More Spanish Table Wines
The Lay of the
land...Backgrounder on Spain's Wine Regions
branch of the Palacios family was the first to cultivate vines in an
organic fashion in the Rioja region. Luis Palacios' padre
took on this work back in 1980 and the family makes some interesting and
good quality wines.
It's not a brand that's known to the average consumer of Spanish wines or
even to the Rioja aficionado as they're well below the radar.
We're enchanted by a rather curious and obscure bottling...it's a white
wine made of the Tempranillo grape.
But, no, it's not a white wine made from red grapes by the juice being
pressed away from the skins.
It's actually made from a white mutation of the red Tempranillo grape!
Some grape grower back in 1988 noticed one of his Tempranillo
vines suddenly had white (well, green, actually) grapes on it when it had
been producing red grapes for years. They propagated cuttings from
that vine and today there's a small amount of Tempranillo Blanco being grown
in the Rioja region.
Tempranillo Blanco tends to be a bit late in terms of bud-break
but it usually ripens early much like the red Tempranillo grape.
Palacios' vineyard of Tempranillo Blanco was planted in 2007. The juice
finishes its fermentation (native yeast, by the way) in American oak and it is
matured in barrel for just a couple of months.
The resulting wine shows a nice touch of wood, but the oak doesn't take center
stage. There's a mildly citrusy note.
Currently in stock: Sold Out
- MARQUÉS DE MURRIETA
- This old, amazing property came up for sale
in the 1980s and it was
purchased by Vicente Cebrián-Sagarriga, who ended up selling his holdings in radio
stations to be able to buy this historic winery. Cebrián-Sagarriga died
in the mid-1990s and
the winery is run by his son, Vicente Jr.
Located just on the outskirts of Logroño, the have something like 300 hectares of vineyards which supply all their needs.
These are in the Rioja Alta region, but in the more easterly portion
of that area. As a result, the wines are perhaps a tad bigger than
many of those which come from sites closer to Haro to the west.
They grow Tempranillo, Garnacha, Mazuelo, Graciano and Cabernet Sauvignon
for their reds and Viura for their white wine.
The cellar is full of barrels, some 13,000 of them. The winery has produced
wines under an old label called "Castillo Ygay," which are "Gran
We had met an old cellar man back in the mid-1990s who was skeptical of the new owner's
commitment to continue producing grand and glorious wines. He seemed to be won over,
however, after a few years under the Cebrián ownership.
wines used to be imported by a national liquor company. When that firm
lost interest in selling wine, Murrieta disappeared from the market.
We missed about 5 vintages of wines as Murrieta was out of the US
market...We'd send them a note periodically, encouraging them to select an
importer and come back. But this process took some time and now they
seem to be well-situated and imported by a stable company.
- The Cebrián family has been making some major
investments in the winery. They've spent $40 million to replant some
vineyard and restore the cellars. The place is a national landmark
and an historic treasure.
There's a nice show-place that's been renovated.
This old truck is a bit of an icon for the winery...
- If you go visit, they have a nice
little tasting facility. You can buy tastes of the various wines
made by Murrieta, as well as their lovely white wine from Galicia.
The 2008 vintage is very good. The blend is 86% Tempranillo, 8% Garnacha,
4% Mazuelo and 2% Garnacha. It was matured in new and seasoned
American oak barrels. The wood is noticeable, but it doesn't dominate
the wine. It's about as good a $25 bottle as you'll find
We also have a remarkable 1978 Gran Reserva Especial under the Castillo
Only ten vintages have been bottled (so far) from the 20th
Century, the 1978 being the most recent offering. The blend is 75%
Tempranillo, 10% Garnacha, 12% Mazuelo and 3% Graciano. This was matured for 216
MONTHS(!) in in American oak barrels. Yes...18 years in
We brought a bottle of this to share with wine drinking friends in Milano and it
was the wine of the night. Totally amazing. We recently shared the
bottle pictured above with a friend at a Spanish dinner in San Francisco.
The wine was older than our waiter and he was delighted to taste such a
remarkably complex wine.
We set up the wine with a dry Cava (sparkling wine) and a fruity, non-wooded red
from Spain's Priorat. The contrast between those and the 1978 Castillo
Ygay is remarkable. Despite all the time in wood, the wine still retains
an amazing level of fruit. Of course, there's a woodsy aspect to the
bouquet...nicely acidic, too. Suffice it to say this is a rare treat.
