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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
This 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 shape!)

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 new ones.
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 secure.

 
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 vintage.

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 wines. 

We  hosted a dinner and opened a 1954 vintage...mighty fine and it blossomed nicely with airing.

 

 
 

 

2003 GRAVONIA (Blanco)
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 season.

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

We 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 heavy handed.  
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 RED  $27.99

 


 
 

QUINTA DE COUSELO

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 vintage.

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 anybody's guess.

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  $19.99

 



 "TXAKOLINA"
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 catch.

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" wine.  



The Spanish drink most of the Txakoli produced in this small Basque area.  Only a few bottles of the million (or so) are exported.  


So...you know the people of this region are Basque.  Do you know what their kids are called?
Basquettes!

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 

 


ALION
This is the property adjacent to the fabled Vega Sicilia winery in the Ribera del Duero region.  

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 drinking.

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.
Phenomenal wine.

  
Tempranillo is the grape, but the wines are of Cabernet intensity.  

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 two, well-stored.

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








VEGA SICILIA
Much 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 significant importance.

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 fellow.

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 wines.

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 Valbuena).  
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 my passport!

Huh?  I'm visiting what I thought was a winery, not the Pentagon.  

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 for this.

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 professional bouncer.

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...

 

 

So...

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 Merlot-like notes.

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 $399.99
2000 VEGA SICILIA UNICO $379.99
2003 VALBUENA $169.99
2004 VALBUENA $149.99









CARBALLAL  --   7 CEPAS ALBARINO

The 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  $13.99

 
 

 

FINCA VIÑOA


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 Treixadura, 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.
 
 

Currently in stock:  FINCA VIÑOA 2014 Ribeiro  $19.99


BODEGAS Puiggròs

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 alive.)

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 food.

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"   $26.99

 

 

 

 




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