Wine of the Week 47 – a great experience and a great Rioja

This week I throw caution to the wind and celebrate tasting – and drinking – a rare gem from my cellar. It is most certainly not cheap, it isn’t widely available, but it was very, very good, so it is my Wine of the Week.

I was teaching a WSET level 2 course and none of my students had ever tasted a really mature wine, so we cooked up a plan to share an old bottle from my collection.

I spent a happy hour browsing through my bottles, wiping off the dust, and eventually I chose something really exciting. It had sat in my wine rack for well over twenty years just waiting for its moment and I crossed my fingers that it would live up to the hopes that we had for it.

Actually I just hoped it was still alive and not corked.

The bottle was a Rioja, but not just any old wine from that region. No this was the single vineyard 1970 Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva from the great Bodegas López de Heredia in Haro.

Looking south across Rioja's vineyards from the Sierra de Cantabria mountains.

Looking south across Rioja’s vineyards from the Sierra de Cantabria mountains.

López de Heredia are unapologetically old fashioned even now, with long ageing and even producing oaky whites and rosés, but this wine was 45 years old. Franco was still dictator of Spain when it was made and Ted Heath was the UK Prime Minister. It was a very different world back then, without computers or the internet, cheap air travel or mobile phones – what’s more The Beatles hadn’t even officially split up and the first Moon landing was only the year before!

I have visited the bodega once, a long time ago, but it always stays with you as the place is one of the iconic wineries of Spain and their story is pretty good too. Still family run, they were founded in 1877 by Don Rafael López de Heredia Landeta who was actually born in Santiago, Chile. However he was Spanish and when the family returned to Spain in 1869 he went to nearby Bayonne in France to study business. While he was there he must have seen the problems the French were having with their vines – this was in the depths of the phylloxera crisis – and the business potential of applying Spanish wine to French producers who had no wine of their own to sell – click here to read about this period of Rioja’s history.

Rioja Map 2013

Map of Rioja – – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

Don Rafael established his winery in Haro, in the barrio, near the railway station – this area is home to a great concentration of the fine old established Rioja producers, including CVNE and Muga, as the railway made exporting the wines much easier than it was in the past. At first the winery was pretty small, but as demand grew he sought to expand – in every direction.

First they set about digging cellars into the local hillside and then he wanted to enlarge the bodega buildings too. He did this by employing Galician stonemasons to turn the excavated stone into building material and then got an architect to design him an up to date winery that was much larger than he needed to allow for future growth. Amazingly it is still larger than they need, although they have expanded several times in to vacant buildings that Don Rafael put up back in the nineteenth century.


The beautiful López de Heredia winery, complete with the Txori Toki tower. Photo courtesy of the bodega.

As if developing downwards, by digging cellars, and outwards with more buildings was not enough, the winery was finished off with a lovely art nouveau tower that dominates that part of Haro and makes it impossible to miss the winery. This tower is known as the Txori Toki – bird tower in Basque – and its picture graces their wine labels to this day.

López de Heredia is a lovely bodega to visit, the buildings are beautiful and seem to capture the spirit of a time and a place in Rioja’s early history. The cellars are simply amazing with cavern after cavern opening up as you walk through them and you briefly like an explorer from a different age. At the heart of the cellars is a huge tasting room with an enormous round table and enjoying a tasting there is an experience that you never forget.

Unusually for Rioja their production has always been based upon their own vineyards and the core of their range is a series of single vineyard wines such as Viña Gravonia, Viña Cubillo, Viña Bosconia and most importantly the famous Viña Tondonia. This large, 100 hectare vineyard is so synonymous with the company, that its official name is Bodegas R. López de Heredia Viña Tondonia. This extraordinary site produces some of the most iconic and traditional Rioja ones in the form of their great reds, whites and one of the very last of the old style long barrel aged Rosados.

The tasting room deep in the cellars, photo courtesy of the winery.

The tasting room deep in the cellars, photo courtesy of the winery.

vina_tondonia_19701970 Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva
Bodegas R. López de Heredia Viña Tondonia
Haro, Rioja
The blend is something like 75% Tempranillo with 15% Garnacha and some Mazuelo and Graciano.  It fermented in wooden fermentation vats, before being aged for 10 years in 225 litre American oak barrels before being bottled.

