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From The Wine Advocate

Let's Rioja n' Roll

>Printer Friendly Reviews, Issue #202

All reviews were written by Neal Martin and were published in issue 202 (August 2012) of The Wine Advocate. Original reviews can be found online at erobertparker.com (subscription required). Tasting notes, wine and winery names, and technical information appear as published on erobertparker.com, and may contain errors in spelling and content. The wines were tasted in 2012 and reflect vintages that were current at the time.

by Neal Martin

The police officer is apoplectic. Sixty seconds after departing from my very first visit, the eagle-eyed lawman pulled our vehicle over. God forbid, he spotted a passenger in the rear without a seatbelt, though his wrath suggests we had just run over a member of the royal family. He demands identification cards, but in the United Kingdom, Her Majesty never introduced them. And the policeman is furious because he has no way of knowing where I am from. I could have been born anywhere.

Introduction

After my exploits in Catalonia, the next port of call was the most historically significant Spanish wine region, Rioja. Its reputation and familiarity are larger than its geographical size thanks to the success and ubiquity of global brands guzzled to the point where I suspect that to many ordinary consumers,Rioja wine is more famous than Spanish wine. This eminence has placed it in a peculiar position. It can be self-confident and assured that brand recognition shifts a lot of wine from shelves: a Godsend in these straightened times. Yet history tells us that it can breed complacency. Its wines can suddenly become passé. Look at German wine in the 1980s or Australian in the 2000s. There is a constant need for a region to re-invent itself and stay ahead of the pack. For sure, Rioja reigns in Spain, however, there are numerous prince and princesses with one eye on its crown, Ribera del Duero and Priorat to name but two, and countless further afield.

So beyond appraising its wines, I wanted to gauge how the industry is adapting to the ever-changing climate of 2012, against the backdrop of a country that boasts the most exciting cuisine in the world and a peerless football team, but also mass youth unemployment and withering domestic consumption. Is Rioja’s recipe for success still relevant? Where does Rioja stand in the pantheon of Spanish D.O.’s? Can it cater to new styles or unorthodox techniques?

What I found was a dichotomous region of Davids and Goliaths, modernists and traditionalists, a region located upon a fault line that separates Basque and non-Basque country, Mediterranean and Atlantic climates and an undercurrent of polarized views. It was important to take the measure of both sides. I sought to meet and taste with winemakers that represent different sides of Rioja because together, I feel that they have vital, symbiotic roles to play in the future of this great wine region.

The Land

Rioja is unequivocally a wine region that is easy on the eye. To the south, on the distant horizon, lies the snow-capped Sierra de la Demanda and to the north, the Sierra Cantábrica mountains rise majestically from the rolling land, protecting the region from Atlantic weather systems and deceptively giving the impression that surrounding areas are low in altitude. In reality, the land rises and falls some 300 to 600 meters above sea level: vital to afford the best vineyards a long and relatively cool growing season. The Ebro snakes through Rioja, overlooked by hilltop medieval villages such as San Vicente, Ollauri and Abalos, steeped in history and religion, a little too often spoiled by an eyesore built back in the day when planning permission was lax. The main town of Logroño throngs with locals and tourists alike, noisy tapas bars belying a country suffering economic strife. It only takes a few minutes to drive out and seek refuge in the tranquility of the countryside once more, where the air is so pure that patients recovering from respiratory illnesses still come to convalesce.

Of course, La Rioja is separated into three sub-regions: Rioja Alavesa, Rioja Alta and Rioja Baja. Alta is heavily influenced by the moderating Atlantic climate, Alavesa similarly so but with greater Mediterranean influence, while Baja is warmer and dictated by a Continental climate. An indication of the Mediterranean boundary is the point where olive trees abruptly disappear from the side of the roads; however, one should remember that there exist numerous microclimates within both. The meandering Ebro divides Alavesa to the north and Alta to the south (except around Labastida). In early May, the gnarled, leafless, ancient vines look like giant bristles sprouting from skin-colored soil that sinks underfoot. There are pockets of iron-rich and chalky clay, while the plains of Baja further south and southeast past Logroño are more fertile and alluvial, home to vast plantings of Garnacha.

Altitude did seem to be an important factor here, at least to the top producers. Speaking of winemakers, there seemed to be an unspoken competition to see who could cultivate their vines the highest up the mountainside! No doubt some over-ambitious vigneron will soon be planting a Tempranillo vine on its snow-capped peak, but in reality, there are now vines planted up to around 750-800 meters, a far cry from the days when producers sought the flat plains that were easy to run a tractor through. Nowadays, a 4x4 struggles to even reach the most isolated parcels. The elite Rioja winemakers are no longer taking the easy option, for they are on a constant search for unexploited propitious land.

Rioja old vines: The twisted ancient goblet vines that sprout all over Rioja.
Vines are predominantly Tempranillo, the workhorse variety that can give rise to high volume supermarket fare or, in the right hands, iconic wines that entertain profundity – and everything in between. The landscape is a mixture of trained and freestanding goblet vines, the former used by those who want to make efficient use of their land. There are several winemakers who see trained vines as an anathema to Rioja, none more so than Telmo Rodriguez of Bodegas Remélluri. He believes that Rioja’s “soul” lies in those twisted ancient, low-yielding bush vines and I am inclined to agree. Bush vines tend to demand more attention for the vineyard manager or winemaker and that can only be a positive thing. As I have written before, in the same way that Cabernet is enhanced by Merlot, I tend to err towards wines where Tempranillo has its wingmen by its side: Graciano lending aromatic flair, Garnacha lending flesh and Mazuela (a.k.a. Carignan/Cariñena) imparting acidity to weave the components together.

A Historical Background

Although viticulture can be traced back to Roman times, the region was known for its bucolic wines, often made through carbonic maceration: simple, easy-drinking, rustic fare for local consumption. The pivotal moment came when the phylloxera louse devastated Bordeaux, prompting merchants to supplement their trade by seeking fruit from elsewhere. Rioja lay close by and the absence of a structured industry enabled both sides to benefit, in particular the entrepreneurial marquises. Marqués de Murrieta and Marqués de Riscal modeled their estates on the expansive vineyards of Bordeaux that offered economies of scale and the chance to establish a recognizable brand.

