4th of JULY:
More Spanish Table Wines
The iconic Txori-Toki tower of Lopez de Heredia...the words Txori-Toki are
Basque and translate to something like the "bird house."
- LÓPEZ DE HEREDIA
is one of those "old world" producers which is truly "old
world." Though it's in the hands of the third Generation, not much has changed at this venerable Rioja estate since they
got indoor plumbing back in the...well, whenever they got indoor plumbing.
While we live in a hurry-up, fast-paced world, these folks still cling to
something called "tradition." And it's a wonderful
tradition, at that. But I daresay it's not a style of wine that is
easily understood by today's "gobs-of-fruit" or "hedonistic
experience-seeking" wine drinker looking for in-your-face wines with
plenty of extract (and then some) and a forest-full of new wood.
Stepping into the cellars of Lopez de Heredia is like entering a time
machine and setting it for something close to a hundred years ago.
Maria José, Mercedes and Julio César seem committed to retaining the place
much as Grandpa had left it.
Much of the equipment in the winery is from the old days.
- Maybe the electric lights are a concession to modernity...they ferment
in those large oak vats, some of which are more than a hundred years old!
So this property is one of those rare "keepers of the flame,"
so-to-speak. Old time Rioja wines. Here is it: 2014 and they're
just releasing a 1994 vintage wine in their line-up of Gran Reserva reds and the
1991 Tondonia white is just hitting the market!
In this day in age when most 3 year old California Chardonnay is considered
"old," it's amazing to have just received a ten year old white
from Spain! (I tasted their 1964 white and it is still in tip-top
I'd tasted the Viña Tondonia Blanco from 1981 on numerous occasions.
It's a curious wine and, frankly, maybe "practice makes perfect"
because I only recently was able to understand and appreciate this
wine. It's predominantly Viura with a small percentage of
Malvasia. The wine spent some 6 years in barrel and then they give it
another long "rest" in bottle.
They have thousands of old 'barricas' and there are a few fellows
employed to keep those barrels in good condition, as well as making a few
But you won't find the wines from Lopez Heredia to be oaky...
In addition to something like 14,000 barrels, they have a large cellar
full of wines aging in bottle.
The Spanish call these cellars full of venerable bottles the "cementerio"
which translates roughly to the "cemetery."
The mold you see here covers the walls and bottles...it's said to act
like a sponge to some degree, helping keep the humidity level in check.
Elvira showed us through the cellars and winery...
They buy oak and season it themselves before turning the wood into staves
and, ultimately, a barrel.
The cooper's workshop.
- The fellow was working on that barrica and soon placed another
hoop on it. Then he hammered the hoop into place so it would be
- This line-up of staves would soon become a 'barrica.'
Some of the tools of the cooper's trade...
Another unusual wine is their Rosado. Yes. Imagine a Rosado
that's aged for a decade before being released!
Nothing happens quickly at Lopez de Heredia...And a recent vintage was so
popular it caught the Lopez Heredia folks by surprise...they'd not made the
Rosado for a few vintages as sales had been slow...and then, suddenly, it
was in demand and the remaining supply was exhausted...so it'll be a while
before it re-appears and they must give it a long time in the cellar to come
around! I think 2016 is the next release and that will be the 2008
The Rosado was made from Tempranillo (30%), Garnacha (60%) and Viura
(10%). In a time when Napa vintners leave a dark, big Cabernet in wood
for 12 months, Lopez de Heredia allows this slumber for four years in
barrel. It's bottled unfiltered, too. The wine has an onion skin
color and, as you might expect of a ten+ year old "pink" wine,
it's not especially fruity.
Their wonderful Viña Tondonia reds are a marvel. If you have an
appreciation for old Barolo or old Burgundy, this is a wine you may find to
be to your taste. The color is brickish, along the lines of old
Barolo. This spends about 6 years in wood and they lay it away for
another 6 in bottle before seeing the light of day. Yet for all that
time in oak, the wines are not woody.
We have some bottles of their 2002 Reserva in stock. These are
best paired with simply-seasoned red meats or a selection of cheeses.
I also recently obtained, directly from the winery, a few bottles of some of
their library wines. They are listed below. These are all mature
We hosted a dinner and opened a 1954 vintage...mighty fine and it
blossomed nicely with airing.
The 2003 Gravonia struck a chord with us...
