Spanish Wines - October 17, 2012 - Hosts: Rod and Arnie

Further notes are below the pictures.

White Wines

2007 Rafael Palacios As Sortes, 100% Godello from Valdeorras ($ 50)

RP 93 (April, 2010) The 2009 As Sortes is also 100% Godello aged for 8 months in foudre sourced from 14 hectares of estate vineyard. Medium straw-colored, it offers up an expressive nose of mineral, spring flowers, honeysuckle, pear, and tropical notes. With huge volume on the palate and amazing concentration, this creamy textured effort is impeccably balanced and long. Drink it over the next 4 years.

2003 R. Lopez de Heredia Vina Gravonia White Rioja, Viura and Malvasia ($36)

Review by Neal Martin Wine Advocate # 202 (Aug 2012) Rating: 91 Drink 2012 - 2020 Cost: $36 The 2002 Vina Gravonia Blanco has a stunning, understated nose with subtle honeysuckle and beeswax aromas that are kept in check by superb delineation and exuberant freshness. The palate is crisp and taut on the entry, with understated nougat and bitter lemon notes that are just below the surface. It is fresh and elegant on the finish that offers hazelnut, smoke and a cheeky scent of pumpkin, all lingering on the aftertaste. I am sure this will age as effortlessly as previous vintages. Drink now-2020+ I have adored, indeed occasionallY worshiped, the wines of Lopez de Heredia for many years, so I am not ashamed to admit that visiting bot h their vineyard and their winery was a pilgrimage. Founded by Rafael Lopez de Heredia y Landeta in 1877, it has withstood the tide of corporatization and homogeneity, and epitomizes timeless, artisan winemaking in their own iridividual, almost solipsistic manner. Technology is noticeable by its absence here. For example, to quote her sister Maria-Jose at a tasting that I subsequently attended in London: "Indigenous yeasts have adapted to high temperatures. To control the temperature during fermentation, we open doors and windows" and "malolactic is the invention of modern winemakers." I had to check whether this was 2012 or 1912. If you were to award points for charisma, then this producer would be in a league of its own. That would count for nothing if their wines were not distinguished, individual, long-lived and above all, delicious. It is commonly known that if you are seeking bags of truit and lashings of oak, this is not the place to come. My views and these scores might be irrational to someone with a penchant for lush, voluptuous Rioja. Lopez de Heredia is the apotheosis of traditional, classic wines: taut, fresh, bucolic, utterly charming and amazingly long-lived. I spent two or three hours with winemaker Mercedes Lopez de Heredia, who was celebrating her birthday with, appropriately enough, a bottle ot Tondonia Gran Reserva trom her year ot birth. I urge readers to access the video I took ot Mercedes explaining the vineyard in her own breathless style. In the meantime, I will crack on with the wines "Wines should talk by themselves," Maria-Jose enthused to her enraptured audience at a tasting in London. "My father was a vine maker, not a winemaker. Each wine is a reflection of a different land that my great-grandfather bought. Our wines respond to the history of Rioja." I would add to her comments that since these are mainly aged wines, a bottle of Lopez de Heredia is an individual and each time you meet, you may see a different side to its personality. So treat these reviews as they are: snapshots at a given moment. We commence with their white wines and indeed, I know of several connoisseurs who rate these even better than their reds and I can sympathize with that view. "The white wines were made as a copy of Graves and were made to be aged," Marie-Jose continued. "So they are made like reds and are harvested at the same time. They undergo skin contact for one, two or three days to absorb the preservative from the skins and pips. Viura gives complexity as it ages."

Red Wines

Year Wine/Region Producer

1985 Gran Coronas Reserva - Black Label/Penedes Miguel Torres ($50-70)
1988 Gran Coronas Reserva - Black Label/Penedes Miguel Torres ($50-70)

RP 91 (February, 2008, for the 2003 Torres Gran Coronas Mas la Plana) The 2003 Mas La PIana is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon trom an estate vineyard in Penedes. The wine was aged tor 18 months in new French oak. Purple-colored, it reveals an expressive bouquet of pain grille, scorched earth, spice box, black currant, and blackberry. Medium to full-bodied, well-balanced, and intensely flavored, it has excellent depth and length. It will evolve in the cellar tor 6-8 years and drink well through 2025.

