It’s Here! Sparkling Kripta, Tete de Cava from Spain

These fantastic wines from cava master Agustí Torelló Mata were a huge hit at our Latin tasting this year. The biggest seller was the magical old-vine Kripta, Mata’s finest; comes in a stunning, curvaceous bottle and screams for caviar. We’ve sold out a few times since then, but it’s back again! Well worth $100, but you get a much better deal. Everyone also fell in love with the seductive Rosat, a gorgeous sparkling rosé made from Catalonia’s own Trepat grape. Mata is a legend in the D.O., because he makes Cava as a rival to Champagne, not as a cheap imitation. Our French partisan, Rhett Beiletti, praises the whole Mata line. ATM cava are yeasty, long on yellow fruits, rich with vanilla, toasty smoke and fine bubbles. Mata has pioneered quality cava for 50 years, pushed organic farming and insisted on long aging. He has vineyards in all three zones of Penedes where he grows local grapes, elegant macabeo, robust xarel-lo and aromatic parellada. Kripta is made from 60-year-old vines with an extra bit of fragrant Parellada and four years of aging. Its creamy texture and endless finish match the luxury of foie gras and smoked fish. If you love great sparkling wines or admire the great advance in modern Spanish wine, pop a bottle of ATM.

2008 Agustí Torelló Mata
Brut Reserva
…Fresh and broad swaths of dough, yeast and green and yellow delicious apples and some pear. Very drinkable. These ATMs are not just Cava, think of them in the arena of comparably priced Champagne…
2009 Agustí Torelló Mata
Rosat Trepat
…Tasting this I thought how a 2nd bottle would be have to be handy. Delicate and vivid at the same time, showing luscious strawberry and fat cherry fruit, hints of blood orange… polished, balanced and delicious….
2006 Agustí Torelló Mata
Gran Reserva Kripta
…Fine in texture with apple, pear and earth tones with light pastry dough tenderness. Tasting like “wine,” it is very fine, straight and persistent on the finish. A new level for Cava in my experience.



Mercat Brut Nature: A Killer Cava

91 Points and under $16.

I haven’t given up my allegiance to grower Champagne, but I am tempted the more time I spend with artisan cavas like Mercat. Go to the heart of cava country in Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, southwest of Barcelona, and you’ll find it’s much like Champagne. There are very big houses there too and then a flock of small old traditional wineries making the Spanish version of grower Champagnes …and we keep finding more of them. This is an exceptional example, profoundly dry, zero dosage. The xarel-lo and macabeo grapes deliver wonderful aromas of white and yellow fruits and flowers and a crisp clean acid spine and lively effervescence. I was astonished when we first tried it, and all the more surprised when I worked out the price. Any Spanish lover will be proud and any Champagne fan will be duly impressed. A terrific sparkler for summer dinners.


N.V. Mercat Cava Brut Nature

…The palate is very well-balanced with crisp acidity and a fine thread of bitter lemon that lends tension and poise, leading to a very champagnois finish. Excellent!…

NY Times Picks This Spanish Red: Top 20 Under $20

If you read the New York Times, you may have seen the article by Eric Asimov where he stated, “…I want wine that excites me, that feels so good to drink that one sip urges on the next and the next after that….” Eric selected his Top 20 wines under $20 that provide that excitement and La Rioja Alta Rioja Reserva Viña Alberdi Selección Especial 2005 was featured prominently:

“…the Viña Alberdi Reserva is aged before its release, as was once traditional with Rioja Reservas. The result is a seven-year-old wine, delicious now but capable of further aging. Unlike La Rioja Alta’s other cuvées, the Alberdi is 100 percent tempranillo and offers a classic profile of mellow fruit framed by vanilla from American oak. Beautifully integrated, lively and lovely.”
Eric Asimov, New York Times

We are huge fans of La Rioja Alta, so this wine being one of the top 20 under $20 comes as no surprise. Its now back in stock after Eric’s tweets sold us out!

2005 La Rioja Alta Reserva,Viña Alberdi Seleccion Especial

…delicious now but capable of further aging. …100 percent tempranillo and offers a classic profile of mellow fruit framed by vanilla from American oak. Beautifully integrated, lively and lovely.

2009 Alto Moncayo Soars

Sexy Garnacha Trio: 93, 95, & 97 RAS

I met this fabulous vintage of Alto Moncayo last summer in Spain in the vineyards of Campo de Borja. Voluptuous with raspberry, licorice and chocolate plus heady aromas of spice in the Veraton, and more sensuous with each step up through the cuvees. Walking in the vineyards you see the terroir here is prime territory for old vine garnacha. Red slate mixed with red clay, the hot, dry and windy climate highlighting both the lusty and intense qualities of the 40-60 year old vines.