These were followed by the likes of Berberana, Martinéz Lacuesta and Paternina inter alia that all exist today. The inevitable influx of Bordeaux varieties never usurped “King Tempranillo,” but their aging techniques and the use of barriques were widely adopted. Phylloxera arrived in Rioja at the turn of the century, and many small wineries that had bottled their own wine sought refuge with co-operatives that neutralized risk by purchasing their crop.

The region was governed by the Consejo Regulador that was established in 1926 and they installed the familiar classification system based upon aging criteria in both cask and bottle: Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva. The predicate was that the best wines had traditionally undergone the lengthiest maturation prior to release and bottles would carry a seal as long as the wine met all its criteria, which is limited to vintage wines (even though up to 15% may be blended from other vintages). Their aim is a noble one: to guarantee quality for any bottle sporting the Rioja seal and the system suited co-operatives. With a myriad of lots entering their winery from small producers, and often from all three sub-regions, they simply need to ascertain the qualities of each lot or vat, and mature them in accordance to the stipulated rules.

For many decades this efficient system has been instrumental in bringing a wide audience to Rioja. Compare the Reserva system to say that of Burgundy or Germany, and it is no wonder the consumers know where they stand. And under the Reserva system, outstanding wines have been created from quality conscientious producers, often in great volume. I have tasted Riojas from Paternina and Berberana that have aged wondrously. Moreover, the large production compared to other fine wine regions meant that these wines are generally affordable and widely available, a refreshing state of affairs in a world obsessed about exclusivity and luxury branding.

Every culture will breed a counter-culture that will highlight faults in the system. Firstly, the Reserva system assumes that the greatest wines are those that undergo the longest maturation, which is not true. The optimal duration of barrel aging is not necessarily the longest one, and there was a period in the 1970s and 1980s when the supposedly top wines had dried out by the time they reached the disappointed consumer. Secondly, just like in Burgundy, the system is open to abuse, since growers are paid according to quantity and not quality. But who cared if consumers were still persuaded by Reserva or Gran Reserva on the label? Same old story: poor clonal selection, high yields, fertilizers, mechanical harvesting, lackadaisical vinification, sub-standard, high-volume wine for the undiscerning masses. This came to a head during the 1970s, when the Riojan authorities and co-operatives took their eye off quality control and the plethora of bulk wine besmirched the reputation that had been nurtured over the preceding decades. Thirdly, again, parallel to Burgundy in the 1960s, the large-scale co-operatives are set up to blend away any notions of terroir or geographic subtlety, nuances sacrificed to uphold brand and the Reserva system. I will return to this subject later.

Given the omnipresence of the Reserva system and the potential weaknesses I have described, this counterculture manifested itself in a movement towards what has been tagged “modern” Rioja. Both Marqués de Caceres and Contino began experimenting with French oak and site-specific bottlings in the 1970s. The so-called alta expresíon wines came to prominence, accentuating new oak and high-toned primal black fruit. The dogma was: the more ripeness, the better. Fortunately, it can be said that most producers have seen the error of their ways and retreated from such extremities.

Growing Seasons

This report focuses upon the 2009 and 2010 vintages, though I always think it is useful to include tasting notes from older vintages whenever they were poured, and on occasion, include complete verticals in order to give recent notes greater context (for example, Pujanza and Finca Allende).

With regard to the 2009 growing season, the year began with high rainfall levels that provided vines with a good reserve of moisture. Budding was relatively early and then a dry July and August with high temperatures (up to 37 degrees Centigrade) meant that the vines could call upon those reserves to prevent them from shutting down. Still, such heat creates a dissonance between ripeness and phenolic ripeness; it catches out those growers unprepared to risk waiting for the latter. Mid-September rains affected Alavesa more than Alta and Baja sub-regions, but nudged many of the vines towards full ripeness, and from the end of September through the end of October, the harvest progressed under dry, sunny conditions.

As for 2010, this looks to be a very promising vintage. Clement weather during the flowering period offered the prospect of a more abundant crop, but the summer was cooler and mitigated against yields. Harvest commenced in Rioja Baja on September 1 and continued around the region until the end of October, stopping briefly for a spell of rain around October 10. The Consejo Regulador set maximum yields at 10% below those of 2009 in their aim to increase quality and moderate supply.

First Impressions

Rioja Benjamin Romeo: winemaker at Contador, inspects his vines in the shadow of St. Vicente.

I visited the region for ten days in early May. Apart from a series of intensive tastings professionally organized by “Wines of Rioja” at the Consejo Regulador offices in Logroño, I conducted numerous visits to an array of producers. I made a great effort to meet and taste with large-scale co-operatives and small bodegas. (Indeed, a couple were pleasantly surprised when I knocked on their door, assuming that their diminutive size would mean they would not get a look in.) I took account of modern and classic Rioja. Nothing illustrated that more than visiting the immaculate, state-of-the-art winery of Bodegas Baigorri with its arresting architecture and cathedral-like vat-room, and on the following day wandering wide-eyed through the labyrinth of mold and cobwebs at López de Heredia. It was a breathtaking juxtaposition, one that I could not imagine elsewhere. I spent time with Riojan “terroirists,” the likes of Telmo Rodríguez, Benjamín Romeo and Fernando Remírez de Ganuza, to gain not only an understanding of the minutiae of the soils, but absorb their passion as well as their philosophies. Their output would be a drop in the ocean for Campo Viejo, where I was escorted around their enormous winery on the outskirts of Logroño. I visited the tapas bars of Calle de Laurel, ate the local cuisine and practically overdosed on white asparagus. Tasting should go beyond simply what you put into your mouth and spit out.

Having tasted well over 1,000 wines, both in the UK and in Rioja itself, I was generally impressed by both 2009 and 2010, with a preference towards the latter. I do not seem to be alone in that opinion. Many winemakers rate the 2009 highly in terms of its voluptuousness and generosity, but in terms of structure and purity, they generally seemed to rate 2010 higher (in parallel to Bordeaux). At their best, both vintages offer a clutch of spellbinding wines that should offer serious aging potential and, unlike Bordeaux, Tempranillo is more approachable than Cabernet Sauvignon, which means wines do not have to be squirreled away if you relish primal fruit.

