How do you follow up a legend?  The Faustino I Gran Reserva 2001 was one of the highest volume wines in our 35-year history, it got a 97-point score from Decanter Magazine as well as being named their Wine-of-the-Year for 2013.   What the press did was create a scenario where exponentially more people tried the wine and, subsequently, bought It on a regular basis.  On top of that, we had been selling Faustino’s Gran Reserva consistently since the 1994 vintage, pretty much when no one heard of it.  The 2001 vintage was an outstanding one in Rioja, and the wine already had more than a decade of bottle age on it when we started to sell it.  It was the perfect storm.

The funny thing is that it almost seemed like we were the only ones buying it (as well as a cadre of older library vintages) as we were able to continually restock the wine for nearly four years!  Given the accolades, bottle age, price, etc., how were there not others involved?  In any case, as happens with wine, all good things come to an end.  We are well aware that any time a current wine has to compete for attention with a ‘memory’, it is at a disadvantage.  Still, knowing that, we’re going to tell all of the folks that have been buying Faustino over the years from us, and all of you who just discovered this stylish Rioja with the 2001, the new release 2005 Faustino I Rioja Gran Reserva is the next up in this series.

The story is relatively straightforward.  After selling so many of the prior vintages, and silly amounts of the 2001, we were presented with the option of buying either the 2004 or 2005 (both outstanding vintages) as the follow-up to the 2001 campaign.  We’ll tell you up front that the 2004 got a 94 from James Suckling and a 90 from Luis Gutierrez, and the 2005 got 93s from both Wine Spectator and Decanter Magazine.  Side by side it was an easy call for us.  The Faustino I Rioja Gran Reserva 2005 had more structure and power, plenty of palate authority as 10+-year-old reds go, and a classic Rioja profile of cassis, red fruits, spice, earth, vanilla and some fresh herb undercurrents.

The Spectator verbiage paints a pretty clear picture as well, “Fresh and lively, this red shows bright fruit and spice flavors, with cherry, berry, vanilla and anise notes that mingle over light tannins and orange peel acidity. Harmonious and graceful, expressive and alluring…93 points.”

That whole ‘graceful, expressive, and alluring’ thing is what Rioja is about, and has been a big part of our love affair with Faustino over the years.  We aren’t going to tell you that this wine is just like the 2001.  The vintages are different, the profiles accordingly different, but the 2005 is the next delicious episode of a Faustino saga that has had more versions here than there have been Star Wars films.  Some of you will like the 2005 better, some of you equally as much and a few of you less so, but it is indeed at the same incredible level of quality as that legend 2001.

An aged, polished, complex, pop-and-serve-or-hold Rioja for under $30 never goes out of style and this lovely 2005 is simply the next up in a series that has provided a lot of pleasure over the last two decades.  Thanks to that 2001, a lot more folks have ‘seen the light’.  But for those of us that have had more than a dozen vintages, this classy 2005 simply steps into the program without a ripple.  It’s another example of what Faustino does on a regular basis.  Simply put, a wine with this kind of quality, bottle age, and at this kind of price, would seem an imperative for any cellar.  Great Rioja ages, but it never ‘gets old’.  You need some of this.


BRIEFS (OK, maybe not quite so brief this time)

*If you’ll recall some of our ranting a few months back about how spectacular the 2016 vintage was in the southern Rhone, and our subsequent sellout of one of the first examples to hits the market in the Pere Caboche Cotes du Rhone, here’s another early warning release.  The Delas Cotes du Rhone Saint Esprit has been a reliable go-to in solid vintage for a long time, but the 2016 version just pulled a 95 from Decanter Magazine and some rather enthusiastic prose for a wine that will set you back a mere $10 a bottle.  They said, “95 Points!  60% Syrah, 40% Grenache. Lovely rich opulent and floral, black berry and plum nose, the palate is big with well layered fruit, attractively firm but soft tannin and hints of oak, a big wine with a lovely finish.” (July, 2017) We say that’s a lot of Rhone for the d’argent.