2001 Ygay Gran Reserva is exceptional.
It's 93% Tempranillo and 7% Mazuelo, if you're trying to impress your friends
and show off your incredible wine knowledge.
The wine spent 31 months in small American oak barrels and it displays the
woodsiness we love in traditionally-styled Rioja. It's one of the few $50
bottles one can buy which is actually well worth the price.
- Currently available: Marqués de Murrieta
2008 Rioja Reserva Sold Out
- 1978 Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva
Especial Sold Out
2001 CASTILLO YGAY Gran Reserva Sold Out
is a little white wine project of the Cebrián-Sagarriga
family which owns Castillo Ygay and the Marques de Murrieta brands (just
They have about 12 hectares of vineyards in the area of Ribadumia, a small
town that's 6 hours northwest of Madrid and about an hour south of
Santiago de Compostela. If you look on Wikipedia, you'll see nothing
has happened in Ribadumia since the year 1151 and even then, what someone
tried to do, did not happen.
What has happened, though, lucky for us, is many growers have planted
It grows well in this western Spain locale. Doesn't do badly a bit
south in northern Portugal, either.
And now the Albariño grape has traveled around the planet, producing wine
in South America as well as here in California.
But the benchmark versions are from Spain's Galicia region. We've
followed the wine from the Pazo Barrantes winery for a number of
years. And this is the first vintage (2012) we've brought in to the
store. It's a marvelously floral Albariño, as they've captured a
sort of white flower quality in the wine along with the vaguely spicy
element we often encounter.
Pazo Barrantes is dry and there's a faintly citrusy tone in the center
which we like (but not along the lines of New Zealand Sauvignon
Blanc)...No oak. Nice as a cocktail white and this pairs well with
seafood. And I seem to recall the wine was more expensive some years
ago...now we regard this as a good value.
Currently in stock: 2012 PAZO BARRANTES
ALBARIÑO Sold Out
Luis Alegre is a modest-sized Rioja estate with 54 hectares of
their own vineyards and another 30 which they lease and farm.
The estate was founded in 1968, so it doesn't have quite the history of some of
their historic neighbors, but they make a pretty good wine.
The vineyards are dry-farmed, a hold-over from ages ago. But in 1996 the
laws changed, allowing growers to irrigate their vineyards which might increase
yields. Alegre doesn't do that.
They also take advantage of the multi-level cellars with the use of gravity-flow
movement of their wines rather than pumping them mechanically.
don't have much experience with their wines to give a perspective on the current
It's a 2013 vintage. Medium bodied. It's said to be entirely
Tempranillo and was matured for 6 months in brand new American oak
barrels. The wood is present, but not dominating the fruit. The
tannin level is low, so it's best to drink this in the short term (next few
We like its classic styling and its price tag.
Currently in stock: 2013 KORDEN Rioja $16.99
The new cellar of Telmo Rodriguez in Rioja...
TELMO RODRIGUEZ WINES
known Telmo Rodriguez since he was affiliated with his family's winery in Rioja
ages ago. Our first vintages were during the Jimmy Carter administration
and we later visited him during the early years of the Clinton (Bill)
Telmo motors throughout Spain and has wines all around the
He's a brilliant winemaker and quite passionate about wine quality.
His wines have become a bit pricey over the years and you might not recognize
them as typical Spanish wines.
Rodriguez eschews the Riojana system for classifying wines based principally
upon how long the wines are aged in wood. Telmo studied winemaking in
Bordeaux and so perhaps his perspective on Spanish wine is different from most
vintners. And some wine drinkers, too, for that matter.
His portfolio of wines these days is vast and he makes wines in about eight or
nine different regions. With 40 hectares in Rioja and bits and
pieces in other parts of Spain, the company is presently making about a million
bottles of wine annually.
All their vineyards are biodynamically farmed and virtually all are 'head
pruned' (or bush vines, if you prefer). New vineyards are planted from
massal selections rather than getting particular clones from a
Here's a snapshot showing the top
soil and its sub-strata in Rioja near the winery.
You can see the more chalky, limestone well below...
They're located off the beaten path and there are no signs
indicating there's a winery, as Telmo keeps a low profile.
Here's a snapshot of the fermentation cellar.
