A CUBILLO FOR THE AGES

What a difference a year makes!  As the majority of you who read us regularly are aware, there are likely no greater fans of Rioja, with the possible exception of some of the Riojanos themselves, than we are.   One of the rewards of doing this kind of thing, for us, is to get paid for doing something we would do anyway.  Today’s exercise gives us the opportunity to talk about a few of our favorite things, specifically one of the revered houses located in Rioja’s ‘holy city’ (Haro), Lopez de Heredia, and one of the greatest vintages we have had the good fortune to experience from the region, 2010.

As to Lopez de Heredia, there is little we need to say about this icon of traditional Spanish winemaking founded in 1892.  We have tasted virtually every level of wine they produce, including some historic older bottlings, and have never been disappointed even given pretty high expectations.  They do all the right things to create the wines they want to make and charge very attractive prices for the various levels offered.  Granted prices have edged up a bit as the world continues to discover the wonders of Rioja, but they are still pretty sensational given the other choices of equal caliber.

As to 2010, it has been a while since we have talked about the vintage.  It is a sensational harvest with purity of fruit, ripe tannins, classic lines and fine structure.  They are wines that will age decades yet can deliver a glassful of joy next weekend.  The Riojanos have definitely been surprisingly low-keyed about the exceptional year, but the rest of the wine world has been unanimous in its praise. 

Simply put, releases in Rioja come sort of in waves.  For the most part crianzas come out first, followed by reservas and finally gran reservas, all titles very specifically defined by Spanish law based on barrel age and time in bottle. Each winery has their own schedule as to how the wines roll out, though they mostly follow the same level by level pattern we described.  Most of the 2010 crianzas and reservas are long gone and we have even moved through a number of the gran reservas.  But the top older houses run on a much slower cycle.  So we will be seeing a number of the ‘big dogs’ from this great vintage coming out over the next several months.  Hallelujah!

As for Lopez de Heredia, they are just beginning on their efforts in 2010 starting with the Lopez de Heredia Rioja Vina Cubillo Crianza 2010, their entry-level bottling.  This is where we must make the point again, one of the best houses in one of the best vintages.  We have faithfully followed Lopez for years and enjoyed virtually every vintage of Cubillo along the way.  This is the best version we have ever tasted by a good bit.  Made from 65% Tempranillo, 25% Garnacha, and the rest Mazuelo and Graciano all from estate vineyards, this saw three years in barrel (like a gran reserva) after which it is bottled unfiltered. 

Sure it has all of the accustomed sweet cherry and plum fruit, dusty/spicy classic Rioja accents and underpinning of vanilla and balsamic.  But there is more weight, power and richness in the midpalate, impeccable balance between the fruit and tannins and a remarkable but refined presence in the glass.  Over the course of several hours it evolved glacially, so packed and structured, yet it never ceased to impress.  We dare say it is better than some of their Tondonia and Bosconia bottlings we have had in the past, yet this surprising beverage can be had for under $25.  Amazing? You bet!

But that’s Rioja, that’s Lopez, and the greatness of 2010.

We were not alone in our praise.  Luis Gutierrez of robertparker.com wrote, “The 2010 Viña Cubillo Tinto Crianza is superb and shows great depth and nuance, with great freshness, and the red cherries are complemented by notes of blood oranges, nutmeg and other spices. It has a soft and harmonious palate, with great balance and very good freshness. – 93 Points!”

Given James Suckling’s usual brevity of comments, this is a virtual tome, “Cubillo is a very focused and quite crisp style of red that has spent three years in barrique and then in larger cask to wait for bottling, which happens two years before the expected release. The richness and depth of complex dried wood and spice here is seamlessly sewn into the dried red and dark cherries. The palate is pinned around a fresh-blackberry core that marries still sweet fruit to more savory style. Long and balanced. The tannins are fine yet assertive. It freshens into the finish nicely. Drink or hold…95 Points!”

