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New Release from Spain (2013)

>Printer Friendly Reviews, Issue #170

All reviews were written by Josh Raynolds and were published in issue 170 (September/October 2013) of Steven Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar. Original reviews can be found online at (subscription required). Tasting notes, wine and winery names, and technical information appear as published on and may contain errors in spelling and content. The wines were tasted in the summer of 2013 and reflect vintages that were current at the time.

By Josh Raynolds

Veteran IWC readers don't really need to be reminded that Spain is, in our opinion, the world's richest source of outstanding red wine values.  That continues to be the case today.  As I worked my way through over 1,500 Spanish wines over the last few months, that point was driven home on pretty much a daily basis.  Perhaps even more striking for me this year was tasting a larger number of world-class white wines than I expected to find. 

We are long-time fans of the best wines from Rias Baixas, and the current batch of releases maintains the region's high standard.  But still more intriguing was the number of terrific whites from other areas of Spain, even from zones that until recently seemed to be completely dedicated to red wines.  At this point it's tempting to say that Spain's white wines are offering the same bang for the buck as her reds.  That's not true in sheer numbers--at least not yet--but the consistent quality of the white wines I tasted from Rioja, Terra Alta, Valdeorras and Rueda, among other regions, was truly exciting this year.  Better yet, with rare exception these are wines that retail for less than $25 a bottle and are in wide distribution, making it relatively painless for wine lovers to check them out for themselves.

Current vintages in the marketplace.  Following 2010 and 2009, both generally outstanding vintages across Spain's wine-growing regions, 2011 and 2012 presented growers and producers with a variety of challenges, beginning with cool summers during which the grapes often struggled to ripen.  The upside is that the regions of Spain that most collectors follow produced plenty of red wines that are lively, focused and true to their heritage--unlike in 2009, for example, whose wines are strongly influenced by the warm weather.  And that goes double for the whites.

In Rioja, 2011 was marked by a mostly cool summer followed by rising temperatures and dry weather at the end of the season.  The positive spin among the producers emphasizes the clement weather leading up to the harvest, but from the first look I've had of the 2011s I'm not yet convinced that it was enough to compensate for what was essentially stalled maturity during July and the first half of August.  These are still early days so it's a little premature to rush to judgment.  That said, it's unlikely that any but the very best wines will match their 2010 and 2009 siblings.  Those two vintages are living up to their promise, with the '09s mostly showing the best side of this ripe year and the 2010s focused, pure and balanced for a long life.

In the northwestern Galicia/Leon area, which includes Bierzo and Ribeira Sacra, 2012 gave a very short crop, off by as much as 50% in Rias Baixas, a shortfall all the more painful because the resulting wines are generally fantastic (with a caveat), showing greater concentration than usual.  Most of the white Rias Baixas, Bierzo, Monterrei and Valdeorras wines I tasted display powerful pit fruit and ripe melon character, as opposed to the more typical citrus and orchard fruit qualities one usually finds here.  While that heft and power can be undeniably appealing, it can also potentially obscure the mouth-watering minerality that defines the region's wines, especially with a little bottle age.  That's good or bad, depending on how you like your albarinos.  I visited the region in May and while most producers were thrilled with the quality of their '12s, they all made a point of describing these wines' unique character, advising that they be consumed on the younger side, just to be safe.

The Ribera del Duero/Toro/Castilla y Leon area of central Spain enjoyed a warm summer in 2011, which pushed sugar levels up, and many of the wines show the result in fleshiness and early accessibility.  Alcohol numbers are not generally as high as those of torrid years like 2003 but are in the neighborhood of those reached in 2009, 2006 and 2005.  I suspect that the wines will drink well over the short to medium term and I found lots of soft tannins and forward fruit in the wines I tasted. 

Two thousand twelve looks to be a fantastic vintage for red wines in Ribera del Duero and Toro, based on barrel samples I tasted from these areas in May and freshly bottled, unoaked wines that I tasted in late summer.  But as with the wines of Rioja, it's still a little early to make hard judgments.  The 2012 growing season produced wines with verve and focus, although without quite the intensity and depth of the 2010s and 2009s; most of the young '12s are already delicious and I imagine they'll be at their best within the decade, so don't hesitate to dive in soon.

