2012 Bordeaux: Tasting at the Union des Grand Crus, San Francisco 1/30/2015

Were they really better than expected?

One of the most interesting things about the tasting yesterday afternoon, was the comments of tasters impressions of the vintage before attending the event. I’m not sure where everyone got the idea that the 2012s were not going to be good. I think it was very clear from most reviewers that the vintage was a success, although I suppose with vintages like 2000, 2005, 2009, and 2010 all in recent memory, expectations get a bit skewed. What is wrong with an infield double? They can’t always be home runs.

On the contrary, I was expecting to taste very good wines, and for the most part, I was not disappointed. I only had an hour and a half, so I focused on the Chateaux that Atherton typically purchases. That scrapped tasting most of the wines from the Haut Medoc.
I finished tasting the 30-40 wines in about an hour. The big hold up being trying to get to the spit bucket! That gave me a chance to revisit my top wines and talk to a few folks.

Overall I didn’t notice quite as much oak as I’ve come to expect from Bordeaux in recent years, which often smell more of barrel than of fruit. Fruit dominated in this tasting, and perhaps this is a result of winemakers using a lower percentage of new barrique in order to keep the wines balanced in a less concentrated vintage. I would say they were more successful in this than often in the so-called top years.

Tasting wines, that are this young, from a moderately concentrated vintage is interesting. Certain regions like Margaux were ready to roll, with less concentration, their textures were uniformly silk in 2012, and their fine tannins really let them shine, right out of the gate. They should age effortlessly for 20+ years, furnishing perfectly balanced and elegant wines. Standouts were: Malescot St-Exupery, Lascombes, Kirwan, Giscours, and Prieure Lichine. I would buy these all in a heartbeat. Just absolutely lovely, and as a whole very underscored by the critics. I’m assuming a highly scored wine has to carry enough weight to assuage the critics, critics. Unfortunately, weight is prized among consumers.

Pomerol was the precise opposite of Margaux. A number of attendees mentioned the Pomerols as being their favorites. They must be tasters who are more attuned to the weight of heavier, more tannic, California reds. These wines comparatively, carried significant weight, and some sported the accompanying tannins. Right now they were showing a bit rough, but a handful of years should smooth them out. For my taste, I felt them slightly out of balance, and I suspect will likely go in and out of open and closed periods throughout their lifespan. Examples of wine in this vein were Clinet and la Conseillante and to a lesser extent Gazin and Le Bon Pasteur. Don’t get me wrong, they will be very good wines, but they need a few years (as Clinet often does). Beauregard, (which George the owner of Atherton Wine Imports often buys) was one of the most personality-filled wines of the tasting, and a terrific success in that regard.

The wines of Pomerol’s plateau-mate, those of St.-Emilion, I felt were better balanced and more complete. They probably will drink better, on a more consistent basis, over their lifespan, although the Pomerols will most likely outlast them. I felt the Saint Emilion’s which had much of the weight of the Pomerols, had softer and riper tannins. I felt these were the more successful wines, if perhaps more modern than the more traditional Pomerols in terms of style. Clos Fourtet and Couspaude, as always, were excellent, and Beausejour Becot was very good as well. Troplong Mondot was quite exotic, with a broader, softer palate than the Pomerols on the table next to them. Count Stephan von Neipperg, with his usual dashing attire, was pouring his Canon La Gaffeliere, and it was ripe, dark and thoroughly modern, it was a very good wine.

Probably the top region for me overall was Pessac-Leognan. This region supplied 3 of my four favorite wines. Haut Bailly was the superb here, with their hallmark of modern, round, black fruit, soft and quite rich, with just the right structure to reign it all in. It was in no way overdone.
Smith Haut Lafitte, can do no wrong these days. Less modern than the Haut Bailly, this was seamless and silky smooth. Fabulous winemaking here. Worth every penny. Pape Clement in some ways even better, as it had more character. The most traditional in its outlay of fruit, it too maintained silky smooth tannins. This is a fantastic wine.