My two main criticisms were ones that I could have predicted before visiting the region. Firstly, there remain too many co-operatives churning out ordinary, soulless, tasteless wines that lack vigor, freshness and, occasionally, cleanliness. Even some of the more successful names did not pass muster, and some of them seem to prioritize profit margins over quality. That is their choice, but it does not enhance the image of Rioja. Secondly, there was a preponderance of what I term “oak by rote.” For the record, a lashing of new French oak is not a prerequisite for achieving a top score or indeed, justifying a high price. By all means, use new oak if it enhances your fruit and does not obscure the wine’s terroir or personality. Unfortunately, there were many “identikit” wines subjugated by the oak, often accompanied by excessive alcohol levels and a pretentious bulletproof bottle. They are just as soulless as the poorer wines from co-operatives, but much more expensive. The bottom line is that this style of fermented grape juice is becoming generic across wine regions, to the extent that too many flagship wines could come from anywhere in the world.

Within the traditional Reserva system, there is the notion that a Gran Reserva is superior to a Reserva, and a Reserva superior to a Crianza. This is only true some of the time. Rioja boasts some wonderful Crianzas that are fresh and vibrant and can offer as much complexity as the Reserva or Gran Reserva. As always, I have no hesitation in reflecting that in my scores, which are not hidebound to a system that dictates one is implicitly superior to the other.

Then there is Rioja Blanco, predominantly Viura that occupies just over 7,000 hectares of vineyard. This genre of Rioja is forgotten by many and generally disliked. Part of the reason is that Viura is a grape variety that can create good rather than great wine, but all too often is cropped at high yields, offering little more than bland, glugging fare. The exception is when it is allowed to age in the hands of an exceptional winemaker or when it is blended with a seasoning of Malvasia. There are several wines in this report that attest how Viura can transcend its limitations, but they are the exception rather than the rule. There is a gulf between the thrilling whites of say López de Heredia or Abel Mendoza and others vapid and devoid of flavor. I do hope that Riojan growers experiment more with the likes of Malvasia and Garnacha Blanca, and lesser-known varieties such as Turruntés that could lend another bow to Rioja’s arrow if expanded further, especially at higher altitudes.

Putting Rioja Into Focus

Returning to my discussion about the Reserva system, there is certainly a schism between the ideologies of the co-operatives and the small brigade of growers that believes that the system means Rioja is effectively riding roughshod over its site-specific jewels. Its mosaic of terroirs needs winemakers to vinify its nuances and stopper them under cork. However, this sits uncomfortably with what was often described as an inflexible structure and regulations that discourage and make little room for those wishing to experiment away from the system. For example, Article 22 of the Consejo’s “Registry of Aging Bodegas” stipulates: “The bodegas should have a minimum stock of 225 hectoliters of wine being aged, of which at least one half should be contained in a minimum of 50 oak barrels with an approximate capacity of 225 liters.” Surely a minimum fifty oak barrels immediately quashes the notion of individual growers branching out on their own? How many Burgundy winemakers would vanish under such regulations? Perhaps the authorities fear a similar trend that transpired in Burgundy since the 1970s, whereby independent growers wishing to bottle their own wine have eroded the dominance of négociants, a trend that snowballed as more and more were inspired to strike out on their own.

Rioja soil change: Here is clear evidence of Rioja's terroir. See how the colour of the soils change so abruptly in the middle of the vineyard.

This puts the authorities in a difficult position. When terroir-driven, single site wines inspire superlatives from commentators, waxing lyrical over the likes of Contador, Finca Allende and Artadi inter alia, is that something to be proud of? Or is that something to fear? Is David showing Goliath how it is done? Some artisan growers expressed frustration that the regulatory bodies only begrudgingly accept the existence of those determined to follow a Burgundian model, whereby a bottle of Rioja can be pinpointed to a specific place, year after year. But if everyone followed this example, that risks undermining the co-operatives that, let us not forget, support so many growers, most of whom do not possess the same level of talent or commitment. During these economic travails, for many, a steady income is far more imperative than having your name on the bottle or winning the favor of critics. Of course, I am assuming that farmers are paid a decent price for their labors, which is not necessarily the case.

Personally, I cannot see why the two cannot inhabit Rioja side-by-side, just as growers and négociants do in Burgundy. It is no good if David stamps his foot and Goliath pretends to ignore him. Others could learn from the Consejo Regulador, which does an excellent job administering and promoting the region. Even as I write this, there is an excellent annual consumer event taking place in London (Tapas Fantasticas). Such events should be applauded. While an artisan producer may win plaudits from critics and cognoscenti that enhance the global reputation of a region, we should not underestimate the importance for “Joe Public” to be able to purchase a good, clean, delicious bottle of Rioja from supermarket shelves. I bet there are many whose penchant for Rioja began with a nice bottle of Marqués de Riscal and such like.

But there does need to be more dialogue between the two sides. They exist as ambassadors in different ways. The two markets, one catering to cognoscenti and the other to ordinary consumers, are so exclusive that the success of one should not impinge upon the success of the other. Rioja could easily promote its microclimates, its multifarious terroirs and its artisans without damaging the brand image that it has nurtured for so long. Once you visit these pockets of ancient vines, you can completely understand why it is sacrilegious to blend them into non-existence. In 2012, discerning consumers are seeking artisan wines with personality, flair, individuality, a sense of place and with a winemaker behind them, and Rioja needs to foster these growers and not treat them as rebels, while supporting co-operatives, putting politics to one side and pulling the socks up of the larger producers that consistently do not make the grade. I am not suggesting that every boutique winery is superior to co-operatives. There are numerous occasions when the co-operatives produce better crafted wines that some of the excessively oaked, charmless cult wines that are bereft of character. I just feel that there needs to be more balance between the two, and Rioja could win so many more admirers by examining its system and readjusting it so that it caters to the 21st century.

I return to my opening vignette. The policeman was annoyed because he could not identify exactly where I came from. I had no place of origin. I was just a white, English-speaking male from anywhere. And sometimes, I feel that is how wine-lovers view Rioja. You can view many wine regions through a perfectly focused lens, even down to a few square meters in some cases. Burgundy can come from Musigny and Bordeaux from Pomerol and Mosel from Wehlener and Napa from Mt. Veeder. But as it stands, most Rioja wines can only come from Rioja. Free up the system and let Rioja speak of its place, because it has a lot more to say.