1995 Conddado de Haza / Ribera Ded Duero Alejandro Femandez ($50)

RP 91 (April, 2004) A sensational effort, the 1995 Alenza reveals a youthfulness that belies its age. A deep ruby/purple color is accompanied by scents ot damp earth, melted licorice, black currants, and spicy wood. Full-bodied and rich with substantial tannin, it is just beginning to hit its apogee, and should drink well tor another decade. There are 2,000 cases ot the Alenza, named after both Alejandro and his wite, Esperenza. Aged 30 months in primarily new American oak, it is, as Alejandro said, "a wine for traditionists."

1995 Bodegas Teofilo Reyes/Ribera Del Duero Teofilo Reyes ($50)

RP 92 (October, 1997) The 1995 Bodegas Reyes, which is about to be released, is a highly promising wine. Reyes, who practices malolactic termentation in smali casks, uses 100% Tinta deI Pais grapes (trom 40-year old vines), and aims for maximum extraction and little or no manipulation (this wine is bottled unfiltered). The 1995 exhibits an opaque ruby/purple color, tollowed by a terrific nose of black fruits, licorice, spice, and smoke. The wine is dense, rich, and full-bodied, with no heaviness or overbearing, astringent tannin. Everything is seamless in this beautifully made, pure, full-bodied, intense Ribera dei Duero. It should drink well young, and last for 10-15+ years.

1994 Tinto Pesquera - Reserva Especial/Ribera Del Duero Fernandez ($120)

RP 92 (August, 2001) Dense plum/ruby/purple-colored, with a sweet perfume ot earth, herbs, jammy blaek fruits, and oak in the background, the opulently textured, round, fleshy 1994 Gran Reserva possesses fuli body, moderate tannin, and an aceessible yet struetured personality. It should drink well for 12-15 years.

2003 Aalto/ Ribera del Duero, Mariano Garcia-Winemaker at Vega Sicilia ($55)

RP 92 (February, 2007) The 2003 Aalto is a purple-colored wine offering a sty/ish nose ot smoke, toast, graphite, blueberry, and blackberry liqueur. On the palate it is medium to tull-bodied, ripe, but slightly compact and the finish is firm. It would appear that the 2003 vintage has removed some ot the generosity normally tound in this wine in top years. Nevertheless, it is a fine effort that should drink well through 2027.

1994 Muga Reserva / Rioja Unfiltered Bogedas Muga ($15)

RP 90 (June, 1998) This wine is a terrific bargain in high class red wine. A blend of 70% Tempranillo, 20% Grenaehe, and 10% Mazuelo and Graeiano, this wine (4,500 cases imported into the US), is the essence ot ehocolate, truffles, tobacco, and cherries in its nose and f1avors. Dense and ripe, with a full-bodied personality, this is a deep, rich, round, compelling Rioja tor drinking now as well as over the next decade. Readers should seriously contemplate purchasing this wine by the case.

1989 Remelluri Gran Reservaj Rioja Bodegas de Remelluri ($14)

RP 92 (June, 1996) Only 250 cases of the 1989 Rioja Gran Reserva have been released. The last vintage that Remelluri declared a Gran Reserva was 1985. The 1989 exhibits an opaque gamet color, and a huge, provocative trag rance ot hickory smoke, barbeque spices, chocolate, jammy blaek truits, truffles, and herbs. The bouquet's immense complexity is folIowed by a wine ot extraordinary power, richness, and body. Imagine a top Brunello di Montalcino aged in 100% new oak given an injection ot steroids, and readers might have an image ot just how rich and boldly-styled this Rioja has tumed out. The wine boasts remarkable length, an unetuous texture, and plenty ot tannin lurking beneath the layers of ereamy, sweet (from ripeness, not sugar) fruit. Already stunning, this wine should drink well tor a decade.

2000 Numanthia - Numanthia /Toro Numanthia-Termes ($45-60)

RP 93 (February, 2003) The project ot importer Jorge Ordonez, the 2000 Numanthia (100% Tinta de Toro trom 70-100 year-old vines) was produced trom meager yields of one ton of fruit per acre. It spent 19 months in new French oak, with malolactic in barrel, and neither fining nor filtration. This is a massive, dense ruby/purple-colored effort that needs 3-4 years to strut its stuff. Thick, juicy, and concentrated, it displays notes ot creme de cassis, melted licorice, spice box, and earth. It is an impressive, pure, layered wine to drink between 2006-2017.

