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

Manchuela, Red blends, Red wine, Spain

Finca Sandoval 2005

Winemaker: Victor de la Serna
Grape: 76% Syrah, 13% Mourvedre, and 11% Bobal
Region: Manchuela, Spain

W/A: 94 points
IWC: 93+ points

Finca Sandoval wine project was born in 1998, when respected wine critique and journalist Victor de la Serna had a dream to start a vineyard from scratch. In little known region of Manchuela in Casa Blanca, province of Cuenca (140 miles from Madrid).

Manchuela, known for local large-berried grape called Bobal, had a very poor and shallow types of soil and Mr. de la Serna believed that if he planted this rough terrain (about 2,500 ft above the sea level) with top quality Syrah, it might result in quite incredible wine.

Like many top wine terroirs in Spain, Manchuela had a huge potential but nobody from local farmers had a capital to embrace the opportunity and start a serious wine project.His vision was correct. Finca Sandoval released its first vintage in 2001 as a blend of top quality, but young Syrah, sourced from 2 vineyards (about 26 acres), combined with the best selection of local Bobal, and Monastrell, both old vines.

The uniqueness of this project is also in several different types of soil, the estate has acquired control of – different small, old vineyards planted with Bobal, Monastrell and Garnacha.Read more about this project in my blog The man behind Finca SandovalBy the way, unlike well known Monastrell (Mouvedre) and Garnacha (Grenache) – the typical Rhône varietals, Bobal is only grown in Spain and in Sardinia.

My first ever opportunity to taste it was few years back, when we tasted Finca Sandoval in Spain, all the existing vintages in the row, with Mr. de la Serna himself.


2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005

The grapes (from each variety and each soil type) are vinified and then aged separately. Harvest is done by hand with an extensive selection of the best grapes only. When they de-stem it, grapes undergo a cold soak – for about 10 days, following traditional Burgundy or Rhône practices.

Before the fermentation starts, it is launched by native yeasts. Slow, cool fermentation is performed and after gentle pressing all the wine undergo malolactic fermentation in barrel. Wine then age 11-13 months in new French (85%) and American oak. The final blend is decided after tasting the wines .

Tasting notes:
Deep purple color and aromas of ripe dark berries, blackberries and wild raspberries. On the palate this is a big, impressive wine, with fantastic layers of dark fruit flavors.

The blend is spiced up with soft tones of oak, soft tannins and perfect acidity. I can feel a gentle dust of cocoa on the back of my tong. Superb, long and generous finish.

Complexity of this wine promises a long aging potential, experts suggest that it could be at its peak around 2012-2025. I am not sure that I can wait that long with my last bottle of this vintage.

Dry – Off dry- Medium sweet – Sweet
Light – Medium – Full body
No oak – Aged in oak
Retail price: about $ 40.00

Ideal food pairing:
rack of lamb, Musaka, Beef Bourguignon, Beef Chorizo, Flank steak with shitakee sauce