Remelluri

A visit to Rioja could not pass without a stop at Bodegas Remelluri, now managed by the pocket dynamo that is Telmo Rodriguez. I jumped in his muddy 4x4 to inspect his high altitude vines up on the Sierre de Tolono mountains and isolated, uncultivated plots of potentially great terroir that Telmo is keen to exploit in the future (see video). Remelluri is suffused with a sense of place and history, epitomized by the family’s home that is veiled in a monastic aura, every nook and cranny coveting untold stories from the 14th century when the monks from the Tolono monastery founded a sanctuary on this site. Do not be fooled, because now this estate is looking towards the future, through Telmo’s eyes. Though I was impressed by their current releases, the phrase “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet” kept running through my mind, because it will take time for Telmo to implement his winemaking tenets that have been honed through extensive experience both in Spain and abroad. This includes converting Remelluri’s vineyard to biodynamism and re-training the vines away from the trellis (something that Telmo abhors in Rioja). But one thing that he enacted immediately was the bold decision to convene growers from whom Remelluri had sourced fruit for many years, and inform them that this arrangement would cease forthwith. Telmo was effectively putting them out of a job in order to focus upon his own terroir, and to use his own words, “concentrate the personality of Remelluri.” This culling of out-sourced fruit is effective from the 2009 vintage. To compensate these growers, Telmo offered his experience and contacts to assist them in creating their own label. He was encouraged by the positive response and galvanized growers to take responsibility for their own wine; he was essentially sowing the seeds of his own philosophy. So let us begin with this label, because it is well worth seeking out.

93 points
2009 Remelluri Blanco
Rioja, Spain
$70
WA, #202, Aug 2012 - Neal Martin

The 2009 Rioja Blanco is a blend of nine different grape varieties planted between 650 and 800-meters above sea level. Telmo teased me by not disclosing the nine grape varieties (although it took me about ten seconds to find them listed on his US importer’s website). It has a precise nose with faint traces of lime zest, freshly sliced grapefruit and white peach. The palate is well-balanced with crisp acidity, great tension, and honeysuckle, almond and shaved ginger on the very refined finish. This is outstanding, but alas only around 6,000 bottles are produced. Drink now-2020.

93 points
2005 Remelluri La Granja Remelluri Rioja Gran Reserva
Rioja, Spain
$80
WA, #202, Aug 2012 - Neal Martin

The 2005 Gran Reserva is the first since 1999 selected from the best casks, where it is aged for 25 months in used French and American oak. It has a wonderful, wild mint-scented bouquet with hints of licorice and white fennel. The palate is medium-bodied with bold tannins that bolster its vaulted structure. It has very good weight with grippy, dry, tertiary tannins towards the long finish. It will need several years in the cellar. Drink 2016-2025.

90 points
2009 Remelluri Lindes de Remelluri
Rioja, Spain
$32
WA, #202, Aug 2012 - Neal Martin

The 2009 Lindes de Remelluri is a blend of Tempranillo, Garnacha, Graciano and Viura from 40-year-old vines that is aged in American and French oak. It has a fresh bouquet of mulberry, sloe, wild hedgerow and just a smudge of licorice. It is well-defined, natural, perhaps rustic?but full of character. The palate is medium-bodied with firm, slightly furry tannins. There is a good weight of dark, quite broody fruit with a well-balanced, blackberry and licorice-tinged finish that has satisfying sense of conservatism. Drink 2013-2019.

90 points
2008 Remelluri Reserva
Rioja, Spain
$38
WA, #202, Aug 2012 - Neal Martin

Before broaching present releases, The 2008 Reserva will be the final vintage blended from grapes sourced outside Remelluri’s boundaries. Perhaps my score is parsimonious, but intuition tells me that great Reservas in the mold of the 1976 lie in the years ahead. It has a well-defined nose of blackberry leaf, mint, bay leaf and balsamic that would benefit from a little more tension. The palate is medium-bodied with fine tannins, crisp acidity and a lovely, smoke and dried herb-tinged finish with a dash of black pepper. This is quite a “serious” Rioja that needs a little more joie-de-vivre. Drink 2014-2024.

Spain 2011
Export Market Big, Domestic Market Small

>Printer Friendly Reviews, Issue #195

All reviews were written by Jay Miller and were published in issue 195 (June 2011) of The Wine Advocate. Original reviews can be found online at erobertparker.com (subscription required). Tasting notes, wine and winery names, and technical information appear as published on erobertparker.com and may contain errors in spelling and content. The wines were tasted in early 2011 so some of the vintages reviewed may not be current.

96 points
1999  Remelluri La Granja Remelluri Rioja Gran Reserva
Rioja, Spain
WA, #195, Jun 2011 - Jay Miller

The monumental 1999 Remelluri La Granja Gran Reserva is a testament to what can be achieved in Rioja. Made up of a blend of 86% Tempranillo, 12% Garnacha, and 2% Graciano, it was fermented with native yeasts and aged for 27 months in French and American oak. Beautifully expressive aromatically, it gives up exotic spices, lavender, incense, a hint of balsamic, black cherry, and blackberry. In the glass it deftly combines elegance and power while concealing enough structure to endure for at least another 10-15 years. At the asking price, it is a steal in world class wine.

The modern winery of Remelluri was established in 1967. The vineyards are farmed organically and the winery employs an integrated system of agriculture. The winemaker is the renowned Telmo Rodriguez. Remelluri’s Blanco is the reference standard against which all others are measured in virtually every vintage.

94 points
2006  Dominio Do Bibei Mt
Ribeira Sacra, Galicia, Spain
WA, #195, Jun 2011 - Jay Miller

The 2006 MT is 100% Mouraton, an indigenous variety. It displays a mentholated, cherry-like bouquet reminiscent of Cheracol syrup. Savory, ripe, layered, and concentrated, this nicely proportioned effort is likely to evolve for 2-3 years and drink well from 2013 to 2021.

Dominio do Bibei is a 125 hectare estate of which 45 are planted to the red varieties of Mencia, Garnacha, Brancellao, and Mouraton and the white varieties of Dona Blanca, Godello, and Albarino.

