Wines Built to Stand the Test of Time – Tasting the Vina Tondonia Gran Reserva Blanco 1976…

When ever I drink an old Tondonia white, I feel it’s almost a duty to document these vinous gems and capture their exquisitely complex and exotic nuances for future reference. The occasions and frequency to enjoy these old Rioja bottles becomes fewer and fewer as every year goes by yet many of them are still some years off peak maturity such is the greatness and age ability of these wines.

Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Rioja Gran Reserva Blanco 1976, 12 Abv.

A delicious, incredibly well proportioned offering revealing beautiful freshness of grated lemon peel, bergamot, peach tea, bees wax and Japanese green tea with threads of caramelised oak and vanilla pod spice. The palate has an alluring tertiary oxidative note of diesel rag, sun dried apricots, creamy honied white peaches, bruised yellow orchard fruits and tart lemon cordial with a complexing lick of salted toffee spice on the finish. A wine that really blossoms with 15-20 minutes in the glass as it slowly unfurls its multi-dimensional offering after over 40 years of ageing. Just another beautifully profound Rioja Blanco from Maria Jose Lopez de Heredia.

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

Many thanks to Chef Roger Jones for sharing this delicious bottle over lunch.

The Unicorn Whisperer at Work – Tasting the López de Heredia Vina Tondonia Reserva Blanco 2004…

It’s always an exciting moment when one gets to drink a new release of Vina Tondonia and even more so when the colour is white! While the 2004 Reserva Blanco was released back in 2017, this was my first opportunity to leisurely drink a bottle of this delicious unicorn nectar.

Tondonia is of course the hottest topic at the moment with the long awaited new release Vina Tondonia Reserva Rosado 2008 finally released into the UK in April 2018. Very little Rosado will be made available but at least there should be around 35,000 bottles of the Reserva Blanco 2004 produced. Buy it while you can!

Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Reserva Blanco 2004, 12.5 Abv.

The delicious 2004 Reserva Blanco seemed to creep onto the market in 2017 under the radar of thirsty buyers probably due to its impossible rarity. Differentiated with the Gravonia Crianza Blanco by 10% of very old Malvasía Riojana, the Reserva 2004 is a complex, intense, sophisticated expression that was fermented in 140 year old oak vats with natural yeasts, where it also underwent malolactic fermentation. The aromatics are packed with dried peaches, herbal peach tea, earl grey bergamot notes and melted honey on warm white toast. Few wines are as evocative and beguiling as white Rioja from Vina Tondonia. The palate is rich and nuanced but at no point does it show overt oak characters. Instead, it just unleashes wave upon wave of honied yellow orchard fruits, tea leaves, lemon cordial, dried guava roll, lemon grass and pungent ginger spice notes framed by vibrantly fresh acids. This is another incredibly strong performance by a Tondonia blanco reinforcing its status as one of the ultimate unicorn white wines.

(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

The New CVNE Monopole Clásico 2015 Released – Reinventing the Past For a Future Generation of Wine Drinkers…

The world of wine is a big place with countless grapes, wine styles and production techniques. Indeed, wine has never been more mainstream and more popular than it is now. However, with this populism has come a growing tendency towards homogenisation, taking the safe option and producers not pushing boundaries any longer. A comment from UK wine journalist Jamie Goode recently sticks in my head… “just because most consumers drink boring commercial rubbish a lot of the time, doesn’t mean they don’t actually want to drink exciting, edgy, innovative wines too.” That’s where wonderful wines like the CVNE Monopole Clásico come into their own.

This Monopole Clásico white was produced from a blend of white varieties, hand harvested in 20kg cases at optimum ripeness. Softy pressed, as in the 1960s, the must went into concrete tanks for their debourbage / settling, then into stainless steel tanks for the alcoholic fermentation. Once completed, the wine was transferred with its fine lees into wooden vats and botas of 300 litres and 500 litres that had previously been used two or three times. The wine was then aged for around 8 months.

The uniqueness of this wine lies in the contribution of a small quantity of Manzanilla sherry, developed by the traditional method of crianza under “velo de flor”. The wines’ ageing contributes to its peculiar organoleptic characteristics, adding aromas of chamomile tea, dried fruits and nuts, and a long and salty aftertaste with a marked acidity.

The 2015 vintage proved to be one of the best in recent years, both qualitatively and quantitatively. Starting slightly early and proceeding at pace, throughout the vegetative cycle the weather conditions displayed classical textbook seasonality. A rainy autumn, a dry winter with heavy frosts, a rainy spring and a summer with large diurnal temperature shifts between day and night. Weather during the harvest was exceptional and allowed for a harvest with great quality, superb ripening and very healthy fruit.

CVNE Monopole Clásico Blanco Seco 2015, Rioja, 13.5 Abv.