Great house, great vintage, great price, this one checks all the boxes!  This is not to be missed.

A ‘GIFT’ FOR YOU

Nobody brings the value drama like the Spaniards, and  that goes for every conceivable price level.  Izadi was founded in 1987 when the estate was purchased by the Anton family, who then hired Mariano Garcia (formerly Vega Sicilia, now Mauro and Aalto) as a consultant.  This bottling is from what is considered by the Anton family to be their premier site, El Regalo, a single vineyard of Tempranillo planted  in 1940 on a terroir of chalky limestone clay covered with pebbles near the village of Villabuena de Álava. 

‘El Regalo’ means ‘the gift’ in Spanish, and the family clearly considers this bottling a gift of Nature from this unique plot.  Hand harvested grapes from 70+ year old vines that are ‘practicing organically’ farmed certainly have the potential to make exciting wine. The press (94 Decanter, 91 James Suckling, 91 Wine Advocate) seems to confirm that happened here.  Firmly committed to straddling the stylistic spectrum between traditional and modern, the wine makes no reference to the typical crianza, reserve, etc. hierarchy.  It is merely “el Regalo”.  The wine sees 20 months in new French oak, more of a nod to the modern side.

The Wine Advocate shows the Izadi Rioja El Regalo 2014 at a $30 retail.  But with the current wholesale scenario of a staggering number of brands being offered through a small number of purveyors, there’s a limit to how much the ‘team on the street’ can sell in a given time period, or how committed they are to going beyond just selling the ‘easy ones’.  In such an environment, even some really good juice gets lost in the shuffle and the only way to create interest at that point is a hot price, like almost 50% off.  At $16.98, this wine becomes even more of a ‘regalo’ (gift). While it lasts.

LAUREL PRIORAT SHINES AGAIN

Sometimes it is interesting to go back to the beginning.  In 1988 Daphne Glorian, at the time employed by an English Master of Wine in his Paris office, decided to spend her life’s savings on 17 terraces of hillside vines just outside the village of Gratallops.  Newly minted friends René Barbier and Alvaro Palacios encouraged her and together with Carles Pastrana and Jose Luis Perez, they pooled their talents and resources to make a new style of wine in a region rich in history but that had only really produced sturdy wine for the local markets.  In 1989 the modern Priorat was born.

Fast forward to today, and Clos Erasmus is considered one of the elite producers of the Priorat.   Their body of work is impressive and includes 98 (twice), 99 (three times) and 100 (twice) point efforts as reviewed by Robert Parker. The problem with Clos Erasmus through the years has definitely not been quality, but quantity.  There has been precious little to go around. Old vine Grenache, Carignane and a little Cabernet fruit make magic in Priorat in the right hands, and Daphne, along with her current super-star winemaker, the diminutive, dreadlocked Ester Nin are at the top of their game. 

These rustic hillsides produce wines of great power and character, yet in Ester’s hands also retain a surprising elegance.  Bordeaux had something like a three century head start on these folks and one has to appreciate how far Priorat has come in a mere three decades.  Like Bordeaux, particularly things like Chateau Margaux’s Pavillion Rouge or Lafite’s Carruades, Laurel is a ‘second’ wine comprised of the younger vines on the property, plus some declassified Clos Erasmus.  It is also another poster child for our mantra of buying little wines from the very best producers because they have better fruit, more talent, greater commitment and higher standards.  As with the first growth sourced examples we cited earlier, It is a ‘second’ wine only relative to its exalted sibling. 

Bottled unfiltered and unfined, the wine has a little bit of a wild side which gives it an exotic element, but it is absolutely packed with character and screams of its class and breeding.  We have followed Erasmus since the 90s and have tasted most of the offerings of Laurel along the way.  It seems like they are working at a higher level these days, which is saying a lot. The 2016 Clos I Terrases Priorat Laurel is once again a sensational effort and arguably worthy of ‘best yet’ considerations.  Laurel has always been impressive but it seems Ester is refining her touch. The vintage didn’t hurt either.

