I’ve had a fascination and fondness for Spanish wines over the last 15 years or so. What’s made the journey even that much more fascinating has been watching the monumental changes that have taken place over that time. I remember being introduced to the newest offerings from Spain in the late 1990’s. You could tell that something was afoot as the quality, style and variety were just exploding.
But, while many wineries modernized their production and vineyard techniques, there were a handful of properties that resisted the change and continued to make the most profound examples of what they call traditional wine. There are a handful of top traditional wineries in Spain and two of the most important are Lopez de Heredia and CUNE, both located in Rioja.
Last year I had the pleasure of attending a luncheon at Gjelina featuring the wines of Lopez de Heredia, presented by Maria José López de Heredia herself. We tasted reds and whites as far back as 1964. If you are a fan of Spanish wines, you know that they set the bar for traditional Rioja; a tasting of their wines will bear it out. They are nothing short of magnificent.
I’ve also been a fan of their next door neighbor, CUNE for many years. But I think I’ve underestimated just how great their wines can be. A few weeks back, I attended a luncheon at Spago with Victor Urratia, owner of CUNE. Along with all the current releases, we were able to taste the Reservas from ’85 and ’79. We tasted the Imperial Gran Reserva’s from ’95, ’90, ’80 and ’76. And finally the Vina Real Gran Reservas from ’87, ’81, ’78 and ’73.
My first smell of the ’85 Reserva nearly made me laugh out loud. It was that good. My notes for the ’87 Gran Reserva read, “Tremendous. Perfect.” I think I liked that one as well. The most interesting note raised by Victor was that great Rioja matures like Bordeaux but once they reach their plateau, they stay there for much longer. Considering how the ’73 Gran Reserva showed, I’d have to agree.
Some of these back vintages will be available for sale. Supposedly, the boat comes to shore in September. But more importantly is how inexpensive (comparatively) these wines are on release. For $40 you can lay down some of the current Imperial Gran Reservas. They’ll grace your cellar for another 25+ years.
Next up, I’m having lunch at Lucques to taste the wines from Bodegas Riojanas. I have much less experience with this traditional producer but hope to have another epiphany. If you’re not collecting these traditional Riojas, you may be making a big mistake. And I’d feel bad for not having warned you. If you’ve had a great old Rioja lately, let me know about it.
I recently had the pleasure of attending the Ribera del Duero tasting at the fashionable SLS Beverly Hills Hotel. It was a small but unique tasting focusing on this up-and-coming region in north-central Spain, not far from Rioja. With the maritime influence of the not-too-distant Atlantic and lots of sunshine, Ribera del Duero provides ideal conditions for its mainstay grape, Tempranillo (also known as Tinto Fino.) Those who are not familiar with Spain and the quality and value of its wine output need look no more. Ribera del Ruero is on the rise.
The first wine that caught my attention was Pago de los Capellanes Reserva Ribera Del Duero 2001. Winemaker Paco Casas has won many awards in European tasting challenges, including Gold Medal at 2005 Premios Zarcillo, Burgos, Gold Medal in the 2005 International Wine Challenge London, and Gold medal in the 2005 Concours Mondial de Bruxelles. This wine has flown under the radar in the States for far too long. I really hope to see the wines of Pago de los Capellanes start to get the recognition they deserve. Aromas of vanilla, minerals, and smoke complement the berry notes. This fresh, firm, well-balanced bottle of wine screams out for pot roast, or a nice juicy grilled steak. And the price of this bottle is only $44.99, not bad for a 2001 reserva.
The second bottle that caught my eye and tingled my palate was the Aalto Ribera del Duero 2007. This wine is young and tight, but once it’s been decanted for an hour or more all the aromas begin to reveal themselves delicately. Black cherry, blackberry, and pain grille round out a nice spicy bouquet. On the palate the wine is pure, dense and opulent with a long-lasting finish. This wine will evolve well over the next 10 years and seems a good addition to one’s private cellar. It’ll go great with ribs, or sausage and bell pepper pizza. Priced at $39.95, it’s an excellent value for such a high quality bottle of wine.
So next time you are thinking of grabbing a bottle from Spain, think Ribera Del Duero. It’ll take you there.