94 points
2006  Hermanos Sastre Pago de Santa Cruz
Ribera Del Duero, Castilla Leon, Spain
WA, #195, Jun 2011 - Jay Miller

The 2006 Pago de Santa Cruz is sourced from a single vineyard with 65+-year-old vines. It spent 34 months in seasoned French and American oak before bottling without fining or filtration. Dense purple in color, it sports a splendid nose of Asian spices, incense, tapenade, licorice, lavender, and blackberry. In the glass it reveals a plush texture with enough underlying structure to evolve for 5-6 years. Dense, incipiently complex, and lengthy, it will benefit from additional cellaring and will offer a drinking window extending from 2016 to 2026+.

Vina Sastre is a benchmark estate in Ribera del Duero. It is committed to organic farming and biodynamic principles with the wines naturally made and bottled without fining or filtration.

94 points
2007  Remelluri Rioja
Rioja, Spain
WA, #195, Jun 2011 - Jay Miller

The 2007 Remelluri is composed of 90% Tempranillo, 5% Graciano, and 5% Garnacha fermented with indigenous yeasts and aged for 16 months in seasoned French and American oak. Deep purple in color, it reveals an already complex bouquet of exotic spices, leather, violets, mineral, and assorted black fruits. In the glass it is succulent with plush fruit, terrific grip and volume, and a lengthy, rich, supple finish. It can be approached now but is likely to continue filling out for several more years.

The modern winery of Remelluri was established in 1967. The vineyards are farmed organically and the winery employs an integrated system of agriculture. The winemaker is the renowned Telmo Rodriguez. Remelluri’s Blanco is the reference standard against which all others are measured in virtually every vintage.

94 points
2007  Remelluri Blanco
Rioja, Spain
WA, #195, Jun 2011 - Jay Miller

The 2007 Remelluri Blanco is a blend of 7 grapes varieties with the largest roles played by Garnacha Blanca (25%) and a combination of Roussanne and Marsanne (25%). The wine is fermented with native yeasts with malolactic fermentation in barrel followed by 16 months of aging in new French oak. It offers up a glorious perfume of buttered popcorn, tropical fruits, jasmine, baking spices, and minerals. In the glass the oak is integrated, the texture silky, and the wine’s acid structure is firm and uplifting. It is likely to evolve for several years adding to its already considerable complexity. Drink this outstanding effort from 2013 to 2019+.

The modern winery of Remelluri was established in 1967. The vineyards are farmed organically and the winery employs an integrated system of agriculture. The winemaker is the renowned Telmo Rodriguez. Remelluri’s Blanco is the reference standard against which all others are measured in virtually every vintage.

93 points
2006  Hermanos Sastre Regina Vides
Ribera Del Duero, Castilla Leon, Spain
WA, #195, Jun 2011 - Jay Miller

The 2006 Regina Vides was sourced from 82-year-old vines, fermented naturally, and aged in 100% new French oak. Aromas of pain grille, pencil lead, exotic spices, herbs, licorice, and blackberry compose the bouquet of this sweetly-fruited, large-scaled, nicely proportioned behemoth. Give it 8-10 years of additional cellaring and enjoy it from 2019 to 2031+.

Vina Sastre is a benchmark estate in Ribera del Duero. It is committed to organic farming and biodynamic principles with the wines naturally made and bottled without fining or filtration.

92 points
2005  Conde de Hervias Mencos Reserva
Rioja, Spain
WA, #195, Jun 2011 - Jay Miller

The 2005 Reserva spent 16 months in seasoned American oak. Asian spices, leather, incense, violets, and blackberry aromas compose the bouquet of this intense, layered, structured offering from the powerful 2005 vintage. Give it another 3-4 years of cellaring and drink it from 2014 to 2025.

The Conde de Hervias estate is located in Rioja Alta.

92 points
2009  Do Ferreiro Albarino Cepas Vellas
Rias Baixas, Galicia, Spain
WA, #195, Jun 2011 - Jay Miller

The 2009 Do Ferreiro Cepas Vellas is 100% Albarino sourced from vines over 200 years old and aged sur lie for 12 months. Light gold in color, it offers up intense aromas of spring flowers, lemon meringue, melon, and mineral. In the glass it reveals an excellent acid structure, intense flavors, and impeccable balance. Drink this lengthy effort over the next 3-4 years.

Do Ferreiro, an 11 acre estate, much of it old vines, was founded in 1973. Gerardo Mendez farms it organically, uses native yeast fermentation, and ages his wines sur lie.

92 points
2009  Emilio Rojo
Ribeiro, Spain
WA, #195, Jun 2011 - Jay Miller

Emilio Rojo makes one wine at his 4.4 acre Ribeiro estate which he founded in 1987. The 2009 Emilio Rojo is a blend of 55% Treixadura with the balance Loureira, Lado, Albarino, and Torrontes. Fresh herbs, white fruits, and minerals inform the nose of a savory, spicy, complex offering that has superb volume and precision balance. It is likely to unwind for another 1-2 years and offer prime drinking through 2016.

91 points
2009  A Coroa Godello
WA, #195, Jun 2011 - Jay Miller

A Coroa’s 10 hectares of Godello are farmed organically, the grapes are fermented with native yeasts, and are aged sur lie for 6 months. Mineral, melon, tropical aromas, and floral notes inform the nose of this savory, dry, concentrated effort. With excellent volume, balance, and length, it should provide much enjoyment over the next 4-5 years

91+ points
2006  Bodegas Ostatu Reserva
Rioja, Spain
WA, #195, Jun 2011 - Jay Miller

The 2006 Ostatu Reserva was fermented with native yeasts and aged for 14 months in French oak. Savory, structured, and sweetly-fruited, this already complex offering will continue to evolve for another 3-4 years with a drinking window extending from 2014 to 2026.

Bodegas Ostatu is a family-owned winery in the heart of the Rioja Alavesa region. The average age of the estate’s vines is 50 years. Ostatu’s winemaking consultant is the renowned Hubert de Bouard of Chateau Angelus fame.