The Laurel 2016 shows fruit flavors of currant and black cherry, plus notes of coffee, cocoa and that insistent minerality from the llicorella (yic-o-raya) black slate soils makes Priorat a very special place for grapes.  It is aromatic, inviting, layered and remarkably engaging.  It delivers plenty even if you aren’t feeling cerebral and just want to relate to it on a purely hedonistic level.   If you need some numbers, this second wine received 93 points or better in every vintage since 2004 save one (2010, curiously enough the only vintage reviewed by Neal Martin during a very short stint as Advocate’s Spanish reviewer).   All the numbers aren’t in yet, but Jeb Dunnuck opened the topic with a 95 point review.

Dunnuck’s narrative makes the point, “The 2016 Laurel is sensational stuff and, in truth, matches several older vintages of the grand vin (Clos Erasmus) in quality. A blend of 80% Grenache, 15% Syrah, and the rest Cabernet Sauvignon, aged 16 months in a mix of oak, concrete, and amphora, this deep purple-colored beauty offers up a fresh, vibrant bouquet of blueberries, crisp plums, violets, and spring flowers. Possessing full-bodied richness, beautiful depth of fruit and richness, and a fresh, elegant style, it’s a brilliant wine that’s going to evolve gracefully for 10-15 years.”

Is there such a thing as a ‘blue chip’ second wine?  We think so. 

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.

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.

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.

‘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.

THE ‘SAC’ IS BACK

It seemed like only yesterday (it was actually November, 2017) we were excitedly jabbering on about the return of one of our favorite go-to Riojas after a long absence from the marketplace.  At the time, probably a decade or so ago, we were presented with the Valsacro Dioro 2001.  It was love at first sip and we kept a few bottles back for ourselves (though not enough) that we consumed with gusto over the next few years. 

Our reunion offer that aforementioned November involved the 2010 Vinsacro Dioro (which had subsequently been renamed Vinsacro for reasons unknown to us).  The 2010 was a most pleasant déjà vu because it was the same fruit driven, polished, creamy, supple, hedonistic red we had remembered from our first experience all those years ago. 

The first time around (the 2001) we don’t remember seeing any press at the time.  But the 2010 had also caught the attention of Wine Advocate’s Luis Gutierrez who launched a rather detailed piece describing this unique estate in Rioja Baja that had been owned by the same family for four generations.  The short story is that the vineyard is up to a century old and the grapes are planted to a field blend that the family refers to as ‘Vidau’.  The fruit is hand harvested into small crates and the Dioro goes through four separate steps in the selection process, ending up as a ‘best barrels’ cuvee. 

Luis’ notes say, “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…92 points.”   Yeah it’s that whole explosion of berries and ‘luscious palate’ that keeps us coming back, plus we were selling at more than 50% off Luis’ stated ‘retail’ price. 

Good times were had by all then, and when we waltzed through a slug of the winery’s 2015 Vinsacro Dioro in August of the following year.  Similar story, 92 point, shamelessly engaging, supple Rioja redolent with dark plum/blueberry fruit tinged by spice, lead pencil, notes of cocoa being sold for a fraction of its original retail.  Again, here’s an extremely pretty wine from a clearly committed producer, from a great vintage, for pennies on the dollar?  We love the story line…it’s so Winex!

But mostly we love the wine.

So when we were approached with the 2005, another great vintage (this one was still labeled Valsacro), the choice was easy.  Where had this wine been for the last decade plus? No clue, but it is in a verygood place now.  Thanks to the additional time in bottle the 2005 Valsacro Dioro is a harmonious, hedonistic marvel.  We found reviews from back in the day, dueling ‘92s’ from Vinous’ (then IWC) Josh Raynolds and Advocate’s reviewer at the time Jay Miller, significantly different palates.

