Sparkling, Spanish and Proud
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 and 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.
|2008 Gramona Gran Cuvee Brut
…exhibits crisp, minerally notes intermixed with hints of orange rind, brioche and lemon zest, light to medium body, and a chalky character. …impressive… well worth trying…
|2006 Gramona Imperial
Gran Reserva Brut
…offers up a slightly more refined bouquet and a crisper, drier, creamier palate than the Brut Gran Cuvee. This surprisingly complex Cava will provide enjoyment…
2009 Casa Castillo Las Gravas, 94 Points
You loved the ’07, I loved the ’07. Which is why I’m warning you now: ’09 is better than ever, as plump, juicy and classy as monastrell can be. And the world now knows our secret, Parker’s already out with a “…stunningly pure…” 94-point rave. So get your share when it arrives later in the year, and don’t overlook the rockin’ 2007 in the meantime. As I’ve said before, Las Gravas is the equal of many in Chateauneuf du Pape and Priorat too. Casa Castillo has been there for 100 years and Las Gravas is their best from an older prize vineyard up against the foot of the mountains. You get the big fruit of monastrell bolstered by syrah and old-vine Grenache, a different blend than the 07, and something I really love: strong, driving minerality from the heavy gravel and chalky soil of world class terroir. These are full-throttle, blockbuster wines.
2009 Casa Castillo Las Gravas
…intense dense purple color is accompanied by copious notes of kirsch, black raspberries, blueberries and underbrush intertwined with hints of truffles and graphite. …full-bodied, stunningly pure blend…
If you liked the 2009, you’re gonna love the 2010. Steve Tanzer gives it 91 and I’d go higher. This is the best yet. Old low-yield garnacha vines in the stony flatlands southwest of Rioja, so ripe and earthy you might think you were close to Chateauneuf. This has been our big-hit Spanish red year in and year out and I like it even better now that I’ve been there. Been to the mountain or at least I saw the three peaks above the Campo de Borja. Drink it now or stick in the cellar next to fine Aussies and Rhones; the quality will shame them for the price. In fact, you won’t find it anywhere priced as low as I’m selling it to you. Run-n-tell that.
2010 Tres Picos
“Glass-staining purple. Lively, faintly medicinal aromas of cherry, blueberry and licorice, plus hints of smoky herbs and flowers. Juicy and expansive, offering sweet, deeply pitched bitter cherry and dark berry flavors supported by a taut spine of acidity and fine-grained tannins. Finishes with powerful spicy thrust and suggestions of candied flowers and woodsmoke. This could pass for a northern Rhone wine, and a really good one at that.” 91 Points, Stephen Tanzer’s IWC
Remirez de Ganuza is the new name to know in Rioja. And B-21 knows it better than most. Fernando Remirez de Ganuza was here in Tampa last year for an intimate dinner with his exquisite wines. Lovely guy and passionate about Rioja. We joined him in Spain last summer at the remarkable winery he built in a picturesque old Alavesa estate (also at his favorite steak place for the best beef in Rioja). This guy has redone everything: he changes trellising every row, hand sorts all the grapes twice and even reinvented the fermentating tanks. Does it work? The scores say so, the 2001 and 2004 got 97, the 2004 grand reserva a whopping 100. And now comes the 2005 which is darn near as good — Parker and Wine Enthusiast both say 96. But who’s counting? This wine is immensely dark and full of aromas from graphite and smoke to lavender and blackberry and that’s right now when it’s ever so tight. But it will open up in a few years and Wine Advocate predicts drinking well to…2046! May be the first time I’ve seen that date. Fernando does it through singled-minded focus on tempranillo and on old vines, some over 90 years and the average 60. I’m proud of the Remirez we have collected and shown you and the 2005 is one you have to have, intense, fragrant and, at my price for Rioja lovers, dense with value. Run-n-tell that.
