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Dos Palmas is a selection of two casks with still-active flor from an old fino solera of 150 casks averaging 8 years of age. Incredibly memorable for its abundant bouquet of dried apple and golden raisin with silky notes of almond oil and demure florals that continue on to enrich the refined yet electric palate of soft citrus peel, aloe, green almond, and yellow currants. A rare and wonderful pleasure with roasted fish or game with complex combinations of herbs and spices. Ariana Rolich
All sherries in the Las Palmas Collection begin their lives on track to become Tio Pepe, which averages 4-4.5 years of age. A fascinating variety of flor activity and microclimates throughout Tio Pepe's soleras (totaling approximately 20,000 barrels) creates especially pure and fine expressions that set certain barrels of fino apart. The tradition was to mark these wines with a "palma" and to trace their development over time; two, three, and four palmas designate increasing fineness with age. The 2015 selection of Una Palma was pulled from three barrels of fino in a solera of 142 casks averaging 6 years old. Andrew Sinclair from Gonzalez Byass notes that this is a higher-alcohol style of fino that was typical prior to the 1960s (fermented to 11% alcohol and then fortified to 15.5%). Soft, rIch aromas of flor, beeswax and chamomile, with hints of peppercorn and banana leaves contrast with the bracing freshness of the palate, full of tingly lemon oil, concentrated yellow fruit flesh and tart and bitter golden plum peels. Ariana Rolich
Francesc Grimalt and Sergio Caballero started 4 Kilos in Mallorca in 2006, seeking to restore grape varieties native to the Balearic Islands. On vineyards across Mallorca, they farm vines of Callet, Cabernet Sauvignon, Fogoneu, Merlot, Monastrell and Syrah on clay soils, but their focus is on the local Callet grape. Motor America is their 100% Callet bottling, intended to show the unique character of this indigenous variety. For this wine and for all of their wines, they hand harvest all grapes, ferment with native yeasts in small amphorae, and bottle without any additives. Callet is a relatively thin-skinned black grape, and yields lighter red wines with good acidity and red fruit notes. Bottlings of indigenous Mallorcan grape varieties (Callet and Fogoneau) are very rare, so this is an exciting bottle! Ben Fletcher
The Gredos mountains at the center of the Spanish plateau are known mainly for dense, mineral Garnacha, but there are a vast number of different styles of that wine produced in their high-altitude vineyards. This, the Cien Lanzas from 4 Monos, is a beautiful example of high-altitude Garnacha (with a tiny touch of Carinena and Garnacha Blanca) from the village of Cenicientos, made in a whole-cluster, spicy style with a longer (21-40 day) macerations. Long, spicy, dense and dark, it remains lifted by the signature high-altitude acidity and broad , cooling, granitic minerality of the terroir of the Gredos. This was incredible with steak tacos in its continuing youth, but I wouldn't be afraid to hold onto a few bottles as this further matures. Ben Fletcher
Martín Crusat and his wife Patricia have been making wine form their own three parcels of vines in O Rosal in Rias Baixas since 2012, employing organic and biodynamic practices in the vineyard and a light touch in the cellar. The soils here are mainly clay, and the climate is very strongly influenced by the atlantic, commonly lending a salty, bright element to the wines. Mainly working with the local star, Albariño, the Crusats also have plots of Loureiro and Caiño Branco and purchase some young-vine Sousón (an indigenous red grape) from a neighbor to make this wine, a claret made from all of the previous mentioned varieties. O Acordo is deep red in the glass, with a nose of candied red fruits and red and purple flowers with a salty, sea air tinge. The palate is bright and fresh and very light: initially very acid-driven but opening over time to notes of raspberry and blackcherry, with plenty of clay-y minerality. There's no real tannins here, so this is a great wine to drink with very light foods or before dinner. I'd encourage you to give this a chill before opening, then leave it for 30 minutes to an hor to allow for the aromatics and the palate to truly come alive. Ben Fletcher
O Esteiro is a blend of Caíño, Espadeiro, and Mencía from vineyards along the Atlantic coast in Rias Baixas, farmed organically by Xurxo Alba. Although Rias Baixas is better known for Albarino, this is a refreshing red, perfect for the summer. On the nose, it is exceedingly mineral and saline with delicate red fruits, while the very light bodied palate shows bolder berry notes alongside tons of refreshing, salty minerality and structuring acidity. With a little chill this is perfect for these warmer days. Ben Fletcher
This dry, crisp, slightly effervescent rose is a testament to the Ameztoi family's long history of producing txakoli in Getaria. This rose is made from Hondarribi Beltza and Hondarribi Zuri grapes, grown on sand and clay soils and fermented in steel tanks with indigenous yeast.The 2019 is a great example of Txakoli, with plenty of salty character and a delicate green herbal note complementing fresh watermelon and strawberry. Perfect for these sweltering late-July days, or for pretending you're by the sea any time of the year. Ben Fletcher
Anima Mundi is a project from Agustí Torello Roca, who also makes sparkling wines under the AT Roca label. Based in the Eastern Penedès, where Macabeu is the most important local grape and also at its most expressive. This pet-nat is from adjacent parcels of Macabeu and Xarel-lo on limestone soils, partially fermented in old 225L barrels and stainless steel before bottling to finish fermenting in bottle with no filtering, sulfur, or other additives. Mineral, linear, and totally refreshing, this the perfect sparkling wine for hot summer days or drinking before dinner! Ben Fletcher
Made of 95% Tempranillo and 5% Viura from Artuke's organically farmed family estate in the Rioja Alavesa, this wine is a great bargain. This is a traditionally-made Rioja with a freshness that most wines of the region don't have. Whole cluster fermented and raised in concrete tanks, the wine is juicy and floral with aromas of wild violets, ripe cherry, crushed red and purple berries, soft earth, and wild green herbs. Drink this wine with a slight chill and pair it with everything from pizza to paellas!