1994 Finca Dofi / Priorat Alvaro Palacios ($70-90)

RP 95 (April, 1998) The superb, backward 1994 Cios Dofi requires 3-5 years ot cellaring. The color is a dense saturated purple, and the nose offers up black currant, raspberry, and kirsch aromas intermixed with vanillin and minerais. Tannic and medium-bodied, with exquisite ńpeness and overall equilibirum, this powerful wine should be at its best between 2002-2016.

1993 Clos Erasmus / Priorat Daphne Glorian ($29-300+)

RP 94 (October, 1995) The 1993 is spectacular. The opaque ruby/purple color is folIowed by a stunningly fragrant nose of black fruits, melted road tar, toasty new oak, and truffle/licońce scents. Extremely full-bodied, with layers of flavor, this immense but well-balanced wine is a wine-making tour de torce. Given the tact that three of Spain's hottest new wines have emanated from the steep, terraced hillsides of Pńorto - Cios Mogador, Cios d'Orlac, and now Cios Erasmus - it is only a matter ot time before the world's wine connoisseurs begin beating a path to this remote, rugged region ot northeastem Spain.

Desert Wine

1927 Pedro Ximenez Alvear, Solera started 1927 Alvear, S.A. ($40)

RP 96 (June, 2005) The impressive 1927 Pedro Ximenez Solera, trom a Solera begun nearly 80 years ago, boasts a dark amber color as well as an extraordinary nose of creme bru lee, liquefied nuts, marmalade, and mapie syrup. Huge and viscous, yet neither cloyingly sweet nor heavy, it is a profound effort pńced unbelievably low. It is meant to be drunk alone at the end of a meal.

Arnie's notes: Spain is the third largest producer ofwine in the world, the largest being ltaly and France. Historically, Spain has been known from the production of fortified wines and the best known Spanish wine is considered by some to be the fortified wine Sherry, which is produced in the region surrounding Jerez de la Frontera. Other wine regions well knowo outside of Spain include: Rioja, Ribera deI Duero, Priorato, Cava and Penedes. In Rioja, the law permits the use of four red grape varieties. Tempranillo is the primary grape used, followed by Garnacha (also knowo as Grenache), Graciano and Mazuelo. The latter two are excellent but difficult to grow varieties. Crianza wines are those that have been aged for two years, Reservas are aged three years, and Gran Reservas (also knowo as Reserva EspeciaI) are aged at least five years.

Ribera deI Duero lacks the long history of Rioja and was recognized as an otlicial wine region in 1982. Priorato is a region with low yields and produces wines of rich intensity. Notable pioneer Rene Barbier is credited by some with bringing fame to this region. Penedes produces both red and white wines, but is mainly known for being the region that Cava was first made by the Reventos family who own and operate Codorniu The largest Spanish wine brand name, Torres, is a major producer there.


Denominación de Origen is an appeIIation primarily used for Spanish wines, but also other foodstuffs. It is parallel with the hierarchical AOC system of France (1935) and Italy (1966), although Rioja (1925) and Sherry (1933) preceded the full system. As of 2006, 72 wine regions have EU QWPSR (Quality Wine Produced in Specific Regions) status:

  • Denominación de Pago (DO de Pago): Individual single-estates with an international reputation. There are 3 wine regions with this status.
  • Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOCa/DOQ - Denominates d'Origen QuaIificada in Catalan): Regions with (allegedly) a track record of consistent quality. There are 2 wine regions with this status, Rioja and Priorato, with Ribuero deI Duero to follow soon.
  • Denominación de Origen (Denominació d'Origen in Catalan - DO): mainstream quality-wine regions. There are 65 wine regions with this status. Vino de Calidad Producido en Región Detenninada (VCPRD): a 'starter home' for wine regions climbing the quality ladder. There are 2 wine regions with this status.
  • There are also some 55 country wine areas (Vinos de la Tierra - VdlT) which do not have EU QWPSR status but which may use a regional name.
  • The simplest wine is classified as Vino de Mesa. This wine has no vintage or area designation on the label (apart from 'Produce ofSpain') is falling in quantity ofproduction every year.
  • The 72 recognized wine producing regions in Spain grow a wide diversity of grapes, mostly of native origin. The great variety ofwines with unfamiliar narnes causes confusion arnong many consumers.

