September 4, 2017
SPAIN: Table Wines
Pesquera is the name of the town where you'll find this fabulous, famous
We met Alejandro Fernandez back in the late 1970s, tasting an
extraordinary Spanish wine of his "Pesquera" label. Prior
to this, the most extraordinary Spanish wines were produced by the storied
Vega Sicilia winery as well as the Torres family in the Penedès region on
Spain's east coast. I'd tasted Vega Sicilia and wondered why people
got so excited over nail-polish remover costing more than a hundred
dollars a bottle. Torres made a superb wine called "Gran
Coronas Black Label" for which they seem to have lost the recipe
(imagine: their 1970 aced out Chateau Latour 1970 in a prestigious tasting
in France which they still talk about today and yet they've drastically
changed the style of the wine).
Along came Fernandez and his unheralded wine called Pesquera. Here
was a guy who was not a "spring chicken" who was starting to
make wine of an extraordinary character. I read that Alejandro was a
carpenter and a bit of a tinkerer, designing and manufacturing some sort
of beet-harvesting machine.
This fellow seemed surprised at being received by the people he was
visiting with such warmth and admiration. I'd be surprised if the
beet farmers around Spain were quite as adoring as wine drinkers who had
discovered his amazing nectar!
Early vintages of Pesquera were phenomenal. Quite different from the
wine made by their competitors at Vega Sicilia, Pesquera was dark in
color, rich in ripe fruit and lavishly-oaked. Despite the obvious
use of significant percentages of new barrels, the wines were not
"woody" tasting. Here was "modern" wine.
Modern by the standards set by the Vega Sicilia neighbors who left wine
for a decade in a barrel. Pesquera was left for 18-24 months in
barrel, much like Bordeaux or top Napa Cabernets.
Recent vintages have been good, but either our taste buds have changed or
competing wineries are making wines in a similar quality neighborhood so
that Pesquera doesn't run away from the field in blind-tasting
comparisons. I suspect the fabulous increase in the quality level of so
many wines from around Spain has something to do with this
Special bottlings are offered from time to time, Reserva, Grande Reserva
and Janus. These seem to be much in demand around the world, as
collectors have read enough favorable reviews from just about every eno-scribe
on the planet. Combine that demand with the requests from top
restaurants within Spain and you can understand why Pesquera is now a rare
bottle of wine.
also owns another property which is called Condado de Haza. This
comes from a stretch of land along the Duero river which is
south-facing. This wine is usually a shade lighter than Pesquera,
but often equally interesting. The top wine of the estate is called
Alenza, a combination of ALEjandro and EsperaNZA, his wife.
The first Condado de Haza wines were made at Pesquera, but now there is a
separate winemaking facility to process the fruit from the hundreds of
acres of Tempranillo at this estate.
Currently in stock:
Nothing...Waiting to taste something worthy of
Rebolledo was an attorney, but he had been bitten by the wine bug along
the road to being a lawyer.
He decided to take care of some old vineyard parcels at his family's
estate and he grafted their old vines over to the Godello grape for the
white wine and Mencía for the red. The property is in A Rúa de
Valdeorras and it's at a fairly high elevation, so they have a good swing
between warm daytime temperatures and cool nights. This allows the
fruit to retain a good level of natural acidity and it gives the wine some
They're a couple of hours drive southeast of Santiago de Compostela and
you'll need 4 hours, or so, to get there driving west from the Rioja
region. It's a bit isolated, for sure.
Now, 30 years later, the winery is famed for both and he is a bit of an
ambassador for Godello, as that grape was not widely-planted.
Many vineyards had been ripped out in favor of Palomino, a grape yielding
a larger crop. Only with the Bodegas Godeval promoting Godello did
the variety make its comeback. Rebolledo's Godello
garnered attention for the grape, the region and, of course, the his
winery when it won some prize at a prominent Spanish wine judging
The Godello we have in the shop is a winner. Dry and fairly crisp,
it's got a streak of minerality in the middle of its peachy sort of fruit
with a vague hint of lime, perhaps. This is a good seafood white and
works well as a cocktail wine to set up a nice red.