The Pape Clement Blanc was the broadest, richest, ripest, and certainly the most tropical white in the tasting. It was significantly different from all the others made in a slightly oxidative, leesy style, that really made it stand out from the others, which were more fresh and direct. It was a wow wine.

Domaine de Chevalier was excellent for both white and red. Both were clean and fresh, with a traditional elegance. I loved, as usual, the overachiever, the de Fieuzal rouge, which is also traditionally made, but has a lot of character in terms of aromatics, something that I repeatedly note from this chateau’s red. Their white was once again, very good, with ripe, tropical fruit and excellent freshness and acidity to hold it all together.
We don’t sell it, but Chateau de France is making excellent white and red – although not cheap, the quality is undeniable. Malartic-Lagraviere blanc was very good as expected, but it didn’t necessarily stand out from the crowd of excellent whites. Just a solid choice.

For me, Pauillac and St Julien were not as consistent, although there were some standout wines, including my favorite wine of the night Pichon Lalande Comtesse. This was a sexy, silky sumptuous wine. It is elegant with not a tannin or acid out-of-place. Complex and delicious now, it will age effortlessly for decades. It is a spitting image of  it’s1989, which is still simply gorgeous wine, now at 25 years old. Why Pichon Lalande has somewhat fallen out of favor with critics? I can only guess that it’s not big enough or black enough, and its fruit is too red-fruit oriented with its raspberries and sandalwood, all which is matched to its exotic spices.

Lynch Bages was just as Lynch Bages has been described for the past 100 years: authoritative and somewhat masculine, with traditional structure.Most notably it had that distinct nose and mouth of the oft-described; pencil shavings.
Pichon Baron was big, powerful and impressive, but not completely harmonious, with its black fruit and tannins not syncing up yet. It will happen and be excellent.

The following wines felt were good to very good, but chunky, with somewhat unresolved tannins. Clerc Milon was good but needed time, d’Armailhac was a bit rough. In the same could be said for Langoa Barton. Leoville Barton was very good and held a nice balance between modern and traditional styles, but it too was unresolved. Beychevelle was rough, nothing like the silky, sublime elegance of the 2010 when that vintage was released. Branaire-Ducru seemed good but didn’t stand out of the crowd. I was hoping for more from Gruaud Larose – my favorite chateau for the 2008 Union des Grand Cru tasting that year – in another underdog vintage. But it didn’t have the same lovely aromatics I remember from the past. Lagrange was very nice – I can recommend that for having some elegance and good depth, but it really didn’t stand out. A good value none-the-less.
Of this grouping, Talbot was very good to excellent with a bit more personality and refined qualities.

Of the outlier regions, Camensac was excellent. A terrific wine with good aromatics and some nice raspberry fruit and touch of sandalwood. Chasse Spleen was classic, more dark fruited and structured, en point for that Medoc chateau. Cantemerle was slightly disappointing. Good wine, but not as good as these other two.

I think this is a terrific Bordeaux vintage, and the prices make them so much more attractive than they have been in the past. For those reasons, I think it should be a good retail vintage, and down the road, an excellent restaurant vintage.

Those were my impressions. What were yours?

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2011 Chateau Beauregard Ducasse, Graves Blanc

A Superb Value in White Graves

beauregard ducasseI’ve been a big fan of Beauregard Ducasse for the nine and ten vintages, and while this is not as ripe as the 2010 and lacks that vintage’s sweeter concentration nectarine and tropical components, it is still a lovely wine. The cooler 2011 vintage has plenty of the same flavors and complexity, if just a bit dryer, and not nearly as textural and viscous.  The estate, which is located about 20 miles south-east of the city of Bordeaux in the farthest south edge of the appellation in Mazeres. It is interesting to note that several websites indicate it is in Northern Graves. Not so.  Still, this is one of the best values going.