Opening wine as old as this is always a gamble and a bit of a worry, but I had stored it well in my small cellar the Big Yellow Wine Storage in Fulham, so I should not have worried and as soon as I sniffed it, I knew it was good.
The colour was a real tawny orange and it had become transparent with age. The aroma was deep and savoury with leathery, earthy, meaty, mushroom notes together with some dried fruit – cherry, raspberry, prune, raisin – as well as orange, walnuts and rich coffee, it was really exciting sniffing this.
The palate too was extraordinary, with plenty of life in it still. There was a nice refreshing, elegant cut of acidity and even a little smear of tannins on the finish, but everything was superbly integrated and had become a whole entity with a silky mouthfeel. The flavours were overwhelmingly savoury with smoky, meaty tones, dried fruit giving that glimmer of sweetness and an intensity that totally dominated my senses. Whats more I have never had a dry wine that had such a long finish, it went on for around 2 minutes!
This was a great wine by any measure and what’s more showed no sign of being tired yet. Probably the finest old Rioja I have ever tasted – 95/100 points.

I don’t drink, or even taste, anything like this very often, but when I do it reinforces my joy of wine and excites me enormously. The sense of history I get when I taste old wine is a real part of the pleasure, so if you ever get the chance to taste a really old Rioja, do give it a go.

Wine of the Week 43 – an excitingly different Spanish style

Many drinker’s knowledge and experience of Spanish wines revolves almost entirely around Rioja, which is a great shame as there is so very much more to enjoy and experience from this wonderful country.

I love Rioja, it is a great wine region that produces many world class wines. However, Spain is brimming over with other exciting wine regions that all produce fascinating wines that are well worth drinking. What’s more many of them are made in a completely different style from Rioja and are often made from different grape varieties too.

Wine map of Spain – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement

Wine map of Spain – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement

One region that would repay trying is Bierzo. It’s just in Castilla y León, or Old Castille, but looks and feels more Galician and Celtic than the rest of the province and indeed it was a part of Galicia until the 18th Century. It joins on to the Galician wine region of Valdeorras and has much in common with it. The geography, climate and landscape are very similar and so they use the same grape varieties, Godello for white wines and Mencía for reds. Recently I tasted a really delicious and drinkable Mencía from Bierzo and so I made it my Wine of the Week.

An ordinary night out in Bierzo

An ordinary night out in Bierzo with the late John Radford.

Las Médulas

Las Médulas, a World Heritage Site in Bierzo that was once the most important gold mine in the Roman Empire.

Bierzo2013 Mencía Luna Beberide
D.O. Bierzo
Bodegas Luna Beberide
Cacabelos, Léon
Castilla y León, Spain

100% Mencía and unoaked, this could not be more different from Rioja if it tried. Alejandro Luna is the owner and winemaker at this wonderful little estate. He is a local boy who travelled all over Spain learning his craft before he returned home to the far north west of Castille. Some of his vines are well over 60 years old and are grown high up – between 600 and 750 metres above sea level – on south facing slopes. This means they have good sun exposure to make them ripe, but are protected from the Atlantic rains, while the cooler air at that altitude retains the grape’s natural freshness and acidity, the conditions are so cool actually that he can also grow some Riesling and Pinot Noir. All the farming is organic with no pesticides or herbicides used. Harvesting is all done by hand and the wine is unfiltered.


Ploughing the old fashioned way at Bodegas Luna Beberide, see how high they are and how wild the landscape is. Photo courtesy of the winery.

The colour is an attractive, opaque, yet bright violet purple.
The nose gives off lovely lifted aromas of blackberry, sugar plums, cherry and violets together with a little liquorice spice and earthy minerality.
The palate is soft, round, juicy and lively with freshness balancing the rich dark fruit. Mulled wine flavours together with  Blueberry, bilberry and blackberry dominate together with cherry stones and light, supple tannins. It is light to medium bodied with lots and lots of character. A hugely enjoyable wine that should appeal to Syrah / Shiraz lovers as well as Burgundy and Beaujolais drinkers – 90/100 points.

