Rioja That Left Me Speechless for the Price

Today’s Story: La Rioja Alta

I previously wrote about La Rioja Alta back in May when I reviewed the 2010 Rioja Gran Reserva 904, but their 2010 Viña Ardanza Selección Especial was too tempting to pass up today.

La Rioja Alta is a historic winery established in 1890 by five Riojan and Basque families in Haro’s Station Quarter. The endeavor was named Sociedad Vinícola de La Rioja Alta, and in 1904 La Rioja Alta merged with Ardanza Winery. The two years, 1890 and 1904, are important for La Rioja Alta and today’s Gran Reservas 890 and 904 allude directly to those milestones. Today, La Rioja Alta practices sustainable viticulture with 16 hectares dedicated to organic viticulture, limiting treatments in the vineyards and utilizing renewable energy to support many of their operations. La Rioja Alta produces their wines from estate vineyards, with yields kept to under 5,000 kilos per hectare in order to yield higher quality fruit. All of the barrels are produced onsite by the Rioja Alta cooperage, and they use oak imported from the United States which they dry in open air for 2 years before use. All barrels are racked individually by candlelight and the wines go through long aging to preserve harmony and balance before release.

Today’s Wine: 2010 Viña Ardanza Rioja Reserva Selección Especial

80% Tempranillo, 20% Garnacha; 13.5% ABV

The 2010 Selección Especial is translucent medium ruby or even dark garnet in color. I decanted this bottle for 6 hours and drank it over the following 2 hours, and the wine needed every second it. Once this opens up, the captivating and classic nose offers aromas of dried black cherry, plum, dried strawberry, tobacco, leather, loamy earth, smoked game, graphite, cola, chocolate, and oak. The palate is equally tantalizing, showcasing notes of cherry, black raspberry, redcurrant, stewed strawberry, blood orange peel, pipe tobacco, sun-dried earth, wet crushed rock, dill, clove, mild vanilla, and slight baking spice. This is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium tannins, and a medium (+) length finish. While beautifully expressive and a textbook Rioja now, this will only get better in 5-10 years and keep well beyond that. The Selección Especial designation was made in only 4 vintages over the bottling’s 77 year history: 1964, 1973, 2001, and 2010.

Price: $40 (I paid closer to $50). The value here is incredible. If you can find this for $40 (or even less in some locations) I would honestly purchase it by the case. I would even buy it by the case at $50. For how this drinks now with a lot of air, I can only imagine what the coming decades will bring.

Refreshing Rioja Blanco With a Strong Value Proposition

Today’s Story: Finca Allende

Finca Allende was established in 1986 by Miguel Ángel de Gregorio in the hilltop town of Briones in the Rioja Alta region of Spain. Allende’s home, the Ibarra Palace, is a mansion built in 1675 for Don Pedro Ibarra and it’s situated amongst hillside vineyards that capture both Mediterranean and Atlantic influences in a unique and diverse terroir. Allende operates in three vineyards, each with their own microclimate and soil types to enhance various characters of the winegrowing process: Mártires (planted in 1970 in clay soil), El Calvario (planted in 1945 in stony/gravelly soils), and Aurus (60 year average vine age in clay and deep gravel soils). In caring for these vineyards, Allende refuses to use herbicides or synthetic chemicals and practices more traditional and manual farming (like plowing most vines with mules). All fruit is hand-harvested, hand-sorted three times, and manually punched down. Long aging in both barrel and bottle help guide the wines into the “Allende style” which is often fully-rounded, fuller bodied, and well-structured.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Rioja Blanco

95% Viura, 5% Malvasia; 13.5% ABV

The 2015 Rioja Blanco is transparent medium to deep gold in color. This is a lovely wine on the nose, showcasing aromas of lemon zest, peach, juicy pear, golden apple, honeysuckle, white truffle, dill, and vanilla cream. Moving onto the palate, I get notes of honeydew, lime zest, grapefruit, ripe pear, white florals, mild green herbs, exotic white spice, and almond. This is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, a fully-rounded and somewhat oily mouthfeel, and a long refreshing finish.

