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!

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Bodegas MUGA in Rioja

As you already know, I am a big fan of Spanish wines. Muga  wines (perhaps for its easy to remember name) were my first favorites from Spain – and I must say, the quality of their whole portfolio made me stay loyal to this brand over the years.

I have done quite a few reviews on different Muga wines because they are always staple in my wine cellar.

See my reviews on:

Muga Blanco 2008, Muga Rosado, 2010Muga Reserva 2005, Muga Torre Muga 2004, Muga Prado Enea Gran Reserva 2001

Juan Muga Here I had the pleasure reuniting with Juan Muga, one of the brothers, who runs the family winery today. Juan was hosting our tasting, when I visited Bodegas Muga back in 2007.

Below is a link to an interview with Jorge Muga Palacin, a winemaker in Bodegas Muga.


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Did you join the OTBN this year?

If you are into wine, you most likely know what I am talking about. In case you don’t, the talk is about the annual ‘Open THAT Bottle Night’. A simple idea, started by two former Wall Street Journal wine columnists, Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher. An idea, which immediately took on a life of its own.

Many wine lovers, who followed the husband/wife team of passionate wine writers, and their joyful wine columns Tastings in WSJ for 12 years (as they say “a full case”), also adapted this idea of ‘open that special bottle’. Most of us tend to keep some bottles that have a special meaning to us, for whatever reason. We keep them to be opened on a special occasion or, sadly, sometimes never.

I am one of those guilty ones that sometimes find out a particular wine so special, that we forgot all about it. To avoid that, I started to create special occasions, in order to have the reason to open that bottle.

But the idea that one day of every year (the last Saturday of February), we all go and dig into wine cellars to find that bottle with a special meaning, is extra appealing.  I love the idea how sommelier in Slovakia, house wife in England or artist in Missouri they all opened a bottle of wine on the same day, and shared their story with Dorothy and John.

Two writers ended their successful column Tastings on December 26th 2009 , and we missed their writing deeply. But last year a friend of mine pointed out that Dottie and John joined Facebook. These passionate wine writers and authors of several books, including Wine for Every Day and Every Occasion, took some time off, to enjoy their life. Lucky for us, who appreciated their writing, we now have a chance to stay in touch again.

The story behind the wine bottle is what got me to join this OTBN day in the first place. I am not much of follower of anything, personally,  but this idea touched my heart. We all have this bottle that we either got from somebody very dear to us, on special occasion, or a bottle that is linked to a particular event or story in our life. But that wine was made, given or purchased to be enjoyed! OTBN was never bout “the most expensive or the most hard to get bottle.” It is about everyday wine that brings us special memories.

And that’s the whole idea of Open THAT Bottle Night.

So, this last Saturday I went to my cellar and took a long look at my shrinking wine collection (or what’s left of it).  The bottle I ended up opening was 2001 Remelluri, a traditional Rioja, produced by Jaime Rodriguez Salis. It was smooth as a silk, and still fresh and bright. On top of its game. Very pleasant red Crianza (Tempranillo, Garnacha and Graciano blend) didn’t lack anything for me.

So what’s my personal story behind this bottle? Back in 2007 I was fortunate enough to visit the vineyards and The Granja Nuestra Señora de Remelluri estate in Rioja. You can read about it in my older blog How I almost became a Queen of Rioja. It ended up to be an unforgettable meeting with its owner, Mr. Jaime Rodriguez Salis.

Some may say that he was quite a character, but he gave us all the attention and time we were seeking that day. And just last September I learned about his recent passing. A big enough reason to celebrate his life with the last bottle of his wine, I owned. The fact that it was 2001 vintage (one of the best vintages in decades), was just a cherry on top of a cake.

I am also familiar with wines crafted by his son, Telmo Rodriguez, who now returned to the family estate, to continue in the family legacy.

Rest in piece, señor Jamie Rodriquez Salis. Thank you for an amazing time, I was allowed to spend with you at your beautiful historic estate, in the summer of 2007. Thank you for all those wines we tasted together. The memories that will always bring a smile on my face.

And, thank you Dorothy and John for your infectious passion for writing, wine and life. It touched so many people around the world. I love your idea about Open That Bottle Night – and I will cherish it every year. Just because!!!

All my wine blogs, Interviews

Interview with Juan Muga of Bodegas Muga (Rioja, Spain)

Juan MugaOk, so, let’s start from the top…name?

Juan, Juan Muga, the same as the wine.


I’m on the business side. Me and my brother, we are the 3rd generation we manage the whole company as well as the export market, and my 2 cousins manage the technical part of the winery. Zach, my younger cousin is more into winemaking, and my other cousin Jorge is more into vines.
Has wine always been your career?

Yes. I have another brother and another sister, but they are in other companies, they are not interested in winemaking.

Describe the philosophy of your winery, Bodegas Muga.

My Grandfather founded the winery in a small village in the Rioja region of Spain. In the village, people used to consume a lot of wine! When he first started making it, it was all young wine. All the wines he made used to be make, were consumed when they were young, we didn’t do any aging. At that time, many families used to consume, like, 6-7 liters per day! Even children, they used to have wine as a toast, with a little sugar in it of course!