It's made entirely of Viura, yet comparisons with some white Burgundies
might be appropriate. This was matured for about 4 years in wood and
then bottled unfiltered.
The wine has a mildly smoky character with a stony element, which is why we
first had a flashback to white Burgundy. But there's a touch of a waxy
note, which is somewhat reminiscent of Semillon wines and a faint tone of a
Fino Sherry. The wine shows the ripe character of the hot 2003 growing
The Lopez Heredia folks expect this can cellar nicely for another
decade. Maybe. It's pretty nice right now if you appreciate
older white wines.
If you don't, well, never mind.
- Currently in stock: 1981 VIÑA TONDONIA BLANCO Special
Order $240 Gran Reserva
1985 VIÑA TONDONIA $225.99
1964 VIÑA TONDONIA $399.99
1970 VIÑA TONDONIA $299.99
1978 VIÑA TONDONIA $229.99
2000 ROSADO Sold Out
2003 GRAVONIA BLANCO $28.99
2002 VIÑA TONDONIA Reserva $44.99
1994 VIÑA TONDONIA Gran Reserva SALE $99.99
1998 VIÑA TONDONIA Blanco $49.99
ECCOMI or ECCOCI
came across an interesting producer from Spain's Girona region, north of
Barcelona. North of there, you'll find the Collioure and Banyuls
appellations on the French side of the border...to the south is Barcelona
and the Penedes wine region (and a bit further down the road is the
Priorat region). It's a location where grape growing seems to have
died out ages ago. San Martí Vell.
There's an inactive volcano in this area of Catalonia and the vineyard for
Eccomi are planted at the base of this site. We understand the
vineyard is situated within some sort of nature park called Les Gavarres.
This enterprise seems to include people from various cultures. The
name is Italian, as the ownership (apparently) hails from Italia.
Enologists working with this enterprise have had French blood running
through their veins.
They planted a number of French varieties including Viognier, Roussanne
and Petit Manseng for their white wine. For the red, there's a
hybrid called Marselan (Grenache and Cabernet...a variety produced in
France in the early 1960s and not exactly widely-planted), Petit Verdot,
Merlot and Cabernet Franc.
We tasted the wines and found them to be surprisingly good. In our
searching for wines, we sort of have the idea that French grapes do best
in France, Italian varieties shine in Italy and typical Spanish varieties
flourish in Spain. We were not looking for a wine made of
Marselan (who is, really?) with Cabernet Franc and Merlot.
And customers looking for Spanish reds typically request wines
from Rioja, Ribera del Duero or some sort of Garnacha wine...not many are
looking for the ripe reds of Priorat or the dark fruit bombs coming from the
Toro region. And virtually nobody stops by with a request for wine from
Girona that's made of the Marselan hybrid. Nobody.
But this wine was too good to not share with our friends.
It's from vineyards planted in well-drained volcanic soils and someone had a
good handle on the winemaking, styling this with a theme of "Bordeaux Meets
Spain." We like the notes of dark fruit on the nose, though the wine
merely hints at Cabernet Sauvignon...and the oak is prominent, without being
It's a fairly full-bodied red, but not heavy. The tannin level is such
that it's drinkable now and even smoother with food.
This is a nice little discovery...off the beaten path,
interesting, good quality and well-priced. I think they could come up with
a more suitable name than "Super Premium Red," but this is to distinguish
this bottling from their "Premium Red."
Currently in stock: ECCOMI 2008 SUPER PREMIUM
- This little estate was once in the hands of a monastery before being
acquired in the late 1800s by the
Vicente family. They sold is to a fellow named Carlos Mouriño, who
also owns a Spanish soccer (futbol) team called Celta de Vigo. The
team is not exactly the New York Yankees or San Francisco Giants of recent
Luckily for Mouriño, his winery is a winner!
- They make a wonderful Albariño. We missed a number of vintages
and were delighted to taste the 2015. The fruit comes from vineyards
on slate and granite and the resulting wine shows a mildly stony
quality. Whether or not the soil contributes this minerality is
When you taste the wine you'll immediately sense it's not the work of a
big, corporate drinks company. The aromas are mildly fruity,
recalling lemon and a streak of peach. It's dry and crisp, so the
acidity lends itself to service with seafood (and how!). There's
nothing really fancy about the wine apart from they farm for quality as
there's a gorgeously intense character of Albariño with that hint of
spice lurking in the background.
