A Riojan Dynasty In The Making

Stopped by this Bodega in September and what a fortunate stop it was. Met winemaker Rafael Vivanco of the visionary family who’ve been making top notch, traditional Rioja since 1915. Raphael also showed me the family’s act of love for wine, The Museum of Wine and Culture, which is filled with the kind of stuff wine folks like to look at. Nice, but what’s nicer to folks who love to drink wickedly good wine is how straight up delicious this 2005 Reserva is. No gimmicks with this beauty. Just a bold and inspired wine reflecting not only its terroir but the perfectionist leanings of its maker whose goal is simple: make superb wines. A traditional Rioja blend, 90% Tempranillo and 10% Graciano, aromatics of Asian spices, lavender, tastes of blackberry with shades of pencil shavings and tobacco. From a true Rioja dynasty in the making!


2005 Dinastia Vivanco Reserva

…Pain grille, pencil lead, Asian spices, incense, lavender, and blackberry aromas are followed by a savory, incipiently complex, structured Reserva made in a traditional Rioja style….

Two Towering Alejandro Greats

2005 Dehesa La Granja y 2009 Tinto Pesquera

How does Alejandro Fernandez make two beautiful tempranillo that taste like $50 reds for less… way less. One whiff of the new Pesquera and I thought it was grand cru Burgundy. Transported me to Clos Vougeot! This is as pure a Pesquera as I have ever tasted, and I’ve been drinking Alejandro’s wines for decades (He’s in his 70s now!). It hasn’t been this powerfully good since the great ’04s and ’05s, and this 2009 just might be better. …Speaking of 2005, Fernandez has a $18 tempranillo from Dehesa La Granja that is the best new value in central Spain. It comes charging out of Zamora like a rip-snorting bull from top breeding lines. It pretty much is: Alejandro and his wife created Dehesa and chose a historic ranch that once trained bulls to face the best toreadors in Spain. They rebuilt the place (including a bullring) and replanted the vineyards. The ’05 contains an impressive texture, and is big and rich, for very little. And at these prices, you’ll shout “Olé!” for years.


2005 Dehesa la Granja

Full rich, with great oak integration thanks to the very cool deep cellars here, rare in Spain. Impressive textures, excellent nose, vibrant, more intense than the excellent 2004.

2009 Pesquera Tinto Crianza

…One whiff of the new Pesquera and I thought it was grand cru Burgundy. Transported me to Clos Vougeot! This is as pure a Pesquera as I have ever tasted… powerfully good…


Legends of the Ribera del Duero

Master Winemaker Trifecta

Mariano Garcia
Decades ago he became chief winemaker at legendary Vega Sicilia, at the very young age of 24. By chance he was asked to stand in at a blind tasting at Vega Sicilia while in his teens. No prior wine knowledge at all, none, zip, zero, yet he was the only person able to identify the two identical wines out of a line up of 20. Extraordinary talent. While no longer the winemaker at Vega, his reign of the Duero continues, decades later he began his new Aalto adventure. However, note that there’s nothing new about the vines, which are all bush-pruned and over 40 years of age. I was happy to have been in Madrid with him for the introduction of Aalto almost a decade ago and am now very pleased to offer you the chance to sip vinous history from a true legend.

Peter Sisseck
A Dane who attended the University of Bordeaux before moving on to winemaking stints in that heralded region and at Simi in California’s Sonoma Valley, Sisseck’s meteoritic rise is the stuff of dreams. While his winemaking skills were no secret, it was the creation of Pingus (a wine Parker called “one of the great wines of the world”) that sent his reputation soaring, adding his own star to the Ribera constellation of gifted winemakers. His commitment to Ribera del Duero began in 1990 when he moved there to begin working with Hacienda Monasterio, which was the guiding force behind his creating Pingus. The wines here, unlike Pingus, are available and affordable and represent among the best of the Ribera del Duero. The organically farmed Tinto Fino, (Tempranillo’s Ribero name) vineyards are just up the road from Vega Sicilia, so the terroir is close to perfect. This may be his best effort yet at Hacienda Monasterio.