91 points
2009  D Ventura Vina Caneiro
Ribeira Sacra, Galicia, Spain
WA, #195, Jun 2011 - Jay Miller

The 2009 Vina Caneiro is denser in color, sweeter, rounder, and very concentrated with tons of flavor. Incipiently complex, it will benefit from another 1-2 years of cellaring to reveal its full potential. Drink it from 2012 to 2019.

D. Ventura’s three offerings are unoaked 100% Mencia sourced from organically farmed vineyards, fermented with native yeasts, and bottled without filtration or cold stabilization.

91 points
2008  Dominio Do Bibei Lapola
Ribeira Sacra, Galicia, Spain
WA, #195, Jun 2011 - Jay Miller

The 2008 Lapola is a blend of 80% Godello, with the balance Dona Blanca, Torrontes, and Louriera. It was fermented in seasoned 600-liter barrels and aged sur lie for 9 months. It offers up alluring aromas of nutmeg, jasmine, melon, lemon, and almonds. This is followed by a vibrant, complex, mouth-filling wine that will drink nicely for another 4-5 years.

Dominio do Bibei is a 125 hectare estate of which 45 are planted to the red varieties of Mencia, Garnacha, Brancellao, and Mouraton and the white varieties of Dona Blanca, Godello, and Albarino.

91 points
2008  Hermanos Sastre Crianza
Ribera Del Duero, Castilla Leon, Spain
WA, #195, Jun 2011 - Jay Miller

The 2008 Crianza spent 18 months in new French oak before bottling without filtration. This strikingly perfumed effort displays layered fruit, savory flavors, and outstanding density. It has enough structure to evolve for 2-3 years and will deliver optimum drinking from 2013 to 2020.

Vina Sastre is a benchmark estate in Ribera del Duero. It is committed to organic farming and biodynamic principles with the wines naturally made and bottled without fining or filtration.

91 points
2007  Luberri Biga
Rioja, Spain
WA, #195, Jun 2011 - Jay Miller

The 2007 Biga spent 12 months in French and American oak. A bit more brooding aromatically, it offers up notes of balsam wood, leather, cinnamon, clove, pepper, violets, and blackberry. In the glass it reveals enough structure to evolve for 1-2 years while its length and volume suggest a drinking window extending through 2019.

Luberri is located in El Ciego in the heart of Rioja Alavesa. The estate consists of 35 hectares of old vines. All three wines presented (100% Tempranillo) are excellent to outstanding values.

91 points
2010  Vina Mein Vina Mein
Ribeiro, Spain
WA, #195, Jun 2011 - Jay Miller

The 2010 Vina Mein is composed of 80% Treixadura along with 6 other varieties fermented and aged sur lie in stainless steel. Tropical aromas, honey, melon, and mineral inform the nose of this dry, complex, vibrant white. With excellent volume and precision balance, this lengthy effort will provide pleasure over the next 5 years.

Vina Mein’s founder, Javier Alen, began his Ribeiro project in 1998 planting the indigenous varietals of the region on 16 hectares of vineyard.

90 points
2010  Ameztoi Rubentis Txakolina
Getariako Txakolina, Pais Vasco, Spain
WA, #195, Jun 2011 - Jay Miller

The 2010 Ametzoi Rubentis Txakoli is light pink in color with attractive aromas of rose petal and strawberry. Crisp and surprisingly concentrated, this nicely proportioned effort will provide enjoyment over the next 12-18 months.

90 points
2010  Bodega Gurrutxaga Txakoli Gurrutxaga Rosado
Bizkaiko Txakolina, Spain
WA, #195, Jun 2011m - Jay Miller

The 2010 Rosado is salmon pink with an enticing nose of sea salt and strawberry. Crisp, lively, and surprisingly mouth-filling, it will drink nicely over the next 12-18 months.

90 points
2008  Bodegas Ostatu Ostatu
Rioja, Spain
WA, #195, Jun 2011 - Jay Miller

The 2008 Ostatu, a wine composed of 95% Tempranillo with the balance Garnacha, Graciano, and Mazuelo. It sports an aromatic array on mineral, potpourri, and a confiture of black fruits. Dense, savory, and ripe on the palate, it has the structure to evolve for 2-3 years and will provide considerable pleasure between 2014 and 2023.

Bodegas Ostatu is a family-owned winery in the heart of the Rioja Alavesa region. The average age of the estate’s vines is 50 years. Ostatu’s winemaking consultant is the renowned Hubert de Bouard of Chateau Angelus fame.

90 points
2009  Conde de Hervias Mencos
Rioja, Spain
WA, #195, Jun 2011 - Jay Miller

The entry-level 2009 Mencos is an unoaked cuvee of 100% Tempranillo. Aromas of earthy minerals, spice box, violets, cherry blossom, and blackberry inform the nose of a ripe, firm, savory red with good balance and length. It is an outstanding value meant for drinking over the next 5-6 years.

The Conde de Hervias estate is located in Rioja Alta.

90 points
2009  D Ventura Pena Do Lobo
Ribeira Sacra, Galicia, Spain
WA, #195, Jun 2011 - Jay Miller

The 2009 Pena do Lobo is savory, ripe, vibrant, and pure. Elegant on the palate with a smooth texture, this concentrated, well-balanced wine will drink well for another 4 years.

D. Ventura’s three offerings are unoaked 100% Mencia sourced from organically farmed vineyards, fermented with native yeasts, and bottled without filtration or cold stabilization.

90 points
2009  Do Ferreiro Albarino
Rias Baixas, Galicia, Spain
WA, #195, Jun 2011 - Jay Miller

The 2009 Do Ferreiro Albarino (100%) displays aromas of mineral, saline, lemon curd, and jasmine. Savory, vibrant, and lengthy on the palate, this nicely proportioned effort will provide enjoyment for another 3-4 years.

Do Ferreiro, an 11 acre estate, much of it old vines, was founded in 1973. Gerardo Mendez farms it organically, uses native yeast fermentation, and ages his wines sur lie.

90 points
2009  Do Ferreiro Rebisaca
Rias Baixas, Galicia, Spain
WA, #195, Jun 2011 - Jay Miller

The 2009 Do Ferreiro Rebisaca is a blend of 85% Albarino and 15% Treixadura that spent 10 months sur lie. Mineral, citrus, melon, floral, and spice notes inform the nose of this crisp, vibrant, nicely balanced effort. In the glass it displays lots of flavor, some complexity, good volume, and length. It will continue to drink well for another 3-4 years.