Price: $30. I think this is a very nice value wine, and to be honest I’ve found quite a few Riojas and Rioja Blancos that can be. This seems to be drinking incredibly well right now and I see it being at a great point for at least a few more years.

Modern Rioja Project by the Rothschilds and Vega Sicilia

Today’s Story: Bodegas Benjamin de Rothschild & Vega Sicilia

Bodegas Benjamin de Rothschild & Vega Sicilia was established in 2004 as a joint venture between Tempos Vega Sicilia and Compagnie Vinicole Baron Edmond de Rothschild. With the Rothschild family legendary in Bordeaux and Vega Sicilia legendary in Ribera del Duero, the two came together over a mutual appreciation of the terroir and history of La Rioja as a winegrowing region. The venture’s first vintage is 2009, with the release of the first bottles of Macán and Macán Clásico in 2013. Macán is the flagship bottling and Macán Clásico is a “second wine,” modeled after Bordeaux’s first and second wine traditions. With 92 hectares of estate vineyards in San Vicente de la Sonsierra, Labastida, Ábalos, and El Villar, the winery produces wines exclusively with Tempranillo and seeks to create a modern expression of the variety.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Macán Clásico Rioja

100% Tempranillo; 14.5% ABV

The 2016 Macán Clásico Rioja is opaque deep purple/ruby in color, but nearly black at its core. This needed a solid 4-5 hours in the decanter to start really opening up, but once it does the nose showcases aromas of cherry, plum, black licorice, leather, tobacco, slight barnyard, baking spice, and vanilla. Moving to the palate, this modern Rioja offers notes of dark juicy cherry, cranberry, spiced plum, rose, cigar box, dried earth, dill, clove, and pepper. The wine is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $55. At this price there are certainly better value Riojas out there, particularly for me since I prefer the more rustic, terroir-driven bottlings over a wine as modern as this one. A modern Rioja is, however, what this winery goes for so they do hit that target. Though not necessarily a wine for me now, I will certainly continue to monitor these wines to see how the powerhouses of the Rothschilds and Vega Sicilia grow into this new venture over time.

The Promise of Ribera del Duero

Today’s Story: Dominio de Pingus Psi

Psi was born out of passion by Peter Sisseck of Dominio de Pingus fame. While Pingus is arguably the pinnacle for the best that wines can be from Ribera del Duero and Spain overall, Peter established Psi to focus more on how old vines and improved farming practices could demonstrate the true overlooked potential of the region. Ribera del Duero has long been a source of “quantity over quality” mentality because the farmers are often paid by the ton and chemical use runs rampant. Peter, however, works with growers who he has helped shift to organic and biodynamic farming practices with emphasis on quality, purity of fruit, and expression of terroir. As quality of fruit improves, Peter pays his partner growers higher rates. The wines of Psi are then produced using more traditional winemaking techniques, with long macerations and rare use of new oak. Psi is no doubt an exciting development in Ribera del Duero, and it will be fun to see how the wines change and improve over time.

Today’s Wine: 2009 Psi Ribera del Duero

100% Tinto Fino (Tempranillo); 13.5% ABV

The 2009 Psi is opaque deep garnet in color with ruby hues. Once this opens up, the nose emits aromas of plum, black cherry, cola, cigar box, forest floor, spearmint, tilled rocky soil, and mineral. I will say it was fairly muted until given about 3 hours in the decanter. On the palate, which really steals the show here, I get notes of blackberry, cassis, black raspberry, tobacco, crushed rock, charred earth, green peppercorn, and mocha. This wine is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, high tannins, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $80 ($40-50 in Europe, but pretty hard to find). I think the $80 price tag here is a bit of a value stretch, but that is I think largely due to the fact this is very difficult to find and even more so with the age on it. If you find this closer to the $40 level (which I speculate is more of a release price here in the US) then it’s certainly worth a shot.