Saiar is a certified organic vineyard of Albariño grown on granitic soils, named for the ancient church next to the vineyard. This wine is fermented with wild yeasts in stainless steel tank and rests on the lees for a few months before bottling. Saiar shows intense aromas of citrus zest, jasmine tea, and orange blossoms and a dry, focused, mineral-driven palate. A classic with oysters and a stellar apéritif!
Juan Peñagaricano Akutain worked at CVNE and La Rioja Alta before planting his own vineyard in Rioja Alta in 1975. Ever since, he and his son, Jon Peñagaricano, have sought to produce classicly styled Rioja wines at a smaller scale, sourcing grapes from their own plots, which they work without chemicals and harvest by hand. Since 2015 they have produced this wine, a Cosecha (unaged) Rioja, fermenting Tempranillo and a little bit of Garnacha in fiberglass and resting the wine in the same container before bottling without fining or filtering. The 2018 shows the terroir of Rioja Alta without any distractions: it is a wine of pure fruit and earth. Notes of ripe cherry abound on the nose, interspersed with notes of green tobacco and earth. The palate follows, with similar pretty cherry quality and a long and broad clay-y minerality. This is a cosecha Rioja, without oak or long aging, and as a result it is much lighter than the wines that many think of as Rioja: it is perfectly suited to drinking with a slight chill into the summer. Ben Fletcher
El Vedao is a subregion of Elvillar in the Rioja Alavesa that is predominantly planted with Garnacha. David Sampedro biodynamically farms three plots of Garnacha here (using only sulfur and whey in his treating of the vines), and their grapes find their way into this limited production bottling. The grapes for this wine are harvested by hand, then fermented with indigenous yeasts before maturing for two-and-a-half years in used French oak barrels. This is not the extracted, heavy Garnacha that has come to be associated with Aragon: instead it shows a delicate florality and abundant red fruit to complement notes of spice and earth. Ben Fletcher
David Sampedro works a small collection of certified biodynamic vineyards around his native village of Elvillar in Rioja Alavesa, producing a range of wines from blended "village level" bottlings to single-parcel wines. This wine, his young and bold Rioja Tinto, comes from estate and purchased fruit. The grapes are destemmed and fermented with indigenous yeasts in concrete, before aging in large oak barrels. The profile is bold and dark, with only the slightest influence of new French oak. A very well-made Rioja in the new style. Ben Fletcher
The Bohigas family are long-time farmers and winemakers in Catalunya, farming organically and producing sparkling and still wines from the local grape varieties . This still white wine is a great, affordable introduction to one of the most interesting white varieties in Spain: Xarel-lo. Xarel-lo is the most important white grape in the production of Cava and other sparkling wines in Catalunya, and a great grape variety for producing crisp and mineral still wines. The grapes for this wine were harvested by hand and fermented in stainless steel before bottling: it is bright, crisp and mineral with notes of salty stone and citrus. A new daily drinker, perfect for lighter food or just drinking on its own. Ben Fletcher
Camino Roca is an organic winery in the Basque country of Spain, producing traditional Txakolina with native yeasts and no additives other than a modest amount of SO2. This is classic Txakoli, crisp, refreshing and light with a light buzz of effervescence. There are notes of lime juice, salt, around a mineral core. A great choice for spring sipping or with lighter seafood!