A view of those tanks from below...
There's a cellar with some oak cooperage...
Presently we have none of their wines in the shop...we hope to bring in a couple
of wines shortly.
In the meantime, we can always special
order Telmo's wines.
- Beronia is a
winery founded in the 1970s and sold to a large Sherry company, Gonzalez
Byass, makers of Tio Pepe and some fantastically good Sherries...
The original plan was to produce Reserva and Gran Reserva wines. Under
Gonzalez Byass' ownership, though, the Beronia brand makes the entire range
of Rioja wines.
The fermentation cellar is fairly standard, although at the far end,
you'll notice some small oak barrels.
And you'll notice these are stained not only on the staves, but the barrel
heads are covered with wine splatterings, too.
- Beronia has been making a special bottling of Tempranillo
which is actually fermented in these barrels, making for a messy time
during the fermentation.
- They have a beautiful cellar full of barricas, too!
- At the far end of this cellar, there's a gate with some older
vintages being bottled aged.
found the 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 Reserva wines to be quite good and now the
2011 has arrived and it
continues their small string of good wines.
The wine is matured in a curious barrel. The staves are made of the
typical American oak used in many cellars in Spain. But the barrel
'heads' are actually French wood! This has been one of their
secrets for several vintages.
We like the woodsy aspect of the 2011 Reserva. It shows nice fruit and
the oak we like in typical Rioja reds. It's 93% Tempranillo, 5%
Graciano and 2% Mazuelo. It really is showy if you set it up with a
glass of Cava or a non-oaked white...
- They make a wine called Elaboracion Especial and it's a Tempranillo that's given a cold-soak on the
skins prior to the fermentation and then the must (skins and juice) go into
barrel...it's fermented in oak and undergoes its secondary, malolactic
fermentation in wood. (Labor intensive!)
The resulting wine has nice dark fruit aromas and there's a good bit of
American oak. The local importer has stopped carrying this as they are,
for some reason, not able to find enough customers for this wonderful wine.
Stay tuned...perhaps it will surface again one of these days.
Currently in stock: 2011 BERONIA Rioja Reserva Sold Out
2008 BERONIA Elaboracion Especial Rioja Tempranillo Sold Out
The fellow on the left is Íñigo Manso de Zúñiga Ugartechea, the
"count" (or Conde in Spanish) of Hervias in the town of
Torremontalbo in Spain's Rioja region. By the way, I've seen the
town signs also read "Torremontalvo," so I wish they'd make up
their mind and pick a spelling.
He owns some parcels of vines which were planted BEFORE the phylloxera
root louse devastated vineyards in Spain. These are seriously old
vines and those vines were responsible, we understand, for helping the
Rioja region replant its vineyards.
Torremontalbo, however, has some very sandy soils and phylloxera cannot
deal with that kind of "terroir."
It's a town located close to the river and we understand there's been a
small population explosion...the town had all of 12 residents and as of a
year or two ago, this jumped all the way to 15 as of 2013!
The fruit from these vineyards had been sold to Campo Viejo and Muga until
an enterprising importer convinced Íñigo to start making his own wine.
Having been schooled in France, Íñigo has a sense of balance in making
his wines, but his Conde de Hervias bottling is a full-throttle,
pedal-to-the-metal Rioja which strikes me as leaning towards the
traditional side of the spectrum, while displaying a lot of intense black
fruit notes. I find it to be a very showy wine and, surprisingly,
it's not his most expensive, top-of-the-line red wine!
The higher-tier bottling is more elegant, perhaps, but the 2011 Torre del
Conde de Hervias Rioja is more expressive and flashy. It has a fair
contribution from its oak aging, so you'll find notes of cedar, cinnamon,
vanillin and maybe a hint of a clove spice. I'd say it quite
drinkable now, especially with grilled red meats. It may age nicely,
too, but given how showy it is presently, being able to resist such a
charmer is unlikely.