A wonderfully tangy saline nose full of crunchy pear, sea breeze, oyster shell, almond skins, nutty Manzanilla flor spice and caramelised orange peel. Plenty of tension and coiled spring energy, this wine is known to flesh out further with an extra 6 to 8 months in bottle. The palate revels in its nutty, saline Intensity with oxidative Manzanilla sherry nuances whispering in the background, all the while tempered by pithy gooseberry and white stone fruits, chamomile and a dusty, chalky texture. So characterful and deliciously mouth watering, this is an admirably unique wine style that everyone should experience. Drink now to 2035+

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

Vega Sicilia New Release Tasting 2017 with Antonio Menendez Puente and Technical Director Gonzalo Iturriaga de Juan…

There are a few release tastings held in London every year that I really look forward to. Top of the list is of course the new bottled vintage release tasting of Domaine de la Romanee Conti normally held in January or early February. No need for an explanation there. After DRC, there are a couple more that are thoroughly captivating, one being the Gaja new release Cru Barolo and Barbaresco tastings and the other has to be the annual tasting of the new vintages of Bodegas Vega Sicila.

Undoubtedly considered the “first growth” of Spain and one of the most prestigious and respected wineries in Europe, this incredible producer located in the Ribera del Duero east of Valladolid, covers over 1000 hectares with around 230 under vine. Founded in 1864 by Don Eloy Lecanda y Chaves, who arrived from Bordeaux with cuttings of local grape varieties Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec, and planted them together with Spain’s signature grape Tinto Fino, a local clone of Tempranillo.

The winery began building its formidable reputation after 1903 under the ownership of Antonio Herrero, winning a number of awards, and enjoying extensive international distribution. The estate changed hands several more times before its acquisition by the current owners, the Alvarez family, in 1982. The Vega Sicilia range now includes three cuvees namely the Unico flagship red followed by the Reserva Especial which is a blend of top vintages, both made up of Tinto Fino (80%), Cabernet Sauvignon and a small portion of Merlot, and then traditionally aged for 10 years before release. Nowadays the Unico wines are aged for only 5 to 6 years before bottling. Valbuena is made from younger vines and is only released after 5 years ageing.

The nearby Bodegas Alion estate is the final piece in the Vega Sicilia Ribera del Duero puzzle, producing superb high quality wines that can normally be enjoyed in their youth or aged for at least a decade or more. Completing the portfolio selection is their Pintia from D.O. Toro and finally the new(ish) Macan Rioja wines made under the Bodegas Benjamin de Rothschild Vega Sicilia joint venture. All in all, an amazing array of wines that never fail to excite.

Macan Clasico, Rioja 2014

Rich warming perfumed nose with lush opulent fruit notes of earthy black berries, black plums and parma violets, with a tantalising sprinkling of mocha and vanilla pod spice. Texturally very silky and suave with fine density and flesh yet finely focused and balanced, finishing with smokey, rich, bruleed blueberry length. Seriously impressive and utterly delicious.

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

Pintia Reserva, Toro 2014

Lovely bold dark broody nose laden with black plum, black cherry, smokey cedary graphite and crushed gravel mineral complexity. The palate is plump, full bodied and muscular, showing finely honed tannins, soft elegant integrated acids and a dark forest berry, brambly finish. A fine distinguished Pintia that gets more and more noble with each and every new vintage release.

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

Bodegas Alion 2014, Ribera del Duero

Dark, taught broody aromatics that are shy at this early phase. Takes a little coaxing out the glass but all the classic Alion notes are there… black berry confit, black damson plums, tar, graphite and liquorice, saline cassis, bruleed coffee beans and caramelised oak nuances. The palate weight portrays great depth and power, plenty of muscle and intense salty caramelised black berry depth. Rich and creamy in texture, there is some tenderness to the under belly but it finishes with picante notes of cedary oak and spicy mulberry coulis. Another serious effort that will reward 10+ years of ageing.

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

Valbuena 5 2013, Ribera del Duero

The 2013s were generally lighter and fresher and this wine speaks confidently but softly with the aromatics showing real Rioja’ish earthy, savoury tinged red fruit notes. Quite foresty and brambly, there is plenty of bruleed raisined strawberry fruit, lactic milk chocolate and sweet saddle leather complexity. The palate is elegant and fine boned, built around a solid frame of crisp acidity and taught, linear earthy savoury fruit texture. This was always going to be a slightly earlier drinking vintage, which is not a bad thing with so many big vintages released from Vega Sicilia in the past decade. Impressively complex from the outset, this is ready to drink now and over the next 10+ years.