Marcel of Castellroig makes this still rosat from Ull de Llebre, or Tempranillo, with the same diligent and thoughtful work that he puts into his Cavas. The grapes are grown organically, hand harvested and given a very short maceration on their skins before fermenting in stainless steel tanks with indigenous yeasts. This year the Roselles is a pale salmon pink, with a beautiful and delicate nose of sea salt and fine red fruits. The palate is totally dry, with a core of chalky minerality and notes of strawberry and raspberry. A very joyful, very Mediterranean rosat! Ben Fletcher
Castellroig is one of the finest values in sparkling wine and a great example of the wines of Corpinnat: it is farmed organically, harvested by hand, aged at least 18 months on the lees, and fermented with native yeasts. Marcel Sabate and his team have a remarkable understanding of their vineyards and have mapped out every minute shift in terroir on their estate; this fanatical approach to quality shows in the bottle. The focus of this cuvée is Xarel-lo, a favorite among the grapes of the Penedès for its refreshing mineral qualities and notes of mountain herbs. A light-on-its-feet bubbly for everyday occasions. Ariana Rolich
A treat for lovers of Castellroig, the Rosat is a refreshing rosè sparkling wine made from organically farmed Garnacha and Trepat grapes, fermented with native yeasts, and aged a minimum of 18 months on the lees before disgorgement. A lovely, rosy watermelon hue, dry and frothy, with deep and delicious flavors of raspberry, cranberry, orange rind, sea salt, and Mediterranean herbs. This rosat is always cold in our fridge at home, ready for smoked salmon brunch, a sardine snack, and fish from the grill. Ariana Rolich
Vermell is a blend of Monastrell, Garnacha Tintorera and the unique local red grape Mandó, from Celler del Roure outside Valencia. The grapes are harvested by hand, destemmed, then fermented in stainless steel and stone lagar, before aging in very old amphorae in cellar of the centuries-old winery. The wine is medium bodied, with notes of red fruit and earth. The very old amphorae have a different effect than younger clay vessels - something on the finish that I've had trouble describing but find very nice. A new favorite for me in the below twenty category, and a great introduction to the wines of Celler del Roure. Ben Fletcher
Les Foes is whole cluster Garnacha from a 10 year old vineyard in Castellón, Valencia, planted, farmed and vinified by Roger Diaz, who is also a high school history teacher. Diaz farms his vines organically, with biodynamic treatments, and approaches winemaking in a very low-intervention style: fermentation is whole-cluster with natural yeasts in used barrels, and he never uses sulfur or other additives. When people think of Garnacha and Valencia they likely imagine a full-bodied, high alcohol wine, but this is fresh and bright with a joyous nose of earth, flowers and cherries and blackberries. On the palate it is truly refreshing and friendly, with soft notes of perfectly ripe strawberry, cherry, and spice. There's something special and beguiling about this bottle that kept me coming back for another sip over and over. Ben Fletcher
Ramon Parera and Jordi Arnan have been making wines under the Celler Pardas label since 1996, when they acquired an old estate in Alt Penedès. They have a passion for the traditional grape varieties of the region, and this wine epitomizes that passion, reviving an old and rare grape variety. Malvasia de Sitges (also known as Malmsey in Madeira or Malvasia di Lipari in Sicily) has a fascinating history as a (very, very old) grape used for the production of sweet wines, often made from dried grapes. Today, it is nearly extinct in Catalonia, where it is found on only about 2.5 hectares (at least as of 2010 or so, according to Jancis Robinson). As a result, this is the first dry wine that I've ever tasted made entirely from this variety (with the possible exception of wines from the Canary Islands, however I think that those wines come from the distinct Malvasia de Lanzarote grape...). Based on this wine, I would love to taste more! Pardas Blau Cru is a stunner, with electric, nervy acidity, beautiful citrus, stone fruit, and sea salt on the palate, and a delicately floral nose. There's a bit of body, and lots of mineral structure from the clay-limestone soils characteristic of this area of the Alt Penedès round out the palate. A great wine that expresses the nexus of tradition and innovation that characterizes Catalan wine these days! Ben Fletcher
Pardas is a winemaking project from Ramon Parera and Jordi Arnan in the Alt Penedes dating back to 1996. Their focus has been on old indigenous grape varieties of the region, and the Rupestris is mostly Xarel-lo with a small amount of Malvasia de Sitges, both classic grapes of the region. This is a great, fresh example of Penedès terroir, with a salty mineral core enveloped by notes of citrus, pear, and melon. Ben Fletcher
This is not a Brut Rosé for the faint-hearted! Dark, savory, peppery and unforgettable, it's formidable enough on its own, but may be best paired with food. Fried food, pan-Asian cuisine... the list is endless! It's quite structured for a sparkling wine, think more of a light Lambrusco than a sparkling rose, and you get the idea. Minerality here is expressed through some structure, and flavors of fresh soil. No SO2 added. Eben
The Campo de Borja in Aragon, west of Catalonia, is known for its bush-trained Garnacha vines planted on sloped vineyards, and this wine, from Fernando Mora, Francisco Latasa and Mario López of Cuevas de Arom expresses the potential of these vines to produce wines of intensity and lift. As Ladieras is from three vineyards of roughly 40 year-old vines on slate-limestone slopes, which were harvested by hand, fermented with indigenous yeasts, and aged in a mix of concrete and both old and new barriques. On the nose, it shows spicy and ripe red and purple fruits, and the palate is long with dense red fruits balanced by nice minerality, well-integrated tannins, and just a touch of oak spice. An outstanding value for drinking this summer! Ben Fletcher
100% Mencia: a great value expression of Ribeira Sacra!