A very food friendly wine that is perfect with pastas, pizzas and lighter meat dishes and is soft enough to drink without food too.

Available in the UK for around £10 a bottle from Devinos and Grey’s Fine Foods.
Available in the US through Grapes of Spain and these stockists here.

If you have never tried a Bierzo, or Mencía as it is grown in other regions, then this fruity and supple example might be a very good place to start. Alejandro Luna also makes more high end wines and I will tell you about some of those another day.

Wine of the Week 40 – a southern Spanish sensation

As some of you who read these pages regularly will be aware, I love Spanish wine. I think Spain is a great wine producing country that makes exciting wines in all styles. In truth I think Spain is underappreciated given the quality and value that it produces. It pains me that so many people still just think, if it’s Spanish it must be Rioja. Spain is so much more than just Rioja – great wine region though Rioja is and much as I love good Rioja wines.

I really enjoy introducing drinkers to new regions of Spain, as the wines always seem to go down well and it is always fun seeing someone taste and enjoy a wine for the first time – and often it isn’t only just a new wine, but new region and grape variety too!

Well the other day I showed a red that summed up exactly why I find Spain so exciting. It was a lovely, warming Winter wine that is so delicious to drink and such great value that I made it my Wine of the Week.

Wine map of Spain – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement

Wine map of Spain – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement

mas-delmera-monastrell-reserva2008 Mas Delmera Monastrell Reserva
Bodegas Mas Delmera
D.O. Jumilla
Albacete, Spain
Historically the Spanish wines that became famous were all from the north where it is cooler and the conditions less wild. In the south the weather is so hot and the land so wild and rugged that in the past it was very hard to make good wine – the exception is Sherry of course which was fortified in order to preserve it. Other wines did not have the advantage of being fortified, so did not keep as well and were generally considered to be less fine than the wines from the north, especially Rioja. I well remember tasting a Jumilla red in the early 1970s, I was very young so my palate would not have been used to red wine at all, but it was foul. Even my father poured it away, and he drinks anything!

Jumilla is a hot region of southern Spain, midway between the city of Murcia and Albacete in Castilla-La Mancha – the wine region (Denominación de Origen / D.O.) straddles the border. In the past the wines tasted dirty and stewed, because the wineries were filthy places and bacteria got into the wine. It didn’t help that in this region of Spain they used to ferment in clay tinajas – these are often erroneously called amphorae and are making something of a comeback, especially in Chile and for natural wine. In Spain these were huge jars, usually buried in the ground and they were impossible to clean properly, so the bacteria in them would have made the wine unstable. The upshot of these problems, and many others, was that by the mid 1970s Jumilla was on its knees as a wine region, with only the locals drinking the wines. Clean, bright, fresh wine was freely available in Spain, usually from Rioja and Penedès – take a bow Miguel Torres, so consumers were put of the hot, brackish, stewed and often murky wine of Jumilla. In fact such were the region’s woes that it was only created as a D.O. in 1996, once the region’s potentially bright future had been glimpsed.

And what a bright future it is. Producers have worked so hard, replacing the aged tinajas with clean stainless steel tanks and making sure the wineries are so clean you could eat your dinner off the floor. The fermentations can now take place at low temperatures, so the wines are fresher and brighter and the clean winemaking ensures they stay vibrant and fruity too. What’s more the growers have worked hard too, by finding sheltered and high, cool places to plant the vines so that the grapes do not turn to raisins in the fierce sun. By doing this they turn the heat to their advantage. The place is so arid that the vines barely grow to any height above ground, but put down very deep roots below ground. This means the vine produces a tiny crop of concentrated, flavoursome grapes, so the finished wines are rich and full-flavoured.

Monastrell vines growing in Jumilla. Photo courtesy of Bodegas Juan Gil.

Monastrell vines growing in Jumilla. Photo courtesy of Bodegas Juan Gil.

Harvesting Monastrell vines in Jumilla. Photo courtesy of Bodegas Juan Gil.

Harvesting Monastrell vines in Jumilla. Photo courtesy of Bodegas Juan Gil.

For me the key Jumilla producer is Bodegas Juan Gil who makes a dazzling range of wines with bright, vibrant fruit backed up by an elegant structure that makes them a real delight – do try some of them if you get the chance, UK stockist information is here, US here, but there are other producers too, as my Wine of the Week shows. 