Easy to Find Everyday Rioja

Today’s Story: Bodegas Faustino

Bodegas Faustino is a large, family-owned winery established in 1861 by Eleuterio Martínez Arzok in Oyón, Spain. Eleuterio purchased the manor house and existing vineyards of the property with a plan of producing wine and ramping up bulk production and improving quality over time. Around 1920, Faustino Martínez Pérez de Albéniz helped reconstruct the vineyards (which were destroyed by phylloxera) and later took over. One of his major accomplishments was being the first to bottle the family’s wine. In 1957, the winery leadership transitioned to third-generation Julio Faustino Martínez who, during the 1960s, established the Faustino brand and was the first to create an international market for their wines. Today the brand’s wines can be found in over 70 countries and the Faustino I Rioja Gran Reserva accounts for over 30% of all Gran Reserva DOCa Rioja sold around the world.

Bodegas Faustino currently owns about 650 hectares of vineyards in the DOCa Rioja, making them one of the largest vineyard owners in all of Rioja. The Faustino winery is also quite large to keep up with the vast production of wines shipped all over the world, with barrel rooms which hold about 50,000 oak barrels and cellars that hold about 9 million bottles at a given time. To learn more about Bodegas Faustino and explore their wide range of wines, check out the website here. To learn more about Faustino I in particular, visit here.

Today’s Wine: 2006 Faustino I Rioja Gran Reserva

86% Tempranillo, 9% Graciano, 5% Mazuelo; 13.5% ABV

The 2006 Faustino I is opaque medium to deep ruby in color. I gave this 2 hours to decant, which it needed to blow some of the oak and heat off the wine. Once opened, the nose emits aromas of fig, brambleberry, black cherry, cola, cigar box, truffle, forest floor, dill, mineral, and oak. On the palate, I get notes of plum, blackberry pie, tart cherry, dried earth, cedar, baking spice, chocolate, vanilla, and charred oak. This is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium tannins, and a medium length finish.

Price: $27. I think this is a decent value Rioja for anyone new to exploring the region and its wines. The nose is certainly better than the palate in my opinion (palate still a bit people-pleasing) and this must be accompanied by food. Please, please, please give it some air before enjoying as well, as this really did start showing nicely at the 2-3 hour mark.

Incredible Quality Just Outside Ribera del Duero

Today’s Story: Galia

Galia was established in 2009 as a personal project of vigneron Jérôme Bougnaud with the partnership of Daniel García-Pita of El Regajal. Though Jérôme comes from a lineage of winemakers in Cognac, France, he works extensively in Spain and particularly along the Duero River and just outside the official borders of Ribera del Duero in Castilla y León. Galia’s vineyards consist of relatively small parcels and are scattered along the river within the provinces of Soria, Burgos, and Valladolid. Most of these vineyards sit at 795-1,000m above sea level and consist of old vines aging 50-100+ years old. Jérôme practices organic viticulture and all fruit is harvested manually before going through whole cluster or partial whole cluster natural fermentation. The wines age in 15% new French oak barrels before being bottled unfined and unfiltered. Since many of these wines are bottled as Vino de Mesa because the vineyards lay outside established D.O.s, they can be an outstanding play for value given the incredible yet “under the radar” quality of land.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Le Dean

99% Tinto Fino (Tempranillo), 1% Albillo; 15% ABV

The 2015 Galia Le Dean is opaque medium to deep ruby in color with deep purple hues. Once this opens up (I gave it 3 hours in the decanter), the nose showcases aromas of dusty cherry, plum, dried fig, leather, pipe tobacco, forest floor, dried herbs, and cedar. Once in the mouth, the wine displays notes of black cherry, brambleberry, licorice, tobacco, loamy earth, chunky crushed rock and clay, underbrush, and chocolate. This is medium- to full-bodied with medium acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a long finish. 758 bottles produced.