Albahra is Envinate's Mediterranean wine, from vines of Garnacha Tintorera and Moravia-Agria planted in clay-limestone soils near Albacete in Castilla-La Mancha. The Garnacha Tintorera and the Moravia-Agria are vinified separately: the Garnacha with some stems in cement vats, and the Moravia fully destemmed in used barrels. After about 8 months they are blended together and bottled without fining or filtering and with only a small amount of SO2 added. The 2018 is exuberant and alive right from the bottle, far more so than previous vintages, and shows more elegance and sophistication than past bottlings, in my view. The nose shows black and white pepper, ripe red plum, black cherry, and floral notes, while the palate is medium-bodied with a strong seam of limestone minerality and notes of red fruit, black pepper, and game. An outstanding wine to open now that will complement summer barbecues and grilled vegetables or meats, or a great candidate for near-term cellaring. Ben Fletcher
From a collection of parcels throughout Ribeira Sacra. "These Mencía grapes are fermented 1o0% whole cluster with wild yeasts in open top plastic tubs, then raised in used 300 and 400 liter French oak for 11 months with no racking. A touch of SO2 is added only at bottling, and the finished wine sees no fining or filtration." (Note from Jose Pastor Selections).
A large blend of white grapes, many hailing originally from Madeira and Portugal: Gual, Albillo Criollo, Marmajuelo, Malvasia, Forastera, Verdelho and others. From vines in Taganan along the far northeastern coast of Tenerife, where the soils are volcanic with sand and basalt. The vineyard is exceptionally steep, with ancient terraces, necessitating that it be worked by hand. The untrained vines range from 60 to 200 years old are planted from the side of the ocean up to 300m above sea level. Grapes are harvested by hand, then fermented with indigenous yeasts in open-top vats. A small subset macerate on their skins for around 7 days. The wine is aged in neutral oak for eight months, then bottled without fining or filtering and with only a small addition of sulfur. Ben Fletcher
This is such a fascinating (not-so) rosé! Rene Barbier, Jr. farms a small parcel of 65-year-old Cartoixà Vermell, the very rare Catalan grape also known as red Xarel-lo. Though it looks and drinks like a rosé, this is actually made as a red wine, it’s just that this grape develops so little pigment that even with an extended maceration, it never gets any darker than this coppery-pink color. It is aged in a mixture of ceramic and neutral barrels for over a year which gives it this rounded, creamy mouth-feel bursting with juicy fruit flavor and a savory, umami quality.
The Espelt family has been growing grapes for centuries on the sandy granite, limestone, and slate soils of Empordà. In the early 2000s, they began bottling under their own name, resulting in some of the best values coming out of Catalonia. Espelt's vineyards are certified organic and dedicated primarily to native varieties like Lledoner (Catalan Grenache) and Carinyena. This wine is 100% Garnatxa Blanca from 50 year-old vines, fermented and aged for 3 months in neutral French oak barrels. Medium bodied, with pure, fluid flavors of white peach, lemon-lime, tropical fruit, and golden apple, flecked with white pepper and silky florals, anchored by a firm mineral spine. Fresh and versatile!
Mosset is a new Brut Nature Corpinnat from Marcel. I like to think of it as the next step up from the Brut Reserva: clearly more serious and more interesting than the entry-level bottling, but approachable enough in price and character to enjoy with abandon. As a non-dosage sparkling, you can expect a generally more intense character, but the long lees aging lends this wine a creamy, almost plush mouthfeel with very well integrated bubbles. What is most exciting for me about this wine is the herbal character that reflects the terroir of the vineyards with lots of fennel, anise, and rosemary on the nose. These herbal notes would complement all of the flavors of the Thanksgiving for other holiday table, and this very dry sparkler would be great to drink with dinner. Ben Fletcher
This 100% Tempranillo wine from Ribera del Duero is a fantastic value from biodynamically certified vineyards. Coming from vines aged between 10- and 20-year-old, the wine is fermented for 9 days and then aged 80% in stainless steel and 20% in oak. This is a classic, fuller-bodied expression of warm climate Tempranillo: dark fruit, earth, a bit of leather and medium tannins are in balanced with freshness and some herbal character. A great wine for hearty weeknight fare, it can also stand up to steak or lamb. Ben Fletcher
This incredible bargain is a certified organic blend of mostly Bobal and some Cabernet Sauvignon vines planted at 1,000 meters altitude in the Utiel-Requena region of Spain. Dense and layered on the palate, the wine is full-bodied with good acidity and supple tannins.
