All my wine blogs, All wine reviews, La Mancha, Red wine, Spain, Tempranillo

Pallas 2011 – a very cheerful wine

Winemaker: Rafael CoñizaresPallas Comp
Grape: 100% Tempranillo
Region: La Mancha, Spain

See other wines from this winemaker:

I was excited to find this new Jorge Ordoñez/Rafael Coñizares join venture (Venta Morales project), a new wine from La Mancha, called PALLAS.

When I saw its label, it brought back some memories. The memories of my visit to Span, region of La Mancha, and my first meeting with the winemaker Rafael Coñizares. He seemed to be very shy, soft spoken man, who didn’t like to talk about his wines much. Or, could it be that I didn’t speak Spanish and he didn’t hold a conversation in English? Either way, we both preferred to drink those wines rather than talking about them.

Rafael Coñizares
Rafael Coñizares

The label of this new, 100% Tempranillo wine, is full of stones. Just like the large river stones, an underlayment of unique La Mancha sandy soils, with lots of iron, clay and chalk. La Mancha, the largest wine region in the world, with around 474,000 acres of higher altitude land devoted to vine growing, is “nurturing” its vines with rough winds, cold winters and hot summer days, turning into cold nights.

Combine that with almost no rainfall, and Rafael’s devotion to keep vine’s yields very low – and you have the recipe for concentrated, deep colors and superb flavors in wine.

moje logo small3Tasting notes:

Although this wine was stainless steel fermented, and didn’t age in oak, it offers surprisingly dark, ruby, almost purple color. Lovely aroma of dark berries and perhaps a little dust of cocoa.

On the palate it was fresh, full of yummy fruit flavors, reminder of dark cherries, sweet and acidic blackcurrant from my mom’s garden, with a little spice of black pepper. When you got to drink a greatly made wine , without oak, it actually shows you the bare, clean, unmasked wine flavors in its best glory. I loved what my husband said about Pallas, when he took his first sip: this wine is cheerful!  Yes, it’s rich fruity flavors with silky tannins made our dinner cheerful event.La Mancha

Incredible value wine for hard to believe $8.00.  I left my second bottle opened till next day, and almost liked the wine better than when I first opened it. Which is sometimes the case with some really expensive, big reds, when the wine is not “opened” enough yet. But it hardly happens with wine in this price range. Kudos to Jorge and Rafael for this one!!!

By the way, if you follow my blog for a while, you know that I am crazy about Spanish wines. Especially those that I can consider “house wine” based on their, more than reasonable, price. Jorge Ordoñez, my favorite Spanish wine importer, put his seal on many great, affordable wines from different parts of Spain. Its common denominator is the uncompromising quality, no matter what the price tag. You can imagine why I felt like a kid in the candy store, when I saw this shelf at Boca Raton’s Whole Foods. Wow, they have some wise wine manager there!


All my wine blogs, Red wine, Rioja, Spain, Tempranillo

My very special birthday wine

Few years back I have got a very special bottle of wine. Something, I would most likely never buy myself, even if I wanted to. For a simple reason – way over my acceptable spending budget.

Finca Allende Aurus label
Finca Allende Aurus label

I have got this bottle as a bonus for my work, promoting my big passion – Spanish wines. Keeping it for a few years,  I decided just this last week, to open something really, really special on my birthday. So I reached for THAT bottle: 2004 Finca Allende AURUS.

What is so very special about this wine? Well, aside from superb ratings from about every wine critic there is on the map, this wine is made from very old vines  – Tempranillo and Graciano grapes, with very low yields. That usually on its own is a promise of great, concentrated flavors in the wine. The winemaker also added that after very strict selection, just best bunches of grapes were harvested and went under another selection in the winery. Wine then aged in Tronais barrels for 18 months and was bottled unfiltered.

Here is what Wine Advocate said about this wine:

“The 2004 Aurus is 85% Tempranillo and 15% Graciano from 60-year-old vineyards with tiny yields. It was barrel fermented and aged in 100% new French oak. A saturated purple, the wine is currently more reticent than the Calvario aromatically although the same elements are present. The wine is still a baby, with lots of fat, sweet, layered, mouth-filling fruit, plenty of structure, and a pure, super-long finish. It merits as much as a decade of bottle age and should still be drinking well two decades from now. Kudos to Finca Allende for a magnificent set of 2004 Riojas!…96 points” WA 2/07.