Click here to read the rest of the interview!

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I wish I spoke Spanish

I have written a blog about Marcos Eguren already. Visiting his grandparent’s house in Rioja and tasting wines with him was one of the highlights of my Spanish trip 3 years ago. I don’t want to repeat myself, but if you missed it, it’s worth to read it. Here is the blog about my visit at Senorio de San Vicente and Sierra Cantabria in Rioja.

So a lot was already said about this extra ordinary wine maker, but he keeps coming back with more and more extraordinary wines. His wine just stands out. I can’t help it but it is impossible to ignore it. I don’t believe he can help it either – it is in his blood and in his heart. And thank God for that!

The other day, when polishing last details in my reviews of new Marcos’ wine project in Toro, I caught Marcos on Facebook. I wish I spoke Spanish, but I don’t. So I used the Google translater (a great tool but it could sometimes scare you, when you know both languages) and sent him a message. I wrote to him that I was just working on reviews of his brand new wines Almirez, Victorino and Alabaster, grouped under Bodega Tesa la Monja. I also asked him, if there was anything interesting he would like to tell me about them.

He didn’t answer and I thought that I might have scared him away with my “Spanglish”. Maybe he didn’t even understand what the heck was I talking about. But the very next day, I received a nice email from his marketing team, in perfect English (Marcos’ English is about as good as my Spanish). It describes the whole Eguren story as probably their official promotion does. But it means a lot to me. Even though it is not as personal, it offered me all the information I was looking for.

Marcos Eguren is a man that I have a deep admiration for – his way of approaching wine, his success and a humility I saw in him personally, despite the fact that his wines are sold all over the world, consistently with the highest possible ratings. Some may say that Marcos touches a land and it turns into gold. But I know it’s not that simple. There is no fairytale, just his vision and hard work.

I am sure he is now getting closer to harvest and definitely doesn’t have much time to spend online, chatting with “nobody” from America, who just happens to love his wine.Yet, he went out of his way to accommodate me. I received a short history as an answer to my nosy question. And with his permission, you can now read it too.

They clearly described what was behind this new project in Toro. I also got some pictures from this beautiful new property of Bodegas Tesa la Monja. If you are interested, you can visit his website for more pictures.

I looked through them myself and realized one thing again: when you see such an extensive labor that his team of people puts into wine making, when you see all the super clean facilities, the perfect order how everything is kept at – I understand why his wines are so outstanding (not once, but always). It’s not just the terroire, low yield, old root stocks potential, or his luck. It is every little detail that he pays attention to, combined with all of the above.

I wish I spoke Spanish

“Dear Vera,

Since 1870, our family, rooted in San Vicente de la Sonsierra ( La Rioja ), has been devoted to grape growing, wine making and aging of wines in outstanding terroirs of Rioja, Toro and Castilla-La Mancha. Keeping alive the tradition inherited from parents and adapting it to the state-of-the art technologies, the Eguren family has made a worldwide name thanks to the wines produced in its five wineries –Sierra Cantabria, Señorío de San Vicente and Viñedos de Páganos in Rioja; Bodega Teso La Monja in Toro and Dominio de Eguren under Vinos de la Tierra.

Me, as the oenologist, with the help of my son Eduardo, and my brother Miguel, leading the business, are the men behind these projects in constant search of the terroir-driven wines that express the vineyards where they are born, wines of great versatility and personality.

Our biography is the story of long complicity between man and the vineyard. Guillermo, my father, who has always been a vineyard collector, has transmitted his passion for the terroir onto us, his sons.

We too breathe this passion, and dedicate ourselves to grape growing, respecting to the full, the fruit in the winery in order to obtain wines aligned with the new classes: wines with long life, that ensemble fruit, power and structure with elegance, freshness and finesse.

Teso La Monja represents the dawn of a new era in the Toro appellation. We have been the driving force behind the transformation of this region for over a decade thanks to the work done with Numanthia Thermes.

Later we initiated the building of a new winery, Teso La Monja with a clear focus: express the soul of the old pre-phylloxeric vineyards of Toro in wines where power and elegance goes hand by hand. Teso La Monja, a winery of outstanding architecture, gives birth to three wines: Almirez, Victorino and Alabaster.

Three wines that transmit the power of Tinta de Toro with the subtleness and freshness, attributes shared with the rest of the Eguren wines. By selecting privileged high altitude north facing vineyards, and adopting modern wine making techniques, we have crafted unique, profound, elegant and complex wines, without sacrificing its true essence.

The sustainable agriculture, with organic fertilization, and the delicate work in the wine cellar to extract the minerality of outstanding terroirs for grape growing, will pave the way to the Eguren family to take Toro wines to new heights, with the certainty that they will be rewarded with more success: wines that will be newly worldwide references.

We are looking forward to welcoming you in DO Toro and DOCa. Rioja to share with you our passion to make wines with soul that capture the essence of unique terroirs. With my best regards, Marcos Eguren”

Please visit my reviews of first vintage of these wines:
ALMIREZ – W/E 92 points, W/A 91 points
VICTORINO – W/E 94 points, W/A 92+ points, W/S 91 points
ALABASTER – W/E 94 points, W/A 94 points, W/S 91 points