If you're a fan of Chablis, this Spanish white may tickle your fancy.
It's been extremely popular and most customers who've tried a bottle have
returned for a second or a case!
Currently in stock: 2015 TURONIA ALBARIÑO
- There's a small town by the Bay of Biscay in Basque
country called Getaria. The only hotel in town has but about four or five rooms.
There are numerous restaurants scattered around town, all serving incredibly fresh
fish. Getaria is a fishing village, well-known, it seems, in the gourmet community.
The small fishing fleet departs every night, returning in the morning with their
The recipe for preparing the fish is simple: an open wood fire, the fish, salt and
olive oil. The fish is set on the grill, cooked for the appropriate amount of time
before being dished up and topped with a drizzling of olive oil.
We paid something like $60 (this is ten years ago) for a two-pound fish.
The wine to go with this marvelous
seafood is called "Txakolina" or "Chacoli."
Most Txakolina wines are made from a blend of red and white grapes, the red
being vinified as without skin contact so as to make a "white"
The Spanish drink most of the Txakoli produced in this small Basque
area. Only a few bottles of the million (or so) are
So...you know the people of this region are Basque. Do you know what their kids are
We do have some bottles of the Txomin Etxaniz 2015...lovely, crisp, but
seemingly less dry seafood white.
- Currently in stock:
Txomin Etxaniz 2015 Txakolina $24.99
- This is the property adjacent to
the fabled Vega Sicilia winery in the Ribera del Duero
The owners, the Alvarez family, wanted to produce a more modern-styled wine
as a counterpart to the traditionally-made Vega Siclia wines.
Its wines are far more modern than Vega Sicilia and anybody with half a
palate is certain to appreciate the wine of this estate. Unfortunately the modest
production is highly-regarded by anybody who knows anything about Spanish wines. We
receive a small allocation each vintage and this is snapped up by savvy wine buyers.
The vineyards for Alion cover about 130 hectares, split amongst three
sites. More than half of the Alion vineyards are situated in the Vega
Sicilia estate. There are 30 hectares around the Alion winery and
another 30 in the town of Pesquera de Duero.
The wine is made entirely of the Tinto Fino grape, also known as
Tempranillo. The grapes are hand-harvested and then put onto a sorting
table for further selection. They insist on fermenting the juice in
large wooden tanks and these are replaced after perhaps just five vintages!
After the fermentation, the wine spends between 14 to 20 months in small
French oak barrels. They use wood you'd typically find in top Bordeaux
cellars. Once the wine is racked into tank for bottling, the barrels
are sold to other wineries...this wine gets the "Grand Cru"
treatment at every step.
On a trip to Europe not too long ago, our pal Norbert opened a bottle of the 1992 vintage....a fabulous
wine. This was still deep ruby-red in color and had the woodsy, cedary notes we
found when we first tasted this wine in 1995 at Vega Sicilia. Paired with
pan-roasted lamb, this bottle was quickly emptied by the trio in attendance that fine
evening. Good thing Norbert has another bottle or two in his cellar near Frankfurt!
We brought a bottle of the 1997 to a dinner in San Francisco in September of
2016...the wine was a shade past its peak, but still quite good and worth
The 2004 and 2006 are currently in stock...these are dynamite red wines and
it's a pity California wine drinkers don't explore these wines more
frequently. They're not inexpensive, of course, but they do compare
handsomely to hundred-buck Napa reds.
A bottle of the 2004, opened in October of 2016, was stellar. Still
youthful on one hand, and evolved and complex on the other. I was
dining with a friend from the East Coast and was putting the cork in the
bottle. There was maybe 20% of the wine still in that bottle but she
said "What the hell are you doing? You can't take that back to
the shop. We're going to drink it!"
And we did.
Tempranillo is the grape, but the wines are of Cabernet
Matured entirely in new French oak,
these have nice cedary, woodsy notes and plenty of dark fruit. They
are showing beautifully at the moment and can probably go another decade, or
We have the 2012 in stock as the most recent vintage. This, like that
2004, is "a killer." If you share this with someone who
doesn't find it to be a profound, remarkably fine bottle, then they should
not be drinking wine.