Down in the Priorat/Montsant/Penedes area 2010 looks to be flat-out brilliant, having produced wines that are fresh, structured and focused, with plenty of fruit (though not to the extent of the opulent 2009s) to see them into old age.  I continue to hear grumblings about the aging potential of wines from Priorat and, frankly, that puzzles me.  Over the last few years I've had the chance to taste--and, more important, drink--some superb Priorat wines between 15 and 20 years old, and they have consistently shown the character I'd expect from wines of similar age and pedigree from anywhere else in the world.  At this point I'm confident that the best 2010s from this region will reward patient wine lovers who can hold off on cracking their bottles until, say, 2020 and beyond.

New Releases from Spain

>Printer Friendly Reviews, Issue #164

All reviews were written by Josh Raynolds and were published in issue 164 (September/October 2012) of Steven Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar. Original reviews can be found online at (subscription required). Tasting notes, wine and winery names, and technical information appear as published on and may contain errors in spelling and content. The wines were tasted in 2012 and reflect vintages that were current at the time.

By Josh Raynolds

Coming on the heels of the challenging 2006, 2007 and 2008 vintages, the mostly very good to excellent 2009, 2010 and 2011 trio is providing welcome relief to growers and importers, not to mention wine lovers.  The most recent of those vintages, 2011, is reported to be uniformly excellent across the country and more than a few producers and importers I spoke with praised the wines' blend of forward, vivacious fruit and firm underlying structure.  Based on my early look at the vintage I'll go out on a limb and call '11 a cross between 2010 and 2009, combining the precocious character of '09 and the focus of '10.  Keep in mind that vintage 2010 produced some of the finest wines since 2005 in most of Spain's growing areas, but some lower-lying regions like Rueda experienced more extreme heat than normal, with subsequent loss of vivacity in the wines.

Two thousand nine in northern Spain's premier growing regions continues to be a mixed bag of thrilling, intensely flavored and concentrated wines along with others that show roasted character, loose structure, high alcohol and serious tannins due to thick grape skins.  While the tannins achieved in ripe vintages such as 2009 are beneficial to aging, what is really gained if the fruit loses its freshness?

How do they do it?  Bear in mind that most of Spain's best red wine regions are situated at higher altitudes than other growing areas in Europe, apart from the Alpine regions of Italy.  This contributes to diurnal temperature shifts that help to prolong the growing season and to preserve the natural acidity in the grapes.  Most of these vineyards also enjoy the benefit of cooling winds and, thanks to mostly arid conditions, the vines are rarely under mildew or rot pressures.  Vineyard pests are also less common in Spain than in most of Europe, so the vines can be productive well past the average lifespan of vines in cooler, more humid regions.  Indeed, many vineyards in Spain, particularly those planted on sandy soils, were never hit by the phylloxera of the late 19th century and some vines planted before and during that period are still viable.  Couple that with low land prices and production costs in areas like Calatayud, Jumilla, Yecla and Campo de Borja and you have a recipe for what I consider to be the greatest red wine values in the world.

The market today.  Anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that tastes here for Spanish wine have swung decidedly in the direction of elegance, even understatement, in recent years, especially in the upper-tier category.  That's a trend that I'm seeing for wines from across Europe, actually, if not from around the world.  Red wines made in a traditional, minimal-intervention style, with minimal new oak and moderate alcohol levels, are the fastest movers, according to most importers, wholesalers, retailers and sommeliers I talk with regularly.

That said, there is still a thriving market for oak-influenced wines in the under-$25 category from Spain, a situation that many importers handle very creatively.  Basically, an importer who works with wineries that offer wines at varying price levels will move new and used barrels around, from winery to winery, through their useful lives, which usually run up to five years.  For example, if a high-end Rioja is destined for extended aging in a new, expensive barrel, that cask might do its first couple of months of duty at a winery in, say, Calatayud or La Mancha, where an inexpensive wine is briefly aged in the barrel, to "season" or "rinse" it before it is shipped to its new home.

Alternatively, wineries that rely heavily on new barrels as part of their winemaking regimen need to move their used and unneeded barrels out to make way for new casks and new wine.  Because those barrels are now being put to use at wineries that produce modestly priced wines (the barrels have already been amortized by the primary user), many inexpensive wines now enjoy the luxury of spending at least part of their lives in a quality of oak unheard of for wines selling for under $100 a bottle, much less under $25.  That's a huge boon for the many consumers who like oak character in their wines but whose budget won't permit dropping $50+ on a daily bottle or two.  In contrast, how many people who drink everyday French, Australian or California wines will ever get to experience the sexy perfumes and textures imparted by barrels from tonneliers such as Taransaud, Chassin, Dominique Laurent and Darnajou?

