Does Portugal make great still wines? Silly question. One sip of Quinta do Vallado is a clincher. Wine Spectator just said it was 95 points. They just missed, I say 96! It’s all about the touriga nacional from fine old terroir up the Douro for me and this is the stuff. If you don’t know about touriga nacional, this is the place to jump in, though it may spoil you! This is the best grape in Portugal. And Vallado’s is textbook, made from small dark concentrated grapes from prized old vines delivering intense black fruit flavor and grand cru structure. The greatest ports have always used lots of touriga, and so do the new wave of modern Portuguese still wines. Quinta do Vallado is so rich and such a bargain that WS put the 2007 high on its Top 100 last year and W&S named it winery of the year. The sixth generation winemaking family now makes the best dry Portuguese reds I’ve had and they keep getting better. I say 96 pts. worth for this one and boy is it plum good, big, full and ready to lie down happily for another ten years or more. Remember the name, touriga nacional; plant it in your memory bank with a big glass today.
2009 Quinta do Vallado Touriga Nacional
Violets galore. the nose of great Touriga makes me crazy. If you don’t know this grape, you need to… Full throttle red, deep, rich, long, spice.
Take a breath of exotic drop-dead bouquet of Alion. The 2007 has it all, blackberries, lavender, a caravan of spices, incense and smoke. Incredible depth before you taste a drop; in your mouth it’s an endless, intricate parade of flavors and a rich, long finish. All of which is what you expect from Vega Sicilia’s legendary wines that age for years and years. But this little beauty thrills me because Alion is made to be drunk while you wait on the big boys to evolve …and doesn’t cost hundreds of dollars. The Alvarez family raises Alion in new French oak and strives for a modern style and they nail it here. This can keep for 15 years or be opened in just a few, it’s up to you. A very new Vega Sicilia built to deliver pleasure whenever you decide to open it.
2007 Alion by Vega Sicilia
…bouquet of wood smoke, pencil lead, exotic spices, incense, lavender, and blackberry. On the palate it displays impressive volume, a smooth texture, layered flavors, and a lengthy, seamless finish….
Sardonia is new. So new, the Spanish can only call it “Vino de la Tierra,” but I have great trust in the maker Peter Sisseck, the guy behind the brilliant Pingus and Hacienda Monasterio. This is his newest project, on the outskirts of Ribera del Duero. Young, biodynamic and developing into a cult wine. As much Bordeaux as Duero: Tinto fino fleshed out with cabernet sauvignon and the other Bordeaux varietals (along with syrah too). A dark smoking blend that layers blue and black fruits with meaty flavors and herbs, this is a sleek and complex beauty. And that’s just right now. This baby will last 15 or 20 years. As much as I love old vines and great traditions, I love tasting something new of such high quality. Sisseck started this project outside official Ribera del Duero near Valladolid 1, but it’s still on perfect soil… calcareous, chalky and rocky. This blend is his idea too. Sisseck and his partner have been in place for only 10 years so far and I can’t wait to see it grow. You’re gonna want to be there, too. At 15 percent off, you can get in on Quinta Sardonia early.
2009 Quinta Sardonia
95 points – Bob Sprentall, B-21 Proprietor (May 2012)
…a dark smoking blend that layers blue and black fruits with meaty flavors and herbs into a sleek and complex beauty. And that’s straight out of the chute. This baby will last 15 or 20 years. …Duero with edge….
2009 Quinta Sardonia
Quinta Sardonia is made by Peter Sisseck, the guy behind the brilliant Pingus and Hacienda Monasterio who many in the Duero might call “Peter The Great.” This is his newest project, on the outskirts of Ribera del Duero in the Sardon. Sisseck’s love of Bordeaux encouraged him to use the fruit of the area, tinto fino, the very particular type of tempranillo, along with cabernet sauvignon and the other Bordeaux varietals. This is a dark smoking blend that layers blue and black fruits with meaty flavors and herbs into a sleek and complex beauty. And that’s straight out of the chute, this baby will last 15 or 20 years. As much as I love old vines and great traditions I love tasting something new of such high quality. Sisseck started project outside official Ribera del Duero near Valladolid l on perfect soil for vines, calcareous, chalky and rocky. Call it Duero with edge. The blending with tempranillo is his plan, too. This project is only 10 years old and I can’t wait to see it grow. You’re gonna want to be there.
