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, Rioja, Spain

Just let them drink what they want!

How many times did I hear this, or slightly altered sentence, from wine writers?

“Stop scaring people with all that fuzz about wine and food pairing, like it’s rocket science. Just let them drink what they like! Do you want to drink red with fish? Go ahead! You feel like having Pinot Grigio with your steak? Be my guest!”

I know, there are many wine drinkers who really can’t be bothered. They drink wine just like they would drink cool-aid, beer, soda or something else. “Red or white, doesn’t make any difference to me” kind of crowd. But I am sure these people don’t necessarily seek wine related blogs, clubs, to explore new horizons in the wine world.

That’s fine if that works for you. But if you want to look like you care, to say that it doesn’t matter what you pair wine with, especially stated by professional, could be very misleading. Why then, there are so many articles explaining that wine is meant to be drunk with food? Why do we teach classes on food and wine pairing, if it didn’t matter? Because it DOES matter what wine you drink with what food!

If I go to party, I don’t expect to have a perfect food and wine pairing experience. Although I remember one particular party, when we drank (and I don’t want to sound snobby here) a cheap, kind of crappy red with coconut tilapia. It would not be my choice to pair it with red, and even if so, I know much better reds in that price range that I would recommend.

But I was a guest so I sip on it, minding my own business and hopping that the evening wouldn’t end by nasty heartburn. Suddenly, some late guest showed up with a good bottle of Chianti Classico, from a maker I knew. I was so looking forward to get my hands on some tasty stuff! To my dismay, and before I could do anything, the host walked around with that nice bottle and topped off our glasses of crappy red, we still struggled with. Ouch!

You can make so-so food and wine match, and it’s fine. But then one day, when you got it, and you figured out what really works together, it’s a match made in heaven. Such a special experience is hard to  forget. And, you will probably remember that wine for a long time too.

I have been lucky to pull it off few times. I have also made huge mistakes. Who doesn’t? Like recently, when I was reminded of how easy it is to screw up. It was one of those nights when I felt like I want to open something nice, not just house wine. A special occasion? Not really,  just in the mood for it.

So I went to my cellar and opened a bottle of 2006 Muga Reserva. Lovely Tempranillo based blend from Spanish Rioja, my long time favorite. Nothing over the top, just a great bottle for around $ 26.00. I made a beef stew to go with it.

Buying this wine for years, I was very familiar with it. Thanks to my job I have repeatedly tasted many vintages, and the entire Bodegas Muga’s portfolio. This wine is quite silky when aged a little. Six years is a great time for Muga Reserva to show its best potential.

I opened the bottle and left it sitting on the kitchen counter to breath, before I finish cooking the dinner. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that we already finished salad with little avocado and tomatoes on top. With my own yummy dressing (good olive oil, garlic, salt, freshly grated pepper, white wine vinegar, lime, agave nectar, parsley).

There is my Muga, waiting for me, whispering: “Why don’t you take a sip? What are you waiting for? Aren’t you anxious to try what I taste like today?” I was. I couldn’t resist and poured myself a first glass in the kitchen. It tasted like oak and tannin. Totally disappointing.

My first thought was: is that wine OK? Of course it was! There was nothing wrong with the wine, it wasn’t corked. Yet, I knew that’s not the Muga I know, that’s not how it tastes. The reason was simple: my mouth and palate was still influenced by that lime based dressing, and that’s the match it created for me with the wine.

I knew what went wrong and decided to wait for my food. When I filled our plates with that rich, mushroom based stew, dug in it, and took another sip of Muga, we were home. Yes! This is the silky, fruity, perfectly balanced wine I love. It never disappoints me. Unless, I disappoint the wine. You want to pair me with salad? Really? You should know better!

I know, this is rather extreme example of bad wine and food pairing. But I wasn’t pairing it with salad, I drank it AFTER my salad, not paying attention. Being familiar with the wine I instantly I recognized the mistake I made. But what would happen if it was somebody, tasting this great Rioja wine for the first time? He might have felt like – “Oh no, I hate this! It’s so tannic.  It’s so oaky. Nothing even close to descriptions I have read!”

See my point here? How many times I heard somebody say  “Oh, I hate Spanish wines” or “I hate Tempranillo, Merlot, Chardonnay…” add whatever works there. Aside the fact that making generalized statement like that isn’t very wise, I can imagine that some people have a really bad experience with wine. But it might not be the “wine’s fault”. Sometimes even simple things like drinking wine too warm/too cold, too young or too old, or even corked may influence somebody for life. Is everybody able to recognize the difference? I learned myself that even tasting wine with food that completely overpowers the true taste of that wine could be devastating experience. Like my dressing. If it’s somebody who is not that familiar with the wine, the damage is done.