Rating: 96 points – reviewed in Wine Advocate # 169 on Feb-07

Rating: 94 points – reviewed by International Wine Cellar

But all this still doesn’t mean the wine has to be super special, right? What if you can’t care less about ratings? Well, to me, this wine was special also for these reasons:

1) I was very fortunate to visit Finca Allende and tasted the whole superb portfolio of this modern Rioja winery right there, with their charming export director Nathalie Leboeuf. (I was selling their wines in U.S.A. during my wine sales career).

Finca Allende visit
Finca Allende visit

2) I have got this bottle from a person whose opinion I treasured very highly, and he gave it to me for my exceptional  work with Spanish wines. I don’t mean to brag about it here, but it doesn’t happen every day that one will get such an expensive bottle just for “doing their job”. The fact that he, out of all people, acknowledged my efforts, made it so much more special.

3) The wine really was a treat. Probably still too young (the critics predicted that this vintage may have potential to improve over 1-2 decades), but already quite approachable. Not at all big powerhouse, but fine, complex, lovely, silky wine that will go places in time (if I had more bottles, I would definitely love to try 2004 Aurus again in 5 years). But I don’t. Drinking this wine reminded me of those few beautiful days I spent in sunny Rioja.

Rioja in the sunset
Rioja in the sunset, photo: Vera Czerny

Funny, before I moved to Florida this spring, one of my wine loving friends, also a former customer, told me: “Florida?? Why? Nobody drinks wine there, they all drink White Zinfandel or coctails! No more beautiful winter evenings, sipping a nice, rich Cabernet in front of the fireplace…” Well, I am here to testify that none of his predictions are true. Not only did I find a lot of wine enthusiasts here (and not just those that retired). But the fact that I decanted this wine outside on my patio, in October, still in my shirts, on the beautiful warm evening, and enjoyed it under the stars of Florida’s gorgeous sky – didn’t take a bit from the overall experience and enjoyment. Just the opposite.

It was my first ever birthday in warmth (I spent the day on the beach) and this charm in the bottle made it so much more special!

All my wine blogs, Jumilla, Spain

Is Spanish Jumilla a new Barossa?

Some say that Jumilla, a southern part of Spain, became a region of big, fruity bombs, similar to popular Australian Shiraz. Perhaps there are some Jumilla’s winemakers that recognized the increased demand for such wines and did step in, to satisfy the global thirst. Sadly, it would be at the expense of the unique characteristics of Monastrell which has the best conditions to grow just in Jumilla’s soils. I bet there are a few. But to refute that argument, I reminded myself  of great Jumilla’s vintners, such as Jose Maria Vicente at Casa Castillo.

Casa Castilla (Photo Vera Czerny)
Casa Castilla (Photo Vera Czerny)

I was fortunate to meet the current head of this (family owned) wine estate during my Spanish visit, few years ago. His ancestor, Don Jose Sanchez-Cerezo originally acquired the property Casa Castillo (built in 1870), in 1941 to grow rosemary bushes.

Jose Maria Vicente, Casa Castillo, photo Vera Czerny

But the second generation, Nemesio and his son Jose Maria Vicente, had a different idea. In 1985 they started restructuring of vineyards and planted new varieties in its difficult soil, that could be described as calcareous soil full of stones, stones and some more stones. In 1991 they reformed the winery building with the respect to the original structure. Finally in 1993, a first vintage of new wine, called Casa Castillo Crianza 1991, came to the world.

Jumilla's soil, Casa Castilla (photo: Vera Czerny)
Jumilla’s soil, Casa Castilla (photo: Vera Czerny)

Jose Maria Vicente and his lovely wife were kind enough to welcome us at their estate the very first night of our trip. While Jose Maria walked the vineyards and winery with us, his wife worked hard in the winery’s kitchen to prepare all locally sourced, a full course dinner. Just 174 hectares of the whole property  (total of 402 hectares) is devoted to vineyards. The most planted, native variety Monastrell is followed by Syrah, Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon.The rest of the land is devoted to cultivation of almonds, olive and pine forest and conservation.

Jose Maria Vicente (right) with his wife and sales manager (photo Vera Czerny)
Jose Maria Vicente (right) with his wife and sales manager (photo Vera Czerny)

The current owner told us with a wink and a smile, how in order to keep his workers busy even off season, he asks them to build the entrance to the winery’s cellars with stones, removed from the vineyards. Looking around, it sounded a lot as Sisyphus journey. They can likely build thousands of such entries and keep busy for years.