This wine is made by the wonderful Pamela Geddes, who is a Brit with long experience of making wine in Spain. The blend is 90% Monastrell, which the French call Mourvèdre and the Aussies call Mataro, and there is 10% Tempranillo too, which spends 3 months in oak just to firm up the wine and give it a bit more elegance.

The colour shows it age with a little garnet around the edge, but is mainly a dark, opaque ruby.
The nose betrays the heat of Jumilla, you can smell hot rocks, wild herbs and rich, ripe fruit; blackberry, blueberry, rich strawberry and some deep plum too. The palate is full-bodied and very smooth, with loads of fruit, it has some age now so it isn’t the bright fruit of youth, but the broader flavours of older wine, plums and prunes as well as blackberry. There is some earthiness and leather from the ageing too, as well as some caramel, mocha and espresso from the touch of oak. All in all a lovely crowd pleaser of a wine, smooth, full-flavoured, full-bodied and with some nice maturity on it too, grab it while you can – 87/100 points.

 Available in the UK for £10.50 a bottle from Great Western Wine.

If you have never tasted a wine from Spain’s deep south, then this is a perfect place to start. You will really enjoy them if wines from the Rhône are your thing, or if you like Malbec, or Shiraz, or just good red wines. This delicious red wine would be perfect with roast lamb, a rich casserole or even a comforting shepherd’s pie or a burger.

Wine of the Week 38 – a real winter warmer

I don’t know how it is where you are, but this winter feels pretty cold here in the UK. Not Siberia cold, but at between 0˚ and 2˚ C in the night and hovering at around 7˚ in the day it’s quite cold enough for me. In fact it makes me want hearty stews and rich red wines. Well, the other day I tasted a red wine that is a real inter warmer and indeed I did make a hearty stew to accompany it.

It was a delicious wine and what’s more it was a Grenache, or Garnacha as they call it in Spain – after all it is really a Spanish grape. I seem to like Grenache more and more in all sorts of styles and Spain certainly produces some stunning examples. I was came from Spain, from a region that is not very well known, but that really ought to be as to makes some excellent wines. The region is Madrid, or as the wine region is called, Vinos de Madrid and I have written about the region here as well as wines from nearby here and here. It might seem strange that Spain produces a wine that I can describe as a winter warmer, but do remember that Madrid is the highest capital in western Europe and it can get pretty cold there. What’s more, this wine comes from just to the west of Madrid itself and is really grown in the eastern fringes of the Sierra de Gredos and they get pretty high, 2592 metres at their highest point, so it can be pretty cold up there in winter too. This wine though is produced in the town of San Martín de Valdeiglesias and the vineyards sit at 850 metres above sea level, which is pretty high.

Wine map of Spain – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement

Wine map of Spain – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement

San Martín de Valdeiglesias.

San Martín de Valdeiglesias.

That height is a good thing too, because although winter around here is cold, summer is blisteringly hot, so that altitude ensures the grapes are growing in cooler air which means the finished wine will be fresher than it would otherwise be. The town is about 70 kilometres west of Madrid and the name, Valdeiglesias, means Valley of the churches because there are a great many churches there. The region has made wine for centuries and Goya’s cartoon called The Grape Harvest is thought to depict the area. the wines of the place also get a mention in Captain Alatriste, Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s swashbuckling novel.

Vineyards at Viñedos de San Martin.

Vineyards at Viñedos de San Martin.

I really enjoyed the wine, especially after it had been open for about 6 hours. It was very drinkable and I thought that lots of people would enjoy it, so made it my Wine of the Week:

las_moradas_de_san_martin_senda_20092009 Senda Las Moradas de San Martín Garnacha Crianza
Viñedos de San Martin
DO Vinos de Madrid
100%  Grenache / Garnacha, hand harvested and aged for 10 months in French oak.
The nose was rich with fruitcake aromas of raisins and spice. You do notice the 15% alcohol, which gives a touch of a dry Port like character – smelling a wine like this you can see why the aussies used Grenache to make their ‘ports’.
The palate delivers the sweetness of dried fruit, especially prune and fig, some fresh strawberry and cherry fruit too, spice, quite a punch of warming alcohol, touch of white pepper, leather, tobacco, an earthy minerality and a touch of brown sugar or caramel. The palate is very smooth, almost creamy and mouth filling with soft tannins that have a sweet ripe, fine grain character.
I like this wine, you can taste the heat, but the palate recovers its balance and the finish is long.
It really quite is quite delicious, a bit of a monster and not my normal style at all, but it has bags of personality and I think a lot of people would like this very much indeed 89/100

Try this with a heart meaty casserole or cassoulet type dish.

