Cult Rioja: Adore Old-School 2001 Tondonia Reserva, 95WA

Lopez de Heredia
Tradition rules at Lopez de Heredia; it should and it must to make wine this classic, pure and elegant. Don Rafael was one of the founders of modern Rioja, by which I mean 1877-modern when the first phyllloxera-weary French were just crossing the border. No reason to change now in tech or taste. No malo, no AC, no fruit bombs, no choking oak. What you get here is not bowls of cherries and plums, but leaner berry fruit, hints of rose, leather and cinnamon, graceful and long lived. Not for every taste, but my kind of winemaking, pure, from soil to yeast to salt air. The Tondonia reds are true rarities that their fans seek out and treasure for years. Not that you need to wait. The Lopez de Heredia is aged past the minimum, beautiful to drink now and for another 15 years. I also have 1994 Gran Reserva if you want to taste real patience. This 2001 is perfect to kick off another century of delicious tradition. The winery’s current generation is quite ready for the future. Next time you gotta see this place, a gingrebready old 19th century winery… and a sweeping new Zaha Hadid structure as cool as Gehry’s “Bilbao.” Inside those contemporary swirls is an intricate replica of the gorgeous Art Nouveau boutique that Don Rafael commissioned to show off his Riojas at the Brussels expo in 1910. Tondonia is always in style. The 2001 Reserva will make you a believer for a long time.

Buy 2001 Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Reserva, Rioja2001 Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Reserva
…nose of decayed red fruit, fireside hearth, a touch of mulberry… The palate is medium-bodied with fine tannins, crisp red fruits (wild strawberry and cranberry) with a sharp, vibrant, tense, tannic finish… 95 points, R. Parker’s Wine Advocate

2009 Pesquera’s Better, Bigger, Silky Reserva. 95pts!

I thought that Alejandro Fernandez’s 2009 Crianza (94RAS) was the best I’ve tasted from his landmark tempranillo in the Ribera del Duero. It was the best vintage since 2001, but when I opened the Reserva, wow! The two years in oak took it up a gorgeous notch for me. The Wine Advocate just came out very enthusiastically too, Lush fruit and caressing texture “can only bring smiles,” Neal Martin said and pegged it at 93 points, conservative by my lights and darn high scoring for a $50 wine. Of course I’ve got a much better price and a full range of sizes, too, magnums and double mags. This is a beauty; any follower of Alejandro, any Ribera fan, will want plenty on hand. GPS: 95

Buy  2009 Pesquera Tinto Reserva, Ribera del Duero2009 Pesquera Tinto Reserva …when I opened the Reserva, wow! The two years in oak took it up a gorgeous notch for me. …This is a beauty; any follower of Alejandro, any Ribera fan, will want plenty on hand. 95 points, Bob Sprentall, B-21 Prop. 

Muga For The Ages: ’05 Prado Enea (95WA) – Opulent Now and Later

Took this photo of their 1969 Prado Enea resting in the cellar while visit with the Mugas in Toro.
Took this photo of their 1969 Prado Enea resting in the cellar while visit with the Mugas in Toro.

I admire how the Spanish truly respect age, in people and in wine. It’s one reason the Muga family cellars their wines so long and puts so much effort into making their own barrels. That’s why I’m so close to them. The Mugas have been in Haro for at least three centuries and they care lovingly for their oldest Gran Reserva Rioja. They release a Prado Enea only when it’s ripe, rich and ready to drink although you can cellar another 15 years or more. Perfect for me, and Parker, too. This 2005 is a charmer; all those years in oak, new and old, harmonize the forest of berries, dark chocolate and wild herbs into a lusciously sleek wine. The Mugas are old friends of B-21, so you may have met Juan and Isaac on their visits here. I’m lucky enough to see them in Haro. Everyone sees their amazing cooperage and endless cellars, but my favorite spot was much older. Juan Muga took us to a convent from the 1300s that is now the Los Augustinos Hotel with a very contemporary restaurant from the 2000s. Imagine sitting in the huge stone arches of a medieval cloister sampling Iberico ham and tempura asparagus with the best Mugas and the other favorite drink of modern Spain: table-side gin and tonics. What a family! We’ll bring them back soon. So get to know the newest member of the family, the 2005 Prado Enea Gran Reserva and you’ll be a Muga friend for life, like myself.