Goyo Garcia Viadero produces small amounts of elegant, minimal intervention Ribera del Duero from high elevation plots planted with old vines of Tinto Fino (Tempranillo). The Joven is a great introduction to Goyo Garcia's unique style. From a single vineyard of 35 year-old vines at about 860 meters of elevation, the grapes for the Joven are hand-harvested, destemmed, and then fermented with indigenous yeasts in steel tank. There is no fining or filtration before bottling, and no added SO2. For a Joven wine, this is strikingly serious and thoughtful without being heavy or extracted. Red and black fruits, with spice and violet show expressively on the nose after 30 minutes open, while the palate is a bit darker and more savory, with taut acidity, pretty tannins and a long finish that would pair nicely with sausages, lamb, or beef. (Wine arrives 3/12/20) Ben Fletcher
I adore the wines of Goyo Garcia Viadero, who is making natural wines in Ribera del Duero with his wife Diana Semova Geogieva. They farm high altitude plots of old vines, vinify in a traditional and low-intervention fashion with indigenous yeasts and without sulfur additions, and produce wines of great complexity and elegant beauty. This bottling, 100% Malvasia from old vines macerated on the skins, is a new addition to their line-up. Tasting it in Mid-July, it impressed me immensely. The nose is redolent of exotic spice (white tea, allspice, star anise) , roasted almond, and stone fruit, while the palate shows apricot, peach and jasmine, with bright notes of ginger. The skin-contact grants delicate, refined tannins and rich, waxy body to the wine. Truly, one of my favorite "orange wines" that I've ever encountered: intense, elegant, and memorable. Ben Fletcher
Isaac Cantalapiedra and his son Manuel work their organically farmed family plots of Verdejo in their homeland of Rueda to produce wines that show the terroir, density, and authentic character of Verdejo that is so hard to find. Cantayano, their “village” wine is from 3 plots around La Seca, all hand harvested, macerated briefly on the skins, and fermented in mainly steel vats with some used barrels. The wine is raised on the lees for 8 months before bottling. On the nose, Cantayano shows stone fruit, apple, and herbaceous notes, while the palate is surprising dense, with a beautiful seam of acidity. A lovely and affordable Spanish white wine that shows the potential of Verdejo when the grape variety is treated with respect. Ben Fletcher
All Listan Negro from Dolores Cabrera, a farmer/winemaker from Tenerife. Vines average around 100 years old, and unlike many of the Canary Island offerings, are from lower altitude sites, mostly on iron-rich red clay terroir. The new vintage from Dolores is a beautiful expression of Listán Negro, with less intense acidity or tartness than we typically find from high altitude vineyards. Light-to-medium bodied, with ripe red and purple fruit on the mid-palate and a elegant, finessed finish. An all-around delicious wine that should be explored by any Canary Island wine enthusiast. Eben Lillie With a year in bottle this wine is, I think, finally ready to show its true character. Truly volcanic and savory, with exuberant aromas of toasted black pepper, earth, smoke and cherry, the delicate but long and flavorful palate shows charred red and black raspberries and a meat-y quality. The finish is long and savory, with lots of volcanic spice. A great wien that has really come into its own in bottle! Ben Fletcher
All Listan Negro from Dolores Cabrera, a farmer/winemaker from Tenerife. Vines average around 100 years old, and unlike many of the Canary Island offerings, are from lower altitude sites, mostly on iron-rich red clay terroir. The new vintage from Dolores is a beautiful expression of Listán Negro, with less intense acidity or tartness than we typically find from high altitude vineyards. Light-to-medium bodied, with ripe red and purple fruit on the mid-palate and a elegant, finessed finish. An all-around delicious wine that should be explored by any Canary Island wine enthusiast. Eben Lillie
With a year in bottle this wine is, I think, finally ready to show its true character. Truly volcanic and savory, with exuberant aromas of toasted black pepper, earth, smoke and cherry, the delicate but long and flavorful palate shows charred red and black raspberries and a meat-y quality. The finish is long and savory, with lots of volcanic spice. A great wien that has really come into its own in bottle! Ben Fletcher
I love wine from the Canary Islands, and I've had some beautiful rosados made from Listan Negro. This is definitely my favorite, and the fullest and clearest expression that I've encountered of what a rosé made from that grape in volcanic soils can be. Totally alive and completely refreshing from the moment it leaves the bottle, this pours a translucent ruby that is simultaneously bright and fully of depth. The nose is macerated raspberries, a hint of violet, smoke and the faintest hint of sea salt, while the medium-bodied palate offers ripe raspberry, smoke, toasted black pepper and hints of black cardamom that lead towards a exceptionally long finish characterized by raspberry liqeuer, clay-y minerality, and delicate black pepper notes. Thank you, Dolores Cabrera, for this transportive rosado of terroir that sings of sun, sea, and volcanic soil! Ben Fletcher
The Viña Tondonia, a more than 100 hectare assemblage of vineyards acquired by the estate in 1913, is situated on a large meander of the river Ebro. This is the largest vineyard owned and worked by the Lopez estate, and the grapes are used in the production of both white and red Reserva wines, and in exceptional years a small number of Gran Reserva bottles. (Information from LopezdeHeredia.com)
Cubillo, the Lopez de Heredia Crianza wine, could easily be classifed as a Reserva were it from another estate. It comes from the Viña Cubillas vineyard , which issituated on 40 hectares along the Ebro roughly four kilometers from Haro, at a slightly lower elevation than the El Bosque vineyard. The vineyard consists of two plots: "La Encina" and "La Monja." Both vineyards are planted exclusively with red grapes, and are used solely in the production of the Vina Cubillo bottling. (Information comes from the Lopez de Heredia website.)