From Jay Miller, June, 2010, “The 2005 Dioro was produced from a stricter selection and was aged in new French oak for 12-14 months. A saturated purple color, it displays a brooding bouquet of wood smoke, pencil lead, espresso, truffle, and blackberry. Dense and loaded on the palate, it has gobs of ripe black fruit, excellent balance, and a lengthy, pure finish. It will continue to blossom over the next 3-4 years and have a drinking window extending from 2014 to 2025…92 points. (list $57). “

From Josh Raynolds, September, 2011, “(aged in new French oak): Glass-staining ruby. Extremely perfumed, oak-accented nose displays cherry-vanilla and blackberry preserves, with a sexy floral note and building spiciness. Full-bodied and velvety, offering palate-coating flavors of macerated cherry, dark berries and vanilla bean. Finishes very long and sweet, with persistent spiciness and a hint of smoke. An extremely attractive and balanced example of the modern style92 points.”

The plush, creamy texture, integrated fruit and terroir components, superb balance, and silky finish are like few wines in the marketplace at any price.  We have consumed a good bit of this already and have plans to do a lot more. Once again we are able to offer this absolutely delicious wine, bottle age included, for under $20! 

We have stocked a bit more for ourselves this time around because the stuff doesn’t seem to last long in the cellar (not that it wouldn’t if we left it alone).  The 2005 Valsacro Rioja Dioro 2005 one to buy by the case.

The same could be said for the 2015 Vinsacro Rioja Dioro, of which we recently got a reload. The short story here is that this is another offering from this very appealing house that was a Wine Advocate 92 for this wine, at a list price of $65, only we are also selling it for a ridiculous$19.98!

SIERRA CANTABRIA UNICA 2014: MUY TASTY

The Eguren brothers have their fingers in a lot of pies including Dominio de Eguren in Manchuela, the single vineyard estate Senorio de San Vincente, and Teso la Monja, an estate they started after they sold their previous Toro project, Numanthia. Yeah the boys are busy (they currently operate six wineries), but it all centers around the original property founded five generations earlier in 1870, Sierra Cantabria. They started as growers that for decades sold their grapes to other wineries and they still see themselves as viticulturists first. But they clearly know what to do with the juice.

Sierra Cantabriamakes a number of different wines but this series (which started in 2008 if memory serves) has been perhaps one of the best performers all things considered. Made from vines planted in 1985 in San Vicente de la Sonsierra, the wine itself is made from 98% Tempranillo with a pinch (2%) ‘older vine Grenache’. The wine sees 24 months in 60% French and 40% American oak, 30% of which is new. There’s no pretense at ‘traditional’ styling here even though it qualifies under the law.

This is a big, ripe mouthful of plush, ripe black fruits, spice cake, earthy minerality and hints of smoke. The bottle age is clearly sufficient to take whatever edge off this wine it might have had, and it now presents itself as an open, fruit driven wave of flavor. It’s very well put together but in a more ‘bottoms up’ style that doesn’t require a lot of thinking. In other words lush, easy to like stuff. The critics seemed to like it well enough. Both Vinous’ Josh Raynolds and Wine Spectator hung 92s on this one. Raynolds said, “…Sappy and focused on the palate, offering juicy raspberry, cherry and spicecake flavors that put on weight with air. Shows excellent precision on the clinging finish, which features sweet red fruit liqueur and floral elements and harmonious, silky tannins.”

Wine Spectator’s Thomas Mathews offered, “Vanilla, sandalwood and cedar notes lend a spicy accent to the cherry, tangerine, underbrush and licorice flavors in this round red. Shows good density, with well-integrated tannins and lively acidity imparting focus. Tempranillo and Graciano. Drink now through 2026.”

