Wine of the Week and my Wine of 2015 – a superb red Rioja from Contino

My first Wine of the Week for 2016 and very possibly my Wine of the Year in 2015 – although there is some stiff competition and I could easily choose something else – was rather fittingly the wine I was drinking as the new year began and 2015 was consigned to history.

I had struggled to think of what to drink with my slow cooked garlicky lamb – not because I did not know what to serve with it, but because I had far too many options as lots of different wines go brilliantly. Grenache, Claret, Cabernet, MerlotRioja, Ribera del Duero and Jumilla would lead the pack for reds for me, but whites can work very well too, especially Marsanne and Rousanne blends. In the end I chose something really, really special and I am very glad that I did.

It was a Rioja from Contino which is a single estate winery in Rioja Alavesa just a little north and west of Logroño. Many of you may be surprised that I emphasise that it comes from a single vineyard or estate, but that is quite rare in Rioja. Most Rioja is a branded product made from fruit sourced from a number of vineyards – much like Champagne usually is – and single estate wines are very far from being the norm.

Contino was the first single estate Rioja wine, certainly in modern times, and it was created in 1973 by the Real de Asúa family. This enterprising bunch – or their ancestors anyway – had previously set up the great Rioja house of CVNE in 1879 and their descendants continue to run CVNE (often written as Cune) – Compañía Vinicola del Norte de España or The Northern Spanish Wine Company – who produce Monopole, Imperial and Viña Real wines as well as Contino.

Rioja map- click for a larger view

Rioja map- click for a larger view

In fact the family had bought grapes from the vineyard that became Contino for many decades and used them in their Viña Real wines, the modern Viña Real estate and winery is very near Contino. According to Jesús Madrazo, the charming, affable, inquiring and wonderfully talented winemaker at Contino, they always knew these grapes were special and so when the owners came to CVNE and explained that they wanted to retire but had no heirs to take the vineyard on, they jumped at the chance to acquire this amazing 62 hectare estate. It is situated just north west of Logroño and the Ebro river wraps around the estate making it appear to be a south facing peninsula. The vineyard is in effect a shallow south facing slope and so acts as a sun-trap and produces wonderfully ripe and concentrated wines.

2 superb grape varieties growing at Contino in Rioja

The 8.5 hectare El Olivo block on the Contino estate.

José Madrazo Real de Asua was the family member who took on control of this estate and turned it into something very special in the region. José Madrazo retired in 2001 and sadly died in January 2015, but his son Jesús Madrazo took over the role has done a remarkable job of taking Contino to new heights. Over time they have changed the focus. Originally, as with most Rioja in those days, they blended all the grapes together, even the whites. For a few vintages now they have used those vines to craft one of the very finest white Riojas there is from a blend of Viura with Garnacha Blanca (Grenache Blanc) and Malvasia – actually that would have been great with my lamb too come to think of it.

IMG_1434

José Madrazo, the brilliant and charming winemaker at Contino.

The main Contino wine is the red Contino Reserva, also available here, which never fails to impress me, but they now also produce some even more special wines. The pure Contino Garnacha (Grenache) is made from 70 years old vines and is one of the finest examples I have tried from Spain (together with these guys here). Their pure Contino Graciano is scintillating and a rare great example of this grape that should be better known. One of my favourite Riojas of all is always the wonderful Contino Viña Del Olivo wine made from a parcel of vines that surrounds an ancient olive tree – it is available here and here.

However, in the truly great years Jesús also makes a little Gran Reserva. This is traditionally only bottled in magnums (1.5 litres or 2 ordinary bottles) and I do like a magnum as it looks so dramatic on the dinner table. Anyway I dug out a magnum of the 2005 Gran Reserva to go with my lamb and it was so very good that I have made it my first Wine of the Week of 2016 and also my Wine of the Year for 2015.