2008 Black Slate Porrera
You know we love Priorats, especially from the mountains around Porrera. I love how you can taste the very slick and slate-y licorella rocks of the terroir, down deep in the richness. And it smells like you’re in the mountains, climbing through the gorse and wild herbs. It’s such a difficult wine to grow that it can fetch $50 to $100 a bottle and up, yet this version from Marc Ripoll Sans is just as deep, pungent and silky and less than half the price. Even Rhett Beiletti, our French-loving connoisseur, says it has grenache spice and Burgundy grace, the best he’s tasted. Lucky for you we know Daphne Glorian of Clos Erasmus (one of founding winemakers of the Priorat revival) and her husband Eric Solomon so well. He started the Black Slate project not far from Erasmus to make village wine, from the same grenache and carignan and the same rocks as the big stars In 2008, Black Slate from Porrera is a classic old-vine garnacha-cariñena made by Sans whose family has been in Priorat for 200 years. It packs the black berries, licorice and spice of Spain‘s most distinctive terroir into a very sleek red. And for you,
$20 $18. If you don’t know Priorat, now’s the time.
Not only a major score but aged vintage cava? Cava so rich it needs an hour or two breathing time? From one of the oldest cava families in Spain, Gramona will surprise you (as much as the first vintage I had did, back in 2000). Anyone with my Champagne loyalties will be thrilled when discovering Spain’s first class cavas. Forget cheap surrogates for French bulk producers, this is cava that rivals the artisan growers as well as the grand marques. Great cava like Gramona is nothing new, the winery goes back 130 years and made its first cava in 1921. Today they make almost a dozen cuvees (and as many still wines plus marcs). Age and experience is the Gramona hallmark. All their cuvees have big proportions of Xarelo, the most ageworthy of Cava grapes, and are aged in the cellars longer than at any other house. The “liqueur” they use for dosage comes from a solera in old sherry and rum barrels that has been going for a century. I have acquired three Gramona wines you must try: the brilliant and elegant 2008 Gran Cuvee, the creamy, complex Imperial Gran Reserva from 2006, and the prized Ill Lustros 2005 shining with minerality, smoked nuts and electric fruit. I’ve priced these at great savings to make sure you start an exciting cava adventure.
2008 Gramona Cava Gran Cuvee
2006 Gramona Cava Imperial Gran Reserva
2005 Gramona Gran Reserva Brut Nature Ill Lustros
2008 Benjamin Romeo Predicador
You could be confused by the similarities but count me thrilled. Predicador is tempranillo treated with the exacting care of Cote d’Or pinot noir. Makes sense knowing it comes from Benjamin Romeo, the genius behind the luxurious Contador, which now commands $300. Yet his basic wine shows the same perfectionist standards and sensuous palate at an affordable price. Romeo got his start at the revered Artadi, and when he created his own winery in 2000, he took such pains with his own Contador that it sold for cult prices immediately. He has tiny vineyards of old vines intertwined with wild herbs and farms them biodynamically, picks cork trees individually and ages the wines in ancient grottoes. Thank goodness he also makes Predicador with his same distinctive flavors and style. A fraction of the price of Contador, and very hard to find in the U.S.
2009 ATM Kripta
Very serious and like no Spanish bubbly you’ve tasted before. You could call these “grower” Cavas, or a Spanish grand marque, Agusti Torello Mata is one of the greats of the D.O. These are not Champagne wannabes but Cava that is its peer. Yeasty, long on yellow fruits, rich with vanilla, toasty smoke and fine bubbles. Also rich in price, and rightly so. Mata, or ATM as we’ve come to call him, pioneered quality Cava 50 years ago. He pushes organic farming and insists on long aging. Vineyard sites are in all three zones of Penedes where he grows local grapes, elegant Macabeo, robust Xarel-lo and aromatic Parellada for all except the rose made from the indigenous trepat, a red grape. The primero, Kripta, is made from 60-year-old vines and ages 4 years in bottle before release — world class wine ready to enjoy. The creamy texture and endless finish matches caviar, foie gras and smoked fish like the finest Champagne. If you admire the great advance in modern Spanish wine, you have to toast the success with a bottle of ATM.
2008 ATM Brut Reserva
2009 ATM Rosat Trepat
I have tasted a number of exciting new releases from Spain in the last 6 weeks, though none as thrilling as the 09 Aalto: big, blue-black and smoking with all those dark flavors of Spain, leather, tobacco, espresso and spice. The Aalto project has a special appeal for me. Not quite paternal, Aalto’s father is really Vega Sicilia’s Mariano Garcia. I was there at the birth in Madrid nine years ago when he unveiled the 2001 vintage. It became the next legend of Ribera del Duero and I’ve tasted every vintage since. This is, for me, the finest Aalto yet. That is saying something considering the recent slew of 95 pointers: 2005, 2007, 2008. Somehow Garcia has topped himself. Impressive that after 30 years at Vega Sicilia he could start something like Aalto and see his second act keep getting better. The gorgeous winery is new but the vines are old, some of them 110 years old, on the hot and dusty Ribera plain. Good chalk and limestone underneath. And with every vintage the Garcia magic grows stronger. This will be the best Aalto ever.