Alejandro Fernandez
If Vega Sicilia set the standard for Ribera del Duero (the same family also owned the Hacienda Monasterio 100 years ago), the recent surge in the development and popularity of the Ribera came about because of this man, Alejandro Fernandez. Rooted in the Ribera, making wine from his small vineyard was his constant. With other professional pursuits including a beet farmer, he went public with its wine in the early 1980s. Pesquera was an instant success, with more projects following such as Condado de Haza, Dehesa la Granja, and El Vinculo. …But it all began with his baby, Tinto Pesquera, back in 1972 when he purchased his own vineyard, complete with a 16th century winepress that he still owns today. Like his wines, Alejandro is a man of the land, and this is reflected in the grace and presence found in the powerful palate of his strictly Tinto Fino wines from vines nearing the centenary mark.


2009 Aalto

…Reminds me of Burgundian pinot noir. …remarkably drinkable. …oak is already so well assimilated, it leaves you with a complex drinking experience now. Rarely does this type of balance occur….

2009 Hacienda Monasterio Crianza

…fabulous tempranillo wine touched with cab, smacking of dark cherries and black berries, spiced with lavender, ginger and anise. …This is [Sisseck’s] best crianza so far; a rival for the 2004 which was superb….

2009 Pesquera Tinto Crianza

…This is as pure a Pesquera as I have ever tasted and I’ve been drinking Alejandro’s wines for decades…. It hasn’t been this powerfully good since the great 2004s, and this ’09 just might be better….

Top Rioja Steal: ’05 Muga Seleccion Especial (93WA)!

Isaac MugaThe fact that my price is $15 to $25 lower than what many people pay should not be your main motivation for buying the 2005 Muga Seleccion Especial. Just tasted this again and if you haven’t, you need to. This is a stunning Muga from the fabulous 2005 vintage. Supple, elegant and endless stuff. Finish goes on forever and so do the flavors: black fruits and sweet cola, smoke, tar, leather, spice and even hard candy.

Not just saying this because we always like Muga wines; this bottle is exceptional. We are old friends of course, had a great time in Haro last summer and young Isaac was just in town two months ago for a B-21 dinner. For some people Seleccion Especial is as much fun as Issac’s Prado Enea! Well, to each his own Muga, I love this one. Tempranillo with garnacha, mazuelo and graciano, five years in barrel and bottle. Parker says 93, that’s low in my book. Gorgeous wine from Muga, super price from B-21.

2005 Muga Seleccion Especial2005 Muga Seleccion Especial

…opaque purple color, it offers up an alluring perfume of sandalwood, pencil lead, incense, espresso, black cherry, and blackberry. Dense, rich, structured, and savory, on the palate spice notes and terroir aromas make an appearance leading to a pure, 45-second finish….93 Points, Robert Parker’s WA




Gotim Bru Is Here: Spain’s Biggest Wine For The Buck!

2008 Castell del Remei Gotim BruWe have sold hundreds and hundreds of cases of Gotim Bru from Castell del Remei over the years and we were instrumental in getting it into the U.S. I’d call it a Super-Catalan: mostly tempranillo with a big punch of garnacha along with cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and syrah. Worth 90 points in every recent vintage and always a bargain. It’s long been a favorite Parker value. He fussed over it or a decade and gave the 2000 a 92 to prove that great wines could be had for $15 or less. Don’t I know it. And Costers del Segre is the place find them, cold and dry and mountainous, it is about 100 miles west of Barcelona and packed with granite and limestone. Some smart winemakers full of French ideas founded Castell del Remei in the 1800’s. A renaissance has occurred under new owners in the last 20 years. The 2008 is a dark and opaque wine, big bodied with the flavor of cherries, black fruits and sweet vanilla, concentrated like a compote or cherry liqueur and balanced by Spanish accents of espresso and licorice. Parker calls it “A serious wine for an incredible price.” At my ESAVE pricing, you’ll want a case. Run-n-tell that.

2008 Castell del Remei Gotim Bru

“Medium purple-colored, it gives up a fragrant perfume of Asian spices, violets, cedar, black cherry, and blackberry. Ripe, flavorful, and long on the palate, it delivers remarkable complexity for its humble price. It is an outstanding value…”  90 Points, Robert Parker’s WA

On the water with Isaac Muga;taking Beaucastel to Ponte

Summer and MugaFor our first St. Pete wine dinner, Isaac Muga  the winemaker of the current generation of our Rioja pals joined Spanish champion Summer Martin and B-21 aficionados at the Parkshore Grille downtown.  Isaac brought a big broad smile and two very special guests, the 1999 and 1989 vintages from the family cellars. There’s a lot to be said for maturity, especially in the Rioja and with Muga but  to my palate the young upstart, that juicy  99, won the night.