So I say – if you want to learn about wine, and are serious about food and wine pairing, don’t listen to those who say it doesn’t matter. Sure it doesn’t matter to some. But to us, who love wine, it does, very much so!

The truth is, food and wine pairing doesn’t have to be rocket science. People don’t have to enter wine shops with the fear in their eyes. If you want to try new stuff and new pairings, there is always somebody to help.

We just need to pay more attention, and the wine will reward us with the most pleasurable memories!  Isn’t that what really matters?

Rioja, Rose wines, Spain

Muga Rosé 2010

Owned by: the Muga family
Grapes: Garnacha, Viura and Tempranillo
Region: Haro, Rioja Alta, Spain

See other wines from this producer:
Muga Blanco
Muga Reserva
Muga Prado Enea Gran Reserva
Muga Torre Muga

Maybe I hold a special place in my heart for this wine, because the winery started the same year, my father was born. Or maybe it is because it was the first Spanish wine I was actually able to pronounce and remember.Or perhaps, it’s because I was lucky enough to visit the Bodegas in 2007 and tasted wines personally with Juan Muga.

All of these reasons are truth, but the most important fact is that Muga just makes damn great wines, year after year. And that’s as simple as it gets.To me personally, Muga Rosé (in Spain Rosado) from Bodegas Muga in Rioja is the best Rosé I tasted, vintage by vintage.

Muga is the only Rosé I buy by the case (and it doesn’t last very long). That’s, of course, if I am lucky enough to get it. When this wine comes to the market, it’s usually gone within a week or so.This year, I didn’t get my case.

It was sold out before I found out about its release. But, to my amazement, for the first time, I was able to get a few bottles of magnums. Yeah, Muga Rosé in 1,5 L bottle, that’s a shocker! Beautifully packed in sexy cardboard suitcase-like box (fits 3 magnum bottles), it made me really, really happy.

Mr. Isaac Muga opened his first cellar in 1932. Through his hard work and devotion for a traditional winemaking, he was soon well accepted in the market. After his death in 1969, his sons Manuel and Isaac took over the management and winemaking of the winery.

Today, Bodegas Muga is the only winery left in Spain that uses only oak throughout the process of elaboration. Having their own cooperage and importing American and French oak directly, makes it possible.The family Muga owns estate of 96 acres (40 hectares) and purchases grapes from 50 different small growers in Rioja. Bodegas Muga receives consistently high ratings internationally for both their white and red wines.

Muga’s signature portfolio:

Muga Reserva
Muga Reserva Seleccion Especial
Prado Enea Gran Reserva Torre Muga
Muga Blanco
Muga Rosé (or Rosado) is released in late spring and makes it to American market usually around July.

As I said before, the wine is sought after and doesn’t sit on the shelves for long.It is made in a style known in Rioja as “clarete”. Wine is blended from white and red grapes, using Garnacha from cooler areas of Rioja. 20% of wine undergoes malolactic fermentation.

Tasting notes:
The familiar aroma reminding me of fresh raspberries, cherries or strawberries accompanies this light pink wine. On the palate it is crisp and fresh summer wine, with plenty of fruit flavors. As always, perfectly balanced with natural acidity.

Long, seductive finish. This wine never, ever disappointed me. So next year, as soon as I hear about its release, I will make sure to run for case. Because, I don’t want to miss my annual case again.

Dry – Off dry – Medium sweet – Sweet
Light – Medium – Full body
No oak – Aged in oak
Retail price: under $ 12.00 (for a regular, 750ml bottle)

Ideal food pairing:
Any kind of seafood… or sipping on its own

All my wine blogs, Rioja

How I almost became a Queen of Rioja

We have been traveling through Spain with a group of fellow salesmen, seeing two to three superior wineries a day, tasting the top wines of the region. Every wine lover’s dream.Definitely nothing to complain about except it was 100°F of dry heat and the schedule was really tight. But we loved every minute of it.

When we arrived at Remelluri estate (the full name: The Granja Nuestra Señora de Remelluri) close to Labastida, in the Rioja Alavesa, it was early morning and we were still tired from the night before.

The village of the same name doesn’t exist anymore, but perfectly preserved burial ground, probably the oldest monument in the region, is still there.