One would be well advised to start stocking up on the ‘little’ wines as those will be the first to come and go from this very special vintage. Also in-house, as well as later restocks of the afore-mentioned Pere Caboche and Saint Prefert Cotes Du Rhone Clos Beatus Ille 2016, are notable efforts from serious ‘players’ like  Domaine de MarcouxDomaine Giraud Cotes du Rhone Les Sables d’Arene 2016and Mordoree Cotes Du Rhone La Dame Rousse 2016, all under $20.  The press hasn’t hit most of these yet, but they will.  Early bird and all of that…

*We had been warned ahead of time that a group of newer producers from the ancient region of Tierra de Castillo y Leon around Madrid were going to be the next big thing.  We’ve tasted several examples from this emerging, highly touted group in the past and had been left a little cold by wines that were perhaps a bit too introspective and frankly at times reduced and standoffish.  We kind of wondered what the fuss was.  But recently, maybe it was a ‘special day’, maybe this band of iconoclasts have turned the corner, or maybe it was just that whole 2015 vintage thing, but we found religion in a number of uniquely expressive Grenache-based wines we tasted.  You will be hearing about Daniel Landi’s Las Iruelas 2014, Commando G’s La Bruja de Rozas 2015, and, in particular, the Bodega Marañones 30.000 Maravedíes 2015.   Like we said, Grenache (Garnacha if you will) plays the starring role in each of these wines but in a way that is unique from anything else we have ever tasted.  The flavors lean a little more mulberry than your traditional kirsch profile of the southern Rhone, but they also have a purity, lift, and freshness that is indescribable within most people’s context of the varietal.  This is exciting, breakthrough stuff!

*Yeah, we know it’s January but the trio of delightful Gosset Champagnes arrived literally at the last minutes of the holiday and they deserve a word.  The  Gosset Grand Reserve Brut NV (WA 90, JS 92) is a ‘biscuity’ charmer when the lines are clean as they are in this cuvee and the Gosset Grand Rose Brut NV (WA 93) is consistent winner and one we usually grab whenever we see it.  The  Gosset Extra Brut Celebris 2002  (WA 95, VM 96) is not only a remarkable example of the top tier ‘extra brut’ genre but one of the few 2002s left in the marketplace.  Champagne ‘season’ lasts 365 days around here.


It seemed appropriate to say a word about how wine gets here.  The answer is, of course, any way we can do it depending on how good it is, which will determine how much trouble we are willing to go  to.  Sometimes we buy direct from the winery here, or on the open market in Europe, and bring it in ourselves.  With wines outside the U.S. there is usually an importer involved.  Some importing companies are large, corporate types, and some are ‘shoestring’ operations, with everything in between.  It is from this vast array of sources that we can put together a significant selection of wines to suit all manner of tastes.

Usually an importer will work through a purveyor within a given state because they like ‘boots on the ground’. In some states, they don’t have another choice.  There are instances where an importer’s portfolio is larger than their chosen purveyor can/will handle.  One of the importer’s options in California is to create their own alternative, more targeted sales format to offer items that his in-state purveyor is not working with.  On the plus side, we get to see a few other things that we wouldn’t otherwise have access to.   On the flip side, there isn’t a local ‘staging area’ for the wines.  So buys come via long range shipments of substantial quantities, or not at all since it isn’t practical to just get a case or two.  Such a system sometimes has huge benefits for us, and therefore you.  But continuity of the product over time often suffers.  Vinsacro Rioja is one of those stories.

It was nearly a decade ago we were first presented with Valsacro wines.  The ‘Valsacro’ Dioro 2001 was a particularly memorable, classy, hedonistic offering.  We saved a few bottles for ourselves and consumed them with gusto over the next couple of years.  It was a hard wine not to like, in an engaging, tender, fruit driven style.