Food from St. Pete celeb chef Tyson Grant (his company runs Cafe Gala at the Dali Museum) showed tempranillo handsomely with contemporary dishes. Menu started with stone crab and pink grapefruit and ran through spice Dhane, Muga and Dominicrubbed salmon sashimi, silken  pork belly and lamb sirloin. Intense chocolate finished the last of the old Muga in every glass.  Biggest hits from our inventory were the 2005 Seleccion Especial and the 2004 Prado Enea. I couldn’t find a drop left. Underdog 2009 Rosado, a blend of tempranillo and viura. won over a number of rose-scoffers.

Next up is a dinner with Cesar Perrin of Beaucastel at Cafe Ponte in Clearwater Friday. We’ve got a few tickets left to taste the cooking of star chef Chris Ponte with the fabulous Chateaneuf du Papes of Beaucastel and the Rhones of their American friends at Tablas Creek.

Spanish Steal: Pesquera for Every Man, 92 points!

2004 Dehesa la Granja, Castilla y LeonI think this Tempranillo from Dehesa La Granja is the best new value in central Spain and it comes with exceptional pedigree. Think of the best of Ribera del Duero: Alejandro Fernandez and his wife, who have given us Pesquera and Condado de Haza. Give them a chance to expand into Castilla y Leon with a historic ranch that once trained bulls to face Spain’s best toreadors. After massive rebuilding and replanting the family has made wine since 2000, and this 2004 is a gem and to me obvious Pesquera breeding and aging. Parker calls it outstanding for depth and length and I’d say breadth for its amazing nose. Tapas or paella would be nice, but I’d love it with an all-American steak. This is first class Spanish winemaking at a price that will have you thinking in cases. 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

94-point showdown: Resalte vs La Rioja Alta Ardanza

2005 Resalte CrianzaWin-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 2001 La Rioja Alta Ardanzaluscious 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

Modern, schmodern: Rioja the new and very old.

Fernando of Remirez de GanuzaHad 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.

Marques de Caceres at its best: 2005 Reserva under $20!

Caceres is one of the most famous names in Rioja, yet it’s Reserva is surprisingly hard to find and impossible at B-21’s price. The other guys can’t match it. It’s always been a great producer, wish we had stopped in on our last trip through Rioja but there was so much good wine. I’ll make up for it next time. You already know Caceres’ Crianza, the go-to Tempranillo for a lot of folks, good, generous, and soft.  For a bigger treat you should try a Reserva from a killer vintage. This is dense and toasty wine, rich in dried fruits with a touch of coffee and chocolate on the finish. Both of these have just been released and I’ve marked them down so you can get your first taste now. You’re gonna want that.

2007 Marques de Caceres Crianza2007 Marques de Caceres Crianza

“Laid-back aromas of cherry and dried rose, with a subtle spiciness and a hint of mocha. A supple, gently sweet midweight that offers attractive red fruit and spice flavors…”  88 Points, Stephen Tanzer’s IWC

2005 Marques de Caceres Reserva2005 Marques de Caceres Reserva

“Oak-spiced cherry and blackberry on the nose, with complicating notes of licorice, vanilla and dried rose. Sappy and open-knit, with dark berry and cherry-vanilla flavors lifted by tangy acidity.”  90 Points, Stephen Tanzer’s IWC

Spain: Beyond Rioja, Great Tempranillo You’re Missing

Wine drinkers exploring the lush wines of Spain sometimes overlook the Ribera del Duero. You shouldn’t. This great source of Tempranillo is not as famous as Rioja although the grand Ribera estate of Vega Sicilia may be the best known in Spain. While Ribera grows largely the same grapes as Rioja, the terroirs are different and distant. Rioja is in the northeast close to the French border and Bordeaux while the Ribera del Duero is farther west and south in the broad plateau closer to Madrid, drier, hotter, and windier with no maritime moderation. Here Tempranillo is called “Tinto Fino” and it’s spicy, earthy with deep flavors of espresso, soy, and graphite. When I was there this summer I found they could be as succulent as Rioja. Still Rioja has been well known for more than 100 years, while RDD became a top region only in recent decades. Which may be why Ribera vintners welcomed innovation before more traditional Rioja. I’ve found exciting wines at all price ranges, like the lively 2009 Resalso from our friend Emilio Moro and the ’09 Creta Roble for under $20, and the grander Wine Spectator Top 100 Resalte from 2005. Expand your horizons to include Ribera del Duero. Your enjoyment of Spanish wines and Tempranillo will be even greater. You’re gonna want that.