Available in the UK from Grey’s Fine Foods at £11.75 per bottle. Greys also sell a wonderful range of Spanish foods, so you could always order some Jamón too!
Available in the US from Saratoga Wine Exchange.

Wine of the Week 36 – an amazing sweet Muscat

There’s always a time for a dessert wine, they are often the most popular wines at tastings and that proved to be the case recently when I tutored a tasting on Navarra wines at Dulwich Wine Society – although all the wines met with great approval actually.

By the way, if you live anywhere around the Dulwich area by the way, it is well worth joining this august wine tasting group. They meet weekly, which is very impressive, I don’t know of any other such society that meets more than once a month. They are nice people, full of enthusiasm and they seem to like having me round to tutor tastings. This my 18th tasting for them in 22 years, I was only just 28 when I first presented to them and have recently turned 50! How that time has flown.

So, my topic was Navarra, that wonderful, half forgotten wine region that neighbours Rioja in the north of Spain. I visited Navarra not long ago and was very impressed by many of the wines, excited about them even and am still astonished that so few are easily available to the UK wine consumer.

Map of Navarra – click for a larger view. High-res non-watermarked versions of my maps are available by agreement.

Map of Navarra – click for a larger view. High-res non-watermarked versions of my maps are available by agreement.

If wine drinkers have a mental picture about any sort of wine that Navarra produces at all, it is probably the rosés / rosados made from Garnacha / Grenache, but that is just a tiny part of what Navarra produces. While I was there I tasted magnificent Chardonnays – like this one and this one too, superb Cabernet and Merlot blends – like this one and this one, and tasted stunning Tempranillo blends – like this one and this one.  I also got taste wines that I was not expecting at all, like the wonderful old vine Garnacha / Grenache wines that they make in Navarra. They grow these vines high up in Navarra, in the mountains, where the air is cool and the climate is dominate by the Atlantic rather than the Mediterranean. I found this created the most amazingly different Grenache with freshness, acidity and elegance, they really are something special and I have written about different examples here and here. So, there is lots going on in Navarra, many different styles and a big variety of grapes being grown – the list above barely scratches the surface.

Perhaps it is this very diversity that is Navarra’s problem? It is possible that because people do not know what to expect from a bottle of Navarra? That they don’t look on Navarra wine as an old friend as they often do the products of neighbouring Rioja. That’s only my theory, but it might in part account for Navarra’s lack of visibility on wine shop and supermarket shelves.

Whatever the reason, it is a great shame as Navarra produces superb wines in a wonderful array of styles – even dessert wine and one of those wowed the good people of Dulwich Wine Society the other night, and so I have made it my Wine of the Week.

Capricho de GoyaMoscatel Capricho d’Goya
Bodegas Camilo Castilla
D.O.Navarra Ribera Baja sub-zone
This wine is bonkers! It is amazingly concentrated and ripe with deep prune, fig and raisin characters, rum, caramel and nutty toffee too. It is made a bit like a Madeira, being aged for 3 years in glass demijohns on the roof of the winery. They leave it out in all weathers, to concentrate in the searing summer heat and the snows of winter. After that it spends a further 4 years in barrels developing rich, figgy, molasses-like characters before being bottled.

Capricho d'Goya ageing in old barrels - permission of the winery

Capricho d’Goya ageing in old barrels – permission of the winery.

Capricho de Goya ageing in glass demijohns outside

Capricho d’Goya ageing in glass demijohns outside – permission of the winery.