The entrance to the Casa Castilla's cellars  (photo: Vera Czerny)
The entrance to the Casa Castilla’s cellars (photo: Vera Czerny)

As a sharp contrast to the original argument – if Jumilla is becoming a new mass production of Barossa, Casa Castillo winemaker aims to produce wines with personality, taste and character of each vineyard plot. Enhancing the quality and respecting the tradition of the area, they produce wines that express the characteristics of the soil and different microclimates of their vineyards. Located in the shade of the Sierra del Molar, spread on steep slopes at 760 meters above the sea level.

Casa Castillo Tasting room (photo Vera Czerny)
Casa Castillo Tasting room (photo Vera Czerny)

When we were finally seated in their beautiful tasting room, the dinner started with local bread dipped in winery’s own olive oil and sparkling wine, which name I really don’t remember anymore. I do remember it was a crisp and yummy cava, though. Plates of roasted peppers, eggplants, anchovy, jamon followed…. When we said goodbye four hours later, it was hard to recall all those delicious courses, served to us, to compliment a line of Jose Maria’s exquisite wines.

One of the delicious courses at Casa Castillo (photo Vera Czerny)
One of the delicious courses at Casa Castillo (photo Vera Czerny)

Each Casa Castillo wine have its own, distinguished character. Jose Maria makes sure of it. He is a devoted vintner, who respects the tradition of the region, soil, quality of local fruit, while aiming to constantly improve it all, and preserve it for the future generation. He spoke of his wines with such a passion, it was admirable. So for anybody, who believes that Monastrell is just another big, fruity bomb, I dare you to taste Casa Castillo’s wines! You will be very, very surprised…

Casa Castillo’s wine portfolio:

Casa Castillo wines (photo Vera Czerny)
Casa Castillo wines (photo Vera Czerny)

CASA CASTILLO: 100% Monastrell, fermented in stainless steel tanks with a short aging in French and American oak, to highlight the freshness and aromas of the Monastrell.

VALTOSCA: 100% syrah from the Valtosca vineyard macerated for 5 days in underground vats, end of fermentation in large 500 L French oak barrels. Wine then aged in French oak barrels for about a year. Valtosca was bottled unfiltered.

LAS GRAVAS: A blend from Las Gravas vineyard, a selection of Monastrell, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. Percentage vary each vintage – usually the Monastrell makes at least 50%. Each variety was macerated separately in small vats underground (6,000 liters).  Aging still separately for about 16 to 20 months (depending on the vintage). After barrel aging varieties are blended and bottled unfiltered.

PIE FRANCO: Fruit from Solana vineyard where Monastrell plantation rootstock were originally planted in 1941. Fruit macerated in vats underground, where it underwent the alcoholic fermentation. After 10 days it was transformed into New French oak barrels for full malolactic fermentation on its lees Wine then aged for a minimum of 22 months, unfiltered. Due to a poor performance of this plot, Pie Franco is very limited, based on the production of each vintage.

All wine reviews, Red wine, Ribera del Duero, Spain, Tempranillo

Barco de Piedra 2009

photo: Friederike Paetzold

Last year, during my Spanish wine classes, we had a very unique opportunity to taste several Tempranillo wines, from different regions of Spain, in the row. As you might know, Tempranillo is one of the best grapes to express its terroire. Although I enjoy classic Tempranillo from Rioja region, I am always excited to taste a difference, coming from variety of soils and elevations. One of my new favorite Tempranillo expressions from this wine tasting was quite special Barco de Piedra 2009 from Ribera del Duero.

Quite special? Here are just few reasons why it stands out:

* As there is a lot of effort these days to create “universally loved” big, bold reds, some of Tempranillo wines coming from Spain suffer from its winemaker’s tendency to fit in that category. How? By adding unnecessarily too much of oak which sometimes results in masking the true, unique style of Tempranillo based wines.

photo: Friederike Paetzold

The founders of Bodegas Barco de Piedra – business partners Alberto Orte and Patrick Mata, together with Borja Osborne, decided to go the exact opposite direction.Their goal was to let the grape variety, grown on the hillside of the Quiñón Estate, shine on its own. The partners and its winemaker, Alvaro Trigueros, were well aware of the fact that Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero shows enough tannins and power on its own – so why would you over perfume and over power it with an additional prolonged oak aging?

photo: Friederike Paetzold

The weather conditions (the cool nights and hot days) at their vineyard, located in the western area of Ribera del Duero, result in Tempranillo grapes (called here Tinto Fino) with thicker skin, translated into wines with much more intense and concentrated color and flavors, than anywhere else in Spain. No need to put heavy makeup on already beautiful girl!