 

2011 Beauregard Ducasse, Graves Blanc        

On the nose, this shows slate and lime, along with that nice ripe nectarine that is fragrant and inviting. The mouth is long and compex with plenty of vibrancy, green apple and green papaya acidity that makes your mouth salivate. There is a bracing quality to this wine, that your palate adjust too fairly quickly, but showing some grip of tannins which release quickly leaving a slight minerality and suggestions of salinity. An excellent wine, and terriffic value.  87 points.  at $11.99 I’d buy this again.  This was fantastic with chicken breast with olive tapenade, and would be equally delicious with Vietnamese food, Dungeness Crab, Mussels, Halibut, you name it.  A superb value and worth buying.  $14     A score would confuse the issue.map-vignoble-de-bordeaux-graves (1)

Bordeaux and Burgundy’s Relevance on the American Wine Scene

P7141848

P7141848 (Photo credit: cumi&ciki)

Bordeaux and Burgundy have been in something of the doldrums in terms of relevance on the American wine scene since the recession began in 2008. It was at this time that, while the near collapse of financial markets in the west, there was an influx of new wealth in China.  The Chinese nouveau riche with their insatiable appetite for the best Bordeaux had to offer, drove prices up at a time when budgets were shrinking here. Also at the very, most wealthy, in America and Europe and Russia just continued to gain wealth – snapping up blue chip wines for their cellars. The result the rarest of Burgundies and the most highly celebrated Bordeaux climbed, and climbed in price

The resulting wine trends in the United States was a combination of a rejection of Bordeaux’s pricing, and focus on wines from other places. For the generally stayed Bordeaux drinker, Brunello di Montalcino was an easy retreat.  Comparatively, Brunellos were cheap, delicious, and some of the very best producers weren’t much more than $60. With their excellent international reputation, softer tannins, Brunello was a socially acceptable down-sizing for the Bordeaux drinker.  For a more adventurous Burgundy drinker, there was a lot of thrilling options to choose from, most notably the remarkable Barolos and Barbarescos coming from Piemonte, and Aglianicos from Campagna and Basilicata.  Although for inexperienced tasters these wines have more challenges of in terms of structure and bitterness, their aromatics and texture are a huge draw with those wines, surpassing Burgundy in quality and complexity at each price point.

“The wines from the more traditional producers, really resonated, because they are flavors that cannot be produced anywhere else in the world.”

This economic dynamic created a scarcity of the top wines, while most of the lower and middle tiered wines sat, lingering in distributor warehouses and retailers shelves.  Of course this has always been the problem. The top 1% of wines has an eager market, the rest are more difficult to sell. Only now, this disparity is much more acute.  Now, as the stock market soars and the housing market moves back toward record highs, we can predict that this trend will continue.  The difference I think, is the wine in the next tiers down will be forced to lower their prices because the most of the middle class is not gaining wealth in the recovery.  There will not be an increased market for middle tier wines, rather these wines will need to retreat some in price.

In the past, the first growth and second growth Bordeaux were not so expensive that the middle class wine buyer could buy them occasionally, and the same went with Grand Cru Burgundy.  But I have always felt the soul of those appellations are those below those haut crus.  In Burgundy, I have always felt, that if you don’t know the premier cru’s you don’t know Burgundy.  Sure the Grand Cru tasted great.  They were ripe and succulent – anybody could like those.  The true soul, the heart and character of Burgundy is in the terroir, and if the wines got too ripe, this would be covered up, and the aromatics would be buried. For that reason I have always been a fan of the ”off years.”  To me, they seemed to retain more aromatics and just seemed to age better. The ripeness of the Grand Crus, at least to me, often masked the vineyard’s terrior.  As for Bordeaux, I have always been a fan of the 3rd through 5th growth Bordeaux and Cru Bourgeois. I know, it’s an underdog thing, but they were really good then, and today they are much better even now which in many cases justifies their price increases.  Besides, what hasn’t gone up in price?

Having just started to go out into the marketplace this week with some of these Bordeaux and Burgundy wines, it is fun to watch the light bulbs go off as the wines are tasted.  In many cases, the reactions I got are as if these buyers had suddenly remembered that Bordeaux and Burgundy even existed.  That’s how far removed the wine industry in many places has become from these two regions.  The wines from the more traditional producers, really resonated, because they are flavors that can not be produced anywhere else in the world. It makes you wonder if part of the problem with the relevance of Bordeaux is not only the prices, but the extreme modernization of the wine making, and the resultant fruit-driven styles that have taken hold there.