Sadly, after that 2001, we didn’t see it any more. The importer Kysela Pere et Fils, was involved with a number of different purveyors over the next few years, something of a shakeout period in the wholesale market.   Kysela ‘changed horses’ a time or two, a couple of them closed). Valsacro (as we knew it before) never showed up at any of them.  Recently, the importer decided to reintroduce the wine to the marketplace on his own.  The winery had changed the name from ‘Valsacro’ to ‘Vinsacro’ (no idea why), but the beautifully textured blackberry/plum juice, and distinctive dusty spice notes caused the memories to come flooding back as soon as we tasted it.

Not only was the ‘Vinscro’ back, the bottling we were presented was from another spectacular vintage, 2010..  The Vinsacro Rioja Dioro 2010 is clearly a reserve level bottling even though the label doesn’t bear the ‘traditional’ wording.  In the glass it definitely shows its breeding with dense, plush red and black fruit, pronounced spice, tender edges and ripe tannins.  Supple and almost pandering in the mouth, it echoes the philosophy of Vinsacro’s winemaker that ‘wine is to enjoy’.

The vineyard consists of a 120 acre estate on the southern slope of Mount Yerga in the Rioja Baja near the border with Navarra. The Escudero family (who own Vinsacro) has owned this parcel for four generations. The soils here are poor, stony calcerous clay, perfect for grapes.  The vineyard is a century old and the grapes are planted to afield blend that the family refers to as ‘Vidau’.  The grapes are hand harvested  into small crates and  the Dioro goes through four separate steps in the selection process, ending up as a ‘best barrels’ cuvee.  The lead player in this Rioja is Tempranillo (50%), but there’s a good bit of ‘other’ as well (20% Garnacha, 10% Mazuelo, 10% Graciano, 5% Monastrell and 5% Bobal).  Tasting this was déjà vu in the best possible way.

Apparently Wine Advocate’s Luiz Gutierrez was as taken with the Dioro as we were, saying “The 2010 Vinsacro Dioro opens to an explosion of flowers and ripe blueberries that is very perfumed. It feels quite modern and aromatic with well-integrated oak and a luscious palate. This is produced from a field blend they call Vidau, which, in their case it is approximately 50% Garnacha, 30% Tempranillo and a myriad of other grapes like Graciano and even Monastrell. The wine aged in brand new French oak barrels for 17 months, and it’s clearly a high-end wine with aspirations92 points.”

Aspirations, indeed!  That is the best part of our little reunion with Vinsacro.  Luis in Advocate shows a list price of $46.  Thanks to some sort of ‘market mechanics,’ we are able to offer this luscious Rioja for $ 17.98.  Given the wine and the price, rest assured we’ve got ours.  Seriously good, deliciously drinkable (surely the bottle age helped as well), you need some of this special juice for yourself .



Faustino Chronicles, Part Dos: The VII for $10

Over the years we have worked with a variety of wines from Faustino, mostly more than a dozen vintages of the Faustino I Rioja Gran Reserva dating back to 1964 and library finds of older bottles of the Faustino V Rioja Reserva. For whatever reason we have had little exposure to their ‘popularly priced’ wines and haven’t been ‘grabbed’ in the few experiences that we have had with them…until now.  It is always dangerous to talk up an inexpensive wine too much because you don’t want to create unreasonable expectations so consider this the appropriate level of enthusiasm.

We aren’t going to tell you that the Faustino VII Rioja Tempranillo 2014 tastes like a $50 wine.  We aren’t going to bury you in superlatives like some sort of cheesy retailer’s email.  But we are going to make what we feel is the honest and salient point, this is darned good juice for what it costs.  If you want something polished, elegant, and appealing for under $10, this wine should be on your radar.

Our philosophy has always been that we wouldn’t recommend something to you we wouldn’t drink ourselves, and we actually have taken bottles of this home to do just that.  We appreciate a deal as much as you do and this wine delivers a lot for its modest tab.

Made from 100% Tempranillo, with a six month sojourn in American oak, it has all of the classic Rioja trappings of spice, damp earth and subtle toast notes wrapped around a plummy core of fruit.  It’s about the weight of a Pinot Noir but with more Old World fruit.  It showcases the surprising versatility of Rioja to not only compliment heartier fish, any fowl, or the ‘other white meat’, but can stand up to steak and lamb as well.  It’s a great house go-to at a ‘go-to’ kind of price.