Currently in stock:
2004 Alion $109.99
2012 ALION $94.99
like Sassicaia was one of the first Italian wines of "serious"
quality to make a splash in international markets, Spain's Vega Sicilia has
long been that county's wine ambassador as an elite red wine.
The property traces its history back to the 1860s. At that time, the
owner ventured to France's Bordeaux region to buy vine cuttings. He
returned with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and, curiously, Pinot
Noir. For many years, however, the estate was perhaps more devoted to
cattle than it was to viticulture and wine. In fact, they produced
brandy from their vineyards and table wine was not, apparently, of
Wine from this estate in Ribera del Duero made a bit of a splash in 1929 at
the World's Fair in Barcelona. Prior to that, however, wine was made
for home consumption to share with friends and family. The estate had
a succession of owners and until 1982 it was in the hands of a Venezuelan
At that point Vega Sicilia (it was originally called Pago de la Vega
Santa Cecilia y Carrascal) was purchased by the Álvarez Mezquíriz
family. And they've invested heavily in the vineyards, winery and its
We first tasted wine of this fabled winery just about the time the ownership
had changed...we were driving from Portugal into Spain for a small tour and
our first night, stumbled into a fancy restaurant which had Vega Sicilia on
its wine list. In those days, there was the top bottling, "Unico,"
a Reserva Especial and two reds given less time in wood, both called
Valbuena (the estate was, in 1840-something, owned by the Marquis de
They made a Three-Years-in-Wood Valbuena and a Five-Years-in-Wood bottling.
I was so excited to see these on the wine list, I ordered two. We sat
in an empty dining room in a 1950s-fancy restaurant and I suppose the waiter
thought we were out of our minds ordering a couple of bottles to drink there
and then asking if we could buy one "to go." But the wines
from Vega Sicilia are hard to get and finding them is not easy.
A decade, or so, later, I was touring Spain with some friends and we
had an appointment at this fabled estate. We'd just visited Alejandro
Fernandez' estate of Pesquera, the "new kid" on the Ribera del
Duero block at that time.
We drove up to the Vega Sicilia estate and found the place to be fenced in
with a security office and crossing gate at the entrance. I went up to
the fellow and presented a business card, explaining we had an appointment
with the export manager. The security guard then demanded I hand over
Huh? I'm visiting what I thought was a winery, not the
I showed him the fax from the export director, figuring that ought to be
sufficient and he again insisted upon my passport. Had I been by
myself, I may have driven off, but my friends were intent upon seeing this
place and tasting its fabled wines and showing my passport was a small price
It turns out the owners of Vega Sicilia, the Alvarez family, owns a
humungous company which provides security guard services, landscaping
services and janitorial services around the world. Apparently they use
their own services at the winery and so the doorway is blocked by a
Well, we visited the estate, seeing lovely vineyards, a spotless cellar and
we tasted some remarkable wines.
They had also just invested in a Hungarian property and were making a Tokaji
called "Oremus." The export manager was positively shedding
tears of joy as he told us of the glories of this new acquisition and the
fabled sweet wine being made there.
The Cellars of Vega Sicilia...
They make a number of really good wines.
Valbuena comes only in one bottling, whereas years ago they had a three year old
and a five year old version. Today it's basically a "five year"
cycle. The wine comes from younger vineyards (currently averaging about 25
years of age) on the estate and it's predominantly Tempranillo with a percentage
of Merlot and a drop of Cabernet Sauvignon.
The 2004 Valbuena is a lovely wine...a bit of dark red fruit and a mildly
leathery note on the nose and palate. It struck me as a somewhat more
interesting wine than the cherryish 2005 Valbuena which seemed to have more
The 2000 vintage of Unico is approximately 93% Tempranillo and 7% Cabernet
Sauvignon. It comes from low-yielding vineyard and older vines, at
that. It was matured first in those large wood vats for 15 months...then
nearly 2 years in small barrels, followed by 15 months in what they describe as
"semi-new" cooperage (your guess is as good as mine) before another 2
years in those large wood vats. So...yes, more than 6 years in cooperage
and then it's given about 3 years in bottle before being offered to the
market. And then you have to know someone to be able to make a purchase
and drop hundreds of dollars for a bottle.
Is it worth its lofty price?
Well, it is an expensive wine, but then I'm shocked these days to see how much
one must pay to acquire a bottle of Lafite or Latour or Mouton. I guess I
can rationalize it in that perspective.