Diego Losada is very excited about Trousseau’s potential in Bierzo: he told me that he’s fallen in love with the variety and how it handles the warming climate of Bierzo. In Absentia is from vines of Trousseau (or Bastardo, as some call it) mixed in with plantings of Mencía, Godello, and other varieties in the northern part of the appellation, on clay-calcareous soils. Diego harvests the Trousseau by hand separately but simultaneously with the other red grapes in these vineyards. The grapes ferment and macerate on their skin for 2-4 days; the wine rests for 11 months in used French oak barrels before bottling without fining, filtering, or any additions. This is the only wine I have not yet gotten to try from Diego this year, so I will have to report back to you with tasting notes (needless to say, I’m really looking forward to it). Ben Fletcher
1984 is a faithful expression of Bierzo Mencía from 3 organically farmed plots of old vines (around 60 years old) at around 650m in elevation in the appellation’s southwest. These are some of the highest elevation vines in the Bierzo appellation: the climate here is somewhat humid, and the soils are dominated by quartz, iron and slate rather than the clays of the valley floor. The grapes for the 2018 were harvested by hand in the second week of September, partially destemmed, and allowed to ferment and macerate on their skins for 3-4 days before being pressed into old French oak barrels for 7 months to rest. The finished wine was bottled without fining or filtering, and there was no sulfur employed in the winemaking. 1984 shows the terrific tension between power and delicacy that Bierzo wines can embody: the nose is enticing and friendly with black and red fruits and earth while the palate is all cherry and black raspberry framed with brisk acidity, gently structuring tannins, and notes of black tea, bergamot, and clove. Really lovely and an incredible bargain. Ben Fletcher
La Barbacana is a special vineyard of old vines (100+ years) of Garnacha Tintorera (90%) and Mencía (10%), and Diego Losada spoke of it reverentially. It is isolated: deep in the remote southwestern mountains of Bierzo, almost in Galicia, next to an old 13th century ruin and an ancient Roman mine. But it is also unique for its elevation: at 650m, Diego did not harvest until the third week of October in 2018, just as the first snow was starting. And of course, there’s the soils: lots of quartz, iron and slate, but also deposits of gold below the surface that prompted the Romans to mine the area in the first place. In terms of cellar work, La Barbacana is treated similarly to the other wines: hand harvested, partially destemmed, macerated on the skins in chestnut vats for 2-4 days, then rested for 10 months in chestnut barrels before bottling without fining, filtering, or any additions. On opening, the nose shows earthy, meaty, spicy character against abundant red cherry and overripe strawberry notes. The palate is deeply mineral and earthy with tannins that recall dusty leather and ample acidity enveloping delicate, pure red fruit notes of strawberry, cherry, and raspberry. The evolution in the glass is striking, as the wine shifts its emphasis from minerality, to earth, to fruit over the course of a few hours. Ben Fletcher
Vindemiatrix is Diego Losada’s most affordable and approachable wine, from 7 plots of mostly Mencia on Bierzo’s valley floor (around 500m above sea level). These sites are drier and somewhat warmer than the other plots that go into Losada’s other wines, but on similar clay-limestone soils. Vinification is the same also, following Diego Losada’s low-intervention approach: hand-harvested in early September, fermentation and brief maceration in concrete tanks, and then 7 months of resting in the same vessels, and finally racking into bottles. 2019 was a bit warm, and the Vindemiatrix is fruit forward, with black cherry, raspberry, and strawberry notes complemented by refreshing mineral acidity. An incredible value from one of the most exciting winemakers in Bierzo! Ben Fletcher
Alfredo Maestro Tejero makes 'A dos tiempos' from a vineyard of equal parts Garnacha and Tempranillo near Navalcarnero, just south west of Madrid. The grapes are hand harvested in two tries about three weeks apart, first the Garnacha then the Tempranillo, then destemmed and fermented in a stainless steel vat before resting for 6 months in neutral oak. Harvest, fermentation and bottling are done without any additives and without sulfur. The resulting wine is dense, medium to full bodied, and characterized by intense notes of red fruit, bitter herbs and earthy minerality. Ben Fletcher
Amanda comes from Alfredo Maestro's old vines of Garnacha Tintorera, planted on clay-limestone soils at about 850m of elevation. While this is certainly a rose wine, it's color and red fruit flavors come from the red-hued flesh of the grapes, rather than from the skins: the grapes are pressed directly, without contact with the skins. This yields a deeply colored but translucent wine, with notes of cherry and raspberry on the nose and an electric red fruit palate with delicate tannins and a vibrant seam of limestone minerality. An outstanding rose wine with lots of character.