Wine Spectator had some nice notes, “Cherry, licorice and fresh herb flavors mingle in this polished red. Light tannins and fresh acidity lend focus. Lively, modest and balanced. Drink now through 2019.”  Their ‘score’ was ‘modest’, too, but this isn’t the kind of wine that would stick out in a ‘taste-athon’ nor are numbers the point with a wine like this.  Rather it is something you can get comfortable with for its direct, honest, unmanipulated flavors, and angst-free fare.



Faustino Chronicles, Part One: Last call for Rioja Gran Reserva 2001…No really!

Almost four years ago, we wrote this about the 2001 Faustino Rioja Gran Reserva,

“An amazing Rioja, a surprising review, and a price that’s under $30… here we have the makings of one of the most exciting offers we have presented this year. Sure, we ‘play the hits’ as well as anyone, promoting hot buys and wines that get big reviews. However, unlike a lot of other wine merchants, we put a lot more effort into developing brands that we happen to like ourselves whether or not they have been favored by the media. Faustino Rioja is one of those brands (particularly their Gran Reserva) that we have developed over the years simply because we happen to like it (gasp).”

That was a pre-arrival offer we did in November of 2013, and it did prove to be one of the most exciting offers we did that year, and the year after that, and even for our Anniversary sale last year.  How does such a spectacular wine and value stay on the market for so long?  We alone sold about 1000 cases of it, and it seemed that every time we thought it was almost gone, the supplier ‘found’ some more.  It got to the point where we kind of took it for granted.  How much of a wine that was a 97 point, Decanter Magazine Wine of the Year did these guys make anyway?

Suffice it to say it has been an amazing run almost unparalleled in our history, and the Faustino I Rioja Gran Reserva 2001 has made many happy customers as well as having been a welcome go-to for us.  I mean, how many 97-point, 16-year-old reds are out there under $30?  Only one we know of.  But for all of you who have been fans of this (and there must be a few if you), this really is the ‘last call’ on this special wine.  Judging from what the wholesaler has left, it will sell out some time, without warning, over the next month.

Yeah, we know we have intimated before that the party was over, only to be told by the purveyor that another batch appeared.  This time however, we think they are serious for a couple of reasons.  They released a final finite batch that they had been saving for a restaurant that, as happens so often, didn’t fulfill their commitment.  Prior to that there was no wine to be had for a few weeks.  Perhaps more telling, the purveyor is set to receive inventory on the 2004 Gran Reserva, something they would never even had ordered if there was still 2001 to be had.

Stock up on this legendary Rioja while you can because this time ‘the end is near’ and ‘you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone…”



Something ‘old’ is something ‘new’ from CVNE

In today’s world, the search is to find something new and exciting.  This would absolutely qualify on the thrilling part…but it isn’t new.  As a matter of fact, it’s old.  We’ll explain.  A lot of you already know about the Cune Monople Blanco, something of a staple around here for the last few years and a crazy value white that has even graced the Wine Spectator Top 100.  They have been making this wine this way for more than four decades.  But this isn’t what we are talking about, though the 2016 is once again delicious in its own style.

What really got us excited was this new/old release called Cune Monopole Rioja Blanco Clásico 2014, the word ‘clásico’ being of particular importance. This is the reintroduction of a unique, ‘old school’ white produced prior to the 1980s.  Cune’s explanation of the story is pretty clear.

“From the early 20th century to the 70s, Monopole was a staple of homes and restaurants across Spain. It was one of CVNE’s main wines. Sadly, fashion turned against it, sales fell, and production in this style ceased in the 80s.  Fresh, fine, bone dry, this wine had the peculiarity and originality of having some barrel ageing with a percentage of Sherry wine, with written permission from the Rioja appellation. The Sherry added structure to the Rioja white, while they both integrated harmoniously in barrel and later in bottle.