2009 Bodegas Emilio Moro Resalso2009 Bodegas Emilio Moro Resalso

“A core of cherry and plum gives way to tar, mineral and hoisin sauce notes in this dense red. This shows solid tannins, but remains graceful through the spicy finish. Drink now through 2018…”  89 Points, Wine Spectator

2009 Creta Roble (PRE SALE)

“A glass-coating opaque purple color, it offers up a brooding bouquet of pencil shavings, espresso, Asian spices, incense, and assorted black fruits. Structured on the palate with layers of succulent fruit, this concentrated, lengthy effort admirably reflects the strength of the superb 2009 vintage…”  90+ Points, Robert Parker’s WA

2005 Resalte de Peñafiel Crianza2005 Resalte de Peñafiel Crianza

“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.  This has depth and drive. Drink now through 2016…”  94 Points, Wine Spectator

Oz Blowout: Load Up on Legendary Peter Lehmann, Layers and Layers

lehmann-barossa-shiraz-lOur Australian friends wrote the book on good value, people-pleasing palates and blending, and few do it better than the Lehmanns. From sire Peter to Doug, the good timing bloke you may have met in Florida, they make solid, serious wines, cuts above cheapos with silly critter names. Clancy’s for one is an easy going take on a Shiraz-Bordeaux blend, dark fruits and chocolate in a very friendly velvet, a regular on the Wine Spectator Top 100. Most Aussies are big blenders, something they learned from the Rhône or maybe just puttering in the outback.

The Lehmanns have a special talent and their newest line of Layers really shows it off. The red is a grand tour of Syrah, Mourvedre, Carignan and Grenache and, bravo, Tempranillo; somehow it produces a baby Hermitage. The white fivesome
ranges further, Chardonnay, Semillon, Gewurz, Pinot Gris, and Muscat. The EU would never approve but you will love working your way through the well, layers: killer perfume, juicy fruits, apples and peaches in cream, and a crunchy, crispy finish. Lotta flavors. The makings for a summer Down Under. You’re gonna want that.

On the Road: Best Ribera del Duero Deal: Top 100 Resalte

Spanish mesa, or "meseta"

Two thirds along my personal Ruta del Vino, we are now several hours southwest of Rioja but we have not left the terroir of great Tempranillo. Here the land smoothes out and the roads are straighter as we rise up on the plateau and between the mesas. It is hotter here — and colder with a shorter growing season which requires special clones of Tempranillo.

Fifty years ago, the Ribera was barely the second region of Spain but that was before the rise of the likes of Vega Sicilia and Emilia Moro. Today, last night even, I was talking with Rioja vintners about the fact that VS, that upstart from Ribera, will soon have vineyards and a winery in Rioja! While Vega has established that a fine Ribera can be worth $200 and up, you and I are probably more excited about RDD’s next best new thing, Resalte, a fine aged Tempranillo for less than $30, and that comes with new-generation’s smarts, organic care, and also respect for the old traditions of long agings and long finishes. Indeed their 2005 is such a silky blend of black cherry, chocolate, licorice, and espresso, Wine Spectator pushed it high on their Top 100. I was into Resalte well before that. You’re gonna want that.

At Last: Sexy 94-pt La Rioja Alta from 2001

2001 La Rioja Alta Reserva Especial Vina Ardanza, Rioja (750ml)Rioja is the first name in Spanish wine and oughta be first on any Spanish shopping list this month. We’ll ship any Rioja you want, any vintage, any price, Muga, CUNE, Remirez de Ganuza, you name it to celebrate the region. It’s the best thing next to Bordeaux (literally) and a favorite of mine. Our Spanish specialist Summer Martin was all over the vineyards there six weeks ago and I’m excited to taste there later this month. It is after all, Rioja month! This is the perfect time for it and the place to start is La Rioja Alta, now in its 120th year and still practicing the traditional art. And we’ve got one of their best landing Monday. 2001 was fabulous in Rioja Alta, the right temps and very dry, but the great classic wineries like to wait. For LRA’s Reserva Especial bottling of Ardanza that ‘s ten years. That much time in barrel and in bottle lets a wine mature and develop gracefully. I admire that kind of tradition. 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. Ardanza has all that with a long finish to enjoy the complexity. Amazingly a wine this rich and intriguing is under $40. You’re gonna want that.