This wine is so, so lovely, like sticky toffee pudding in a glass – who needs the dessert? In style it is like a joyous cross between Pedro Ximénez (PX) and Rutherglen Muscat with more freshness and salinity. It is intensely sweet, but also has an intense savoury richness, a seam of refreshing acidity and great complexity that makes it a joy to just sip and contemplate. This truly is a great wine – 93/100 points.

Available in the UK from Greys Fine Foods @ £15.755 per half litre / 500cl.

This is a superb sweet wine, one of the best Muscats that I have ever tasted, probably the very best in fact. It deserves to be more widely known and appreciated, as does the Navarra region and all the wonderful wines that it produces.



Wine of the Week 29 – my bargain red of the year?

Whilst struggling with what to serve the thirsty masses at Christmas I have been considering all sorts of wines at prices varying from the highish to the high, when I was given this wine to try. It strikes me as excellent red that a lot of people would enjoy and yet it hardly breaks the bank, so will enable me to to relax if I have to open yet another bottle.

Wine map of Spain – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement

Wine map of Spain, Toro is North West of Madrid on the Duero River – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement

It come from Toro, which is an excellent region in Castilla y León which makes big, tannic wines from the local Tinta do Toro grape. This is actually Tempranillo, but it has evolved separately over time to produce wines that generally have a less savoury character, more red fruit and less earthiness than their Rioja cousins. However, they often have somewhat rustic tannins, that I think hold the region back from becoming one of Spain’s really great source’s of wines. The patches of brilliance here are from people who manage the tannins well to produce supple and concentrated wines. Well this wine does and what’s more does it at a very low price, so I have made it my Wine of the Week:

The bodega in 1997, I loved the lettering going over the roller door! This building is now a museum.

The bodega in 1997, I loved the lettering going over the roller door! This building is now a museum.

Tulga Toro Crianza2011 Tulga Crianza
D.O. Toro
Bodegas Pagos del Rey
Morales de Toro
Castilla y León, Spain
Nowadays this bodega is part of the dynamic multi-regional producer Felix Solis / Pagos del Rey, but I visited it nearly twenty years ago when it was the local cooperative cellars of Morales de Toro, a small town outside Toro itself. They made – and continue to make – the splendid Bajoz wines and their cheaper Moralinos de Toro was for a long time the house red of Winetrack, my wine company.

It was an amazing place to visit, slightly grubby and messy in a way that just would not happen today – that old winery is now a wine museum in fact. They shared a forecourt with a café too, but the wines they produced – and continue to produce – were astonishing for the money. They have got even better over the years and deserve to be more popular than they are, as does Toro as a region.

Toro's Roman Bridge from the town.

Toro’s Roman Bridge from the town.

Toro town is a very attractive place on a cliff overlooking the Duero River. The town is dominated by the Collegiate church of Santa María la Mayor and one of the famous features is the Roman Bridge across the river. I was thrilled when I was last there to look out of my hotel window, which was quite high up and to see a stork flying along below me.

This wine is a Crianza, which means it has been aged in oak either a barrel – 225/228 litres or something bigger – for at least 6 months. This wine claims to have been aged in new American and French oak barrels and the garnet colour shows the oak influence, as does the vanilla and spice aroma. The nose is slightly funky too with rich, brambly fruit for sure, but also a wild, earthy, mushroomy character, this is certainly because of brett, which normally I don’t like at all, but in this instance the sweaty, animal character sort of suits it, like it does with Château Musar or a lot of Châteuneuf-du-Pape.
The palate is rich, rounded and even a little creamy, with spices and chocolate as well as, ripe juicy plum, black cherry and blackberry fruit. The tannins are very well managed, being smooth and supple and there’s some freshness too, making the wine very drinkable indeed. What’s more, there is nothing bland about it, it might not be the most complex wine in the world, but it is full of character – 86/100 points – I have awarded it high marks for value.

Available in the UK from Lidl  £5.49 per bottle – possibly the bargain of the year!

With quality like this coming through at such a good price, we are going to have to get used to wines from Lidl being taken a bit more seriously than they were in the past, just like we are with Aldi who also offer some excellent wines at great prices.

So, if Spanish wine to you is only Rioja, then do try this. The country has so much more to offer than most people realise, as the whole country is covered in fascinating wine regions that deserve wider appreciation.