Givry vineyards 3

Givry vineyards 3 (Photo credit: Max xx)

Tasting the wines from these two classic French appellations is like a re-awakening. They are beautiful, full of personality and character. Sure, because of my new job I have a vested interest in the success of Burgundy and Bordeaux in the market place.  But I left my buyer’s position at The Wine Club precisely so I could immerse myself in the amazing portfolio at Atherton Wine Imports. While there certainly is a lot more competition for their attention, but I think Burgundy and Bordeaux are, and will again gain in relevance in the American wine consciousness.     Dean 

If James Gandolfini were a wine…

A Look At Ourselves, And Our Industry

I’ve been struggling with this post for a couple of weeks.  I don’t want it to come off as trite, hence the delay in sending it out. 

James Gandolfini

James Gandolfini (Photo credit: gdcgraphicsissue.

The death of James Gandolfini was pretty shocking.  Here was a man who was highly respected, and by many, revered as a true artist. That he died at such an early age

made his life and his work more poignant. But the event of his death made me think: If James Gandolfini were a wine, how would he have been judged?  Would he have been successful? Would anyone even have considered him?  Here was a man who did not have beauty, was not fit, but he exuded such character, strength, sensitivity and nuance.  Aren’t those all attributes we desire in a wine?  Aren’t those the things that actually define a great wine?

It dawned on me that wines are judged the same way we consider models or a Miss America contestant. It’s a beauty contest, and wine critics with their score cards, are telling us this wine is better than that wine, when all it really does is confuse the issue of what a wine is really about.

Wines are like actors, or at least the characters they play, but the majority of our wine critics, and the wine buying public, for the most part, treat wines like models. And everybody knows, the supermodel is the best example of a person, right? (sarcasm is intended here.) 

“To combat the constant dumbing down of wine, we’ve got to tell the stories of wine.”

But if we want real soul, and real character to mean something, and to really shine through, what do we as wine professionals do? To combat the constant dumbing down of wine, we’ve got to tell the stories of wine. I was telling my boss, “We’ve got all these really cool wines, and it’s our job to tell people about them.”

I have a new job, doing marketing for a small importer of Bordeaux and Burgundy. Despite representing some of the greatest domaines in Burgundy, and an incredible selection of Bordeaux, we have a challenge to relate how wonderful these wines are in virtually every vintage.

Although collectors should, they don’t tend to stock their cellars with the 2006, 2007 or 2008 vintages, all of which produced wonderful wines. Wines from these vintages show remarkable character, strength, quality, and they will age beautifully too.   These are the vintages that the top sommeliers are purchasing for their restaurants.  It is the producer’s name that is important, not so much the vintage.

But for some reason we, as American wine enthusiasts, have a hard time getting past our thing about vintages.  Take 2007 vintage in Bordeaux for instance. With the exception of 1961, the 2007 vintage is better than any vintage between the years 1960 to 1981, yet most wine collectors have completely dismissed the vintage as not worthy.

But it’s really a more extreme problem than just of vintage. In my last position as a wine buyer, I was constantly amazed that if you offered two wines from the same producer, from the same year, and one got 97 points and another got 96 points, people would only want to purchase the 97 point wine – even if the 96 point wine was significantly less expensive.  I guarantee that there is no qualitative difference between a 97 point wine and a 96 point wine – or even a 94 point wine for that matter.  Additionally, if you blind taste 10 people on those two wines, it is a sure bet that half of the tasters will like the lesser, 96 point wine better.

What is this national mentality that makes people want only the best, and how could the best be determined when taste is so subjective, and the simple fact that wines can “show” wildly differently on separate occasions?

 “You could go really hungry trying to sell wine without resorting pimping wine out with scores.”

As wine professionals, I realize we talk out of both sides of our face.  On one hand, many of us have a remarkable fascination with  wine and are quite dedicated to telling the hundreds of stories associated with them. On the other hand we’re also trying to put bread on our table, and we feel that we have to resort to using the scores (that we really often detest) to sell wine. We do it because in the time it takes to get your customers to blindly trust you, you could go really hungry without resorting to pimping wines by using scores.