The Granja originally belonged to the Monastery of Toloño, and by the 14th century was independent. They were already cultivating vines and wheat here. At the end of 18th century, part of the vineyards were in the hands of Manuel Quintano, the cleric who introduced the wine-making methods of the Medoc to Spain and produced the first Spanish red wines aged in the cask.

What a history! When the current owner, Mr. Jaime Rodriguez Salis, visited this estate back in sixties, he instantly fell in love with the history and the landscape of this place. He decided to bring the vineyards back to their former glory and purchased the estate.


It took him years of hard work in 2,100ft above the sea level (it is considered the highest elevation vineyard in Rioja), replanting the vineyards with carefully selected local varieties as Tempranillo, Mazuelo, Graciano and Viura.

Their first vintage under the Remelluri label was finally produced in 1971. And at the footsteps of beautiful Sierra Cantabria mountains, and on the ruins of the old monastery farms, rose a charming bodega, where Rodriguez family works and lives most of the year.

For some reason, the first thing that came to my mind when I saw this estate was Tuscany, Italy. I really don’t know why. It felt very homey, inviting and warm.

Maybe it was the entrance to the vineyards, maybe the chickens in the yard, the vegetable gardens, I don’t know what it was. Hopefully my pictures from this visit can give you some idea how beautiful this place really is.

Mr. Rodriguez wasn’t in such a good mood that morning though. It was probably too early for him too. He wasn’t talking much and his face was frowning. He seemed upset. But what did we know? It could have been his regular face. He welcomed us and we started to tour the vineyards with him. Being a perfectionist as he is known to be, he paid attention to every detail just like when he oversees the daily work of his winemaker, Maria Jose Sagarzazu (as we later heard from her).

On this picture, Mr. Rodriguez is right in the middle, and his winemaker Maria Jose to the right of him, standing back. Even though she wasn’t tiny, fragile woman, it was obvious who was calling the shots in this bodega. She was very respectful of Jaime and joined us later, when asked to explain the entire process in the cellar.

Every vintage Maria Jose ferments each lot of grapes separately, so each of different lots contributes with its personality to the final blend. When grapes arrive and after the alcoholic fermentation, the wine is transferred into large oak vats, where it’s left for a month for a malolactic fermentation to take a place.

After that is completed, and after several rackings, each of the 22 oak vats are carefully tasted and only the best will be Remelluri. All this labor than finalizes, when the chosen best selection of wine is transferred to oak barrels, where it further ages for two years. Most of their oak is French, about 10% American. Even though the wine is resting and aging, it has to be racked 3-4 times a year. This bodega owns over 3,000 oak barrels – that on its own is a huge investment.

When ready, they refine the wine with egg whites before the bottling.

You think now is finally the time to get it in front of the consumer? Oh no, wine age another year in the bottle before it is released from the winery to the market. A lot of work to make a spectacular wine from a very low yielding vineyards, isn’t it?

We later sat down with both of them and tasted through his portfolio.

During our visit Mr. Rodriguez has already warmed up and by the time, we were tasting his wines together with his winemaker, I could feel his pride to present his latest vintage.

Very rich white blend of Remelluri Blanco,composed of Viognier, Chardonnay, Rousanne, Marsanne, Sauvignon Blanc, Garnacha Blanca and Moscatel del Pais was a wonderful concert of flavors to wake up our palates that morning. Coming from 11 acres of vineyards, some of which are over 50 years old, the wine tasted like premium Burgundy from top cru locations, infused with flavors from all over the world. It was my first time tasting this white wine, since we didn’t carry it in CT at that time.

His Remelluri is composed of 80% Tempranillo, the rest is Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuelo.

This wine is one of the typical “slow wines” I spoke about in my last blog. This is serious blend that needs to age. When tasted immediately after its release, it may be a bit harsh for inexperienced wine drinker. But I just opened his 2001 vintage last night (a great vintage in Rioja), and after an hour of decanting, it was completed as the silkiest, well balanced, totally wonderful red wine with lovely aroma. Aroma that took me back to his cellars. This high quality red has a quite an aging potential.

We finished our tasting with his Colleccion Jaime Rodriguez, best selection of his lots, which they only make 900 bottles of for an American market. Only the highest quality of the grapes goes to this wine and I don’t believe it’s made every single vintage. The price over $ 100 a bottle reflects that. This is a serious collectible for somebody who can appreciate a quality and doesn’t have to have a famous label on each of his case.