- Currently in stock: 2012 REBOLLEDO GODELLO $17.99
you want to buy a bottle of a big Spanish red that will impress the most
hard-core Napa Cabernet fancier or someone who thinks Bordeaux is the
center of the Universe, then perhaps a bottle of Aalto is in order.
Aalto, at least alphabetically, is perhaps the first wine in the
Spanish wine world. It's the property of two famous Spanish wine
personalities. One is Mariano Garcia who was the winemaker for many years
at Vega Sicilia. The other fellow is Javier Zaccagnini who was the head of
the Ribera del Duero wine growers association.
They own 32 hectares of vineyards in several sites in Ribera del Duero and most
of the vines are in the "old vine" category. In fact, the vines
range from 40 years old on the youthful end of the spectrum and 100 years on the
A tasting group I'm in had the wine in a blind tasting and while many of the
eight wines we tasted were of good to very good quality, they all paled in
comparison to the 2010 Aalto! The 2014 is much in the same style...
We understand this comes from 7 different vineyard sites and the vines are
considered to be farmed "sustainably." It's made entirely of
Tempranillo and the wine spends close to two years in both French and American
It's one of the more showy bottles of wine you can offer your guests. In
fact, a regular customer was buying his usual case of "good value"
wines and asked if I could pick something for him to bring to a fancy, high-end
restaurant. They were guests of a big-spender.
I looked at the wine list of the restaurant to be sure the wine was not on the
list...told him to set it up with a bubbly or non-oaked white and serve it
before the host's red selection. A few days later I received a wonderful
e-mail thanking me for the suggestion and that everyone was "wowed" by
We suggest pairing this with grilled steak or lamb...it's almost too big for
Paella, but we did enjoy a bottle of the 2011 with a Paella at San Francisco's
Contigo restaurant. Our only issue was we should have chilled the wine a
bit more, as it was a warm evening and this high-octane bottling showed its
muscle. We enjoyed it, in any case!
A bottle of the 2014 was paired with Duck Confit at the Basque Cultural Center,
not too far from the shop, and this was a winner.
Currently in stock: 2014 AALTO Ribera del Duero
snappy Spanish white wine comes to us from a smallish estate in the Rueda
region, a place where Verdejo is King and we might say Sauvignon Blanc is
This winery and its estate vineyards are located about an hour and a half
drive north and slightly west of Madrid. It's a half hour drive from
Segovia (if you have any idea where that town is). And it you find
yourself in Spain's Rioja region, you'll need 3, or so, hours of driving
westward to get to this place.
de Nieva has 56 hectares of
vineyards, 50 of them devoted to the Verdejo grape. With an
elevation of about 850 meters, there's a pretty good swing from hot summer
days to cool summer night temperatures, ideal conditions for these white
Within the estate they own some seriously venerable vines, plants said to
be more than a hundred years old and still producing fruit. Sure,
it's a small quantity, but it makes for good wine.
We've known this producer for many years...I think we had some wine from
them 15 or 20 years ago!
It's one of those brands that comes and goes, for some reason. They
don't stick with an importer for very long.
But they're here with the 2015 vintage and this is a cool, snappy dry
white made entirely of Verdejo. About 20% of the vines for this wine
are old bush vines or what we call "head pruned" here in
California. The other 80% of their vineyards are trellised, so they
get good exposure to sunshine and can ripen a slightly larger crop.
Some of the juice has skin contact, but this is no "orange
wine." It's clean as a whistle and fit as a fiddle.
((Orange wines are white wines that are fermented with the skins, but
often vinified under the guise of being 'natural' and 'holistic,' so "please
don't criticize the wine is it's spoiled, oxidized and undrinkable.
Hold your nose and pay us a lot of money for 'natural' wine. It's
natural, so therefore it's better."
Please! We do have some white wines vinified with skin
contact but by enologists who know how to make wine.))
This wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks with temperature
controls. Once it's finished its fermentation, they leave the wine
on the spent yeast for a short time to add a bit of weight to the
wine. Then it's (oh-don't-tell-the-naturalistas!) filtered and
bottled to capture the fresh, crisp nature of the wine. Mildly
stony...faintly citrusy (less than a Sauvignon Blanc, for example)...
Blanco Nieva is an ideal cocktail white, but we've enjoyed it with some
seafood tapas. Winner!
It also pairs well with shellfish or a simple rex sole/sand-dabs
course. Winner, again!
Currently in stock: 2015 BLANCO NIEVA Rueda
- The Rey
Santo wine comes from a winery owned by Javier Sanz in Spain's Rueda
region. Everyone in the Rueda area is named Sanz, apparently.
It's a national law, as we understand it.
They make a nice, crisp, dry white entirely of
Verdejo. It's non-oaked and has a lightly citrusy character so it's
got some of the same notes you'd find in some Sauvignon Blanc wines...
They have their own vineyards and the grapes are mechanically harvested at
night when the temperatures are low...the fruit is processed and the juice
is fermented in stainless steel tanks under refrigeration to retain as much
of the citrusy, herbal character as possible.
The resulting wine is an ideal aperitif or it can be paired with
seafood...quite good! And it's well-priced, too.
Currently in stock: REY SANTO 2014 Rueda
Blanco VERDEJO $10.99
Artadi winery began in the 1980s when a fellow got some neighbors together to
launch their own winery which was called Cosecheros Alaveses at the outset...
Juan Carlos López de Lacalle studied enology and after getting a degree in
winemaking he got one in agricultural engineering.
Initially the winery produced merely "wine," with no aspiration to
make something especially important. This was the sort of beverage
saleable to the locals who wanted good, inexpensive, simply drinkable
But Juan Carlos realized why their wine was superior to those being produced by
the neighbors: their vineyards were superior. Okay, these days it's
not a surprise to learn better vineyards produce better wines, but for many
folks in the 1970s and 1980s, the focus was often on the cellar and technology.
Lopez de Lacalle then hired a talented enologist and the tag team of a fussy and
demanding vineyard manager with an energetic and perfectionist winemaker started
to bring critical acclaim to the winery.
A couple of interesting tidbits about Artadi wines...
1. They're from the Rioja Alavesa region, a higher elevation area where
the wines tend to be a shade lighter in body than other regions in Rioja.
2. You won't find the normal sort of 'classification' of wines here, so
there is not a "Reserva" or "Gran Reserva" wine...they
prefer to focus on the vineyard sites as providing the various 'levels' of
The fermentation room at Artadi is simple, clean and functional.
Of course, they have quite a few small barricas.
We have the 2009 vintage of their Vinas de Gain wine...it's made
entirely of Tempranillo grown around the town of Laguardia at a fairly high
elevation, nearly 1900 feet. The vineyards are at least 25 years of age
and the grapes are hand harvested and then inspected at a sorting table.
They do a cold-soak maceration before initiating the fermentation. Once
the wine is dry, it goes into smallish French oak. The barrels are of
light-medium toast level, though none of the wood is new.
Still, I find a nice fruit character and a touch of toasty, cedary oak.
It's certainly not as oaky as most of the Reserva Riojas in the shop...We don't
view this as a wine for long-term cellaring. It's showing well now and
ought to hold up nicely for another five to ten years.
Currently in stock: 2009 ARTADI Vinas de Gain
They have a nice, modern, airy tasting room.
winery is a relatively new project and it's operated by Fernando González
and his wife, Ana Perez. They're about 5 hours west of Rioja, for
example and 40 minutes southeast of Santiago de Campostela.
This is in the Ribeira Sacra region where Mencia and Godello are prominent
The vineyard sites are on fairly steep hills and they've been
painstakingly terraced to accommodate grape cultivation.
We've tasted a wine called Carravel...it's the 2009 vintage and what a
remarkable bottle this is! If you're a fan of Moric Blaufrankisch
from Austria, good Barolo from Piemonte or Pinot Noirs from France's
Burgundy region, you ought to put a bottle of this on the dinner table!
