Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Terrassa, Spain

Here I am, at the computer of the Hotel Vapor Gran, the "Great Vapor," the very best business hotel in Terrassa, Spain. As I may have mentioned earlier, La Cambra de Terrassa is generously supporting this business wine trip junket. Today, after a heartfelt, teleprompter style (just with typed remarks on paper subbing for the screen) heavily accented reading of opening remarks from one of the Chamber´s veeps, we were off to meet with many different wine producers representing the Penedes, Terra Alta and Costers del Segre regions. Filtered, heavily sulphured, correct yet anonymous, large (make that, HUGE) production wines were poured, one after the next. There were a few great values. Though I will yet again lose wine cool points for saying so, some of my favorites were the cheapest: wines made in very large quantities from primarily garnacha (for the reds) and garnacha blanca (white) grapes. Wines fermented with selected yeasts and lightly filtered prior to bottling. For just a few euros ex-cellar they are well worth the cost. Also, the young enologist who presented these wines was very well informed about the wine´s production process. No bullshit, just honest answers and explanations. Might see these in a K&L store or website at some point.

Apart from the day´s meetings and the disappointing, lackluster performance that led to the Barça defeat at the hands of the Milanese, the clear highlight so far has been linking up with Gabriella Opaz of Catavino fame. She lives in Terrassa and told me all about it: the city´s construction boom over the last 4 years, the discovery of dinosaur bones and ensuing delay of the construction of the Metro station, and the annual jazz fest that is Spain´s best. Definitely owe a huge "gracias" to Gabriella for meeting me and adding such valuable local perspective my first night staying in Terrassa.

Tomorrow, more junket. Friday, Raventos i Blanc. Saturday, natural wines at Vega de Ribes and Mendall. Sunday, hanging out with the Peciñas in San Vicente de la Sonsierra, Rioja. Then more Rioja next week. Just so you know what to expect in the days ahead, or what to skip out on if you prefer when I write about non-Spanish stuff.

Hasta pronto, queridos lectores....

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Lopez de Heredia Vertical

Last Thursday a colleague and I headed up from Redwood City to Heart, a new wine bar/art gallery/eatery in the Mission for what amounted to a very cool line-up of wines, some very old, from Lopez de Heredia. For those who are not wine inclined, or others who are and do not read Eric Asimov's excellent blog, then all you need to know about Lopez de Heredia is the following: It is an estate in Rioja, in the north of Spain about an hour's drive south of San Sebastian, making wines in an uber traditional way. That means that their fermenters are very old and made of wood, they do not add anything in the winemaking proces other than egg whites for fining, and they let the wines age in seasoned American oak, then in bottle, for a very, very long time. Their current release rosé in the US market is the 1998. Their current release "younger" white, the Viña Gravonia, is from the 2000 vintage. They own all their own vineyards (a rarity in Rioja) and continue to cultivate their vineyards carefully and as naturally as possible. In the words of British wine writer Julian Jeffs, "This is the home of really old, traditional Rioja."

There are very few wineries anywhere in the world which continue to produce wines in more or less the same fashion as each generation which preceded the current one. To me, this is part of the charm of Lopez de Heredia wines. One is tempted to imagine that their wines from the 1920's, whenever they were released, tasted very similar to how their modern day counterparts taste. How many other estates conjure up a taste of what likely came before in such a way?

While it was terrific to see the current releases (there are some beauties there), the real fascination of last week's tasting was tasting some older wines. 1957 Viña Tondonia Blanco Gran Reserva- still good? 1954 Viña Bosconia Gran Reserva? Read below for some quickly formed impressions on some very slowly elaborated, truly original wines.


Great Bosconia and great Tondonia reds are, well, really good wines. It is the whites, however, that are truly unique and without comparison in the world of wine. Lopez de Heredia always took great pride in their whites, which historically was the favored wine of royalty, nobility and the like (save the red for the peasants!) The tradition continues to this day with one of the most unusual and stellar line-ups of white wines around.

2000 Lopez de Heredia Viña Gravonia Crianza Rioja

100% Viura grapes. From the Gravonia (gravelly) vineyard. Cooler micro-climate. This shows the tell-tale yellow stone fruit with gutsy acidity and subtle hints of spice and sweetness from American oak. This vintage is more generous than the 1999, richer, but still with good cut and acidity. I wonder why people drink white Graves when they can drink Gravonia.