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

Unico Reserva 2006, Ribera del Duero

With some back tracking to an older vintage release, this wine displays plenty of power, fragrance and depth, with a most seductive nose of sweet briary, savoury cured meats, strawberry confit, tannery leather, molasses tinged black fruits and a creamy lactic high toned lift. The palate texture is crisp, direct and slightly linear still, displaying fine fresh acids, plenty of sleek, taught savoury earthy black fruits, balsamic richness and a fairly powerful, imposing structure. At almost 12 years old, this release is still very youthful and more about minerality, savoury tannins and tension than sweet accessible fleshy fruit notes. A very serious Unico that you should be in no rush to drink.

(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Vega Sicilia Unico Reseva Especial NV (2018), Ribera del Duero

A blend of 05/06/07, this Reserva Especial possesses power, ripeness and freshness. Immediately vibrant and vital on the nose, the glass is brimming with notes of earthy cassis, bramble berries, black cherry, stewed strawberries, and hints of charcoal, wood smoke and graphite. So compact and dense. The palate is full, opulent, dense and fleshy, conveying weight without being heavy, freshness without being tart, and concentration and length without losing its purity. Wonderfully sleek and polished, this is one of the most exciting Reserva Especial blends for a number of years. Drink now or cellar for 25+ years. A real block buster.

(Wine Safari Score: 98+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Valbuena Vertical 2007-2009

Valbuena 5 2007, Ribera del Duero

Beautifully complex aromatics with dried herbs, briary, black cherry, sweet sappy wood spice and graphite minerality. Palate fruit has subtle molasses tinges with notes of winter stewed fruits, raisined strawberries and creamy, earthy bramble berry concentration, polished ripe tannins, creamy fleshy elegance and a long gravelly mineral finish. You can drink this now but will improve with a further 5+ years ageing.

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

Valbuena 5 2008, Ribera del Duero

The 2008 exhibits a tantalising nose of a spicy exotic red fruits, cassis leaf, red cherry, sappy spice, polished mahogany and picante cedary wood smoke notes. The black berry fruits have an opulent, ripe, caramelised edge with plenty of flesh, concentration and a saline acidity on the finish. Lovely balance, superb drinkability already but plenty of life still to live.

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

Valbuena 5 2009, Ribera del Duero

Youthful and taught, the aromatics speak more of wood spice, pithy red cherry skins, strawberry confit and earthy stewed plums. The palate is lactic and forward with plenty of creamy depth and fleshy baby fat. Still coming together, this is perhaps not quite yet ready to pull out the cellar. A lot of tannin power and density and still playing it’s cards close to its chest. Snuffle this one away in the cellar depths for another 5 to 8 years.

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

Rioja Alta’s Torre de Oña Martelo 2012 Bringing New Excitement to the Red Rioja Category…

La Rioja Alta is one of Rioja’s most respected wineries and recently launched a new premium wine produced from its Torre de Oña estate. Made from a single vineyard, this ‘reserva’ wine from the region’s coolest and highest sub-region, Rioja Alavesa, is a rare new premium addition to the Rioja Alta portfolio.

A blend of 95% Tempranillo and a 5% field blend of Mazuelo, Garnacha and Viura from 60+ year old vines, this is a very classy, polished expression from one of Spain’s most famous Rioja producers. This Reserva spends 24 months in 80% American and 20% French oak barrels, a higher proportion than normal according to Julio Sáenz, winemaker for La Rioja Alta. Despite the large US oak percentage, the wine retains impressive purity, minerality and varietal typicity for a premium Rioja.

Rioja Alta Martelo Rioja Reserva Tinto 2012, 14 Abv.

A beautifully piercing perfumed nose with hints of chocolate mocha spice, powdered cocoa, violets and small intense black berries with a definite gravelly mineral undertone. The wood notes are finely integrated and only show a subtle piquant mocha spice on the palate mixing with crunchy strawberries and earthy bruised red plum notes. No doubting this wine is engineered around taught, crisp premium Tempranillo with its hallmark fresh acids and red berry fruit purity. The finish is fairly linear and suggests subtle notes of polished oak, balsamic and buttered brown toast spread with red currant jam. Very youthful and tight, decant this delicious gem for 45 mins if drinking now or cellar for another 8 to 10+ years.

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

(Price point Circa £35 per bottle in the UK)

The Tenerife Odyssey – Tasting the Epic Maiden Release Migan Tinto 2016 from Envinate…

When I visited Tenerife recently, Roberto Envinate introduced me to two exciting new wines in their portfolio. One was the tiny 3 barrel production Vidueno 2016 red made exclusively for the US and Mexican markets, and which I reviewed here recently…

https://gregsherwoodmw.com/2017/12/07/the-unicorn-slayer-came-to-town-today-the-tenerife-odyssey-resurrected-tasting-vidueno-2016/

The other wine was the maiden release of the Envinate Migan 2016 Tinto. The grapes for this special wine come from two terroirs in La Perdoma (La Orotava) grown on ungrafted vines trained in the cordon trenzado method of between 100 and 120 years old.