The highest praise, and a bit of explanation, came from Jeb Dunnuck, “The 2014 Sierra Cantabria Reserva Única is a cellar selection of the best barrels of the Reserve, selected with the idea of making a big, rich wine that can drink well in its youth yet also age. Blackberry, blueberry, violet, peach pit, graphite, and lead pencil notes all flow to a rich, medium to full-bodied, beautifully balanced red that has good acidity, fine tannin, and a great finish. This sexy, decadent, layered beauty shouldn’t be missed! …94 points.”

It is absolutely “big, rich wine that can drink well in its youth” which will definitely make a few new friends for Spain but not at the exclusion of long time fans of Rioja.

PICARO: RIBERA GONE ‘ROGUE’

We go out of our way to taste as many things as we can.  But for us Spain is a particular penchant.  We taste a lot of remarkable wines in the course of our research, as well as the usual percentage of clunkers and other offerings that are getting a lot of critical attention that we simply don’t ‘get’.   Ribera del Duero is seen as a more ‘serious’ appellation with the neighborhood harboring such heavyweights as Vega Sicilia, Hacienda del Monasterio, Pingus, and Pesquera.   There are plenty of discussions about ‘old school’ and ‘new school’, but one of the wines that lit our fire from a discovery perspective last year didn’t seem part of any school.

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.

The wines are the brainchild of Dominio di Aguila, and he labels them ‘Picaro del Aguila’, the term Picaro making reference to someone as a ‘rascal’ or a ‘rogue’.  The playful nature of the program belies how serious these folks are about what they do and the clarity and purpose of their vision.  The winemaking is purposeful and innovative, but ultimately all of the serious winemaking goes to produce wines that are, ultimately, ‘fun to drink’

We first profiled Domino del Aguila last year with the tasty and rather eye-opening 2015 version. The ‘recipe’, if you will, relies heavily on the appropriate clone of Tempranillo.  But he has chosen some rather unusual bedfellows for this part of the world including Grenache, Bobal, a varietal we associate more with Valencia to the southeast, and Albillo, the rare, indigenous white of the Ribera.  Put them all together (del Aguila actually co-ferments them) and what do you get.  As we described the 2015, you get a Ribera with its ‘party hat’ on.  The 2015 went on to get 92+ points and a small novelette from Advocate’s Luis Guttierrez.

The 2016 walks the same line, scored higher and is clearly an even more complete effort.   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, probably due to the inclusion of the white grapes in the fermentation a la Cote Roties in the northern Rhone.  Gushing mulberry and cassis flavors abound but there’s a streak that is like a marinated black cherry and more expressive floral elements to the aromatics that announce this is no garden variety Ribera.

The viticulture and winemaking here are more than serious.  The vines, somewhere north of 50-years-old, are farmed organically/biodynamically,  The grapes are trodden by foot before being put in French oak for malo-lactic fermentation and a sojourn 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 and affords the grapes a little more hang time.  The fruit  notes have a certain ‘wild’ character, a more lifted personality that doesn’t sit heavy on the palate, and an effusive spiciness.  The Dominio del Aguila Picaro Ribera del Duero Vinas Viejas 2016 is a gregarious, slippery, tasty and, yes, fun beverage.

Advocate’s Gutierrez went off again, “The youngest of the released wines I tasted is a red—the 2016 Pícaro del Águila Tinto. It is from what they consider to be one of the best and freshest vintages in recent times. This is produced with the vines from the warmer parts of La Aguilera, a cold place to start with (and in a cooler year). The old vines are planted with a mix that is dominated by Tempranillo but also contains some 5% other grapes. All the grapes are picked and fermented together with full clusters and natural yeasts in concrete and stainless steel vats. It matured in oak barrels for 13 months.

“This is fragrant, expressive, open, aromatic and really attractive. The palate is really balanced, with great freshness, fine tannins and a very pleasant mouthfeel—supple, balanced and with great depth. This is the best version of this bottling so far…”   Juicy, well-meshed (it was quite engaging on day two as well), well-priced and versatile, all done in a style all its own, the eagle (aguila is Spanish for ‘eagle) has landed.