Buy 2005 Muga Prado Enea Gran Reserva, Rioja2005 Muga Prado Enea Gran Reserva
…opulent bouquet of primal, ripe, boysenberry, mulberry, dark chocolate and crushed violets that blossom with aeration. The palate is full-bodied with crisp acidity… pure blackberry and cassis fruit….
95 points, R. Parker’s Wine Advocate
GPS: 96

King of Garnacha: 2010 Veraton 95pt Champion

Buy 2010 Bodegas Alto Moncayo Veraton, Campo de BorjaYou and I have been loving old-vine garnacha from Alto Moncayo for years. I thought the 2009 Veraton was through the roof when I tried it on the road with Jorge Ordonez, the wild Spanish explorer (and our travelin’ buddy)… but the 2010 beats it silly. 95 points silly!

Perfect expression of this hot dry windy corner of old Spain… all red clay and red slate. Garnacha has never been more luscious and lusty. This 2010 is one of the best Spanish wines I’ve had in the last year. Exciting intensity, remarkable depth and length attributed to the soil. Impressive drive. Credit ideal terroir plus Jorge, his local partners and Oz wizardry of Chris Ringland, the Mr. Grenache of Australia. There’s no better buy from Spain than this 2010 Veraton.

2010 Alto Moncayo Veraton
Intensity is remarkable, great precision on the nose and palate. The intensity of the finish is attributed to 40-60 year old vines in slate/red clay soils. The length is sustained. …an extraordinary rendition of Garnacha….

95 points, Bob Sprentall, B-21 Proprietor

Sexy Beast: Love New Portugal In Old-Vine Crasto, 94RAS!

Quinta do Crasto Estate in PortugalWay past time for you to enjoy the great table wine from the legendary Port vineyards of the Douro. No better time or place to catch up than with the juicy ’09 Reserva I have from Quinta do Crasto’s 70-year-old vines. The 2008 edition went sky high when Wine Spectator tapped it No. 3 in the Top 100. The 2009 is a winner in my book too, and at a terrific price. It has Tinto Roriz, Touriga Nacional and two dozen other old grapes from the steep schist hillsides of the valley, all handpicked and basket pressed. A big, well-built wine, brick red and purple; sumptuous texture, whiffs of cinnamon and wild herbs, fresh berries and plums with a very long finish. A truly fine wine that would sell for a lot more if it were from any other country. …Which makes visiting Portugal in a bottle as smart as it is delicious.

Buy 2009 Quinta do Crasto Reserva Old Vines, Douro


2009 Quinta do Crasto Reserva Old Vines
…A big drink of deep purple, sumptuous fruit flavors, whiffs of cinnamon, rich texture, and long easy finish. There’s a simpler red, long on Tinta Roriz (that’s Tempranillo on this side of the border), more flowery in the nose…

94 points, Bob Sprentall, B-21 Proprietor


No More Waiting: 1994 Lopez de Heredia From Rioja Now 96WA!

Lopez de HerediaI love how the Spanish savor time. Great wineries like Lopez de Heredia have already cellared it for you. This Tondonia Gran Reserva was just released and it’s already 18 years old. A fabulous wine that’s ready to drink or to cellar. The color’s now a touch amber, the wine is smooth, plush and still fresh with cherry and berry, smelling of smoke and leather. Everything about Lopez de Heredia has a rich patina, one reason W&S ranked it a Top 100 winery. Patriarch Rafael founded it in 1877 and bought the Tondonia vineyard in Rioja Alta 100 years ago. Gotta see the place when you’re in Haro: century old buildings plus a swooping modern Zaha Hadid pavillion as cool and modern as the Guggenheim in Bilbao (photo below). Perfect setting to treasure historic wines like this. When a vintage like ’94 is deemed great enough for a gran reserva, the best of it spends eight years in barrel, and if approved even more time. It’s an old style blend, three quarters tempranillo plus graciano and mazuela. Seems like you oughta pay more for so much history in a bottle, but it’s well under $100. Rioja lovers have to have this wine. There will be others… but you’ll have to wait.

Buy 1994 Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Gran Reserva, Rioja

1994 Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Gran Reserva
The 1994 Vina Tondonia Gran Reserva has an elegant bouquet with light red cherries, orange blossom, mahogany bureau and burnt buttered toast. The palate has a meaty, savory entry with crisp tannins and racy acidity. It displays superb structure towards the finish where one finds notes of bitter lemon, orange peel and sage. Delicious! Drink now-2030+.

