Spain, Valdeorras, White wines

Avanthia Godello 2008

Winemaker: Amy Hopkinson
Grape: 100 % Godello
Region: Valdeorras, Spain

W/S 90 points
W/A 90 points
IWC 90 points

The first vintage of new wine project of Jorge Ordoñez with Miguel and Angel Gil of Jumilla really excited me! Godello, Spanish grape that I believe only grows in the hills of Galicia, is nothing like I ever tasted before. Cross somewhere between Chard/Riesling/Albariño – with sexy body and curves, combined with fruitiness and crispiness of Sauvignon Blanc.

Quite exceptional!There is a nice story printed right on the back label of the bottle – that explains a lot about this wine:”High above this sleepy valley, which has witnessed millennia of civilizations from ancient Celtic outpost to a 13th century monastery to the present day Bodega Avanthia lie the slate covered vineyards. The 35 years old vines are grafted from centenary gnarled Godello vines, planted by monks, but now resides in the courtyard of the present day winery. Carrying on the tradition into the new millennium, Bodegas Avanthia is pleased to offer you their finest Godello. ”

The grapes for this wine came from two (about 35 years old) vineyards, planted on the hillsides located at 550 m (1,800 ft) above sea level. The grapes were hand harvested and carefully manipulated in small baskets, so the skin of the grapes wouldn’t bruise.

The fruit was then hand basket pressed and fermentation is done in oak barrels. New French oak barrels were used for malolactic fermentation. Avanthia Godello aged for 14 months in new barrels.

Tasting notes:
When I opened this bottle, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I never had Godello before. Protected in heavy, dark bottle, this wine has golden -straw color. I was amazed by the beautiful aroma of tropical fruit, charming and delicate.

On the palate it was crisp, clean yet round wine of medium to full body. I loved the notes of baked pears or perhaps velvety cantaloupe.

It gives the wine a delicate, sweet taste of the ripe old vine’s fruit, although this Godello is dry. The more sips I took, feeling it on the tongue, I could almost taste the sensational saltiness of the sea. Seafood wine it’s the first thing that came to my mind when sipping this wine.

It reminded me of some really good quality Chardonnay – but with the crispiness and minerality that a typical Chardonnay, malolactic fermented, would lack. Really complex, beautiful wine that has perfectly balanced acidity and ability to age. Totally loved it!

Dry – Off dry- Medium sweet – Sweet
Light – Medium – Full body
No oak – Aged in oak
Retail price: about $ 28.00

Suggested recipes with this wine:

Crispy Tilapia with Mexican Risotto, Seafood Salad, Shrimp Criolli, Chicken and Shrimp Skewers, and many moe

All my wine blogs, La Mancha

The man behind Finca Sandoval

When you mention Victor de la Serna’s name in Spain – especially among the wine community, people will nod their heads in respect.
Victor de la Serna is considered to be the one of the top three most influential wine experts on Spanish wine.

Yet, he wasn’t always winemaker. Starting as a journalist, just like his father, he created quite a resume over the years!

Mr. de la Serna is very respected wine and food writer, restaurant critique and editor in chief of famous – a collective Spanish wine blog that seriously discusses wines.

This blog was started by Spanish newspaper El Mundo (Victor de la Serna was one of the deputy editors).

So you can imagine, when he announced releasing a first vintage of his own wine, the fellow wine society became alert. Everybody, who knew Mr. de la Serna, was also aware of his high standards when it comes to quality of wines.

I remember our wine director telling us how he called Victor de la Serna up, when he first heard about his new Syrah based wine, in little known D.O. Manchuela: “I basically asked him – how many cases can I get allocated to us? He asked me if I didn’t want to taste it first, and I responded: that wouldn’t be necessary.”

Regretfully, when I was about to meet this interesting man during my visit in La Mancha (2007), I knew none of this. All I knew at that time was the fact that he was producing Finca Sandoval, wine that I admired – and I heard something about him writing for food and wine magazine.

How shameful! If I have done my homework and looked him up before my trip to Spain, I could have asked him so many valuable questions!

It was quite memorable visit, regardless. We were meeting Victor de la Serna, together with Rafael Coñizares, a winemaker of several great wines of La Mancha, on our way to Madrid.

They treated us to a lunch (with tasting of their wines) in 1 star Michelin rated restaurant Las Rejas Restaurante in Cuenca. What a treat!

One of those rare gourmet experiences that I’ll never forget. First of all, la Serna told us that he brought all vintages of Finca Sandoval, so far produced.

When do you get the opportunity to taste a rare, boutique production wine as Finca Sandoval, vertically – vintage by vintage, side by side? Better yet, he admitted that it was a first time for him as well. So that alone was a promising adventure.

