Tasting the Contino “Hail Storm Cuvee” Rioja…

Contino is a real pioneer of single estate wines in Rioja and uses only its own fruit from its 62 hectares of vines. In a normal vintage Contino’s production is around 1,500 barricas (barrels), spanning a number of different wines. 2013, however, was not a normal vintage.

When a freak hail storm struck the estate in 2013, one week before the harvest was set to commence in September, golf ball sized hailstones reduced the crop by a staggering 90%. Winemaker Jesus Madrazo scoured his devastated vineyards and marked specific vines that had the odd bunch of undamaged, viable fruit. A miniscule amount of grapes were thus harvested in the following week, being sorted berry by berry at the winery. All the healthy fruit that Contino could salvage produced 17 barricas (barrels) of red wine.

Contino 17 Barricas 2013 Rioja Tinto, 14.5 Abv.

While only 17 barricas were produced, what eventually made it into the bottle is a beast of a wine. A classic Rioja blend of 80% Tempranillo, 13% Graciano and 7% Garnacha aged for nearly two years in French and American oak. The nose is rich and opulent with the most expressive intensity of bruleed black berries, damson plums, forest bramble berries and stewed strawberry compote. There is still a lick of dusty, vanillary oak, but the concentration of fruit is such that the oak melts away in the glass, eventually overpowered by back cherry, blue berry crumble and salty licorice complexity. The palate is broad and ripe, with real intensity of red and black fruits reaching out and touching every corner of ones mouth. Layers of black berry, caramelised plum and strawberry confit are supported by fresh juicy acids and sweet creamy tannins. There is a hint of alcohol warmth of the finish but this is quickly obscured by an abundance of generous cocoa, chocolate and sweet black fruit nuances. All the hallmark purity, intensity and modernity of the Contino style are to be found in this wine, which will undoubtedly find a welcoming home among the estate’s many followers. Drink now to 2028+

(Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Tasting the New Envinate Lousas ‘Parcela Seoane’ 2015 from Ribeira Sacra in Spain…

I first made Roberto Santana’s acquaintance 3 or 4 years ago when I started buying the Marques del Suertes wines from Tenerife that he was involved in producing. Fast forward to 2016/17 and you’ll find Roberto involved in a new(ish) project in which four friends, all oenologists, are making some amazing new wave Spanish wines from around Spain.

Roberto Santana, Alfonso Torrente, Laura Ramos and Jose Martinez started with a very clear philosophy… to develop authentic, accurate wines that transmit the identity of their terroir and the peculiarity of each vineyard plot, within a specific vintage context. 

Envínate follow a minimal intervention winemaking philosophy and follow the biodynamic calendar for all work performed in the vineyards. Grapes are foot trodden and whole bunch vinification is carried out using only indigenous yeasts and musts are fermented without any temperature control in open vats.

Lousas ‘Parcela Seoane’ 2015 Tinto, Ribeira Sacra, 13 Abv.

A blend of 95% Mencia from 60 year old vines combined with Merenzao and Alicante Bouschet, planted on broken slate soils in a south-west facing parcel located at 400 metres above seal level in an exhilarating landscape in the Ribeira Sacra. The bouquet is expressive with dusty grey slate minerality and bright lifted red fruits of raspberries, red cherries and forest strawberries. Such expressive perfume mixes with smokey, slightly reductive dried mint leaf and dried roasted herb nuances. The wine is vibrant, lifted and intense in a real terroir-style with a pronounced sense of place. The fruit purity is concentrated, sleek and silky with an impressively sweet, elegant mid-palate and a long focused finish of spicy forest strawberries and red bramble berries. Very youthful now, this is a beautifully pure wine that will benefit from another 2-3 years ageing before opening.

(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Tasting the Spanish Priorat Icon L’Ermita Pre-Release with Álvaro Palacios…

Álvaro Palacios arrived in Grattallops, Priorat, in 1989, invited by a group of local producers and intent on extracting the very best from the land of llicorella grey slate soils.

The steep amphitheatre vineyards of L’Ermita extend around the village of Grattallops, where the broken, open slatey llicorella soils bring outstanding clarity to wines. 

The old Granacha and Samso (Carignan) vines receive more than 4,000 hours of sunshine per year and less than 380mm of annual rainfall, leaving a decisive mark on the character of their wines.