* Ribera del Duero became a very sought after region lately, and it’s quickly becoming as popular as perhaps Rioja or Priorat. Unfortunately, with that fame usually comes unpopular side effect – higher prices of wines. Here, too, Bodegas Barco de Piedra goes the other way, against the flow. This superb, small production, single vineyard full of organically grown 25 years old vines, seriously over-delivers for its $15 price tag!

* All the effort, invested in the labor intensive vinification of this wine, usually results in much more expensive wine in the bottle. As the winery publishes, only the best bunches from three different sites are selected during the harvest. All clusters are then carefully  de-stemmed and crushed. The not yet fermented juice mixes with the skins for 2-3 days and after that, cold fermentation takes an additional 11 days. Extended post-fermentation maceration is carried out for another 8 days.

Fermentation and malolactic fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks. The wine is finally ages for just 5 months (!) in 300-liter 85% French and 15% American oak barrels. All that work for about 5000 cases of wine. There are much more expensive wineries, calling themselves boutique, producing 20+ thousand cases per vintage. But Bodegas Barco de Piedra is truly boutique, organic and pretty much hand made wine!

* All the effort to pay attention to every little detail results in an incredible red wine, a true showcase of the superb Ribera del Duero wine region. Yes, their Tempranillo tastes completely different than the one from Rioja or perhaps from La Mancha. But that’s how it is supposed to be! That’s what I love about it. Despite the short time spent in the oak, Barco de Piedra charms with deep color, beautiful aromas of dark fruit and spices and enough concentrated flavors to satisfy even the “full flavors, big reds” lovers. I appreciate the notes of dark plums, spices and earthy flavors in this wine. The complexity and balance promises an aging potential for another few years.

Now tell me, where you can get all that for 15 bucks?

All my wine blogs, Borja, Garnacha, Rose wines, Spain

Borsao Rosé 2011

When I saw this year’s new release of Borsao Rosé on the shelf, I could not resist. How could you go wrong with a rosé wine from the famous Garnacha region (Campo de Borja), that only costs $6.99 a bottle?

I am a big fan of Borsao wines – and it’s not just because I was lucky enough to visit their vineyards and the winery few years back.

I already enjoyed their wines before that, for years. But when you are given the opportunity to meet the winemaker, to see the soil, vines and people involved in all that labor, the love for the brand gets another vibes.

Old vines Garnacha (Alto Moncayo Mountains,  Borja
Old vines Garnacha (Alto Moncayo Mountains, Borja

It’s is mainly because their wines are consistently really good. From the cheapest (or better said inexpensive) line of bottles such as Monte Oton, Borsao Tinto – that range around $5-8 retail, to their incredible Tres Picos, unbelievable value for under $20. Not to forget about their newest project, Borsao got involved in, the superb Alto Moncayo wines.

Therefore I am familiar with the taste of Garnacha wines coming from this winery, especially the old vines with their very typical spice, sweetness and a very concentrated dark fruit flavors. Credit to those attributes goes to the high quality old vines (the winery doesn’t have records on some of their oldest vines, to figure out how old they really are), and the very unique soil of red clay (rich in iron), mixed with red slate, that they were planted in. The Borsao vineyards are located high in the Alto Moncayo mountains (I still remember how sick I felt when Inigo Alberto drove us, very fast, up and down those mountains, on the dirt roads, in his little car.)

Our guide Inigo and Jose Luis - the Borsao's winemaker
Our guide Inigo and Jose Luis – the Borsao’s winemaker

So how was the Borsao rosé? Lovely, rich salmon pink color, as the Garnacha grape gives it a lot of color from its thick skin. Refreshing, fruity scent of raspberries and dark fruit. At the first sip, it felt like – OK, lovely, not particularly exciting wine, nice for summer (and great for that price, right?). A lot of fruit, I missed the acidity to balance it out, it almost felt  (as my husband put it), a little flat. Still, much better than many rosé wines I tasted lately, for a much higher price. Don’t forget, for years I am being spoiled by Muga Rosé, that I consider one of the best Rosé wines made in Spain. So balanced, so rich, simply delicious.

But then we took a bite into our turkey sandwich, I prepared with sweet roasted peppers, lightly drizzled with hot Sriracha. The other sip of Borsao rosé was very surprising.

Hey – the wine’s true colors showed up! The heat of the sauce brought up the spices in the rosé, suddenly it felt balanced much better, it was vibrant, it woke up all our senses. I loved it – and must say, it’s a damn great bottle of rosé for that price!

I just hope that since my last visit, my new Spanish friend Inigo finally got his desired hummer that I strongly  advocated for with his bosses!