Just in case you are not familiar with the regulations of what each type of Rioja actually is, here are the rules – all times are the minimum required and so the wines can be aged longer:

Joven / Cosecha No oak ageing, or sometimes just a little. Oven never appears on the label, but often does on wine lists. Sometimes wines with a short amount of oak ageing are called Roble or Semi-Crianza, these are unofficial.
Crianza 1 year oak or tank ageing plus 1 year ageing in bottle – Crianzas can often offer very good value for money.
Reserva 1 year oak ageing plus 2 years ageing in bottle – these wines should only be produced in good vintages.
Gran Reserva 2 years oak ageing plus 3 year ageing in bottle – these wines should only be produced in the very best vintages.

Contino GR2005 Contino Gran Reserva
DOCa Rioja
Viñedos del Contino
Rioja Alavesa, Rioja, Spain

This is a classic Rioja blend of 70% Tempranillo – 60 year old vines, 15% Graciano and 15% Garnacha aged for 36 months in American and French oak barrels. The American oak gives that classic touch of vanilla that is the hallmark of Rioja. 2005 was officially classified as an excellent – or rather excelente – vintage and produced some outstanding wines. Contino only made 2699 magnums of the 2005 Gran Reserva – mine was number 1236.

The colour is deep and sumptuous, while the nose is rich, enticing, spicy and smoky with touches of vanilla, cedar and mocha as well as rich, dark plums and blackberry. The palate is rich with wonderful concentration of fruit which together with the oak ageing gives a smooth, supple and silky wine that is always powerful and textured in the mouth – which is relatively unusual for Rioja. The wine leans towards being full-bodied with even some creaminess, but some lively freshness gives lovely balance and elegance by restraining the power, which makes it really drinkable and enjoyable. The tannins are perfectly tamed by the ageing, with just a little fine-grain tannin definition on the finish to help the structure of the wine. This is powerful, but it is not a showy blockbuster, it is a truly elegant and serious wine, one of the great Riojas – 95/100 points.

This truly is a great wine and I enjoyed it very much, but I think it would reward keeping for a good few years yet. There is no doubt that it needs food and is perfect with lamb, but it would also be fabulous with venison, duck or a good steak.

Available in the UK for around £100.00 – £135.00 per magnum from The Halifax Wine Company and Harrods.
Available in the US for around $140.00 – $170.00  per magnum from Woodland Hills Wine Company and Wired for Wine.

Happy Christmas and a great 2016 to all plus a review of my year

Wow another Christmas is upon us and I have barely achieved a fraction of the things that I wanted to this year.

However, it was a great year for me for learning about amazing wines and visiting beautiful wine regions, so I can’t really complain. Here a few of my highlights of the year, I hope you enjoy them.

Naples fishing harbour with Capri in the background.

Naples fishing harbour with Capri in the background.

Back in March I visited Campania for the first time, seeing Naples and Pompeii as well as the wine regions of Taurasi, Greco di Tufo, Sannio and many more. It was a great experience full of wonderful wines and interesting stories. You can read all about it by clicking here.

Dobrovo perched on top of a terraced vineyard slope in Brda, Slovenia.

One of my favourite photographs of Slovenian vineyards.

Italy was very much the theme of the year for me as I visited four times in all. The first one was actually an amazing trip to study the wines produced in the north east edge of Italy and over the frontier in neighbouring Slovenia – the tour was called Wine Without Borders. That whole part of the world is very beautiful and produces some stunning wines too and you can read all about it by clicking here.

Typical transport in the countryside.

Typical transport in the Romanian countryside.

One of my most exciting trips of 2015 was to Romania. I had never been to the country at all before and had no idea what to expect from the wines. It turned out to be a beautiful country full of lovely people and some astonishing wines. I did not taste a single terrible wines and was very excited about the quality of most of them. You can read all about it by clicking here.

I toured the vineyards of Chablis by 2CV!

I toured the vineyards of Chablis by 2CV!

In June I was thrilled to go on my first dedicated trip to Chablis and I learned ever such a lot about what makes these wines quite so important. Ever since I have enjoyed talking about Chablis to all my students, but have yet to write about the visit – watch this space.

The beautiful vineyards of Lavaux.