Over the past three years, I wrote email blasts for The Wine Club.  About a third of the wines I wrote about didn’t have any scores (or I didn’t include them.) I wrote them up with exaggerated enthusiasm, ala Robert Parker, in an attempt to build a following for our store, and the wines we championed.  I thought it was important to build a reputation for being authority of wine ourselves. Quoting a score doesn’t make you an authority, does it?imgres

So for three years I tirelessly wrote up wines – with no scores, just my enthusiasm.  I found I could sell wines quite well up to about $25-$30. Above that price point, fagetabout-it.

In today’s wine world, is it necessary to score a wine in order to build a reputation as a wine authority? Certainly, it appears as though scores are required; which kind-of-sucks. I’ve really wrestled with this.  

When I taste wine, I don’t taste points, I taste wine.  But since Gerald Asher retired, (by far my favorite wine-writer) I can’t think of a successful critic that hasn’t resorted to giving wine points.

At this point it is tempting to digress into the problems revolving around scoring wine, and the inequities involved in the process.  I hope we all understand those issues and frustrations well enough, to let it sit there stewing, without addressing them.

Scores or no scores:

I think the answer to my question in the opening paragraph is clear.  It was in a sense rhetorical. Suffice it to say, (with all due respect to the late Mr. Gandolfini) that if he were a wine, very few members of the wine-buying public would ever gotten to experience Gandolfini’s fabulous character, strength, and nuance he would have projected.  This happens every single day in the wine world, and it is the great shame of the wine industry.

 

Go out and tell the stories.

Dean

2010 Bordeaux Delivers Everything Promised

A glass of Cabernet Franc from Barboursville V...

Photo by Amy C Evans (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yesterday, I had a chance to quickly taste through a flight of ridiculously impressive 2010 Bordeaux. Just being fresh off the boat from Europe, they preformed remarkably well, doubly so since we had opened the flight only minutes before. I had virtually forgotten my enthusiasm for the vintage – I hadn’t tasted much since George Derbalian of Atherton Wine Imports brought 15 barrel samples by the store. That was almost two years ago. I remember now how was wowed I was then. I am wowed again now.

Vintages like 2010, despite the immense prices of the top wines, allow the more modest wine buyer remarkable value for excellent, age-able wines.  As the old French saying goes: Drink small wines in big years and big wines in small years.  If you haven’t  2009 and 2010 Bordeaux in your cellar already, now is the time. They will reward you for many years down the road.

“As the old French saying goes:

Drink small wines in big years and big wines in small years

While the whole line-up was excellent-plus some, the last three wines were simply remarkable, and absolutely lived up to their price points.  The surprise of the tasting was the Puynomand; it is a truly spectacular value.  Big and powerful, if a touch rustic, this has dense concentration for any wine up to the $30-ish price point. This is one that will lay down for 15 to 20 years – or more, depending how old you like your wine.  I’ve scored these using the twenty point system.       ~Dean Alexander

2010 Bordeaux Tasting, May 25,2013

2010 Chateau Poitevin, Medoc
Starting out strong with this Poitevin! This shows off with its ripe, complete fruit, ample concentration and lasting complexity with some toasty tannins. This will age nicely for 5 to 10 years.  15

2010 Chateau Mongravey, Cru Bourgeois, Margaux
Floral nose of Margaux’s terroir is evident as this echos the stereotype of the appellation. Much more elegant than any of the other wines, light to medium weight for the vintage. Fine tannins play along the long finish. 16.5

2010 Chateau La Bienfaisance, Grand Cru, St-Emilion  91 pts WS

Bégédan vineyards in the Haut-Medoc of Bordeaux.