Soverribas is consistently an exceptional expression of Albariño at the highest level, and the 2018 is exactly that. Citrus, briny sea air and fresh cut green herbs unite on the nose, and the palate answers with peach and rock salt around a core of long, intense stony acidity. From a single southwest-facing vineyard (called Paraje Manzaniña), the grapes are harvested in September, pressed whole cluster and fermented with native yeasts then rested on the lees in a very large old oak barrel for 11 months, with bâtonnage for the first three. Bottled without fining or filtering and with only a modest amount of sulfur. This was a bit tight, and could use either a year or two (or maybe even longer?) or a lengthy decant. Ben Fletcher
La Tinaja de Aranzazu is Alberto and Silvia's wine made in Tinaja, the traditional amphorae used for hundreds of years in Spanish winemaking. The grapes come from the Paraje Mina vineyard (Alberto's home vineyard) and another old plot of vines on sandy granitic soils. The grapes were hand harvested and pressed whole cluster to ferment with their native yeasts in two tinajas, where the wine then rested for nine months on its lees, with weekly bâtonnage at the start. The tinajas impart a denser, richer texture to this wine, but the core is pure Albariño acidity, with salty, stone-fruit aromas and a long, dense palate. Like the other single-vineyard releases from Nanclares, this could probably use either a long decant or some time in bottle. Ben Fletcher
Alberto Nanclares and his wife are making expressive, exciting wines from Albarino and other local grapes in Rias Baixas. This wine is from multiple sites in Cambados on granitic and sandy soils. The vines range in age from 30 to 60 years, a the wine is fermented with indigenous yeasts and raised in small tanks for close to a year. The 2019 is a stunning expression of focused, acid-driven Albarino, with notes of lime, sea shell, and the slightest tinge of tropicality. An absolute favorite of the whole staff here. Ben Fletcher
Oriol Artigas organically farms 7.5 hectares of very old vines in Alella, just north of Barcelona. His approach in the vineyard is low-impact, influenced by biodynamics: he does not do much pruning, encourages the growth of supportive plants among the vines, and follows the lunar calendar. La Rumbera comes from a selection of vineyards of old-vine Pansa Blanca, which are hand-harvested together. The grapes are destemmed, crushed, and allowed to ferment with 20% skin inclusion in stainless steel. There's no use of additives or sulfur in Oriol's small, manually operated cellar. The resulting wines are full of character: influenced by the chalk soils and marine air, and showing a slight skinsy body, there's a tension between textural richness and mineral-driven freshness. The 2018 vintage shows a delicate touch, with the palate and the nose highlighting the salt, sea air, and chalky mineral character of Pansa Blanca, with just a touch of citrus. Ben Fletcher
La Canya is a blend of grapes from two sites: Garnatxa Blanca (80%) from a vineyard near the Mediterranean and Godello (20%) from the Mas Pelliser vineyard which surrounds Oriol's winery. The grapes are harvested at the same time, pressed together to macerate with skins for about two days, then co-fermented before raising in stainless steel tanks. Compared to the Pansa Blanca wines from Oriol, this wine shows more fruit character. The nose shows aromas of ripe apple, pear, and yellow flowers, while the palate has bright citrus and orchard fruit notes, like lemon juice squeezed on freshly-cut yellow apples. There's a salty, mineral core to the wine, which lends structure and a long finish. Ben Fletcher
Lloritu is a new wine from Oriol Artigas, named for a commonly eaten fish in the Mediterranean. The grapes for this wine come from an old vineyard located about 50 meters from the Mediterranean which was planted to Jaque, a fascinating hybrid grape also known as Black Spanish in the United States. According to Jancis Robinson, this variety can most likely trace its history back to French Huguenot colonies around the Savannah river, and an accidental crossing between the native American Vitis Aestivalis and the imported European Vitis vinifera. Once widespread in Europe (especially the south of France, where it still forms a part of the Cuvée des Vignes d'Antan) and the United States, it is now common only in Brazil. For Lloritu, Oriol harvests his Jaque grapes then macerates them for a single night on their skins before fermentation with natural yeasts and resting in stainless steel tank. The resulting wine has a beautiful bright pink translucent hue, and a nose of tart cherry, anise and fennel. The palate is light, fresh, and salty, with cherry and pomegranate notes around a mineral core. Ben Fletcher
Oriol Artigas organically farms 7.5 hectares of very old vines in Alella, just north of Barcelona. His approach in the vineyard is low-impact, influenced by biodynamics: he does not do much pruning, encourages the growth of supportive plants among the vines, and follows the lunar calendar. El Rall is a new bottling from Oriol, from old vines of Merlot, Syrah, Garnatxa and Sumoll, vinified in stainless steel, some macerated whole cluster and some pressed directly, bottled without fining, filtering, or any additions. El Rall shows pretty green notes from the Merlot alongside bright and refreshing red and purple fruit and a bit of Syrah spice. At 12.5%, this bottling is more substantial and dense than Oriol's other red wines, but still refreshing and cooling, with delicate tannins. Serve with a bit of a chill. Ben Fletcher
We had been looking for a well balanced, approachable Spanish Monastrell from Jumilla for a while, and I'm happy to say Oscar Olmos' La Princesa from Jumilla hits the spot! From organic, dry-farmed vineyards on limestone soils, this 100% Monastrell preserves freshness and acidity while displaying the grape variety's classic dark fruit, game and leather notes. Vinification is entirely in neutral wood, and the extraction must not be overly long (sadly, I don't have information on this), as the tannins, acid, and fruit are all in very nice balance. A great wine for steaks and stews this winter. Ben Fletcher