96 points, R. Parker’s Wine Advocate

Alejandro The Great’s Vino Excelente

Buy 2005 Bodegas y Vinedos Fernandez Rivera Dehesa la Granja, Castilla LeonAlejandro Fernandez has become a leading producer in the Ribera del Duero. You loved his 2004 Dehesa La Granja, which was more forward and rich than this model. The strength of the 2005 is structure. More intensity and power here, this is big, full-throttled tempranillo. If Alejandro’s Pesquera is Burgundian in style, Dehesa is more Bordeaux. We bumped into the director of Dehesa in Rioja during the wild Festival of San Mateo, and she gave the nod to the 2005, as well. Here’s all my iPhone photos from that trip.

2005 Dehesa la Granja
…displays an inviting perfume of cedar, Asian spices, a hint of balsamic, licorice, and assorted black fruits. This is followed by a sweetly-fruited, well-proportioned wine with a friendly personality…. 91 points, R. Parker’s Wine Advocate

2001 La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904 – Back In Stock!

You love the 2001 La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza, and absolutely nothing over delivers like it does. And you know it. 2001 was exceptional for LRA. It was exceptional for all of Rioja, but the folks at La Rioja Alta really nailed it. And this 2001 Grand Reserva 904 is another testament to the strength of the vintage for them. This may be one of the top values of the world at this price. Remarkable!

Shop 2001 La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904
96 points, R. Parker’s Wine Advocate

2001 La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904
…displays a lovely nose of Asian spices, incense, tobacco, balsamic, and blackberry. On the palate it has exceptional depth, layers of spicy black fruit, excellent ripeness, and an elegant personality…

Castillo for Your Casa: 94-Point Stunner

We’ve talked before about Jose Maria Vicente’s value-priced stunner from Casa Castillo in Jumilla. This wine, predominately old vine Monastrell (or Mourvedre as it’s known just over the Pyrenees) and dollops of old vine Garnacha or Grenache, and some more recent Syrah, is an intense, gracious, and super gratifying wine. It speak of the stones, sun, and warmth of Jumilla and its high altitude sites — 2,200+ feet — that conserve the natural acidity of the grapes and bring you the holy grail of goodness: body and zip! 2009 Las Gravas is a single-vineyard offering from Jose’s oldest plots and shows off it’s full-figured glory without asking permission. Whether you love Spanish wines, Rhones, Pinots or just appreciate sensational values, this wine will deliver the goods.


2009 Casa Castillo Las Gravas

…copious notes of kirsch, black raspberries, blueberries and underbrush intertwined with hints of truffles and graphite. Aged 18 months in new French oak demi-muids, it is a full-bodied, stunningly pure blend…

Portugal’s Ruby Treasure: Casa Ferreirinha’s 94-point Douro Reds!

If you know Portugal makes fabulous reds without fortification, you know Casa Ferreirinha was the pioneer in great still wines and remains the iconic label, when you can find it. If you don’t, then start at the top with these luscious wines that prove that Portugal puts exquisite value in its finest bottles. I’ve got CF’s two great gems, the 2009 Quinta da Veda, and the 2004 Barca Velha, the latest of its rarest collector bottling (only 17 vintages since the 1950s). These are beautiful rubies of intense red hues, ripe flavors and big nosegay of violets and spices, elegantly delicious. They come from the best grapes in the Douro leading with the champion touriga nacional and elevated with traditional Portuguese aging savvy. I’m not the only guy to say so. Decanter just named CF Best of the Douro, Wine & Spirits called it Winery of the Year for 2012 and Wine Advocate puts Quinta de la Veda at 94 points. These are first-class wines that I landed at the lowest price you’ll find and worth top Spanish or French at twice the cost.


2009 Casa Ferreirinha
Quinta da Leda

…expressive, becoming slightly earthy as the ripe fruit integrates. It is also a bit steely while remaining rich and fragrant. There are certainly some powerful tannins here, more and more apparent with air….


2004 Casa Ferreirinha
Barca Velha

…harmonious and complex bouquet, with a strong presence of well-ripened red fruits, floral hints of lavender and violet, and a fine spice component. Its palate is full-bodied, with lively balanced acidity…


Rekondo & Rioja Raves: ’05 Lopez de Haro 92WA

Spent a week traipsing through northern Spain last September, mostly in Rioja. Have to mention an afternoon with Txomin Rekondo, he is our kind of guy. Txomin has collected Spanish wine for five decades. His Restaurante Rekondo just outside of San Sebastian cellars the greatest collection of Spanish wine in the world. Better yet, the prices are very 1982. Wine bucket list. Heading south, you may as well add to your list the wild San Mateo Festival in Rioja’s capital city of Logrono and a visit to Bodagas Classica.