The grapes from the two terroirs were fermented separately in concrete tanks. The “La Habanera” site’s grapes were fermented with 100% stems including a long maceration. The second terroir, “San Antonio”, was fermented with 20% stems with a 12 day maceration. The wines were then aged in neutral 600 litre barrels for just over 12 months with bottling due to take place in December 2017.

Envinate Migan Tinto 2016, Vinos Atlanticos, 12.5 Abv. (Barrel Sample)

The final blend for this wine is made up of 60% of the Habanera terroir and 40% of the San Antonio terroir. Such a beautiful bright translucent cherry red colour, the nose is a little darker, deeper and slightly broody. Lovely cherry blossom perfume mixes with volcanic basalt minerality, pithy red cherry, red apple skins and subtle sappy stalky spice. The palate is amazingly intense, as you’d expect from fruit from 100+ year old vines. Such crystalline red berry fruits, cherry sherbet nuances, tart electric acids and salty red liquorice complexity. Also super dense, fabulously concentrated and impressively long, with an elegant texture. Very impressive indeed! Possibly one of the best reds I’ve tried from Tenerife yet. Wow!

(Wine Safari Score: 96-97/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Exciting New Release Tasting of Spain’s First Growth ~ Bodegas Vega Sicilia…

December is prime festive season. So what better time to taste the new vintage releases from Spain’s very own first growth and most prestigious winery, Vega Sicilia in Ribera del Duero. This icon estate covers around 1000 hectares, of which 250 are under vine. It was founded in 1864 by Don Eloy Lecanda y Chaves, who arrived from Bordeaux with cuttings of local grapes (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec) and planted them, together with Spain’s signature grape Tinto Fino, a clone of Tempranillo. 

The winery started to acquire its formidable reputation after 1903 under the ownership of Antonio Herrero. The estate changed hands several times before the acquisition by its current owners, the Alvarez family, in 1982.

The Vega Sicilia range is made up of several cuvees including the Unico vintage, being the flagship, followed by the non-vintage Reserva Especial red, a blend of top vintages, made up of Tinto Fino (Tempranillo 80%), Cabernet Sauvignon and little splash of Merlot, with normally 10 years traditional ageing, though this has recently started to decrease to 5 or 6 years under new wine maker, Javier Ausas. 

Valbuena is normally made from younger vines, and in years when Unico is not produced, grapes normally destined for Unico will go into Valbuena. It is only released after 5 years ageing making it a classic Tinto Riserva. 

The nearby sister single-estate of Bodegas Alion also produces a fashionably high quality red wine for either drinking on release or for ageing up to 10+ years. Last but not least, is probably one of the top wines in Toro, if not THE top wine in the Toro DO, the Bodegas Pintia. 

The New Releases: Bodegas Pintia 2012, Toro, is a bright, dense ruby red. Beautifully perfumed nose of raspberry confit, caramelised cherries, red plum and a hint of mocha spice and black current opulence. Entry is creamy, plush, and textural with powdery tannins, and pithy stoney gravel notes. Plenty of graphite, bramble berry fruits and an earthy caramel and oak spice lick. (93/100)


Bodegas Alion 2013 Ribera del Duero, shows a sweet perfumed lifted nose of cherry blossom, violets, and polished mahogany. Exotic and alluring with subtle savoury oak, vanilla spice and black berry molasses and balsamic nuances. Texturally very elegant and light on its feet. Fine, silky and sleek on the palate. Nicely framed by crunchy acids, finishing with such tight fruit precision. Very attractive effort that leans to a more feminine finesse Alion style. (94+/100)


Vega Sicilia Valbuena 5 2012 Ribera del Duero has a rich, dark, broody nose with attractive caramelised black plums, molasses, kirsch liquor, and Christmas pudding. The palate is seductively rich, luxurious and elegant with layers of cherry liquor, cassis, and berry confit. Seamless, ultra polished tannins lead to a long, fine, fleshy well proportioned finish. Really lovely. (96/100)


Vega Sicilia Unico 2005 Ribera del Duero is opulent, rich, dense and dark fruited. Plenty of depth and fine caramelised plums, black berry, savoury earthy black current, with molasses hints, oak spice and condensed milk nuances. Palate is cool, elegant, light footed, vibrant yet eminently fresh. Definitely softer, finer, style than you’d expect from a young Unico. Impressively earthy, elegant, super complex and sophisticated, even regal. One to age in your cellar. (97/100)


Vega Sicilia Unico Reserva Especial NV is a multi-vintage blend of 2003, 2004 and 2006. This is a more familiar, traditional, masculine Unico style despite its extra mellowing aged vintages. Shows lovely definition, polished sleek elegant tannins, pronounced concentration, power and more mineral grip and savoury depth. Crushed gravel, caramelised cherries, molasses and stewed winter fruits lead to a long, complex finish. (96/100)