2005 Remirez de Ganuza Reserva
“The purple/black-colored 2005 Remirez de Ganuza has a great aromatic array of pain grille, pencil lead, scorched earth, lavender, spice box, and blackberry. Broad, mouth-filling, layered, and structured, this still tightly wound Rioja has all the right stuff. All it needs is another 8-10 years to fully blossom after which it will provide pleasure through 2046.” 96 Points, Robert Parker’s WA
Benjamin Romeo could be the most exacting winemaker in Rioja; his Burgundian-styled tempranillos are as luxurious as any squeezed out of that D.O. Starting at the revered Rioja estate of Artadi could only have enhanced his perfectionist bent, and when he created his own winery in 2000 he took such pains with his Contador that it sold at and above Artadi prices, $250 and above. The tiny vineyards, full of old vines and intertwined with wild herbs,.are farmed biodynamically and yield wines that age in ancient grottoes. We have the Contador hotly priced below $200, but he also makes a little jewel called Predicador with the distinctive flavors and style of the house. The Spanish wine guide Penin puts Predicador at 92 and so does Tanzer’s man in Spain. It’s hard to find in the U.S, and you could pay up to $60 buying from the other guys. But it is very affordable here at B-21, the same price that smart buyers pay in Spain. Run-n-tell that!
2008 Benjamin Romeo Predicador
“Bright ruby. Seductively perfumed bouquet evokes black raspberry, cherry-cola, incense and Asian spices. Juicy, energetic red and dark berry flavors possess serious power but carry no excess fat and show no rough edges. Finishes spicy and very long, echoing the dark berry notes. This is already delicious…” 92 Points, Stephen Tanzer’s IWC
This Tempranillo from Dehesa La Granja could make Rioja see red. It’s the best new value in central Spain and comes charging out of Zamora like a rip-snorting bull from top breeding lines. Which it pretty much is. The pedigree is the best of Ribera del Duero: Alejandro Fernandez and his wife, who created the champion Pesquera and also Condado de Haza. When they expanded again they chose a historic ranch that once trained bulls to face the best toreadors. They rebuilt the place (including a bullring) and replanted the vineyards, made their first vintage in 2000, and this 04 already shows Pesquera breeding and aging potential. Dark with ripe fruits, smoke, and tar, this is a juicy one. Parker calls it outstanding for depth and length, and I’d say breadth, you can open now or over the next ten years. And at these prices you can stash away enough to taste it annually. You’re gonna want that.
2004 Dehesa La Granja, Castilla y Leon
“The 2004 Dehesa la Granja offers similar but more expressive aromatics, is rounder and more supple on the palate, and has outstanding depth, concentration, and length…” 92 Points, Robert Parker’s WA
How high will they go? Since 2002 these beautiful dark blends of old-vine Monastrell and Cabernet have ranged from 93 to 97 points and always sell out. But the critics have not yet tasted the ’09s. I’ll bet they love them, 2009 was as rich in sunny stony central Spain as in Chateauneuf du Pape. So now’s the time to buy before the hype heats up. Whatever the scores, you’ll be safe that this will be one of the finest Monastrells (Mourvedre in the Rhone) you’ve ever tasted. Clio is often compared to CdP but I find the great Spanish Monastrell come from Jumilla in the heart of Spain and are thick, slippery and full of licorice and spice, more like what Priorats are to ordinary Grenache. As usual the El Nido Clio is more Monastrell than Cab with more bang for less buck. For those who demand the best, the El Nido El Nido is double the pleasure, with cab in the majority and Monastrell filling out the palate. These wines have deep flavors and an endless finish. You can’t understand the Spanish wine of today without tasting at least one El Nido. You’re gonna want that.