Currently available: 1998 VEGA SICILIA UNICO
2000 VEGA SICILIA UNICO $379.99
2003 VALBUENA $169.99
2004 VALBUENA $149.99
CARBALLAL -- 7 CEPAS ALBARINO
Vasquez Abal brothers run this small estate in Galicia, a farm started by
their Padre Benito.
The name of the property stems from the oak trees, called "carballos"
in the local Galician slang, which had been planted there.
They have two vineyard sites and these are rather small. As a
result, there's not much wine produced by this little estate.
We have a lovely Albarino called Sete Cepas (a play on 7 vines
and a reference to the 7 brothers of the Hermanos Vasquez family) and this is
blended with a bit of Loureiro and Treixadura. It's a dry, non-oaked white
wine...perfect as a cocktail wine and it pairs handsomely with seafood.
This can nicely set up a traditionally-made Tempranillo, so do consider that...
Currently in stock: 7 CEPAS 2015 ALBARINO
The Finca Viñoa estate comes from the Ribeiro region, just north of the
Portuguese border with Spain. The region was well-regarded ages ago
for its sweet wines, as they made Ribadavia, a wine
vinified from dried grapes.
This area is about 5 hours' drive north and west of Madrid or maybe an
hour south of Santiago de Campostela.
The region is not on most wine drinker's radar.
The Finca Viñoa project was launched by José and Javier González in the
mid-1990s. Today they have vineyards spread amongst some 23 parcels
called socalcos tallying to 10 hectares. These are terraced sites,
for the most part. Finca Viñoa is one of three main vineyard sites
and they've chosen that name for their brand.
No Chardonnay, thank you. But they do cultivate
Godello, Albariño and Loureira.
We like the mildly citrusy notes we find in this wine, with a yellow fruit
sort of character, as well. No oak. Quite dry and crisp, so it
can stand on the dinner table in place of a good Sancerre, but maybe less
aromatic than a French Sauvignon Blanc.
We have the 2014 vintage in stock presently.
in stock: FINCA VIÑOA 2014 Ribeiro
- The Puiggròs boys (they're cousins) decided to jump into the wine
business in 2008. Their family had owned vineyards in Catalonia
since 1843 but they, apparently, didn't want to rush into anything
hastily, so 165 years into it, Vincens and Josep took the plunge and
started making wine for a living.
They're about an hour west of Barcelona, way up in the hills. The
elevation is fairly high, ranging from nearly 1500 feet to 2000 and they
get cooling breezes in the afternoons off the Mediterranean sea.
Puiggròs cultivates Carignane, Grenache Blanc, Grenache and Sumoll.
(This last grape is rather obscure these days, but it was commonly planted
all over Catalonia many years ago...it's a large berried variety but tends
not to produce an economically-rewarding crop. Josep Puiggròs is an
expert on Sumoll or Sumoi and is passionate about keeping this variety
We appreciate the general philosophy of the Puiggròs cousins:
"When drinking a
wine, one should think of its aroma, its color, its density, but also
about the life within; life that begins in the Earth, nurtured by the rays
of the sun, educated by the hand of the cultivator, through the time
devoted to its maturation, and last, but not least, the dedication,
patience and the "sentits" of its creator."
- Sentits translates to
something like "senses" in a literal fashion but perhaps
"feelings" or "emotions" are also good terms for
this. And they call the wines "Sentits."
We are fans of their 2011 "Sentits" red wine made from
Grenache. "Sentits Negres" is how the wine is labeled.
- It's made from 60+ year old "Garnatxa Negra" and they consider
vineyards 60 years of age to be "old." I used to, also,
when I was 30 years old, but not so much these days.
The fruit is hand-harvested from head-pruned vines. Fermentation is
conducted using indigenous yeast.
It spent a bit more than a year in small French oak barrels.
We like the plummy dark fruit notes of this wine and there's a touch of
wood here, too. It's medium-full bodied on the palate and has a
light touch of tannin which is smoothed out by pairing the wine with good
If your paella has sausages and chicken (or rabbit), this is a good
match. It can also be paired with grilled or roasted meats.
Currently in stock: 2011 BODEGAS PUIGGRÒS GARNATXA
NEGRA "Old Vines" "Sentits Negres"