Price: $55. Very high quality and well-made for the price, with the depth and balance (you can’t even tell this is 15% ABV) pushing this into the good value category. Pair with roasted lamb, suckling pig, or charcuterie.

Rioja to Be Cherished for Decades to Come

Today’s Story: La Rioja Alta

La Rioja Alta is a historic winery established in 1890 by five Riojan and Basque families in Haro’s Station Quarter. The endeavor was named Sociedad Vinícola de La Rioja Alta, and in 1904 La Rioja Alta merged with Ardanza Winery. The two years, 1890 and 1904, are important for La Rioja Alta and today’s Gran Reservas 890 and 904 allude directly to those milestones. Today, La Rioja Alta practices sustainable viticulture with 16 hectares dedicated to organic viticulture, limiting treatments in the vineyards and utilizing renewable energy to support many of their operations. La Rioja Alta produces their wines from estate vineyards, with yields kept to under 5,000 kilos per hectare in order to yield higher quality fruit. All of the barrels are produced onsite by the Rioja Alta cooperage, and they use oak imported from the United States which they dry in open air for 2 years before use. All barrels are racked individually by candlelight and the wines go through long aging to preserve harmony and balance before release.

Today’s Wine: 2010 Rioja Gran Reserva 904

90% Tempranillo, 10% Graciano; 13.5% ABV

The 2010 Gran Reserva 904 is translucent deep garnet in color with ruby hues. I decanted this for 7 hours and drank it over 2 hours, though in honesty this could’ve opened up longer. The nose showcases aromas of blackberry jam, blueberry, raspberry, blue/purple/red floral bouquet, dried tobacco leaf, savory herbs, coconut, cinnamon, and vanilla bean. On the palate, I get notes of spiced plum, juicy blueberry, raspberry, violet and lavender, licorice, tobacco, pebbles, thyme, baking spice, and cedar. This is medium-bodied with medium acidity, velvety medium tannins, and an incredibly silky mouthfeel into a long finish. Give this 5-7 years in the cellar and drink over the following 2-3 decades.

Price: $58 (typically averages $66). This is absolutely worth the price, being undoubtably the best young Rioja I’ve enjoyed to date. The wine drinks with pure elegance and finesse after a long decant, but has the structure to age effortlessly for decades to come. Pair with roasted lamb, roasted game bird, or chorizo and Manchego cheese.

Beautiful Expression of Priorat

Today’s Story: Terroir al Límit

Terroir al Límit was established in 2001 by Dominik Huber and Eben Sadie when the duo purchased fruit from the Perez family of the Mas Martinet winery and vinified their first Dits del Terra. In 2003, they acquired their own wine cellar in the village of Torroja del Priorat and quickly set about purchasing more fruit and releasing new wines. Since the beginning, Dominik’s goal is to produce terroir-driven wines utilizing ancient Burgundian winemaking traditions and he took this a step further by practicing organic and biodynamic viticulture, minimal intervention, whole cluster fermentation, and concrete or amphora aging. The painstaking manual process in the vineyards (save for assistance from a mule named Frida) coupled with Dominik’s winemaking philosophy yields wines of beautiful elegance meant for “enjoying in the company of family and friends.” To explore this incredible winery further, check out the website here.

Today’s Wine: 2011 Dits del Terra

100% Carignan (85-year-old vines at 400m elevation); 13.5% ABV

The 2011 Dits del Terra is mostly opaque and medium ruby in color. This requires an hour in the decanter which allows the nose to blossom with aromas of dried cranberry, raspberry, black cherry, rose, cured meat, tobacco, earthy mushroom, forest floor, and crushed rock. Once this hits the palate, it displays notes of cranberry, strawberry, raspberry, licorice, dried tobacco leaf, dried loamy earth, baking spice, ground green herbs, and slate. The 2011 Dits del Terra is beautifully balanced and medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium tannins, and a long finish. 4,458 bottles produced.