2010 Casa Castillo Monastrell
The single finest and most serious wine value I can recall! You may know the big brother “Las Gravas,” but Casa Castillo is no longer the little kid. In 2010, it has shot up in stature. A departure from the previous 2009 vintage: more complex, textured, with the monastrell rounded out and seriously sophisticated. The 2009 is more dense, monolithic, packing a huge punch, rather like syrah and its Rhone kin. A whole lotta bang for the buck. This 2010 is more complex on the nose, more refined and polished. More of the style of serious pinot noir than typical monastrell. Shows Jumilla is able to exhibit elegance as well as power. An exquisite release and remarkably complex finish that just isn’t found in bargain-priced wine anywhere. Critics like Parker loved the 2009 (90WA). The 2010 is in another league. Whether you love Spanish wines, Rhones, pinots or just appreciate sensational values, you’re gonna want a case of this.
2005 Muga Seleccion Especial
There are very few wines as rich as the 2005 Muga Seleccion Especial. Just tasted this again and if you haven’t tried this wine, you need to. A stunning Muga from the fabulous 2005 vintage. Supple, elegant and endless. Finish goes on forever and so do the flavors, black fruits, sweet cola, smoke, tar, leather, spice and hard candy. You know I love Muga wines but this is exceptional. We are old friends with the Mugas and had a great time in Haro last summer. They’ve been here often. I expect to see them back again in for our big Spanish wine tasting on June 10 (pencil it in). We’ll try all their wines to make my point that the Seleccion Especial is as much fun as their Prado Enea! Well, to each his own Muga and I am proclaiming my love for this one. Tempranillo with garnacha, mazuelo and graciano, five years in barrel and bottle, Parker says it’s 93 and that’s low in my book. Gorgeous wine from Muga.
2009 Laurel by Clos Erasmus
Erasmus would be proud to have such an impeccable sibling, sleek and strong as anything born on the steep, rocky slate of Priorat. The 2009 Laurel may be the most exciting wine to come out of the D.O. Think of it as garnacha (65%) meeting cabernet sauvignon (30%), and flirting with syrah (5%) on the side. It’s as big, long and packed with black fruit and minerals as the big guts, yet very approachable. For a price that’s a fraction of the $200 trophy wines! Priorat has been the rock star of Spain for many connoisseurs and one of my favorite regions for expressive terroir, so I love this. Laurel comes with the special breeding of our friend Daphne Glorian, one of the pioneers of the Priorat revival. Hope you got to meet her last year when she was here when we opened a container load of wines from her husband, the importer Eric Solomon. Laurel is a brilliant new idea from an ancient region. Sadly, there’s still not much of it, but you can get you some at B-21. A terrific opportunity to meet Priorat and drink it sooner and more often.
2009 Pesquera Tinto Crianza
One whiff of the new Pesquera and I thought of grand cru Burgundy. Transported me to Clos Vougeot! It’s pure tempranillo, “tinto fino” as they say in Ribera del Duero. This is as pure a Pesquera as I have ever tasted and I’ve been drinking the wines of Alejandro Fernandez for decades (He’s in his 70s now!). It hasn’t been this powerfully good since the great 2004s, and this could be even better. Pure intense fruit of Ribera comes through beautifully. When I tasted my way through Alejandro’s range last week, lower and grander, it was the Pesquera that grabbed me. Parker’s pegged the vintage at 94. Maybe the ’08s are good enough for others but I’ve got the ’09 and I’ve got my first big shipment. No wonder that the Spanish Guia del Todovino 2012 called it the best buy of the year. This wine delivers.
2007 Casa Castillo Las Gravas
If you own this, try it. Tonight. If you don’t own it, buy it! This is an incredible wine. Two words: Jumilla Monastrell. That’s Jumilla as not that far from Priorat, and Monastrell as the French call Mourvedre. For me they have never come together better than in Las Gravas, the top cuvee from Casa Castillo. So rich, it makes me think of Chateauneuf du Pape and the great Clio too, except those cost twice and sometimes even thrice the price. Maybe even more.
Las Gravas is my new favorite Spanish red, and I’ve touted Casa Castillo since tasting their entry level red (still a bang of a bargain). I was stunned when they kicked it up a notch with Las Gravas, from their most prized vineyards at the foot of the mountains. You can taste the big fruit of monastrell bolstered by cab and syrah, and something else too: my kind of classy minerality from the heavy gravel and chalky soil of a world class terroir. The winery itself is much older than you might think. It started out 100 years ago when French winemakers discovered how good the area was for the grape they loved in the southern Rhone. That’s clear with the juicy purity of 2007 Las Gravas. Hard to believe you can drink like this at my price. If you haven’t explored Spain yet, now’s the time to do just that. It’s never been easier.