2009 El Nido “Clio”
2009 El Nido “El Nido”
Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva may be the most sought after red in Spain and the 2004 just got here. Only appropriate that I should have my first few glasses at Zuma in the EPIC Hotel on the Miami River, part of a luxury empire from London to Hong Kong and Istanbul. Wow. I just loved the stuff already and this wine has years to go. What a wine-by-the-glass! Now you might not think red with a gourmet Japanese menu, but with scallops on the charcoal robata, wild mushroom hot pot, and sinful sushi, you need world class wine whatever the grape or origin. Castillo Ygay from Marques de Murrieta is exactly that. And there’s the same tradition and treasured craftsmanship in this Rioja estate as in the revered izakaya in Japan. It’s made in the traditional style, aged two and a half years in barrels, giving extra smoothness even in its youth. No mistaking the perfume of cherries, raisins, and vanilla. You’re lucky I lined some up for those of you who appreciate Spain’s finest. With or without prime fatty tuna, this wine is a luxury and at a rare price. You’re gonna want that.
2004 Marques de Murrieta Ygay Gran Reserva Especial
“It is a fragrant, enticing, already complex offering that will continue to evolve in the bottle for several more years. Rich, savory, and ripe, this beautifully balanced wine will also have a 30+ year lifespan…” 92-95 Points, Robert Parker’s WA
On our trip through Spain this past summer, the newest vintage of Alto Moncayo and its vineyards in Campo de Borja were big highlights. Alto Moncayo is a project of Jorge Ordoñez that has drawn raves since its first vintages. But ’09 beats ‘em all. Voluptuous with dark fruits and heady aromas of spice in both the Veraton and especially in the cuvee Alto Moncayo. Superb: the Veraton 93 and the Alto Moncayo 95, and those scores are conservative. Can’t wait until they, and I, have more time. After walking in the vineyards there I can see that quality and distinct character come naturally. The terroir there south of Rioja is red: red slate mixed with red clay, hot, dry, and windy. Prime for Garnacha and the vines are quite old, fruit for the Veraton is from vines more than 40 years old, while the Alto Moncayo comes from vines that are over 60. Owners have built a handsome new winery just for these wines and they deserve it. This is one of Spain’s finest Garnachas (and greatest values). You’re gonna want that.
2009 Alto Moncayo Veraton
93 Points, Bob Sprentall
2009 Alto Moncayo
95 Points, Bob Sprentall
2009 Alto Moncayo Aquilon
97 Points, Bob Sprentall
Sure, Rioja is Spain’s greatest wine region. Yet when you look high and low, Rioja Alta and Rioja Baja are rich and affordable wines of value. Take these two wines of different terroirs, vintages and varietals for example. Found them both this summer on my way through Rioja. The 2010 Rio Madre was one of my first wines tasted in Rioja this year – at breakfast! This is one of the first vintages for an innovative young winery in Rioja Baja where the river Ebro flattens out under the old Roman bridge. I’ve never tasted a Rioja so rich at barely a year old. It could that I’ve never tasted a 100% Graciano wine. It is big and blackberry filled. Credit the first rate crop of 2010. The family behind Rio Madre is very smart (Madre made the best tortilla I’ve had, the egg kind) and so is their counselor, the eminent Jorge Ordonez. The other lovely is a classic Rioja Alta from the fine 2005 vintage and made from 100% Tempranillo by the Allendes. Had a great and endless lunch of old vintages with Sr. Allende in a cool restaurant deep in an old wine cave in Briones. He did right by the 2005 harvest too and the mainline Finca Allende ’05 is ripe, toasty and spicy, a 92 in Parker’s book and at under $20 a steal from me. Wish you were there, but these two Rioja bargains are delicious compensation. You’re gonna want that.
2010 Rio Madre, Rioja
90 Points, Bob Sprentall
2005 Finca Allende, Rioja
“Purple-colored, it offers up an enticing bouquet of pain grille, crushed stone, spice box, scorched earth and blackberry. Ripe, layered, and complex, it has gobs of spicy fruit, several years of aging potential, and a lengthy finish…” 92 Points, Robert Parker’s WA
That’s the word from Tyson Grant, star chef at Parkshore Grille, who’s working up a killer menu for the B-21 Rioja dinner with Isaac Muga this Tuesday. Isaac is bringing grand old vintages of Prado Enea as well as the latest bottlings. Parkshore on St. Pete’s dazzling new waterfront scene will be B-21’s first dinner in St.Pete and we’ve got a few seats left.( $79) Fantastico dinner, magnifico Riojas and one-night pricing.