The beautiful vineyards of Lavaux on Lake Geneva’s north shore.

In the same month I was honoured to be invited to be a judge at the Mondial du Chasselas wine competition in Switzerland. Chasselas is a real speciality grape in Switzerland, but comes close to being unloved almost anywhere else. Well I think the breadth of wines that I tasted and the sheer quality of most them proves the Swiss are right to love the grape and I loved the trip, as well as the big trip I made to Switzerland’s wine regions in late 2014. You can read all about my Swiss adventures by clicking here.

The beautiful Neckar Valley is like a mini-Mosel.

The beautiful Neckar Valley is like a mini-Mosel.

New discoveries and experiences continued with a terrific trip to Germany in September. Excitingly I visited Württemberg and the Neckar Valley as well as the amazing Stuttgart Wine Festival. This part of Germany is slightly off the beaten track wine-wise, certainly when compared to the Mosel or Rheingau, but it is well worth seeing as the landscape is very beautiful and some of the wines are stunning. Weingut Wöhrwag‘s 2013 Pinot Noir Untertürkheimer Herzogenberg Großes Gewächs was certainly the best Pinot I tasted in 2015 and one of the very best red wines that I drank all year. I aim to write all about it soon.

Piazza Duomo, Trento

Piazza Duomo in Trento, the beautiful capital of Trentino.

My Italian adventures continued in October with an enjoyable trip to Trentino in the north of the country. It is a fascinating and beautiful region that has only been part of Italy since 199, so is steeped in history. The wines were pretty good too, but then so was the beer – you can real all about it by clicking here.

Verona's amazing Roman Arena.

Verona’s amazing Roman Arena.

One added bonus of this trip was that I managed to stay an extra night in Verona and so saw that wonderful little city and was able to experience the delights of Lugana, a white wine from the southern shore of Lake Garda – it might well be my favourite Italian white right now and this delicious example is my Christmas white wine.

As well as overseas visits I have tasted some amazing wines over here too. I was particularly thrilled to meet the charming David Mazza who farms a tiny estate in Western Australia, but makes an amazing range of wines from Spanish and Portuguese grape varieties – you can read about him by clicking here.

The new discoveries kept coming too, new grapes like Tibouren from Provence and Cserszegi Fűszeres from Hungary, exciting old vine blends from Chile, a light red or a deep rosé from Tuscany, made from Tempranillo at that! Try as I might I simply could not leave Spain alone, I kept finding amazing Spanish wines that moved and excited me and that offered great value for money too – have a look here, here, here and here.

Along the way too I tasted a superb Albariño from California and another from New Zealand – Albariño is on the march it seems and you can read about them by clicking here.

Just the other day I presented my favourite sparkling wine of the year and I would urge you to try it if you can. It’s rather modestly called Apogee Deluxe Brut and is handmade by the great Andrew Pirie from fruit grown on a  2 hectare vineyard in northern Tasmania. I have long admired what Andrew does and if there is a better Australian fizz than this – indeed any non-Champagne fizz, although it had stiff opposition from Gramona’s amazing 2006 111 Lustros Gran Reserva Brut Nature Cava – then I have yet to try it. It is certainly a rich style of sparkling wine, but it never gets too serious, the fruit, freshness and frivolity dominate the palate and made me just want to drink more.

Vineyards in Stellenbosch.

Vineyards in Stellenbosch.

I nearly forgot, all right I did forget and had to come back and add this, the most exciting wine that I drank all year. There was lots of competition from the delicious 2011 Chêne Bleu Aliot, the sublime 1978 Ridge Monte Bello Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon from California and the downright amazing 2001 Château La Tour Blanche Sauternes, but my stand out wine was from my own collection and it was a beautifully mature Merlot-Cabernet blend from Stellenbosch.