As for white wines, the racy style produced in Spain's northern regions has been one of the great success stories of the wine world in recent years.  It seems like only yesterday that the words "lively, fresh and vibrant" and "Spanish white wine" were never uttered together, at least in the United States.  Now, wine lists and retail shelves are packed with current-release white wines from Rias Baixas, Rueda, Ribeiro, Valdeorras and even Basque country, whose Txakolis simply did not exist here a decade ago; today the top wines from these regions are actually allocated.  For an old-timer like me this is nothing short of astonishing.

Looking ahead.  As good as Spain is at putting excellent wine into the bottle, many producers have a lot to learn when it comes to projecting a serious image to consumers who are increasingly spoiled for choices.  Way too many wines are bottled with sub-par corks, packed in flimsy boxes, or look like they were labeled in a garage, at night, with the lights off.  On the flip side, a number of Spanish wineries are among the industry leaders when it comes to over-the-top packaging, especially in their use of oversized, overweight bottles, although I did see fewer of these this year than previously.

It would also be nice if the Spaniards could get their collective act together sufficiently, for example, to address the endlessly confusing use of regional dialect with grape varieties.  Here's a very brief cheat sheet for the most common offenders, and the synonyms you'll likely run into while exploring Spain's amazing and often bewildering range of wines:

samso = cinsault
mazuelo = carinena = carinyena = carignan
ull de llebre = tempranillo = tinto de pais = tinto de toro
garnacha = garnatxa = garnatxa negre = garnacha tinta
garnacha tintorera = alicante bouschet
sira = syrah
macabeo = macabeu = viura
monastrell = mourvedre (though there isn't universal consensus on this)

I actually see the grape names interchanged on labels from the same producer, meaning that the label for one of their wines says "garnatxa" while another says "garnacha."  Confusing the consumer is never a good business strategy, but since the Spaniards have a long history of protecting their regional, even micro-regional traditions, especially when it comes to language, don't expect things to get clearer anytime soon.

I tasted all of the wines for this article over the last few months in New York.

The Best New Roses: 2012

>Printer Friendly Reviews, Issue 10114, July 2012

All reviews were written by Josh Raynolds and were published in issue 10114 (July 2012) of Steven Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar. Original reviews can be found online at (subscription required). Tasting notes, wine and winery names, and technical information appear as published on and may contain errors in spelling and content. The wines were tasted in 2012 and reflect vintages that were current at the time.

By Josh Raynolds

Americans seem to have finally become comfortable with the fact that rose wines aren't just for summer drinking.  They also seem to be realizing that a great rose--and there are more than a few--is a truly great wine, with no apologies for being pink.  They're even coming around slowly to the realization that the best roses can actually last and improve with a little time in bottle, or even a lot of it in the case of some bottlings.  Those of us who have lost a bottle of rose in the cellar and popped it a few years later, expecting the worst, can often vouch for that but I doubt that many wine lovers are going to make a habit of laying down pink wines for the grandkids, nor do I recommend it. 

Broadly speaking, there are two types of rose: the classic version is in a delicate style made from the juice of red grapes that are pressed and and then left to macerate briefly together, which usually imparts a pale pink color.  The second style is made by the saignee method, where juice is drawn off of fermenting red wine, which typically means darker color, richer flavors and more weight.  The paler versions are well-suited to drinking by themselves or with lighter foods while the saignee renditions are usually better with food, and in many cases they can even stand in for red wines at the table.

I tasted a large number of excellent roses this year and due to the sheer volume of them we are only publishing full notes on those that I rated 88 points or above.  Those wines that scored 87 points are in the "Also recommended" section of this article, along with those that rated 86 and 85 points.  In many cases these wines sell for somewhere in the $10 range, which makes them seriously good values, so don't hesitate to try these too.  Note that there are no Spanish roses in this year's rose article as they will be included in our annual Spanish coverage, which will be published in the next issue of the IWC.

A Drink From The Porron


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