2009 Alto Moncayo Garnacha

Tasted at the property. Similar material as the the Veraton but with more new oak. Again, remarkable concentration with great oak integration.

2009 Alto Moncayo Aquilon

Tasted at the property. This is more: more intense concentration, more wood, 100 percent new. A blockbuster wine
with a great view of the Tres Picos to the north.

2009 Alto Moncayo Veraton

Tasted at the property. fabulous concentration, sweet, floral, remarkable length and saturating every sense. This is special.



2008 Black Slate Porrera Rocks! 92RAS

2008 Black Slate Porrera
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.

95 Point Cava? Indeed. 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 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
2008 Gramona Cava Gran Cuvee

2006 Gramona Cava Imperial Gran Reserva
2006 Gramona Cava Imperial Gran Reserva

2005 Gramona Gran Reserva Brut Nature Ill Lustros
2005 Gramona Gran Reserva Brut Nature Ill Lustros

Serious Cava: Agusti Torello Mata, Spain’s Answer To Champagne (93RB)

2009 ATM Kripta
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
2008 ATM Brut Reserva
2009 ATM Rosat Trepat
2009 ATM Rosat Trepat

I’ve Watched Aalto Grow Up: 2009 Aalto – 96 points – Best Ever!

2009 Aalto
2009 Aalto

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.

My Greatest Fine Wine Value In Years: 2010 Casa Castillo, 92RAS

2010 Casa Castillo Monastrell
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.

What Were We Drinking… With Fire-Crusted Leg of Lamb

barbecued-leg-of-lambFar easier than it sounds. Farm families in the hills overlooking the Mediterranean have have done this for centuries without gas grills from Home Depot. Principle is the same: Score the fat in a diamond pattern, rub with rosemary, salt, pepper and olive oil, insert garlic cloves with abandon. Place on a hot grill (but NOT over a flame, gas, wood or charcoal). Close lid.

In 45 minutes, this half-leg was beautiful, glistening caramel brown, crackling crisp and so aromatic I thought I heard wolves in the distance. Maybe they wanted the grilled fennel (that’s pretty easy too: just cut in wedges, add oil and lemon juice, grill/roast to licorice-y sweetness).

Wine choice just as easy. Any peasant knows the answer is lusty Grenache or Garnacha.

Maybe I love lamb and grilling as an excuse to put off citified stylin’ and go country with the more rustic members of the Rhone gang.

Rustic doesn’t mean roughneck. Grenache from Spain or France loves lamb al fresco, because it has big fruit and spice to match the strong flavors, yet the tannins are simple and friendly.

For me the 2010 Cercius, a Cotes du Rhone from Michel Gassier has perfect, almost like a woodsy sauce of berries. I also had the 2009 Evodia from Calatayud on hand, a perfect barbecue wine, robust flavor and still very easy drinking.

Grenache is like watching a sun leathered cowboy do a two-step in a country bar. Hard-working and graceful too.

Travel Tips from Spain: Pig Out on Gran Reserva Ham

Pata Negra
Pata negra, or "black leg," in Spain

In Spain red wine meets red meat like no where else. Beef sure, but the hams have pride of place. In the states we mistakenly think Italian prosciutto is as good as it gets. That’s only because the food Puritans let in so little Spanish jamon. So in Spain, try it whenever you can, which is breakfast, lunch, and dinner – and tapas – for you won’t find it’s like at home. Jamon Iberico is not pink but blood red, the flesh as silky as the fat; the preferred hams are treated like fine wine, air-cured and cellar-aged up to ten years. The most revered is the black-footed breed raised in many places, but usually finished on a diet of Spanish acorns. The best restaurants display the whole haunch including the hoof as proof it is pata negra. Then a trained server slices it by hand. Rich stuff, but a few slices – less than an ounce – is all the indulgence you need. Or can afford. A whole ham from Joselito of Salamanca, the most expensive luxury jamon brand in the world, sells for 3,000 euros. Very high on the hog.

Meet Erasmus’ Prodigy: 2009 Laurel, Best Buy In Priorat

2009 Laurel by Clos Erasmus
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.

Tempranillo Goes Grand Cru Burgundy With ’09 Pesquera

2009 Pesquera Tinto Crianza
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.

Spain’s Best CdP: ’07 Casa Castillo Las Gravas. I give it 94 points.

2007 Casa Castillo Las Gravas
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.