Do Ferreiro, an 11 acre estate, much of it old vines, was founded in 1973. Gerardo Mendez farms it organically, uses native yeast fermentation, and ages his wines sur lie.

90 points
2009  Garciarevalo Tres Olmos
Rueda, Castilla Leon, Spain
WA, #195, Jun 2011 - Jay Miller

The 2009 Tres Olmos is 100% Verdejo made from ancient pre-phylloxera vines and aged sur lie for 6 months. It offers up an alluring perfume of jasmine, mineral, nutmeg, white peach, and apricot. In the glass it displays unusual richness for Verdejo, impeccable balance, and a lengthy, fruit-filled finish. Drink this pleasure-bent effort over the next 3-4 years. It is an outstanding value.

Garciarevalo is a family owned winery started in 1991. The estate consists of 40 hectares, much of it planted to vines over 100 years of age.

90 points
2009  Hermanos Sastre Tinto
Ribera Del Duero, Castilla Leon, Spain
WA, #195, Jun 2011 - Jay Miller

The red wines (all made from 100% Tempranillo) begin with the 2009 Tinto, a product of the great 2009 vintage in Ribera del Duero. Fragrant aromas of spice box, lavender, espresso, black cherry, and blackberry are followed by a sweetly-fruited, dense, lengthy red that may evolve for 1-2 years and will drink well for another 5. It is an outstanding value.

Vina Sastre is a benchmark estate in Ribera del Duero. It is committed to organic farming and biodynamic principles with the wines naturally made and bottled without fining or filtration.

90 points
2008  Joan d'Anguera Finca l'Argata
Tarragona, Spain
WA, #195, Jun 2011 - Jay Miller

The 2008 Finca L’Argata is composed of 40% Syrah, 40% Garnatxa, and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon aged in French oak for 14 months. Sweetly fruited, fragrant, and layered on the palate, this dense effort has enough structure to evolve for 3-4 years. Nicely proportioned and lengthy, it will provide optimum drinking from 2014 to 2023.

90 points
2009  Joan d'Anguera Garnatxa
Monsant, Spain
WA, #195, Jun 2011 - Jay Miller

Joan d’Anguera’s unoaked 2009 Garnatxa (100%) was fermented with native yeasts. It offers up an alluring perfume of earthy minerals, spice box, and ripe black cherries. Sweetly fruited, smooth-textured, and plush on the palate, it will provide considerable pleasure over the next 5-6 years. It is also an excellent value.

90 points
2009  Joan d'Anguera La Planella
Tarragona, Spain
WA, #195, Jun 2011 - Jay Miller

The 2009 Planella is a blend of 40% Mazuelo (Carinena), 20% Syrah, 20% Garnatxa, and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon aged for 11 months in French and American oak. Deep purple in color, it exhibits an inviting nose of cedar, mineral, balsamic, lavender, leather, and assorted black fruits. Rich, layered, and succulent on the palate, it will evolve for 2-3 years and offer prime drinking from 2013 to 2021.

90 points
2008  Luberri Seis
Rioja, Spain
WA, #195, Jun 2011 - Jay Miller

The 2008 Seis de Luberri spent 6 months in French and American oak. It offers up an inviting nose of cedar, leather, violets, spice box, and assorted black fruits. Already revealing a bit of complexity, this elegantly-styled Rioja has the balance and concentration to drink well through 2018.

Luberri is located in El Ciego in the heart of Rioja Alavesa. The estate consists of 35 hectares of old vines. All three wines presented (100% Tempranillo) are excellent to outstanding values.

90 points
2009  Vina Mein Vina Mein Fermentado en Barrica
Ribeiro, Spain
WA, #195, Jun 2011 - Jay Miller

The 2009 Vina Mein Fermentado en Barrica displays a whiff of butter, a hint of mineral, melon, and other white fruits. It is a tasty, lengthy effort that lacks the vibrancy of the unoaked cuvee. Nevertheless, it is an outstanding effort that will also drink well for another 5 years.

Vina Mein’s founder, Javier Alen, began his Ribeiro project in 1998 planting the indigenous varietals of the region on 16 hectares of vineyard.

89 points
2010  Bodega Gurrutxaga Txakoli Gurrutxaga
Bizkaiko Txakolina, Spain
WA, #195, Jun 2011 - Jay Miller

The 2010 Txakoli Gurrutxaga displays a light fizz from carbon dioxide. It has greater density than most of its peers along with an enticing nose of citrus, mineral, and jasmine. Crisp, vibrant, and lengthy, it will provide enjoyment over the next 12-18 months.

89 points
2010  Bodegas Ostatu Blanco
Rioja, Spain
WA, #195, Jun 2011 - Jay Miller

The 2010 Ostatu Blanco is a blend of 90% Viura and 10% Malvasia fermented with native yeasts and raised in stainless steel. Light gold in color, it offers up an inviting nose of mineral, melon, and floral notes. Smooth-textured, savory, and nicely proportioned, it is an excellent value in white Rioja.

Bodegas Ostatu is a family-owned winery in the heart of the Rioja Alavesa region. The average age of the estate’s vines is 50 years. Ostatu’s winemaking consultant is the renowned Hubert de Bouard of Chateau Angelus fame.

89 points
2008  Conde de Hervias Mencos Crianza
Rioja, Spain
WA, #195, Jun 2011 - Jay Miller

The 2008 Crianza is also 100% Tempranillo aged for 12 months in seasoned American oak. Cedar, spice box, tobacco, a hint of balsamic, and blackberry aromas inform the nose of a savory, flavorful, layered Crianza that can be approached now but will drink well through 2020.

The Conde de Hervias estate is located in Rioja Alta.

89 points
2010  D Ventura Vina Do Burato
Ribeira Sacra, Galicia, Spain
WA, #195, Jun 2011 - Jay Miller

The 2010 Vina do Burato is a grapy, Beaujolais-like offering that offers up enticing aromas of mineral, balsamic, and black raspberry. Concentrated and lively on the palate, this nicely proportioned effort will provide enjoyment over the next 3 years.