The 2016 L’Ermita is comprised of 85% Garnacha, 14% Carignan, 1% mixed Garnacha Blanca, Macabeo, and Pedro Ximenez. The people who harvest pick the grapes off the stems one by one and discard whatever is not perfect, resulting in a total production of 2,000 bottles in 2016 from an area of 1.4 hectares.

Tasting Note: The L’Ermita 2016 Priorat is something special, all class and subtlety. The nose is effusive, bursting with dark fragrant parma violets, sweet sun raisined black berries, fig confit, black plums, spicy black peppercorns, and subtle grape jelly nuances. The palate is lush, broad, expansive, coating every inch of the mouth with crunchy, fleshy red and black berry fruits. Such impressive complexity, opulence and dense, sweet, seamless tannins. There is correspondingly massive concentration and intensity, yet flavours never stray to the spectrum of over ripeness. Everything is so perfectly judged. Just lovely precise acids, very fine balance and a real assured feel to the wine. So distinguished… a wine deserving its icon status.

(Wine Safari Score: 97+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Dominio do Bibei – At the Forefront of New Wave Spanish Cool Climate Wines…

This week I attended the highly successful Vinateros Tasting at the Tate Modern Gallery in London along with what seemed like the rest of the entire London wine trade judging by the thronging crowds at the event, where six leading UK importers presented the latest and greatest “New Wave” Spanish producers in their ranges.

One producer that caught my eye was Dominio do Bibei from the Ribeira Sacra, one of the most exciting regions to emerge from Spain in the past few years. Situated in the North-Western corner of Galicia, the area is very remote and the general landscape dramatic and mountainous. The vineyards are steeply terraced and lie at an altitude of up to 680 metres. Vineyards are rocky and barren with vines growing on predominately slate / schist soils. All fermentation and storage is in wooden vats, barrels and concrete. Domino do Bibei’s wines are made by the talented Javier Dominquez, who focuses on using only local varieties in a combination of various blends. The red wines usually include Mencia, Garnacha and Muraton, while the whites use Godello, Albariño and Dona Blanca. 

Today, Luis Romero, the Dominio do Bibei export manager dropped by to see me and we had another opportunity to taste the estate’s largest production wine, the Lalama red blend again in a more calm environment than at Vinateros.

Tasting Note: The Dominio do Bibei Lalama 2013 red is a blend of 90% Mencia, and the remaining 10% from Garnacha, Brancellao and Muraton, has an attractive plush nose with very expressive perfume and fragrance. Soft bruised red cherries, macerated rose petals, violets, crushed forest berries, raisined cranberries, black chocolate and cocoa spice. Fermentation was made in large French oak barrels then transferred to 300 and 500 litre French oak barrels for 13 months, before being moved back to the 25, 35 and 45 Hl wooden vats for another 7 months ageing. Notes of black peppercorns and savoury sappy spice develop on the nose despite the entire production being destalked and destemmed. The savoury, foresty complexity is compelling. The palate is ultra polished and pure with super sleek fine grained tannins, wonderful sweet berry spice, hints of cured meats, sweet plums, all with a most wondrous, harmonious balance. Super freshness and lightness twined with concentration make this wine so juicy and more’ish at 13 Abv. A seductively ethereal red. Production is approximately 55,000 bottles depending on the vintage.

(Wine Safari Score: 93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

The Art of Oxidation…

At a recent wine trade lunch, we got talking about premoxed white Burgundy and what a pain it was in every fine wine drinkers life. A friend had recently opened about the seventh prematurely oxidised (premoxed) bottle of Comtes Lafon Meursault 1er Cru Charmes 2005 out of a case of 12 and vowed never to buy another bottle of Lafon white again.

While it is unfair to single out any one grower specifically, it is fair to say that Dominique Lafon’s whites have been one of the worst offenders for premox since 1996, when the problem was identified in the mainstream media.

But the interesting point of this lunch chat was that the friend in question is also a big lover of traditional styles of oxidised white Rioja as produced by Lopez de Heredia and the older examples of Castillo Ygay white. 

Personally, I remember taking a bottle of expensive Chevalier Montrachet 1999 Grand Cru from a top grower, to a previous blind tasting lunch and everyone thinking it was top white Rioja with amazingly fresh acids, buttery nuanced caramel oak notes, lemon butter and a sweet pithy honied finish. Only, the problem was that it was in fact an expensive premoxed white Burgundy that should have been pale in colour, rapier fresh with taught mineral lemon / lime tension and a clean stoney finish!