Pepe Raventós stepped outside of the Cava appellation in 2012 to create the Conca del Riu Anoia designation. The de Nit rosé was the first Conca wine and continues to sate and impress us with its lively expression of calcareous soils, rich with marine fossils. This is an incredibly versatile sparkler that has crisp, pretty stone fruit and light raspberry fruit with a gorgeous minerality. AR
This 100% Garnacha wine from the Gredos is one of my favorite summer bargains: great for barbecues, grilling and steak all summer long. Paso de Cebra is a blend from 7 vineyards of old Garnacha vines planted on high altitude (~1100 meters) granitic sandy soils in the mountains west of Madrid. This well-balanced wine shows the trademark bright acidity of the Gredos terroir against full and dense dark fruits over a cooling granitic minerality. Drink this wine slightly cool with anything off the grill this summer! Ben Fletcher
Viña Somoza is a pioneering winery working to revive Godello, the indigenous white grape of Valdeorras. Javier Garcia works a number of vineyards throughout Valdeorras, all planted to Godello, which has been reestablished as the region's premier white grape after years of dominance by relatively neutral Palomino. Godello has nice texture and weight (especially when raised on the lees, as Neno is), but balanced by a fine and bright acidity. Neno shows the fullness characteristic of Godello with some leesy texture and notes of pear and apple, but also fine acidity (especially in the 2016 vintage) and cooling minerality. Ben Fletcher
Valdeorras is better known for white wines from Godello than red wines, and the Somoza Godello has become something of a staple at Chambers Street the past few years, but this blend of red grapes from a large number of small parcels from Vina Somoza is a lifted, dense, and hedonistic red wine from the region. Winemaker Javier García Alonso macerated Mencía, Garnacha Tintorera, Mouratón, Merenzao, Gran Negro, and Brancellao grapes together for a little more than a month in open-topped neutral fermenters before pressing the juice into 400L and 500L barrels to rest on its lees over winter. The result is a spicy, dark fruited wine with notes of plum, blackberry and exotic spices on the nose, and a structured but delicate palate of mixed small berries (raspberry, blackcurrant, blackberry, blueberry) and bright minerality that finishes with long dense spiciness. The character of the Mencía certianly shines through, but the bright acid of Garnacha Tintorera and the delicate red fruit of Mouratón (Jura's Trousseau) are equally apparent. A beautiful wine that opens splendidly with air to reveal more and more length and surprising power. Ben Fletcher
Montsant is better known for its red wines, but this fresh and interesting white from Sara and René of Venus La Universal makes a strong case for the region's whites. Made from 50% Macabeu, 40% Garnatxa Blanca and 10% Cartoixa aka Xarel-lo from organic vineyards, roughly 20% of the grapes are macerated on the skin for 24 hours (providing a soft, complex textural structure to the finished wine) while the remainder are directly pressed into clay amphorae and large old barrels. Dido Blanc shows the influence of the poor decomposed granitic soils of Falset. These soils and the warm climate help promote full ripening and exuberant fruitiness, while the granite simultaneously expresses itself in the wine with balancing minerality and acidity. This was outstanding with buttery, garlicky shrimp over rice with lime and cilantro and would be similarly well-suited to other flavorful seafood dishes, I think. Ben Fletcher
Sara Pérez and René Barbier of Venus La Universal are making elegant wines in the Montsant appellation, which surrounds Priorat, where their parents (the founders of Mas Martinet and Clos Mogador) revitalized and popularized the local wines. They source their grapes for Venus La Universal from 4 hectares of organically farmed grapes belonging to other families, and a small parcel of their own. For Dido, the grapes come from plantings on decomposed granite near Falset; these special soils, called sauló contributes to the minerality and the density of the wines. Indeed, Dido is ripe and rich, a full bodied Montsant red that shows the intensity of the local Garnacha and Carignan, with just a touch of spice from a small amount of Syrah. Ben Fletcher
I never know quite what to say about Bobal. Probably the best note is "plummy" but this can be taken in many different directions. Good Bobal wines, like this one, conjure the image of fresh plums - less-good bobals often make me think of cooked plums or even fruitcake! But this wine, from Vera de Estenas in Utiel-Requena (near Valencia) shows the fresh and joyful side of plummy Bobal at a great price. There's plenty of density to the palate, and the fruit is ripe and juicy , but there's a backbone of minerality and delicate tannins that invite another sip. Perhaps it is the clay-limestone soils, or the old vines (ranging from 50-100 years), or even the cooling Mediterranean winds that lend this balance. Ben Fletcher
Zorzal takes the Graciano grape to new heights with this inexpensive but outrageously delicious 35-year-old, organically-farmed vines in Spain's Navarra region (Rioja's overlooked neighbor). This is a generous, crowd-pleasing, and thirst-quenching red on the fuller side of medium-bodied. It is pretty and perfumed, with flavors of juicy purple plum, ripe red raspberry, and dark cherry, violet flowers, soft funky earth, spearmint leaf, cinnamon spice, smooth tannins, rich texture, and just enough acidity. Unfined, unfiltered, and fermented with native yeasts. Ariana Rolich
Gaby Ameztoy is making classic Rioja from organically farmed vines in Rioja Alavesa using traditional methods. Starting off sourcing grapes from different established vineyards, he has since acquired his own vines and built a cellar. Wipe Out is his lighter wine, unoaked and a bit carbonic, but still plush and medium-bodied. The nose is clear, expressive Tempranillo with red cherry, earth and citrus qualities and the palate follows with cherry, cooling minerality, integrated tannins, and balancing acidity. A robust red that will nonetheless work very well in the heat of the summer with all sorts of grilled fare. Ben Fletcher