Shortly the “show” started. For our little group of 10 people we were assigned three very tactful, elegant servers. They moved around quietly, precisely. The almost invisible, super professional service was just incredible.

Everybody knew what needs to be done, our glasses were re-filled with water without us even noticing. Since there was a wine presentation going on at the same time, none of the servers said a word so they wouldn’t disturb us.

Before each course was served, the chef came out of the kitchen to explain to us, what we were going to eat. We couldn’t help ourselves but take pictures of every course, like “those crazy Americans”. It was too beautiful a presentation not to preserve memories.
I will share some pix here, but forgive me that I can’t explain the food the way their chef could. All I can say is that the gourmet creations (you can’t possibly name it just food), incl. the visual part, were truly unforgettable!

Dreaming about the food, don’t let me forget about the wine! Mr. De la Serna was telling us about his dream – to start a wine project in Manchuela (little known terroir in Spain, planted with old vines of local large-berried Bobal).
He was familiar with the area for over 35 years, because his father-in-law owned farmland there. Therefore, he had enough time to study the soils and climate. He knew that it would be a top spot for planting other varieties, and possibly making quite unique wines.

It was an opportunity not embraced by locals, mainly for historical and economical reasons. So when the financial opportunity stroke, Victor was planting his first vineyards in 1998 with high quality Syrah and Touriga National (high tannin Portugal grape, also used in Ports).
Besides his Syrah vineyard with the lowest-yielding clones, he also located the best quality old vineyards, planted with native varieties like Grenache, Mourvèdre and Bobal. And the modest but efficient winery was installed.

Every vintage of Finca Sandoval is slightly different blend. That’s the charm and freedom of proprietary blends.
Victor told us how he was gradually decreasing the share of Syrah in Finca Sandoval, and slowly increasing Bobal and Monastrell in the blend, as the quality of grapes was getting better and better every single vintage.

I don’t remember what exactly the 2001 vintage blend was, but in 2002 he blended 93% Syrah with 7% of Monastrell, while the 2005 vintage, the last we tasted, only had 76% of Syrah and 13% of Monastrell. It was amazing to have the chance to compare each vintage – and see how it’s developing.
It certainly was Mr. de la Serna’s intention – to make the best possible wine from this unique terroire, with quite aging potential. He definitely accomplished his vision.

If you care about expert ratings, the history of Finca Sandoval’s ratings is quite impressive as well: Jay Miller from Wine Advocate refers to Finca Sandoval as an outstanding effort, predicting long age potential.

From the 2001 vintage, the wine never got less than 90 points: 2001 was rated 91 pts., 2002 got 92, 2003 got 93, and both 2004 and 2005 received 95 points. That’s an outstanding record!The latest vintages – 06 through 08 received 93 points.

I wish I knew as much about Victor de la Serna then, as I do now. I am trying to pay him a tribute this way. A hat off to his wines, his achievements, his outstanding career as a journalist and also a big thanks for this unforgettable afternoon.

I hope one day I will come back and visit the places we have seen, this time without the schedule. So I can take my time to enjoy every detail of it.

Oh, and at the end of our wine tasting and “gourmet special” we asked if we could see the kitchen-laboratory, where everything was created. It was pulsing with energy, even though the restaurant wasn’t too busy in the afternoon.

My apology to executive chef. The only picture I have of him, is very dark and I can’t use it. But the entire young and energetic crowd of talented chefs, that were helping him to create this amazing experience, those you can see:

So what is there left to say about this outstanding wine, Finca Sandoval and its producer, Victor de la Serna?

I think the words of our wine director Robert Colopy, (a wine expert that I have a huge respect for), wrapped it up just right: “Finca Sandoval, in my opinion, could be the very best expression of Syrah in the world!” Amen to that!

Victor de la Serna in facts:
– Deputy Editor of El Mundo, one of Spain’s best national newspapers
– First Spaniard to ever graduate from the School of Journalism at Columbia University in New York
– For the past 42 years a reporter and editor for various Spanish media
– For more than 30 years, he has been writing about wine for Informaciones, El País, Diario 16, Decanter, Sibaritas and El Mundo.
– Twice winner of Spain’s National Gastronomy Award (for food and wine writing and for spreading the knowledge of Spanish wines internationally).
– Member of the International Wine Academy
– Member of Spain’s Royal Academy of Gastronomy
– Member of the Grand Jury Européen

Borja, Garnacha, Red wine, Spain

Alto Moncayo Veraton 2007

Winemaker: Australian winemaker Chris Ringland (in cooperation with Jose Luis)
Grape: 100% Garnacha (Grenache)
Region: D.O. Campo de Borja, Spain

See other wines made by Bodegas Borsao:
Monte Oton
Borsao Tres Picos

Reviews of this vintage:
Wine Enthusiast October 2010: 91pts
Stephen Tanzer: 92pts 2010 review: 92pts

In the Moncayo mountains, located just below the famous Rioja, in elevation among 1,200-2,000ft above the sea level – somebody wisely planted Garnacha.