It's made entirely of the Mencía grape and the wine is
fermented in tank before spending a year in French oak cooperage. It's
bigger than a Barolo and Pinot Noir...the color is more intense and yet
there's something soulful about this wine which reminds us of those favorite
Piemontese and Burgundian red wines. There's some dark fruit note,
mild tannins and a hint of cedary/woodsy tones. We like it now, but
expect it can be cellared for a few more years with expectations of it
developing a bit more depth (and it's not lacking presently!).
This is one of the finest versions of the Mencía grape we've tasted.
Currently in stock: 2009 ALGUEIRA Ribeira Sacra "CARRAVEL"
BODEGAS ARAGONESAS "COTO DE HAYAS"
you're in the wonderful city of Logroño in Rioja, you'd find this winery
a bit more than an hour's drive southeast. From Madrid, you'll need
a bit more than 3 hours in the car, driving northeast.
It's a large winery, situated in the middle of Garnacha Country.
You'd be in Aragon, Spain in the province of Zaragoza. And there's a
lot of Garnacha planted there. More recently, though, growers have
been planting Syrah, Cabernet, Chardonnay and Merlot.
But we identify the region as a good source of Garnacha.
We have, por ejemplo, the Borsao Garnacha in the shop...a great
Beaujolais-styled red. The same winery makes a delightful blended
red with Garnacha as the base and then having some Syrah and Cabernet so
it resembles more costly California wines.
Well, this wine is very different from the Borsao bottlings.
They call this "Centenaria" because the vines are said to be
around a hundred years old. The wine, following its primary
fermentation, is put in small, new French oak barrels where it spends
about 4 months. The wood is pretty well integrated with the
wine...and well like the faintly earthy tones here. Medium-full
bodied, it's a really good bottle of wine.
Our colleague John was a bit shocked to learn this wine costs all of
"That's all? Are you sure?" he asked. And so he
bought one to put on his own dinner table the first day this was in the
Currently in stock: COTO DE HAYAS 2012 "GARNACHA
- This enterprise has but a few decades of history, but the story is still
interesting. It's centers on Gonzalo Antón. who had connections in
the world of Spanish gastronomy and he and some friends has great designs
on making wine for friends and family.
They chose the name "Izadi" for the winery, a Basque term for
His family already had vineyards, so it wasn't a huge leap to get into
making their own wines. They built a nice little cellar in the town
of Villabuena de Alava in 1987 and soon things took off. Gonzalo
knew a lot of folks in the hotel and restaurant business around Spain, so
they were curious to see if the old fellow knew how to make wine or if he
was out of his mind.
Well, the early vintages were pretty good and soon the Izadi
label was hip and fashionable. The winery grew and soon they even expanded
to making wines in other regions of Spain!
If you visit the Izadi digs in Rioja, you'll find it to be as
comfortable as a friend's living room! It's clear the place was built with
the idea of hospitality and having friends, family and maybe customers come to
eat and drink.
They show off their varying soil types with this display...
They have a sorting table in the winery, so when the grapes arrive, they pick
through them, discarding anything that's not in perfect condition.
The fermentation tanks are rather standard and they have a
nice cellar with small barrels.
Almudena Imhoff shows off the Izadi wines as well as their other related
bottlings from Rueda, Ribera del Duero and Toro.
Currently Available: By
Special Order Presently...
- FEDERICO PATERNINA
- This old firm has
what may be the largest single barrel-storage facility in Europe, housing some 35,000
barricas! And this is only a part of their production. Paternina's wine was a
favorite of Ernest Hemingway. The wines may have been more special in Hemingway's
day, for we have tasted many bottles over the past few years and have found little to be
of interest. I read that there have been some changes in the firm recently, the
company having sold stock and raising a pile of cash in the process. They own a
property in Ribera del Duero, along with a firm in Jerez.
We recently tasted their entry level wines and found them to be standard
quality.... I'll special order them for you if you like.
- Currently in stock: SPECIAL ORDER ITEMS
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