Stellenbosch 19891989 Rozendal
Rozendal Farm
Stellenbosch
South Africa
I was very nervous about opening this. For South Africa it is very old, Nelson Mandela was still in prison when this was made and I know nothing about it. The estate seems to have disappeared. Frankly the wine seemed older and looked older than it was – even the label seems ancient. the nose was classic mature wine, smoky, cedar, earthy and overwhelmingly savoury with some balsamic notes and a touch of dried fruit too. The palate was extraordinary, still all there with that hallmark savoury fragility of very mature wine. Good acidity kept it fresh and provided the secret of its longevity. the tannins were almost totally faded, but for me the big revelation was a solid core of ripe sweet fruit that made it a joy to drink despite its venerable age.

Tasting this was a great moment and one worth recording as mature wine from anywhere other than the classic regions – I include California here – is pretty rare, especially of this quality. If anyone knows anything about Rozendal please let me know, I tried to contact them, but to no avail.

All in all 2015 went too fast, but it was good fun – despite me turning 50 in January – so let’s hope for even more excitement in 2016.

Have a great Christmas and a wonderful New Year and thank you so much for reading my wine page.

 

Wine of the Week 69 – a sumptuous red for winter

Winter seems to be in the air, so my thoughts are turning to red wine again.  I am still hoping for a late Indian Summer though, which would give me a chance to get out some of the mouthwatering white wines that are sitting in the rack looking up at me expectantly.

Regular readers will know of my love and fascination with all things Iberian and Spanish – especially the wines. Recently I presented a tasting of the less usual wines of Spain and everything I showed went down very well. Indeed a couple of the wines have already been Wines of the Week and they are really good – click here and here.

Many of you will know about Priorat, one of Spain’s – and the world’s – greatest wine region and certainly one of the most expensive. This amazing, rugged landscape specialises in producing richly mineral red wines that are usually made from blends based on Grenache, or Garnacha as the Spanish call it and Garnatxa as the Catalans call it. A few of the red wines are Carignan  / Cariñena / Samsó dominated blends, while a small number of producers craft superb white wines from grapes like Garnacha Blanca and Macabeo, as well as Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier.

Wine map of Spain, see Montsant in the north east - click for a larger view

Wine map of Spain, see Montsant in the north east – click for a larger view

Priorat is one of only two regions to hold Spain’s highest classification, Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOCa) – it is Denominació d’Origen Qualificada or DOQ in Catalan. The only other region to have this so far is Rioja.

Priorat is tiny and the wines expensive, but luckily for us it is almost completely surrounded by another wonderful wine region – Montsant. This region is only a relatively humble DO or Denominación de Origen – but then so is Ribera del Duero – but it can produce wines of real quality. Recently I tasted a superb Montsant, that was so good I showed it at my tasting and everyone loved it so much that I decided to make it my Wine of the Week.

Montsant's rugged, but beautiful landscape.

The Joan d’Anguera estate in Montsant’s rugged, but beautiful landscape.

Joan and Josep Anguera.

Joan and Josep Anguera.

Planella2012 Planella Montsant
Joan d’Anguera
D.O. Montsant
Catalunya, Spain

The story here is an old and familiar one, the d’Anguera family have farmed these wild hillsides for centuries, scratching a living by providing grapes for the cooperative. However in the 1970s Josep d’Anguera decided to get more ambitious, perhaps he was influenced by the Priorate pioneers, or perhaps he just realised the potential of his land, but he planted Syrah and that had a really positive effect on his wines. It certainly made them easier to sell, but also tamed and softened the more rustic grapes in the blends, although now they are reducing the amount of Syrah in their blends in favour of the traditional local grapes. Today the estate is run by Josep’s sons, Josep and Joan and they too are forward thinking and ambitious and from 2008 to 2012 they were in conversion to biodynamic viticulture – 2012 was their first biodynamic vintage.

50% Cariñena / Samsó / Carignan, 45% Syrah and 5% Garnacha / Garnatxa / Grenache. Fermentation in concrete vats using indigenous yeasts. Aged for 12 months in old French oak barrels.