Wines are labeled according to the amount of aging the wine has received. These are the national minimal, but many producers far exceed them - most notably Rioja and Ribera deI Duero:

  • Cosecha wines (meaning "vintage") are young and are not usually aged in wood. Alternatively, these may be the new-wave 'High Expression' wines which don't use the traditional epithets as they are considered to be old-fashioned: the price should be a guide as to which is which.
  • Criaoza wines are aged for two years with at least one year in a cask.
  • Reserva wines are aged for at least one year in an oak cask and at least one year in the bottle, with a further year in either.
  • Gran Reserva wines are aged for at least 18 months in oak, and at Ieast three years in the bottIe and a minimum offive years total at the winery.

Wine Regions

Denominación de Origen Calificada.

The Rioja is easily the most famous wine-producing region in Spain. It focuses on red wines and is often called the Napa Valley of Spain. The top red wines are made predominantly from Tempranillo with Garnacha, Graciano, and MazueIo blended in.The wines of Rioja are aged for several years in American oak (Quercus alba) as opposed to French oak (Quercus petraea). According to the New York Times, the overpowering oak flavor from American Oak truly belongs in the wines of Riojas, lending a spicy vanilla flavor. Many classic Riojas are blended, but some modem wineries, such as Atardi, use 100% Tempranillo. Riojas are often aged for many years before they are released, and are considered to be the Spanish equivaIent to Bordeauxs. Riojas are classified based on the amount of aging they receive as Crianzas, Reservas, and Gran Reserva. Among the best are Artadi, La Rioja Alta, Marques de Murrieta Ygay, Torre Muga, Caceres, and Lopez de Heredia.

The Priorat is a relative newcomer, based in the hills to the west of Tarragona. For many years Priorato produced nothing of great interest. Quite recently, however, Priorato has been making big, age worthy and exciting wines from the Iikes of CIos Mogador, CIos Erasmus, Mas Doix, Vall Lach, Cims de Porrera, CIos de l'Obac and many others. These are generally bIends ofwines rather than 100% TempraniIIo.

Ribera dei Duero is Iocated just south of Rioja situated around the Duero River, and which often challenges Rioja for the best red wines produced in Spain. Almost all of its wines are made from the Tempranillo grape. Despite Rioja's reputation, it is the Ribera deI Duero that is the home to some of Spain's most expensive wines, produced by Vega SiciIia and Pingus. There are other splendid wines in this region, such as Aalto (called the "new Vega Sicilia" by the NY Times), AIion from Vega Sicilia, and anything from Abadia Retuerta.

Denominación de Origen

A full list of regions can be found at the main Spanish wine regions page online. Notable DO regions include:

  • Jerez-Xeres-Sherry
  • Jumilla home ofEI Nido and Clio, bIends of Mourvedre and Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Monsant home to Alto Moncayo, a stunning 100% Gamacha wine
  • Penedes is located near Barcelona and is notable for the production ofthe sparkling wine Cava. The more popular red wines produced here include those of one ofSpain's most well known winemakers, Migual Torres. He produces a vast array of styles from spark1ing Cava to Gran Rezerva reds.
  • Tempranillo - the number one red grape in Spain and equivalent to the Pinot Noir - often bIended with Garnacha and Carinena.
  • Rias Baixas is located in the Galicia region in the northwest of Spain. This DO is known for Albarifio wine, Spain's number one white wine. The other white grape varieties here include Verdejo, Treixadura, Loureira, Caino Blanco, and Torrontes. The popular red grapes in this region include Caino Tinot and Souson.
  • Rueda is located west of Ribera deI Duero. This region produces good reds and whites less expensive than those from Rioja or Ribera deI Duero. Example, Marquis de Riscal.
  • Toro is located in the province of Zamora, in Castilla y León, and west of Rueda. And produces many outstanding grapes from a The Toro or Tinto Fino variant of the Tempranillo grape. Best known for Numanthia-Termanthia.
  • Campo de Borja has recently become more prominent. It features a number of cooperatives who produce Garnacha and Tempranillo.


Page last edited: May 20, 2024 (EB)


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