Currently in stock: 2011 TORRE DE CONDE DE HERVIAS
- MARQUÉS DE RISCAL
owned by the heirs of the founder, Camilo
Hurtado de Amézaga, this old-time property experienced a period of decline during the
mid-1970s until the mid-1980s. We'd been disappointed for many years. I
suppose the stinging criticism of their wines caused some soul searching and investment in
the cellar, when they purchased a slew of new cooperage. We had a wonderful visit
to the cellar in 1995, tasting their Sauvignon Blanc from nearby Rueda, along with a lovely
red Reserva. Not to mention an ancient, well-stored vintage from the
- Camilo had been living in Bordeaux in the 1830s and
by 1850-something came back to Rioja to employ French winemaking methods
using Spanish grapes. He was the first to use small oak barrels and
his wines became quite popular, even with Spanish royalty. Marques de
Riscal, to prevent others from counterfeiting his wines, then began a long
tradition of wrapping the bottles in wine mesh to guarantee the bottle had
not been tampered with!
Riscal still uses a wire mesh wrapping for its bottles.
That golden wire is used to wrap bottles of Riscal wines, years ago it
being a guarantee and these days almost a signature.
It was intended as a guarantee that the wine was authentic and bottled at
Riscal. It seems, decades ago, there was a chance of counterfeits.
And look where we are today with some wines! Some wineries have
special ink, special label paper or even a security hologram on the bottles
as a means of authenticating the wine.
Over the past decade they've built a fancy hotel and restaurant facility on
the property. It's one of those 'luxury' hotels where a low-end room
will set you back about $500-$750 a night!
Riscal has launched a
special, old-vines cuvee called Baron de Chirel. As the original vineyards were
planted with some Cabernet Sauvignon, Riscal is allowed to incorporate Cabernet into its
wines and still label them as "Rioja." This is not the case for wineries
wishing to plant Cabernet today. This situation will probably change in the coming
years. In any case, Baron de Chirel is now produced in relatively
small quantities...they used to make well more than a 100,000 bottles.
Now they're making between 12,000 and 20,000 bottles of Chirel.
And the owners purchased another Rioja winery called Marques de Arienzo from
Pernod Ricard. Along with the winery, they acquired something like 300
more hectares of land (not all of it planted with vines, though). As
of these days, then, Riscal has about 500 hectares of vineyards of their own
and nearly double that in vineyards which are rented/leased or controlled.
We visited in 2014 and it was clear they've been renovating numerous cellars
and buildings on the property.
They have a wonderful fermentation cellar for their top cuvees.
And those special wines are matured in a particular cellar...
Another one of their barrel cellars...
After a barrel has been "racked" (emptied), the cellar worker
tosses it to his colleagues who guide it to land on that old truck tire (so it
And then another fellow rolls the barrel to another part of the cellar to be
cleaned and sanitized.
We taste each and every vintage of their 'regular' bottling and these are
usually nice. The 2013 is a medium+ bodied red with mildly woodsy
You can tell by the fragrance that this is a wine from Rioja.
Tempranillo is the predominant grape with a small amount of Graciano and Mazuelo
in the blend.
2001 Gran Reserva, on the other hand, was a magnificent bottle. The wine is
85% Tempranillo (from vines older than 30 years), 10% Graciano and 5%
"other." It's been matured in American oak barrels for
2-and-a-half years, or so, before being bottle-aged prior to its release.
The color is medium-dark ruby and it offers a lovely bouquet of sweet,
woodsy oak. On the palate the wine is fairly full without being
heavy. The tannins are balanced with the fruit, so it's fairly supple,
especially with food. The 2001 seems a bit more forward than the 1999
was at a similar stage. It's showing well now and I don't think
it's going to blossom further, so you might as well enjoy it now. We
suspect it will hold nicely for another 5 years, or so.
- Currently available: 2001 RISCAL Rioja Gran
Reserva Sold Out
RISCAL 2013 Reserva $19.99
EL COTO DE
the Napa Valley we have Stag's Leap...In Rioja they have El Coto, another
brand with a stag or deer as its logo. The winery was founded by a
group of friends who were wine aficionados and the enterprise was backed
by an industrial bank. And five years later, in 1975, the first
fruit of their labor came to market.
A few years later, a fellow from the bank was appointed manager of the
winery and today Eduardo Santos Ruiz is still at the helm of El Coto.
But the boulevard from the 1970s until today had been a winding
road. The bank sold the business to the Bass brewing group with
Santos Ruiz still calling the shots. Things went so well, they
allowed him to set up his own winery a few kilometers away and this is
called "Baron de Ley" and that brand has a somewhat different
philosophy towards winemaking.