The colour is rich and opaque, while the nose gives lifted aromas of sweet dark fruit, warming spice, wild herbs and smoke. The palate is mouth filling, mouth coating and wondrously smooth. The texture is very seductive, as is the intense ripe fruit, blackberry, mulberry and nuggets of raspberry and cherry.  Savoury, spicy, smoky characters balance the fruit, together with a light touch of spicy oak and a seam of slatey minerality. The tannins are very smooth and ripe, adding to that seductive, sumptuous feel. This is a terrific wine that will wow anyone who tastes it – 91/100 points.

This is a lovely food friendly style, try it with anything meaty or hearty, especially cassoulet, pot roasts or slow roast garlicky lamb.

Available in the UK for around £13-£16 per bottle, from James Nicholson (NI), Forest Wines, Harvey Nichols, L’Art du Vin, No 2 Pound Street, Prohibition Wines, Salusbury Wine Store, St Andrews Wine Company.
For US stockists, click here.

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.

fedificio

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 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
Corella
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 11 – a great barbecue wine

Nekeas Valley.

Nekeas Valley.

It’s turning out to be quite a good summer here in the UK, so I thought it would be nice to have a Wine of the Week that would be delicious with a barbecue in the garden.

Yet again it is a wine from the Spanish region of Navarra, which is a place that I love as it produces a dazzling array of very different, but good quality wines. Sadly this diversity means that UK retailers have not really taken Navarra wines to their hearts, so although there are some wines available they can sometimes take a little seeking out.

This week’s wine though is not only easy to buy, but it is really delicious, great value for money and massively over performs for its price.

It is produced by Bodegas Nekeas who claim to farm the most northerly olive groves in Spain, from which they make some superb olive oil by the way. Once upon a time it was a cooperative for the Nekeas Valley, but is now a privately owned winery. The area had a tough few decades in the twentieth century and with no market for their wines most of the vines were grubbed up, but some of the Garnache / Grenache vines were very  hard to reach, so they just left them alone. Which is a really lucky break for us and Nekeas, because these 100 year old vines have now been brought back to life and produce this superb wine.

The vines form a single block, interspersed with olives, growing at between 450 and 650m above sea level. No only does this height make the area pretty cool for Garnacha, but the place is influenced by the Atlantic. Concha Vecino is the winemaker at Nekeas and she is one of the most engaging and charming winemakers that I have ever met. Her passion for this land clearly shows when she speaks and she described these Garnachas as the ‘Pinot Noir of Garnachas’ and explained that Navarra produces the only Atlantic Grenache in the world.

Concha Vecino winemaker at Nekeas.

Concha Vecino winemaker at Bodegas Nekeas.

These local conditions make the wines feel fresher and more elegant than I normally expect Grenache to be and I was totally won over by the style of the Nekeas Garnacha as well as some of the other examples that I found in Navarra. By the way Concha also makes some lovely Chardonnays and Tempranillo blends as well, so if you are in Spain and see anything made by Nekeas I would highly recommend giving them a try.

Old Garnacha vines at Nekeas.

Old Garnacha vines at Nekeas.

1115583x2012 El Chaparral de Vega Sindoa Old Vine Garnacha
Bodegas Nekeas
Añorbe, D.O. Navarra, Valdizarbe sub-zone

The vineyard this wine comes from are at the highest point of the valley – the high plain or chaparral – and the vines are between 70 and 100 years old. The wine has a short time in French oak to give it a dusting of spice and touch of complexity. It gives rich aromas of vibrant red fruit with caramel, vanilla together with black fruit and spice. The palate is rich, smooth, supple, savoury and a little liquorice-like. The tannins are gentle, but firm while the palate delivers a lively mix of lovely intense rich sweet red and black fruit, while there is lovely freshness, balance, purity and cut of clean acidity that makes the wine dance across your palate.

Do try it, it would be perfect with a barbecue – perhaps lightly chilled even – and in winter it will go just as brilliantly with richer stews and hearty meat dishes – 90/100 points.

Available in the UK from Majestic Wine Warehouses @ £9.99 per bottle.

This is a lovely and great value wine and I urge you to rush to Majestic to try a bottle as soon as you can.