A bottle of this old Monopole was searched for in the Haro winery’s cemetery. A solitary 1979 bottle appeared. The wine was savory, very fresh, balanced, delicious. On the spot, the decision was made: we would make this wine again, as it had been made historically.  We called Ezequiel Garcia, CVNE winemaker from the 40s until the 70s, to invite him back to help us produce that wine again. Ezequiel, aka ‘the wizard’ and now in his eighties, had no doubts and said ‘Yes’ straight away.

Monopole is the story of a remake, 40 years on; this time, with the original director as guest star. And this time, handmade and in small quantities, to best ignore the whims of fashion.  The wines’ aging contributes to its peculiar organoleptic characteristics, adding aromas of chamomile, dried fruits, and a long and persistent aftertaste. The marked acidity increases Monopole Clásico’s freshness.”

We loved this wine’s panache, with a nose of pear, grain, a whiff of salinity and the subtle, penetrating nuttiness of a fine, dry Sherry.  Plenty of personality up front, a nice cut of acidity in the back, and lots of complexity to contemplate in between, it kind of reminded us of a Lopez de Heredia Tondonia with the wine’s natural vigor playing off the nuttiness in an aged white.  The Monopole Clasico’s unique ‘recipe’ really delivers.

 Wine’s Advocate’s Luis Gutierrez seemed as dazzled by this new ‘old’ gem, and reviewed it before it was even bottled…not the usual practice with Spanish whites.

“I was thinking “I wish this wine went back to the more serious bottlings of 40 and 50 years ago…” when tasting the regular Monopole, and they showed me this 2014 Monopole Clásico, which is a wine to celebrate the centenary of the brand (registered in 1914) and it blew me away. They have produced this wine like it was done in the good old times, adding some Manzanilla Sherry (yes, yes, you read it correctly); they top up the Viura with Manzanilla purchased from the Hidalgo family of Sanlúcar de Barrameda.

Not only did they add the wine (Sherry), they purchased the wine in bota, so the wine is also aged in Sherry casks. It does have an amazing nose with notes of sea breeze, iodine and esparto grass. The palate is extremely tasty, but at the same time is light and fresh, with the acidity of Viura and the kick and pungency from Manzanilla. Awesome!… This will be bottled in a couple of months, but I couldn’t help reporting on it… Welcome back, Monopole!…91-93 points.

Awesome, indeed!  Luis was obviously stoked.  It is rare for him to have multiple exclamation points in an article.  So are we.  Even though it’s an ‘old’ style, it’s new to us, and very compelling.  One of the most exciting whites we’ve had in a while, and that is saying a lot.



Yes, it’s another of our ‘we stole some Spanish wine’ stories. 

Just had another bottle of this and felt the need to retell the story…

We first ran across the Tahon de Tobelos Rioja Reserva 2009 at a tasting sponsored by a new importing entity that was establishing a beachhead here in SoCal with a new distributor.  This was one of the standouts in what was an intriguing lineup with a lot of labels we had not seen before, as well as a few we knew well that had been off the market for a while.  A short time later, the representative for the company came by to follow up after the tasting and, to our surprise, this label was already being discontinued.

Introductory closeout!

Hey, things can run a little hot in Spain.  We get that.  Apparently the breaking point was not related to this wine, but another one from the same ownership that was not ‘a fit’ for this importer.  Ties were broken and everyone went their own way.  We have always made a joke of such happenings as being ‘introductory closeouts’.  But, as silly as that sounds, this is exactly that.  Hey, whatever makes the deal possible, and this one’s a beauty.

So who are these guys?  We found a piece from the Wine Advocate’s Luis Gutierrez on Tahon de Tobelos that encapsulates the story nicely, “I was pleasantly surprised by the wines from Tobelos, which are sought after by savvy drinkers in the famous tapas street, Calle Laurel in Logrono, (the capital city of Rioja) as they represent very good value. The winery is a very young operation, only created in 2001, their goal being to blend tradition and modernity. Today they own 10 hectares of vineyards averaging 30 years of age in the villages of San Vicente de la Sonsierra and Brinas…This is a new name to follow.”