Mr. Rodriguez is, nevertheless, highly respected wine producer of the region.

Maybe not as well known to the American wine consumer, but his wines are always highly rated. Bodegas The Granja Nuestra Señora de Remelluri was the first winery in modern history of Rioja to only bottle wines from its own estate vineyards.

Unfortunately, there is also a sad story about this family. His son, another talented and famous winemaker Telmo Rodriguez, went his separate ways when their strong egos prevented them from being able to work together. What a potential in this family!

When leaving this charming estate, I asked Mr. Rodriguez if he wouldn’t mind to take a picture with me. His face immediately brightened up. I was the only woman of our group so it gave me some special attention. I stood next to him for the photo and he whispered in my ear: “Are you married?”

It came out of nowhere and surprised me a little. You wouldn’t expect somebody this serious to be playful! At least I didn’t. So I truthfully replied: ” Yes, I am.” “Happily?” He added and at that time my colleagues were openly laughing. I nodded again. That is the only picture I have of Mr. Rodriguez smiling…

When we said goodbye and thanked him for an unforgettable morning, my friend Richard turned to me and said:” Are you crazy? Why did you say you were married??! Look around yourself! Do you realize what is all this? You could have been a Queen of Rioja!” I know, damn it, he was probably right. Well, maybe not. Either way, that “title” stuck with me for a while. What an estate, what a wine, what a man! Who would complain to be surrounded by this beauty and Remelluri wines!

Rioja, Rose wines, Spain

Bodegas Muga – Rose 2009


Owned by the Muga family
Grapes: Garnacha, Viura and Tempranillo
Region: Haro, Rioja Alta, Spain

See other wines from this producer:
Muga Blanco
Muga Reserva
Muga Prado Enea Gran Reserva
Muga Torre Muga

There is still a confusion regarding Rose wines on the American market. Many wine consumers believe that pink wine is going to be sweet (yeah, years of White Zinfandel made a huge impact). When talking about Rose, it can’t be further from the truth. In fact, well made Rose wines from all over the world are a real treat for wine lovers. Clean, crisp, refreshing, yet just a tiny bit richer then a typical white wine – or maybe more exciting because of the layers of flavors.
To me personally, Muga Rose from Bodegas Muga in Rioja is the best Rose I had, vintage by vintage. That’s the only Rose I buy by case (and it doesn’t last very long). That’s if I am lucky enough to get it. When this wine comes to the market, it’s usually gone within a week or so.

Mr. Isaac Muga opened his first cellar in 1932. Through his hard work and devotion for a traditional winemaking, he was soon well accepted in the market. After his death in 1969, his sons Manuel and Isaac took over the management and winemaking of the winery.
Today, Bodegas Muga is the only winery left in Spain that uses only oak throughout the process of elaboration. Having their own cooperage and importing American and French oak directly, makes it possible. The family Muga owns estate of 96 acres (40 hectares) and purchases grapes from 50 different small growers. The Bodegas Muga receives consistently high rates internationally for both their white and red wines.
Their most famous labels: Muga Reserva, Muga Reserva Seleccion Especial, Prado Enea Gran Reserva, Torre Muga and Muga Blanco. Muga Rose is released in late spring and makes it to American market usually around July. As I said before, the wine is sought for and doesn’t sit on the shelf for long.
Muga Rose is peculiar wine, made in a style known in Rioja as “clarete”. Wine is blended from white and red grapes, using Garnacha from cooler areas of Rioja. 20% of wine undergoes malolactic fermentation.

Tasting notes:
The wine holds great even a year after its release. The color didn’t get any darker, rich aroma of fresh cherries is there. On the palate Rose gets its freshness and crisp minerality that belongs to young wines or great quality Rieslings.

Elegantly displays the fruit on the palate, but doesn’t overpower. Balanced with great acidity and a long finish. I am excited to realize that Muga Rose, unlike many Rose wines, holds on to its quality even a year after its original release.

Dry – Off dry – Medium sweet – Sweet
Light – Medium – Full body
No oak – Aged in oak
Retail price: under $ 12.00

Ideal food pairing:
Seafood, rotisserie chicken, Spanish canoes (barquito de anchoa), Party tomatoes with marinated feta, My happy tilapia, Seafood Party Salad, Shrimp in Mustard Sauce, Angel hair pasta with spicy seafood, Crispy Tilapia with Mexican risotto, Delicate Cod with Quinoa Pilaf