1991 Lopez de Hereida Viña Tondonia Blanco Reserva Rioja

85% Viura, 15% Malvasia. There is more weight on the palate, as well as greater depth of flavor and hints of marzipan. This 19 year old white is still young and will age nicely.

1973 Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia Blanco Gran Reserva Rioja

Same blend as above. This shows the most mature of the line-up, with a certain savory, woodsy and slightly herbal quality. Still a really interesting white that happens to sacrifice a bit of the typical youthful quality of these wines for some bottle aged complexity.

1957 Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia Blanco Gran Reserva

Amazing, and unbelievably young tasting. These gran reserva wines are as much about youthful and bright flavors as they are about the velvety mouth feel and texture. This is one of the most singular wines of any type that I have ever tasted. 53 years old and so tasty! A treasure.


1998 Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia Rosado Gran Reserva

Unfortunately, this did not taste like the most representative bottle of this delicious wine, a gran reserva rosado and the only long aged rosé of its type produced in Rioja. I meant to mention something, but the allure of other LdH wines left to explore distracted me from doing so.


2004 Lopez de Heredia Viña Cubillo Crianza Rioja

65% Tempranillo, 25% Garnacha, 5% mazuelo, 5% graciano. Shows the muscle and structure of the vintage. This is the best young Cubillo (make that Cubillo of any age, as I have yet to lay down any for aging purposes) I have ever tasted. Intense, mineral, structured fruit with a stern edge and some years of improvement ahead of it.

2002 Lopez de Heredia Viña Bosconia Reserva Rioja

80% Tempranillo, 15% garnacha, 3% mazuelo, 2% graciano. A lighter vintage in Rioja, and it reflects in this particular wine. Very direct, with pretty red fruits that are not particularly intense, expansive, or long lasting in the mouth. Not a Bosconia to forget about for too long in the cellar.

2000 Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia Reserva Rioja

75% tempranillo, 15% garnacha, 5% mazuelo, 5% graciano. María José Lopez de Heredia has a saying: When it comes to her wines, either you're a Bosconian or a Tondonian. I generally prefer, ever so slightly, the nervier, more high toned and mineral Bosconia wines. That having been said, this 2000 Tondonia is a stunner. It's showing great right now, with amazing depth and intensity to the darker fruit flavors. Minerality, check. Balanced, but still youthful tannins that don't bite back, check. This is a wine to keep for a while, to be sure. It's delicious now, though I suspect that it will be wonderful at 20 years old.

1991 Lopez de Heredia Viña Bosconia Gran Reserva Rioja
1991 Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva Rioja

What a great contrast between these two current release Gran Reserva wines, and a classic Bosconia vs Tondonia comparison at that. The Bosconia, more mineral, Burgundian and hauntingly beautiful. Tondonia, deeper and more intense on the mid-palate. Tondonia like this one brings to mind traditional claret, subtle yet authoritative, elegant and balanced. It makes me attempt to write like an English wine critic.

1978 Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva Rioja

This bottle lacked focus and seemed to be getting a bit tired. Perhaps not a great bottle, though I had a similarly underwhelming experience a couple years back, now that I think of it.

1954 Lopez de Heredia Viña Bosconia Gran Reserva Rioja

Not the killer wine I was hoping for, but still alive and quite interesting. The fruit was still hanging in there and there was a bit of a dank, musty cellar quality. Not TCA, just damp, dank cellar. It's worth clarifying the difference. Anyway, not my favorite but fun to try.

Thank you to María José, as well as to Hiram Simon and Brian Greenwood of Winewise, Lopez de Heredia's California distributor, for offering such an incredible opportunity to taste so many Lopez de Heredia wines at once.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Jay Miller and I will both be in Rioja the same week

One of my favorite wine traditionalists from anywhere, María José Lopez de Heredia, recently informed me at a tasting of her family's wines at Heart in La Mission, San Francisco, that The Wine Advocate's own Jay Miller will be in Rioja around the same time I will be. Might our paths cross? Is there a Baltimore wine reunion in the works here? I'm not sure what to make of this other than the fact that the wine industry is so fucking small, a fact proven to me over and over again the past six and a half years I have been involved in selling wine. In fact, there was a time when I used to sell wine to Jay Miller when he was part owner of a Baltimore wine shop.