D. Ventura’s three offerings are unoaked 100% Mencia sourced from organically farmed vineyards, fermented with native yeasts, and bottled without filtration or cold stabilization.

89 points
2009  Hermanos Sastre Flavus
Ribera Del Duero, Castilla Leon, Spain
WA, #195, Jun 2011 - Jay Miller

The current offerings include one white wine, the 2009 Flavus made from 100% Jaen (more commonly known as Palomino). It was sourced from 70-year-old vines, fermented with native yeasts, and raised in stainless steel. Lemon, creme brulee, mineral and floral notes inform the nose of this smooth-textured, spicy, nicely proportioned white. Drink it over the next 2-3 years.

Vina Sastre is a benchmark estate in Ribera del Duero. It is committed to organic farming and biodynamic principles with the wines naturally made and bottled without fining or filtration.

89 points
2010  Uriondo
Bizkaiko Txakolina, Spain
WA, #195, Jun 2011 - Jay Miller

The 2010 Urionda Txakolina is a blend of Hondarribi Zuri, Mune Muhatsa, and Txori Mahatsa, the latter portion barrel fermented in American oak. Baking spices, mineral, and citrus lead to a crisp, firm, savory Txakoli that will provide a perfect match for oysters and clams over the next 12-18 months.

88 points
2010  Luberri Orlegy
Rioja, Spain
WA, #195, Jun 2011 - Jay Miller

The 2010 Orlegy is an unoaked cuvee fermented with native yeasts. It is a very perfumed effort with plenty of spice and black fruit characteristics. Savory, ripe, and easygoing, this tasty effort will provide enjoyment for another 4-5 years.

Luberri is located in El Ciego in the heart of Rioja Alavesa. The estate consists of 35 hectares of old vines. All three wines presented (100% Tempranillo) are excellent to outstanding values.

87 points
2010  Garciarevalo Casamaro Blanco
Rueda, Castilla Leon, Spain
WA, #195, Jun 2011 - Jay Miller

The 2010 Casamaro Blanca is composed of 90% Verdejo and 10% Viura fermented in stainless steel. Baking spices, mineral, lychee, and apricot aromas inform the nose of a crisp, spicy, savory white with excellent balance and length. It is a very good value for drinking over the next 3 years.

Garciarevalo is a family owned winery started in 1991. The estate consists of 40 hectares, much of it planted to vines over 100 years of age.

Other Reviews

2007  Chereau-Carre Chateau de Chasseloir Comte Leloup de Chasseloir Muscadet de Sevre et Maine Sur Lie Cuvee des Ceps Centenaires
Sevre Et Maine Muscadet Muscadet, Pays Nantais, Loire Valley, France
$17

Latest rendition of the Loire wine with the longest name as well as one of the region’s most distinguished track records (for more about which, see my report in issue 172), the 2007 Chateau de Chasseloir Comte Leloup de Chasseloir Muscadet de Sevre et Maine Sur Lie Cuvee des Ceps Centenaires once again represents a sensational value. Scents of sea breeze; honeydew and musk melon; and fresh lemon lead into an expansive yet persistently refreshing palate, featuring rich hints of nut oils beneath bright, juicy, brine-crusted waves of melon and citrus. The finishing amalgam of musk melon, lemon, salt, chalk, and chicken stock is invigorating and lip-smacking as well as strikingly tactile in its sense of minerality. Close your eyes and just try making yourself believe that salt water and chalk have not somehow been transported into this wine – not that I’m letting my skeptical guard slip without a fight! Expect this – based on an impeccable track record – to be worth following for at least the next ten years, not that you should wait one month let alone year longer than necessary to make its acquaintance. Somehow I missed out on tasting the 2008 rendition of this classic cuvee from ungrafted vines, a deficiency I might have to wait until 2012 and a full tour of the Loire to remedy.

From the Chereau-Carre family of Muscadets, I as usual tasted their recent releases that feature prominently in the U.S., market, two of these being among the most remarkable wines in the Loire. Score 92. -D.S. (eRobertParker.com, #190, Aug 2010)

2004  Chereau-Carre Le Clos du Chateau l'Oiseliniere Muscadet de Sevre et Maine Sur Lie
Sevre Et Maine Muscadet Muscadet, Pays Nantais, Loire Valley, France
$30

The 2004 Le Clos du Chateau l’Oiseliniere Muscadet de Sevre et Maine Sur Lie is once again an impressive and unusually ripe and lush wine for its appellation, yet one that preserves vivid salinity and a somehow crystalline, ore-like and tactile sense of mineral enhancement that I otherwise associate with great whites of Austria’s Wachau. A stronger than (for this cuvee) usual citricity – suggestive of lemon, lime, and tangerine – lends this a vivacity and practically face-smacking (not to mention lip-smacking) brightness, and while there is palpable density present as well as the aforementioned sense of fullness and lushness, there is also a lovely sense of levity that helps reel you back in for the next unforgetable sip.

From the Chereau-Carre family of Muscadets, I as usual tasted their recent releases that feature prominently in the U.S., market, two of these being among the most remarkable wines in the Loire. Score 92. -D.S. (eRobertParker.com, #190, Aug 2010)

2009  Chereau-Carre Chateau de la Chesnaire Muscadet de Sevre et Maine Sur Lie
Sevre Et Maine Muscadet Muscadet, Pays Nantais, Loire Valley, France
$13

The 2009 Chateau de la Chesnaie Muscadet de Sevre et Maine Sur Lie smells unusually for its appellation of winter pear, pumpkin, and pineapple, tinged with and hints of sea breeze. Atypically lush in texture for this cuvee – not to mention luscious – it reminds me slightly of a Gruner Veltliner in its alternation of tropical and northerly fruits, its hints of green bean, black pepper, nutmeg, and salt, and its persistent, tactile sense of finishing piquancy, alkalinity, and stoniness. Not one of your ultra-refreshing let alone light renditions of Muscadet, this outstanding value will prove versatile at table for at least the next couple of years, but in circumstances where you might ordinarily elect to open a wine of another genre.

From the Chereau-Carre family of Muscadets, I as usual tasted their recent releases that feature prominently in the U.S., market, two of these being among the most remarkable wines in the Loire. Score 90. -D.S. (eRobertParker.com, #190, Aug 2010)