Some of the vineyards are now over 100 years old. Some of the vines (as I was told when visiting the D.O., don’t even have exact record about their age. The rough terroire, poor nutrition soils and low yields – that’s always a promising combination for exceptional wines.

Bodeagas Borsao, that first started to take advantage of this potencial, produces a wide range of inexpensive, yet exceptional wines. Among their most popular are probably Borsao Tinto, newly Monte Oton, Borsao Crianza Seleccion or Tres Picos.

Although the first 2 of these wines are unoaked, rich and fruity red blends (Garnacha, Tempranillo, some Cabernet Sauvignon), their price is deep under $ 10.00 retail. Well balanced wines with a quality that has almost no competition at this price point. I had the pleasure to visit Tres Picos vineyard (-planted with old vines Garnacha, on the slopes of Moncayo Moutains), personally a few years ago.

Read my blog about the visit in Borja and see more picture

As the name suggests, there are 3 hills (tres picos) on the horizons of the vineyard and the vine has to struggle through rough terrain, with low rainfall, resulting in low yields. Although Tres Picos is very rich and full body, one would never guess that it is also stainless steel fermented (as their inexpensive cousins). Only half of the grapes for Tres Picos are aged in French oak for about 10 months. That’s how powerful is the Garnacha from the Moncayo Mountains.

Bodegas Alto Moncayo, created more recently in the town of Bulbuente, is joint venture of Jose Miguel San Martin, Jorge Ordoñez, Bodegas Borsao and Dan Philips in conjunction with famous Australian winemaker Chris Ringland. The Bodegas cultivates 153 acres of old clone Garnacha vines planted on hillside vineyards (few of them terraced), which are located in 3 villages.

The important ingredient is a very unique soil of red clay (rich in iron), mixed with red slate. Hillsides are also very poor in organic matter and shalow. Only the finest selection of the old vines Garnacha goes to three wines, produced at Bodegas Alto Moncayo: Alto Moncayo, Alto Moncayo Veraton and Aquilon (that is harvested from old vines hillside selection).

Veraton, coming from the town of Vera de Moncayo, comes from vines that were trained in the vaso system. Green harvesting, that lowers the already low yields, brings the vine to it’s maximum concentration and high quality. Hand selected, only the most perfect mature bunches are harvested within days, passing the vineyard several times.

The workers kept grapes in small boxes to prevent bruising of the fruit. Another careful selection was done on the winery’s sorting tables. Fermentation took place in a small open vats and wine then aged in new French and American oak barrels for 17 months.

Tasting notes:
Dark ruby color, and rich aroma of dark fruits, ripe plums and dark berries, with a hint of oak. On the palate you taste rich fruity wine, with notes of wild raspberries, blackberries and spicy oak. Beautifully balanced, impressive and complex, with velvety tannins that will soften even more with few years in the bottle.

One of the best Grenache expressions out there in this price range.

Dry – Off dry – Medium sweet – Sweet
Light – Medium – Full body
No oak – Aged in oak
Retail price: under $ 29.00

Ideal food pairing:
Rich meat stews, Beef Bourguignon , Beef Brisket with Roasted Grapes, Beef Chorizo, My Best Chili Recipe, Shish Kebab with Eggplant Hash, Lamb Burgers with Relish Mayo, Lamb Chops with Dried Cherries and Port, Galician Paella

Red wine, Spain, Tempranillo, Toro

Victorino 2007

Winemaker: Marcos Eguren
Grape: 100% Tinta de Toro
Region: D.O.Toro, Spain

Recently reviewed:
Wine Enthusiast 94 points
Wine Advocate 92+ points
Wine Spectator 91 points

See other wines from this winemaker:
Bodegas Teso la Monja Almirez, Toro
Bodegas Teso la Monja Alabaster, Toro
Senorio San Vicente, Rioja


Founder of successful project Numanthia-Termes in Toro, my favorite Rioja’s winemaker Marcos Eguren came back with yet another promising project in Toro – Bodegas Teso la Monja. He just released his first 2007 vintage of 3 wines: Almirez, Victorino and Alabaster.The grapes for this wine came from Eguren vineyard in Valdefinjas, in Zamora province of Toro and Villabuena del Puente. The vines are planted in 2,300 ft above the sea level and are 45 years old.

Thanks to sandy soils of Toro, the growth of phylloxera that devastated so many wine-growing regions throughout the world, didn’t stand much chance here. Therefore Marcos was able to cultivate ungrafted Tinta de Toro vines with yields about 15 Hl per hectare.