Bégédan vineyards in the Haut-Medoc of Bordeaux. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Merlot’s bright red cherry fruit, very pure, with racy acidity pulling the flavors along on the extended finish. This was not showing nearly as dense and powerful as it had two months ago. This was a crowd favorite at the price. 16

2010 Chateau Belgrave, Fifth Growth, Haut-Medoc
Not much showing on the nose, but has good weight and richness on thepalate. Broad plum fruit, oaky tannins firm it all up, allowing it to finish with some elegance. This developed nicely over the course of the tasting. 17

2010 Chateau Puynormand, Vieille Vignes, Montagne-St-Emilion
Impressively deep plum is dark with lots of dusky, animal-like notes. Ripe Merlot is 100% of the cuvee, and show the power than can be achieved with this grape when grown in the right place.  Very powerful for the price, and is framed with substantial tannins, both from the skins and the oak. 17

2010 Chateau Cantemerle, Fifth Growth, Haut-Medoc
Showing a bit closed having just been opened, showing only faint fruit and subtle oak now. But this showing some excellent richness, and quite powerful, with cassis at the core.  Firm tannins pull the flavors through with authority.  This will cellar very well. 17

2010Chateau Beychevelle, Fourth Growth, St-Julien

Until I tasted the Leoville, I didn’t think a wine would be better in this tasting. It is certainly the best Beychevelle I have ever had. They have come a long way since I visited the Chateau in 1996, with its dirty, mouldy cellar and resulting dirty muddy wines.  This 2010 is a perfectly balanced wine with remarkable finesse, sweetly fruited on the nose. Excellent richness.  Solid, mouth-filling, and no sharp edges. It was complete and complex.  I absolutely loved this.  Parker may have underscored this one. 18.5

2010 La Dame de Montrose, St-Estephe
Huge for Bordeaux – It’s hard to believe this is a second wine (of Second Growth Ch. Montrose). Completely opaque – black with purple edges. Powerful nose, showing quite a bit of green-ness – presumably from Cabernet Franc, and plenty
of new French oak. Sweet, and powerful black-fruits here. A massive wine that defines the greatness and power of the vintage.  On some levels it reminds me somewhat of the very best wines coming out of Chile, but with more structure and less gras.  18

2010 Leoville-Poyferre, Second Growth,St-Julien 

This was without a doubt, the wine of the tasting.  It is bigger in structure than the 100 point 2009 vintage, but less suave and refined. That said it is simply a magnificent Bordeaux. A fine nose of minerals and stones, a touch of fresh herbs, vanilla, and shows very little oak,  sweet fruit here again, with excellent ripeness and balance, full mouth-feel, that is long, soft, sultry on the finish, with tannins holding down the long complex finish. 19.5

The line up, with current retail prices and critics scores

2010 Chateau Poitevin, Medoc  90 pts WS  $14.99

2010 Chateau Mongravey, Margaux  91 pts WS  $36.99

2010 Chateau La Bienfaisance, St-Emilion  91 pts WS, $31.99

2010 Chateau Belgrave, Haut-Medoc  91 pts WS  $33.99

2010 La Dame de Montrose, St-Estephe  94 pts RP $55.99

2010 Chateau Puynormand, Vieille Vignes, Montagne-St-Emilion 17.99

2010 Chateau Cantemerle, Haut-Medoc  94+ pts RP $44.99

Chateau Beychevelle, St-Julien  94 pts RP $104.99

2010 Leoville-Poyferre,  St-Julien  98+ $159.99

The Unlimited Potential of Spain, and a $12 Wine to Prove It

Twisted / Retorcido

(Photo credit: . SantiMB .)

Wine has been produced in Spain  since far into pre-history, with evidence that vines have been cultivated on there since the Tertiary period. That’s a minimum of 2.6 million years ago.  But despite its exceptionally long history with the vine, Spain has also had an equally long history of being more interested in making  lots of wine, but has had less regard to its quality. This has changed with pressure to compete in the international marketplace.  Spanish winemakers, like their peers worldwide, are utilizing new understanding of the processes and techniques, and this had a profound change in the quality of their wines. But similar information and techniques available worldwide, over the past decade, the quality of Spanish wine has improved faster, on a larger scale, and with more impressive results, than anywhere else. In these quickly developing Spanish regions, much of what is being produced is often sometimes made in an unpolished style, and goes for concentration rather than finesse, but it can be said without hesitation, that they are undeniably delicious.