Wine of the Week 13 – another Spanish gem


Beautifully tended vineyards at Viña Magaña. Photo from Olé Imports.

Beautifully tended vineyards at Viña Magaña. Photo from Olé Imports.

It must be the Summer making me think of Spain. Whatever the reason though, this week’s Wine of the Week is a gem of a wine and great value for money too, so perfect Wine of the Week material.

It comes from the wonderful, if under appreciated, region of Navarra. As I have mentioned before, Navarra produces a beguiling array of different wine styles, so it isn’t always easy to know what to expect. However the quality is generally high and the wines can be very exciting indeed. As regards red wines, there are mainly two types in Navarra. The more normal is wines made from Tempranillo and Cabernet / Merlot blends, while the newer speciality – or recently revived traditional style – is very fine pure Garnacha / Grenache. There are, of course a few mavericks producing a little Pinot Noir, some Graciano and Mazuelo, some Syrah even, but broadly the red wines fall into those two styles.

The Navarrans are proud of their heritage. The region was once the southern part of the medieval Kingdom of Navarre, with the northern bit being over the Pyrenees in what is now France. Much of the population was, and remains, Basque – indeed the Basques claim Navarra as theirs despite it not being part of the official Basque Region, or País Vasco. That historic French influence is very apparent in Navarran wines with most producers having added classic French grapes to their vineyards over the last 40 years or so. The majority of Navarran whites are made from Chardonnay and a great many of the reds have some Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in their blends. I have even heard of a little Malbec being grown in Navarra too.

These French, or international grapes were apparently helped to return to Navarra – if indeed they had ever grown there before – by Juan Magaña who had worked in Bordeaux and wanted to create Navarran wines with the finesse and sophistication of top Bordeaux. To that end he famously smuggled cuttings over the border during the early 1970s – when Spain was still a dictatorship and near siege economy. He planted his vineyard and built Bodegas Viña Magaña in Barillas near Cascante in Ribera Baja in the deep south of Navarra. Nowadays it is so normal for Navarran wines to include Cabernet and Merlot that it is hard to realise quite what a pioneer Juan must have been.

It worked though and before long Juan’s wines were showing just what Navarra could do and it had a huge impact on the style of wines from the region. Juan has now been joined in the business by his son Diego and the 100 hectare family estate, Viña Magaña, has gone from strength to strength, producing wines of great quality and renown.

Juan Magaña hand plunging the grapes as they ferment in the barrels. This ensures good extraction of colour, tannins and flavour.

Juan Magaña hand plunging the grapes as they ferment in the barrels. This ensures good extraction of colour, tannins and flavour. Photo from Olé Imports.

IMG146_Baron_De_Magana-vina_magana2009 Barón de Magaña
Viña Magaña
D.O. Navarra, Ribera Baja sub-zone

A  blend of 35% Merlot, 35% Cabernet, 20% Tempranillo and 10% Syrah fermented separately in 228 litre Burgundy barrels. The blended wine is then aged for 14 months in French oak barrels, 70% new.

I thought this was a tremendous wine, richly fruity, superbly concentrated and showing a lovely balance between elegance and power. The colour is deep, opaque purple / ruby black. The nose shows the rich fruit, blackcurrants, blackberry and plum together with some creme de cassis, red earth, espresso, cedar wood and a dusting of spice. The palate leans towards being full-bodied and is completely dominated by the rich, sumptuous fruit at the moment. There is freshness from a cleansing seam of acidity though, while the tannins are there giving a classy fine grain feel to the finish and the coffee and mocha oak gives the wine an extra polish and class. This is deliciously drinkable and bright right now, but there is enough structure to show that it will age beautifully over the next 4 years or so – 91/100 points, Robert Parker gave it 93!

Available in the UK from SpaNiche Wines at £10.94 (£9.94 by the case). 
Viña Magaña wines are distributed in the US by Olé Imports. Additional stockist information is available here.

Personally I think this is a remarkable wine for the price, beautifully made and full of character. It will age beautifully over many years, which makes it a very good value wine to keep in your cellar – no one will ever guess how cheap it was I assure you.

Serve it at dinner parties with lamb and rich meat dishes, but above all do try this delicious and great value wine.