So if a wine is eminently drinkable, and meant to taste oxidised, that’s all fine. If it’s NOT meant to taste oxidised, you tip it out and get derided (if you brought it to lunch.) Which made me suggest, in jest, that certain Burgundy producers should diversify and establish a culture of solera wines, that are fresh, zesty, but oxidative in the Tondonia style!

You heard it here first… oxidative solera NV Burgundies. Watch this space!! The sommeliers are going to love this! 

Sunday lunch Toro red rocking da house…

I love Spanish wine. Those vibrant Albariño’s whites from Rias Baixas, white Riojas (oxidised style or fresh styles), Bierzo Godellos, Rueda Verdejo’s, and of course fresh Galician saline whites.

When it comes to reds however, it’s pretty hard to beat the bright magnificence of Rioja. Yes, Priorat has some special offerings but has generally fallen off the fine wine radar more recently as people start to look for fresher styles at lower alcohols. 

First vintage of Mariano Garcia’s Mauro – the 1978

But there is another region that offers some serious wines…Ribera del Duero and its satellite areas of Tudelo del Duero and Toro, all situated alongside the Duero river that flows West to Oporto in Portugal. 

I visited the region again last year to taste new vintages from Pingus, Aalto, Mauro, San Roman and Vina Sastre in La Horra,  and tasted some phenomenal wines. I’m happy to declare a slight scepticism in the overall quality of many top reds from Ribera del Duero, which doesn’t have too many cheaper offerings either.

For me, there are still too many wines showing over-ripe jammy fruit characters, beefy bretty oak, and high alcohol rustic structures. But things are changing. There is a reason Vega Sicilia’s Alion, Valbuena and Unico are so expensive. They offer consistently very fine quality year on year, or don’t release at all.  But there are other wines worth seeking out.

80 year old Tinta de Toro (Tempranillo) vines in Toro

On my last trip, I picked up a few bottles of this phenomenal San Roman 2005 red. A winery owned by ex-Vega Sicilia winemaker Mariano Garcia and his two sons, where they have been on a mission to tame the rustic tannins of Tinta de Toro (Tempranillo) in this region. They may just have done it with this superb 2005.

Archive vintage 2005 San Roman, Toro

Tasting Note: San Roman 2005, DO Toro, Spain – A massively lifted nose gives you much to think about. Layers of sweet caramelised cherry fruits, kirsch, black plum, liquorice, cassis and vanilla pod spice meld beautifully with subtle foresty bramble fruits. The palate is ultra plush showing just what optimally picked old vine Tempranillo can deliver. The 23 months of aging in French and America oak really works, adding soft, fleshy, vanilla spice complexity and creme brûlée hints together with ripe, smokey, graphite-laden black fruits. The oak is now beautifully integrated after 11 years and while there is a hint of alcohol heat on the finish, there is just so much acid freshness and vibrant crunchy black fruit that beckons you back for another sip. Distinguished and very impressive. Drink now to 2025+ (Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Threatened old vine Tinta de Toro of 80-100 years old, being pulled up regularly

The lure of Unicorn Rose…

The macho wine collectors and drinkers despise Rose wines. They perhaps tolerate it if sipping on a bottle of Domaine Ott at Club Cinqante Cinq on Pampelone Beach near St Tropez.

But as any true bona fide wine lover will tell you, there are few things more liberating than quaffing, in quick time, a fantastically chilled, fresh, exotic, dry, complex bottle of unicorn Rose. 

It’s not exactly like a bloke admitting to wearing his wife’s dresses when she is away, but more like a chap just reaching out and engaging his more emotional, liberal, sensitive side. Big difference!

I mean, what’s not to love about Grand Cru Rose from Domaine des Lambrays, 100% Mazuelo from Marques de Murrieta, or a unicorn Rosato from Biondi Santi, made exclusively for drinking at the domaine. 

These super quaffable gems give you a tantalising sniff of the estates’ famed red first wines … even if it’s just subconsciously. The smaller the production the better. One tank? Nah, one barrel. No… one demijohn!! One Amphora…!!! You get the picture. Time to  indulge!