The grapes for Victorino were harvested by hand (only perfectly mature clusters are picked), brought to the winery to sorting tables where an additional careful selection was made. Bunches were de-stemmed by hand where the staff examined berry by berry to eliminate any imperfections. The grape must was macerated for 14 days. The wine underwent malolactic fermentation in new French oak barrels.

Victorino aged 18 months in new French oak. 2007 is the first vintage of this wine and there was only 350 cases made. Eduardo Eguren (Marcos’s son) told me that this is a first wine project that he is personally committed to (obviously, with Marcos’s hands on approach and TLC). So, Eguren family could be proud of yet another generation of passionate ‘vino entusiasta’. Very proud!

Tasting notes:

Just like the bull on its beautiful label indicates, this is a serious Toro wine. The best selection of old vines gave it more focus, deep color and beautiful aroma of mature dark fruit and spices. This is one of those do-not-spill-any-on-you-because-it’s-never-gonna-go-away kind of red wines.

Really rich, it coats your glass with almost syrupy structure. Victorino has stronger tannins so it needs some time in the bottle to soften up. Taste this wine against any superstar Cabernet from California with over $ 200.00 bottle price tag and let me know who won. I say the victory belongs to Victorino! This is a bargain collectible for somebody who can appreciate perfectly made wine at the price that is not yet being commercialized. Wine, that’s recognized by significant wine critics right from its first vintage, and it’s going to hold for far more than a decade. I have yet to taste wine made by Eguren family, that wasn’t perfect…

Dry – Off dry – Medium sweet – Sweet
Light – Medium – Full body
No oak – Aged in oak
Retail price: around $ 65.00

Ideal food pairing:
Steaks, grilled dark meats, aged cheeses

Red wine, Spain, Tempranillo, Toro

Almirez 2007

Winemaker: Marcos Eguren
Grape: 100% Tinta de Toro
Region: D.O.Toro, Spain

Recently reviewed: Wine Enthusiast 92 points
Wine Advocate 91 points

See other wines from this winemaker:
Bodegas Teso la Monja Victorino, Toro
Bodegas Teso la Monja Alabaster, Toro
Senorio San Vicente, Rioja

When one of my most admired Rioja’s winemakers Marcos Eguren sold his successful project Numanthia-Termes S.L. in Toro (some of the highest rated Spanish wine in history), I knew he wasn’t done with Toro just yet. It had way too much potential and so unique terroir, perfect for growing Tinta de Toro (a local clone of Tempranillo) not to challenge somebody like Marcos.And sure enough, just a few years later, he releases his first 2007 vintage of his new Toro project – Bodegas Teso la Monja. I was honored to taste their wines (Almirez, Victorino and Alabaster) for the first time with Marcos’s son, Eduardo.

The vineyards that family Eguren purchased for Teso la Monja project are located at average altitude of 2,296ft above the sea level, in the small village of Valdefinjas, in Zamora province. So close to his previous Numanthia – Termes vineyards, that it must make new owners of Numanthia very nervous.

Thanks to sandy soils of Toro, the growth of phylloxera that devastated so many wine-growing regions throughout the world, didn’t stand much chance here. Therefore Marcos is able to cultivate 30 year old, ungrafted Tinta de Toro vines with yields about 200 gallons per acre.

The grapes for Almirez were harvested by hand (only perfectly mature clusters are picked), brought to the winery to sorting tables where an additional selection was made. Wine was than fermented for 8 days (temperature controlled) and underwent malolactic fermentation in barrel.

Almirez aged 12 months in new Bordelaise barrels of French oak. 2007 is the first vintage of this wine. Eduardo Eguren told me that this is a first wine project that he is personally committed to (obviously, with Marcos’s hands on approach and TLC). So, Eguren family could be proud of yet another generation of passionate ‘vino entusiasta’. Very proud!

Tasting notes:
A great aroma of black berries, cocoa, even espresso and dark ruby color. When you take a first sniff, it promises a big, rich, muscular red. And it is exactly that! Rich and spicy dark fruit, dried plum with a slight cocoa dust so typical for Toro. Generous, silky tannins will cover your glass, but the wine is perfectly balanced.

Almirez is a modern, macho wine that is approachable right now, but it will improve with a few years in the bottle. The new oak on the long finish is pleasant and not overpowering the beauty and richness of the Tinta de Toro from this vineyard. Superb quality that definitely over delivers at this price.

– Off dry – Medium sweet – Sweet
Light – Medium – Full body
No oak – Aged in oak
Retail price: around $ 29.00

Ideal food pairing:
Steak, grilled meats, beef stew, aged cheeses