Price: $80. Terroir al Límit produces my favorite wines that I’ve had from Priorat and, while not inexpensive, provide the quality and elegance to justify it. Pair this with turkey and cranberry sauce, venison, or herb-roasted lamb.

Remarkable Value from Toro

Today’s Story: Bodega Numanthia

Numanthia is a somewhat young winery, founded in 1998 and located in Valdefinjas in the region of Castile and León in northwestern Spain. The winery is named for the ancient city of Numancia, one whose residents resisted Roman rule for 20 years before ultimately sacrificing their lives instead of surrendering to the invading army. Though Numanthia is slightly over two decades old, their vineyards were first planted centuries ago and have weathered the passing of time and even survived the phylloxera crisis throughout Europe during the 19th century. These vines are planted in sandy and rocky soil, causing them to struggle and stretch their roots up to five meters below the earth’s surface to reach water and nutrition. The vineyards are planted 100% to Tinta de Toro and are made up of more than 100 plots, with some vines dating over 120 years old, and all farming is manual and organic while removing the use of pesticides. There are three expressions of Tinta de Toro in the Numanthia portfolio, which includes the Termes, Numanthia, and Termanthia bottlings.

Today’s Wine: 2012 Termes

100% Tinta de Toro (aka Tempranillo); 15% ABV

The 2012 Termes is opaque medium to deep purple/ruby in color. This requires about 45 minutes to open up, but once it does the nose emits aromas of blackberry, cassis, spiced plum, black raspberry, anise, smoked game, tilled rocky soil, wet granite, dark chocolate, nail polish remover, and oak. On the palate, this wine showcases notes of black plum, blackberry jam, blueberry, black cherry, cola, licorice, sweet tobacco, leather, cracked pepper, loamy earth, and light vanilla. This is medium-bodied with medium acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $25. This is a really good value wine, especially since I’ve been able to find it multiple times on sale around $15! Even at $25 per bottle this drinks incredibly well with some bottle age and the high ABV actually goes mostly unnoticed. Pair this with pizza, barbecue pork ribs, steak tacos, or tomato sauce pasta.

Promising Toro that Barely Misses the Mark Today

Today’s Story: Bodega Teso la Monja

Teso la Monja was founded in 2007 by Marcos and Miguel Angel Eguren, however the history of their family in Spanish winemaking stretches much deeper. The Eguren family has been cultivating vines and producing wine in Rioja Alavesa since 1870 and today carries their culminated knowledge down five generations. The Eguren family, alongside Jorge Ordóñez, have been instrumental in the revitalization of the Toro DO and were the original founders of Bodegas Numanthia in the region. When the family sold Numanthia in 2007, they did not want to abandon their projects in Toro and Teso la Monja was born. With Marcos as winemaker and his son Eduardo assisting, we have the fourth and fifth generations of this family once again continuing their tradition of passing along knowledge of crafting exquisite wines.

Teso la Monja is one of six wineries the family operates under the Viñedos y Bodegas Sierra Cantabria umbrella. If you have an interest in exploring their other labels, check out the website here.

Today’s Wine: 2012 Almirez Toro

100% Tinta de Toro (Tempranillo); 14.5% ABV

The 2012 Almirez is opaque deep purple in color. I decanted this for about 30-45 minutes before trying the wine and the nose opens to reveal aromas of cherry, plum, figs, red licorice, tobacco, earth, shoe leather, and oak. Once in the mouth, the wine displays notes of blackberry, black cherry, bay leaf, dried fig, chocolate, forest floor, dried herbs, and nutmeg. This Tinta de Toro is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $20. Typically a price-point for some great value Toro wines, however this one is a bit unbalanced and either needs more time in the cellar or I would suggest trying a different wine. Pair this with pizza, barbecue chicken, or tomato sauce pasta.