“the quality of Spanish wine has improved faster, on a larger scale, and with more impressive results, than anywhere else”

Ironically, the exception of all this virtual, instantaneous change, is Spain’s greatest wine region, Rioja. In the past, Spanish winemakers never saw the need to apply the precision that the French did in their top growing regions, and remained quite backwards in winemaking technique and style. However, in the 1880’s Rioja got a big boost in quality when expatriate winemakers arrived there from Bordeaux, following the destruction of French vineyards by phylloxera.  But once the French returned to France, the wines from Rioja gained, you might say, their own unique dialect. These oxidative reds from Rioja certainly had their charms, but a new generation of Spaniards that had traveled Europe, and realized they needed to modernize the style of the wine produced in their families’ Bodegas.

Being Spain’s most historic winemaking region, Rioja has had to tread a more delicate path away from what they are expected to produce. Tradition can be a difficult taskmaster for winemakers looking to dramatically improve quality.  Young dynamic winemakers often became discouraged with the slow pace of change in Rioja, and tired of fighting with their fathers and their traditional ways. Ultimately many sought other regions,  like Priorat, to make the wines to make the wines they envisioned.  Today the overall quality in Rioja is very high, but it is that next step of precision, specifically changes in farming in the vineyard, that will be so difficult.

Much of the vineyard land in Rioja is divided into tiny plots, each owned by a family that proudly farms it, in addition to their real jobs. By long-standing agreement, they sell what they grow to a local Bodegas. Key to improvement in quality, will be for wineries to have control of the farming in each of these tiny plots. This kind of change, with so many players, and so much tradition, will be incredibly challenging to negotiate and to implement.

The tremendous vineyard resources all over Spain has already attracted many of the best and the brightest young winemakers to emigrate there.  It has also attracted an enormous investments from within Spain and elsewhere. With this new money has come the big-name, globe traveling, consulting-enologists, like the Michel Rolland and Australian Chris Ringland, that investment groups have brought in to “raise the game” quickly.  Ringland is very active in Spain, making his trademark super-extracted, high-octane wines in the Jumilla D.O.  For better or for worse, these successes will certainly inspire imitation.

In 20 or 30 years from now,  winemakers and vineyardists will truly have evolved their understanding of the regions of Spain.  They will have examined, dissected, and striven to understand the micro-climates, the vineyards, the smallest individual plots of vines. Down to the most minisule detail, they will seek for precision, just as the French did long ago (and still do) in Burgundy and Bordeaux. The potential for amazing quality is unlimited in Spain, and they are just scratching the surface.

The Barahonda winery makes the perfect case for my belief that potential future of Spain is virtually unlimited.  Barahonda produces a unbaked bottling of 100% Monestrell called Sin Madera, that blows away any expectation of what a $12 wine should taste like. It would take very little to make this precocious wine into something much more serious, and finessed. Barahonda is a modern winery with 120 ha. of organically farmed vineyards,  from the small D.O.  of Yecla (6500 ha. total acreage) in South-Eastern Spain.

2011 Barahonda Sin-Madera, Monastrell (Mourvedre),  Yecla
Fermented and aged in stainless tanks, this has very primary aromas of a black grapiness, along with cherry liqueur, filled out by black licorice, basil, and dark chocolate. Deeper in, there is plum on the nose, followed by a creamy vanilla.  In the mouth, the there is tremendous depth, without undue heaviness. The wine is not thick. The well-integrated acid pulls the flavors out effortlessly and quite long. There is an easy intensity about this wine, with its grapiness being overt, followed by cranberry, cherry liqueur, then powerful bass notes of molasses, deep plum, licorice that continually gaining depth and richness beyond the concentration the wine has.  It is a result of effortless acid and tannin balance, coupled with abundant fruit. There is no manipulation here what-so-ever, and that is what separates it from almost all other lower-priced wines out there. An incredible wine.

The wines of Spain can provide it all.  The top Spanish winemakers make a handful of the world’s greatest wines, and at the other end of the spectrum, Spain produces the wine world’s greatest values – now in a remarkable quantity.  The common denominator between these wines is a staggering number of very old, established vineyards from a wide array of superb growing regions.