Win-Win. You can’t lose on this match up. Call it Ribera versus Rioja. I visited both regions this summer, unforgettable terroirs and these are their handsome Tempranillos at its best. Resalte is younger, from Penafiel founded in 2000, one of the hottest new wineries in Ribera del Duero. Some call Resalte the next big thing. When WS put it high on its Top 100, the demand knocked us out of stock, but we’ve got plenty now, a silky blend of black cherry, chocolate , licorice and espresso. LRA is much older, having 120 years of Rioja Alta tradition. From 2001, a great vintage in the Rioja Alta, with just right temps and dryness, LRA is older and aged longer both in barrel and botlle. That much time in barrel and in bottle lets a wine mature and develop gracefully. The Ardanza cuvee is 80 percent Tempranillo, 20 percent Garnacha and a big helping of patience to smooth out the big fruit flavors. They polish it with nuance and spice that I think of as Spanish: cinnamon, dried orange peel, cedar, tobacco and old leather. However old, they are both complex and long on the finish now and for ten to 20 years more in the cellar. But why choose one and deny the other? Buy both (at this price mix up a case) and get a luscious taste of Rioja and Ribera. You’re gonna want that.
2005 Resalte de Peñafiel Crianza, Ribera del Duero
“Fresh and focused, this firm red delivers ripe black cherry and blackberry fruit, backed by espresso and licorice accents, finishing with alluring notes of sous-bois and mineral…” 94 Points, Wine Spectator
2001 La Rioja Alta Reserva Especial Vina Ardanza
“a deeply colored wine with a lovely perfume of cinnamon, lavender, incense, balsamic, and black cherry. Medium-bodied, velvety-textured…” 94 Points, Robert Parker’s WA
Had an armada of Spanish vintners invade the store for our annual grand Latin tasting this weekend. The grandees of the Rioja were there, the sweetheart of Montilla-Moriles , ambassadors from Argentina (and Franco-Argentina too) and emissaries of the booming central winelands of Borja and beyond.
If you couldn’t make it, I expect you next year. You missed an intriguing discussion on what and who is traditional or modern in Rioja. Spain’s most famous wine region, like others around the world, is sometimes divided along these lines. By age you would say Remirez de Ganuza is modern at not quite 30 while Bodegas Riojanas at 125 is the grandaddy. Luis Martinez of Remirez would not have either distinction. “We are contemporary,” Good point. I would go further. Remirez and Riojanas are both old in undeniable ways. Best vines in the Rioja can be 50, 80 100 years old. More important, the dry, rocky soil is ancient, as old as, well, dirt. The mountains, the wind and the position between the Atlantic and Mediterranean is the same as it was thousands of years ago. Grapes the same too: Tempranillo, tempranillo and tempranillo. That’s mighty old.
I would argue that all the Riojas are new and young too, especialy if you met Sara Agos Olano. from Riojanas, which was a newbie in the pioneering post-phylloxera days. Today all of Rioja has smarter ways of planting, access to microbiological testing and shiny equipment. And new pride and vibrant marketing.
Just because Priorat is rich, you don’t have to be. You can drink the licorice-slick rarity of Spain’s most expensive D.O. at one tenth of the big guns, even lower than B-21’s usual good prices. Priorat every night! This is rich deep, pure almost Burgundian Pinot-like fruit, with what I look for in Priorat: that stone/slate nose and palate they call licorella. This is what Priorat is about and leave it to my pal Eric Solomon to source some serious material in the sleepy hill-top village of Porrera. The best value Priorat. Period. Garnacha and Cariñena at their silkiest. You’re gonna want that.
2008 Black Slate, Porrera
“A perfectly ripe wine with silken flesh and a hedonistically lush palate feel, and a long, fresh finish. Grenache flavors and Pinot Noir texture..” 92 Points, Rhett Beiletti, B-21