In 1990 the Bass folks thought they'd be happier making money in the hotel
business, so they put the winery up for sale and bought the Holiday Inn
chain with the proceeds. And who bought the place? Eduardo
Santos Ruiz! He got the backing of a private equity fund to finance
the purchase and so today El Coto and Baron de Ley are sister
companies. When the financiers wanted to divest themselves of the
wine business, the winery became publicly-traded and it's listed on the
Bolsa de Madrid. And they're doing very well, gracias!
Here's their stock value over a time period coinciding with the
production of a bottle of Rioja Gran Reserva (5 years).
The winery continues to meet with great commercial success in its home
market and they've had the idea of re-investing the profits back into the
vineyards and the cellar, rather than pay stockholders a
They own more than 1100 hectares of vineyards and this is not sufficient,
so they have contracts with growers around Rioja, buying fruit from
non-estate vineyards. ((They maintain close ties to these farmers,
directing the viticultural practices and rewarding growers for high
In strolling around the El Coto grounds, you won't find museum-like
show-places. The design of the place seems to be geared to
As you can see...a fairly normal fermentation and holding tank cellar...
And they have the tanks hooked up to a computer so the enologists can monitor
and regulate fermentation temperature, pump-overs, etc.
The fellow showing me around is Iñigo
Echavarri, longtime Rioja resident and wine aficionado.
They have more than 70,000 barrels and El Coto replaces them frequently, so
their red wines tend to show a nicely woodsy character from aging in these 'barricas.'
And, yes, they have millions of bottles of wines "aging" in their
The one "little" extravagance they've permitted themselves is this
lovely hospitality center for wine tasting and events.
The entry level wines are perfectly fine 'little wines' and
well-made, but if you step up to the Reserva level, you get a much more serious
bottle of wine.
We've had several vintages of the Reserva "making the cut" here at the
shop. We currently have the 2010 in stock, a wine made entirely of
Tempranillo. The fruit comes predominantly from vineyards in the area of
Cenicero (Rioja Alta) and we like the dill and coconut notes from the oak.
It's a medium-bodied red with a supple texture since it's not especially tannic
thanks to its aging in oak and then in bottle.
They have a new direction for their Coto Real wine and the 2010 I tasted was off
the charts! It was a really impressive bottle of wine with dark fruit and
great depth. I wonder if this wine will make its way to California???
Currently in stock: 2010 COTO DE IMAZ Rioja Reserva
SALE Sold Out
The winery changed its importer for California and the wines are not
available to us presently.
winery was founded in 1890 and it has long been a traditional Rioja
producer, making wines of classic style and they've not changed to meet
the demands of today's wine critics.
We had not seen their wines in a number of years and were curious to see
how they tasted today when a sales rep brought in a bottle to taste.
It was/is their 2004 Viña Albina Reserva.
Oh my! It was like meeting a dear old friend you've not seen for a
number of years!!
Yes, it's the same style we remember, with medium ruby color, not inky
black as is so fashionable today. The fragrances were
striking: woodsy notes with hints of dill, lumber-yard fragrances
from the extended aging in American oak, notes of red fruits...
On the palate the wine is medium-bodied, not heavy. It's dry, not
sweet and it's nicely acidic, not flabby and flat as are so many of
today's high-scoring New World bottlings.
The winery, though, is proud of their technological advances and they
point out that simply because they make traditional wine does not mean
they don't employ modern technology. Yes, apparently they have
electricity and indoor plumbing at the winery.
They have some old vintages stashed in their
Like our other favorite Rioja wineries, La Rioja Alta, Lopez Heredia and
CUNE, this vintner makes wines for the table. You may not find these
to be the belle of the ball in a blind tasting, but paired with some good
friends and good food, this is a delightful bottle of wine. The
wines of this vintner may be a shade 'rustic,' as well. Not every
vintage hits the mark for us.
We currently have their 2001 Monte Real which is 80% Tempranillo, 15%
Mazuelo and 5% Graciano. It's aged for two to two-and-a-half years
in American oak, though we find the wood to be a bit less pronounced than
similar wines from other Rioja producers. It's a medium-bodied red,
fairly supple and nicely ready to drink.
Currently in stock: BODEGAS RIOJANAS 2004 Viña
Albina Sold Out
BODEGAS RIOJANAS 2001 "MONTE REAL" Sale $39.99