That piece was written in December 2013, along with an enthusiastic review of the Tahon de Tobelos Rioja Reserva 2009“The 2009 Tahon de Tobelos is pure Tempranillo from vineyards averaging 60 years of age with malolactic and aging for 14 months in new oak barrels of different origin, which is racked every four months, and is clearly an ambitious wine with the intensity and depth of the old vines. It’s still very young, with a big imprint from the aging in oak with notes of smoke, vanilla and chocolate covering the aromas of ripe blackberries and plums, with a meaty palate and some gritty tannins that should resolve with a couple of years in bottle. A clean, powerful Rioja that requires a bit of patience. Drink 2015-2020. 92 points.”

As we dug some more, we found a more recent review from Wine Spectator, a web-only review from 2016.  They liked it, too, commenting, “This bold red delivers blackberry, currant, cola and chocolate flavors, with light leafy and licorice notes that add a savory element. This is round but not heavy, with well-integrated tannins and balsamic acidity. Drink now through 2019. “ They laid a 93-point score on it and showed a retail of $37.

It was one of the highest-scored Riojas of the vintage, going toe-to-toe with, as you can see, the region’s best wines and the wine had, at the time, one of the lowest prices at that $37 retail vis-à-vis its pricier peers.

Now? Wow…

It is clear from the heavy bottle, long cork and intense flavor that this juice was not intended to sell for this kind of price.  This is big Rioja, with mouthfilling, oak-infused fruit and richness, sort of a modern-styled Senorio de San Vincente meets Muga Reserva.  It has the size, weight, and flashy fruit to play to fans of New World reds but the polish and flair to keep Rioja fans quite happy.

You’ll note we’re in the prime drinking window of both reviews (and we suspect it will live past 2020), so the ‘market’ has done the hard work for you.  Most important, due to this aforementioned disagreement, we have it at a crazy good price.  Looks can be deceiving, and this wine looks and tastes more expensive.  It was supposed to be.  But nobody has to know it only cost you $19.98.  It’ll be our little secret.

The Eye of the Chicken

Now for something completely different.  This is one of those cases where we have to explain what it is before we get into the specifics.  But it is unique things like this are what make the wine business interesting.  There are a lot of folks in this industry that think they can ‘reinvent the wheel’.  But once in a great while, it happens.  This is one of those times.

This wine comes from Jerez, Sherry country, from one of the elite houses in Valdespino.  But it is a completely new concept for anyone from the region and one of the more intriguing offerings from that part of the world that isn’t Sherry.  This sees no oak, spends no time under flor and is not fortified, which immediately separates it from most everything else that comes from here.  A brisk, appealing white in a fresh, unfettered style.

The folks at Valdespino decided they wanted to step out of their traditional realm to produce this dry white.  The winery  has been vinifying different parcels of the Macharnudo Vineyard to see which parcel would make the best unfortified still wine and they found it in the particular parcel named ‘Ojo de Gallo’, or ‘Eye of the Chicken’ literally translated.   This section is included in the top part of the vineyard, which is wholly owned by Valdespino.  The soil is pure chalk (albariza en Espanol) planted to 100% Palomino, the traditional grape of the region (along with the more dessert focused Pedor Ximenez).  The vinification is done with

The ‘sales sheet’ said ‘think Chablis from Cadiz’.  We’d actually lean a little more in the direction of super-Rueda with fine citrus, quince, and pear fruit, maybe a hint of roasted grain, sleek underlying chalky minerality, just the right pop of acidity, and a twinge of that sherry-like nuttiness without the corresponding oxidative note.  Bright, crisp, intriguing, there’s mid-palate volume and cut to the finish.  It’s cool and geeky, to be sure, but there’s plenty to appreciate on a hedonistic level as well with the Valdespino Palomino Fino Ojo de Gallo 2016.  As to what we would compare it to, there isn’t really anything quite like it though you probably figured that out from the back story.