It's a small world.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Three recent purchases I'm excited about

2005 G.D. Vajra Barolo Albe

I don't remember this being particularly mind blowing, wine world view altering or anything like that. Just effortlessly balanced, ripe yet delicious, representative young Barolo. One for now, 6 for later.

2001 Bodegas Casa Juan Señor de Lesmos Crianza Rioja

I've said it before and I'll likely say it again, dozens (if not hundreds) of times. I do tend to repeat myself. Good traditional crianza style Rioja is 10 year (from vintage) wine and in this case longer than that. Not bad for $15. In fact, very good wine, without price qualifiers. I really am looking forward to visiting this estate in May.

Jolly Pumpkin (4 assorted bottlings straight outta Dexter, Michigan)

Without the aid of the internet, is there anyone out there with some Michigan experience who can talk to me about what's going on in and around Dexter? Besides the best spontaneously fermented beer in America, that is? More on these beers later, likely later this week.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


I love the Wuyi style of oolong tea. Though I do not drink it as often as I drink the more green, fresh, less heavily oxidized Taiwanese formosa oolong, Wuyi definitely has its place as a tea of contemplation during the day or evening, even to wake you up in the morning. Wuyi mountain is located in northwestern Fujian province, where the tea plants are grown on rocky cliffs. Upon harvesting, the leaves are then allowed to oxidize up to 50% or slightly more prior to being twisted and pan or oven roasted to remove moisture. Finally, a well produced wuyi will be roasted on trays over a charcoal fire (using various types of wood as fuel) to add complexity to the final product. As you may imagine, there is a degree of subtle smokiness to the finished tea, but when it is well made this is in balance with the flavor of the tea. Even the strongest of teas are, when properly brewed, much more mild, subtle, and layered in flavor than coffee. After a few infusions, I love to observe the smokiness recede into the background as the character of the particular tea varietal become apparent, which in turn recedes to leave a mineral core. You can appreciate this evolution over the course of multiple infusions within a half hour or so, depending on how quickly you drink the tea.

Perhaps the amount of infusions a tea will deliver interesting flavors can provide you with a sense of how it might age if you cellar it? This is the wine drinker in me proposing this theory. That having been said, I have drunk few aged teas and have yet to appreciate them as much as I do younger ones. Surely this will change with some more exposure, I suspect. For now, though, I will keep drinking the current vintage Wuyi.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Spain in 3 weeks

Press junkets for wine bloggers are popular these days. Whether it's debating the merits of typicity vs oak influenced, post-modern homogeneity in the Piemonte, or reporting on wineries, abalone farms and other attractions in Paso Robles, there is most assuredly a junket for any blogger with just a little bit of hustle and some writing ability.

Now, I do not claim to be hustling or writing particularly well of late. Fortunately, however, I was approached by the US-Spain Chamber of Commerce with a junket proposal through my daytime gig as a Spanish wine buyer and will be heading to Spain - to the city of Terrassa, specifically. Throughout the week, I will be tasting and meeting with various Catalunyan producers, likely to be mainly in the Penedes D.O. The idea is that I find something I like, of some perceived commercial value, that I can sell to my customers. The good old direct importation model of selling wine. While in Terrassa I am very excited to be meeting up with Gabriella Opaz, who is one half of the husband-wife team at catavino. They have done a great job not only with their Iberian focused wine blog, but with uniting wine bloggers throughout Europe. Who knows, maybe she will teach me how to blog better.

In addition to seeking some wines that are honest, well-made and priced to move in large quantities, I will certainly be visiting a few producers of wine on a smaller, more human scale, making more natural wines. I have a few addresses I am planning to visit but would love to hear any thoughts on what may fit into this category. Oh, as a reminder small production and organic does not necessarily equate to natural.

After the week is up, I will stay several extra days to explore Rioja. With the exception of one huge, historical bodega whose wines I quite like, I will be focusing on smaller producers. Once again, any ideas are welcome.

Ideally, I will be reporting from the ground in Spain, which should hopefully provide some entertainment, with perhaps a bit of education for good measure.

Edutainment for the massses.