Bodegas Classica is located on the point of the hilltop village of San Vicente with Bodegas Benjamin Romeo below and the view of the village of Briones and Dinastia Vivanco across the river Ebro to the west. As the name suggests, Bodegas Classica produces traditionally styled wines and the Lopez de Haro is an excellent rendition of a Reserva, more importantly it is Rekondo priced! A full 100-120 bucks a case off the going rate of other Reservas with rave reviews. Take advantage of this introduction price to the US market. You’re gonna want that.


2005 Bodega Classica
Hacienda Lopez de Haro Reserva

…has a beautiful, rounded, sensual bouquet with hints of over-ripe Satsuma and gravel. The palate is medium-bodied with a touch of piquancy on the entry. It has crisp acidity and taut tannins on the dry, dusky finish…

The Case For a Case of Ardanza

#1 – New York Times Rioja Reserva
Last year the New York Times wine panel tasted twenty Rioja Reserva wines. Ardanza was voted #1 and named “Best Value” saying “…it was a brilliant example of a classic Rioja, with complexity and finesse.”

#2 – Reserva Especial
Only three vintages of Viña Ardanza have been elevated to Reserva Especial: 1964, 1973 and 2001.

#3 – No Cellar Required
Eric Asimov’s article in the New York Times titled “For Reservas, No Cellar Required” created a stir. Wines like this are cellared by the winery so you don’t have to, and remain a remarkable value more than a decade after the harvest.


2001 La Rioja Alta
Reserva Especial Viña Ardanza

…only the third vintage to be declared after 1964 and 1973. …a bucolic, natural bouquet of bright red cherries, balsamic, mint and a touch of dried honey …with wonderful delineation and supple, lithe tannins….

Rioja Perfection: 95 Point Contadors

The finest wine yet from Benjamin Romeo’s young winery and very old Rioja vines. For me, Romeo’s making the most sensuous wines in Spain, the equal of the Cote d’Or. Apparently Parker thinks so, too… a 95 for a Rioja this young?! Then again, Contador is the top cuvee in a great line. The luxury begins with a seductive drop-dead fragrance of the Orient, sandalwoods, lavender, perfume and fine coffee, followed by richness in the mouth, opulent texture and the composure to last decades. Romeo got his start at the revered Artadi and he’s been just as painstaking with every wine he makes. La Cueva del Contador is the most exotic tempranillo you’ll taste without spending $100. Romeo makes them all to his own meticulous standards rather than traditional Rioja rules. He has tiny vineyards of old vines intertwined with wild herbs. He farms them biodynamically, picks his own cork trees individually and ages in ancient grottos. Both of Benjamin’s Contadors are at very special sale prices for you, up to 20% off the most exquisite ’09s from Rioja so far.


2009 Benjamin Romeo
La Cueva del Contador

…beautifully defined, precise, graphite-tinged black and blueberry fruit that unfolds with passing moments. …immense purity and sense of symmetry and gently grips the mouth on the long, elegant finish….


2009 Benjamin Romeo

…The nose is very lifted with floral notes: crushed violets and rose petals sprinkled over cassis and dark plum fruit. The palate is medium-bodied with fine tannins and a gentle, insistent grip. …satin-like texture…


Poetic Pair: 94 & 96 Point Argentinian Beauties Just Arrived

Argentine wine lovers should get to know Poesia. We all should! The remarkable team of Hélène Garcin and winemaker-husband, Patrice Lévêque, who reign over four exceptional Bordeaux chateaux, shrewdly purchased an old vine vineyard in Mendoza during the country’s financial crisis in 2001. Great vineyard site and old vines (malbec and cabernet sauvignon) in the hands of this dynamo team? I found out first hand several years ago. You should, too. Hélène was right here in Tarpon last month to share these recent releases. The 2006 is a rich style more akin to Hélène’s Pomerol, Chateau Clos L’Eglise: rich and elegant, lovely now. The 2008 Poesia is more youthful, has more cabernet drive, it seems: long, with a seriously intense finish, more resembling Hélène’s cabernet based Chateau Branon. Poesia just might be the most sophisticated wine of Argentina.


2006 Poesia

…nose of smoky new oak, mineral, damp earth, black currant, black cherry, and blackberry followed by a plush, nearly opulent wine… notes of espresso and chocolate emerging on the palate, superb grip, and 5-7 years of aging potential….


2008 Poesia

…The wine’s dense blue/purple color is followed by notes of blueberry liqueur, scorched earth, graphite, blackberries and a hint of white chocolate. It should age effortlessly for 15-20 years….