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.

LA RIOJA ALTA’S BRILLIANT 2009 GRAN RESERVA 904

It doesn’t take a lot to convince us about the quality of wines from this producer. As you probably know, we’ve been fans for a long time.  It’s hard for us to even imagine why wines like La Rioja Alta aren’t the first choice of most wine drinkers.   We have worn our affection for Rioja on our sleeves for, what, a couple of decades?  La Rioja Alta has been a house favorite for a long time as well and is one of the bastions of quality juice in the ‘traditional’ style.  They perform well at all of the price levels at which they play, from their Reserva Viña Ardanza and Viña Alberdi to their super-premium Gran Reservas 904 and 890.   You’ve got high quality, very modest prices relative to similar examples in other genres, and those wacky Spaniards even throw in a bit of bottle age at no extra charge.  Where’s the down side?

Not long ago we wrote an offer for the sensational 2009 La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza Reserva.  The pitch was pretty straight forward.  How about a 96-point (from James Suckling) Rioja in a plush, ripe style (2009 was a warm vintage), with a few years of bottle age, for under $30?  Pretty compelling, no?  Correspondingly, we sold quite a bit of it.  No surprise there.  In the piece we wrote about the fact that we tasted two wines that day, the Vina Ardanza 2009 and  the Gran Reserva 904 2009.  It was one spectacular day of ‘research’.

It was also a little bit of a surprise.  Alongside the 2001, 2004, 2005 and 2010 vintages in Rioja, the 2009, while certainly no slouch, simply isn’t thought of as an elite vintage.  Apparently La Rioja Alta did not get that memo because both of these wines were among the most engaging out of the gate that we had ever had from these folks over great number of releases. Plush, packed with supple but substantial cassis, black cherry and spice character, ripe tannins and well tucked in supporting acidity,  If you were going to ‘design’ a super sexy Rioja, this pair of 2009s would be great models.

La Rioja Alta is one of Spain’s greatest and most beloved wineries.  It produces classically elegant and polished Rioja wines that are always released after quite some time aging in their cellars. They do all the work, you don’t pay the price.

The variety of vineyards La Rioja Alta has to work with allows them to maintain the vintage’s unique imprint on the wine while still maintaining a simply ridiculous level of quality for the money.  As far as hedonism goes, the bodega hit home runs with these two.  Hey, we’ll gladly admit that we would drink either one of them with relish.  We know that many of you out there prefer to buy at the top-level, in which case the 904 is the clear choice.

The 904 is a complete, engaging, stylish beverage with enormous food versatility yet a roundness and complexity that will reward those that just want to haul off and drink it.  The reviewers seem to share our excitement with this effort.   James Suckling wrote, “This is a driven and super tight Gran Reserva with dark berries and hints of spice and cedar. A spicy red-pepper undertone and some dried flowers. Full to medium body, integrated tannins and a superb finish. A great wine.- 97 Points!”

Wine Advocate’s Luis Gutierrez was, as usual, a bit more loquacious.  He offers, “Time flies, and the 904 for sale is already the 2009 Gran Reserva 904, as they didn’t bottle it in 2008. They are only going to bottle their top wines in very good and excellent vintages, so there will be a 2010 and 2011 but no 2012, 2013 or 2014. This super classical cuvée showcases the wines from Haro, silky and elegant after long aging in oak and a good future in bottle. 2009 was a powerful vintage, ripe but with good balance. The blend is approximately 90% Tempranillo and 10% Graciano, fermented in stainless steel with a 78-day natural malolactic. The aging was in four-year-old American oak barrels crafted by their own coopers; the wines aged from April 2010 until April 2014. During that time, the wine was racked every six months, to be finally bottled in November 2014. This is usually my favorite wine from the portfolio, where the balance between aging and youth reaches its highest point. It’s developed but it keeps some fruit character, plenty of spices and balsamic aromas. The palate is polished but has some clout, with clean, focused flavors and a long, spicy and tasty finish. This represents good value for the quality it delivers…95+ points.”

The only question left to answer is for the ‘numbers’ set who would say that, since the Ardanza got 96 from James Suckling and 93+ from Advocate, as opposed to the 97 and 95+ respectively for the 904, why would one spend the additional funds for a point or two?  We could unleash a lengthy argument on several fronts but, for time’s sake, because it’s better.  It is from a different vineyard, with older vines (60 years as opposed to 30).  It’s also a different blend (90% Tempranillo/10% Mazuelo in 904 compared to 80% Tempranillo/20% Garnacha in Ardanza).

There’s more complexity, structure, and a different profile in the 904, plus it is a different expression of Rioja.  It is simply not, in our minds, an either/or proposition.  Ardanza is one of the best $30 wines in the world, and you’d be hard-pressed to find anything in 2009 La Rioja Alta Rioja Gran Reserva 904’s price category that was better for the fare.  You need both! It’s a wonderful ‘problem’ to have.

 

 

 

Spanish Immersion, Part Dos: Ravishing Rioja

It is pretty easy to buy Spanish wines ‘by the numbers’ these days.  There seems to be no end to the parade of well-priced, aged reds from places like Rioja that are getting great notes from the media, and deservedly so.  But every once in a while one comes along that is so accommodating and delicious that reviews aren’t really a factor.  Simply put, we have an outstanding selection of Spanish wines that fall into that big score, little price category already.  We didn’t need this one, but bought it anyway with an eye to our own consumption.

The Lealtanza Rioja Gran Reserva 2010, is, by classic Riojano definition, the top traditional bottling from this house.  What impressed here, besides the obvious depth of quality to the fruit as expected from a gran reserva in one of Rioja’s benchmark vintages, was the plush, ample, velvety palate feel that was a cut above the crowd even for this typically crowd-pleasing genre.

The wine is packed with cassis, black raspberry and other dark berry fruit laced with cocoa, spice, a hint of pepper and a whiff of tobacco, all served on a bed of nicely ripe, mellow tannins.  But what really sets it apart is its fleshy sweetness on the palate, engaging roundness, and soft core of fruit as it rolls across your tongue.  Yes, Riojas aim to please.  But this wine simply does it a bit better.  The reviews will likely come.  We haven’t seen any yet.  But in truth, we’re already pretty smitten with this one.  Deliciousness trumps everything.  As Gran Reservas go, it’s pretty attractively priced as well ($22.98).  All the better.

 

THE NEXT RIOJA ‘LEGEND’

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.

 

VALSACRO: RETURN OF AN OLD FRIEND

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.