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More Spanish Table Wines

The Lay of the Land...Backgrounder on Spain's Wine Regions

 
ALVARO PALACIOS
This fellow has become an important ambassador for the wines of Spain in general and the wines of Priorat in particular.

Born into a family with a winery in Rioja, Alvaro Palacios was the seventh kid in the family, so his prospects of running the family business were bleak.  His father sent him to Bordeaux to study wine and Alvaro went, but dropped out of school, taking a job with the Moueix family at Chateau Petrus.  It was this experience that ignited the flames of winemaking passion in Palacios.

Returning to Spain, he had a job in selling oak barrels to wineries.  He traveled around his home country and saw great, but unfulfilled possibilities for wine growing and wine making.  

Working at the Palacios' family winery in Rioja many years ago was the now-Priorat Pioneer, Rene Barbier.  He enlisted young Palacios to join him in the Priorat region.  In the early 1980s, Palacios and others bought grapes, made some wines and the re-birth of this region began.

Today the Palacios label is well-regarded and we've been fans for a number of years.

The current vintage of Les Terrasses, 2008, is quite good and one of the few relative bargains in the Priorat.  It's made of estate grown, as well as purchased fruit.  It's something close to 60% Carignane, 30% Garnacha, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Syrah.  The wine spends about a year in French oak, but only 20% is new cooperage, so the grapes really shine.

The wine is medium-full bodied and only mildly tannic.  It's quite nice to drink immediately, though it ought to age well for a few years.

Currently in stock:  2008 ALVARO PALACIOS Priorat "Les Terrasses"  $35.99

 

BIELSA
The Campo de Borja appellation in the Aragon region of Spain.  The principal city is Zaragoza and if you drive north towards the Rioja region on the highway, you'll see signs for Borja, a major center for the Garnacha or Grenache grape.

Vineyards have been cultivated in this region since the mid-1100s and today Garnacha accounts for nearly 70% of the vineyard plantings in the region.   And think of this remarkable statistic: roughly 5,000 hectares of Garnacha alone (that's 11,000 acres) and a mere 17 wineries!  

We have a couple of wines from the Campo de Borja region and this Bielsa is one of them.  And a wonderfully fruity, charming rendition it is!

The wine is labeled as an "old vines" bottling, but in the Campo de Borja, something like 40% of the Garnacha vines are 30 to 50 years of age.  

The 2011 vintage is the current release and this offers all the charm of a good Beaujolais but with the fruit character of Grenache (raspberries, dark cherry and a hint of spice).  I've served this lightly chilled and it's aromatic, flavorful, smooth and dry.  It's best in its youth, so don't leave bottles of this in the rack for aging...


Currently in stock:  2011 BIELSA Garnacha $10.99

 

 

 

DESCENDIENTES DE JOSE PALACIOS
As if Alvaro Palacios didn't have enough to do already, what with his own property in Priorat (see above) and running the family estate in Rioja, he's now teamed up with his nephew Ricardo Perez Palacios to produce some remarkably good wine in the Bierzo region of Northwest Spain.

The two Palacios are making some really good wine, this from the somewhat forgotten/now resurgent "Mencia" grape.  We're heard references to this being somehow related to Cabernet Franc.  We're not sure, though some of the wines from Bierzo do, to some degree, have a kinship with some Loire Valley reds such as Chinon, Bourgueil and Saumur-Champigny.

Palacios has been instrumental in spearheading the awakening of wineries and vineyards in this region and now we're seeing quite a number of interesting wines from Bierzo.

One of our favorites is the Petalos bottling from Palacios.  It's from hillside and ridge-top vineyard sites.  The wine is vinified to be immediately drinkable and so the tannin level is modest.  The wine features a red berry fruit character with a faintly floral tone.  Oak?   They supposed age this for a few months in wood, but it's not prominent, so you can smell and taste the stony, minerally tones as well as the red fruits.

Corullon is an old vines bottling from various parcels and it's matured in a higher percentage of new oak.  In tasting through the range, we all preferred this to some of the far more costly limited bottlings intended for point-awarding wine critics and their trophy-hunting followers.  The 2008 sports black cherry/dark raspberry fruit with a woodsy, cedary, sort of vanillin tone.  It's lovely now, especially with food and it should hold up well for a few more years.

 Currently in stock:  2008 DESCENDIENTES DE JOSE PALACIOS Bierzo "PETALOS"  $19.99
2008 DESCENDIENTES DE JOSE PALACIOS Bierzo "CORULLON"  $49.99






CLOS DE L'OBAC

This outstanding little winery is located in the village of Gratallops in the Priorato region of eastern Spain.  This is amazingly rugged country and you have to be crazy to want to spend your life making wine here.  The mountainous terrain is steep and the vineyards are typically terraced.  The rocky soil means the vines really have to struggle to exist and they produce small quantities of fruit, if you're lucky. 

Owned by the Pastrana family, they've got some 50 hectares planted at the present time.   These are about a thousand feet above sea level.
When we first visited some years ago, they had but 14 hectares!

The winery is called  Costers del Siurana and they make a few different wines, including a sweet red of Garnacha, Cabernet & Syrah!  But the famous red wine is called Clos de L'Obac, a blend of Garnacha, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot and Cariñena.  

The 2004 is a huge wine...deep and dark in color...lots of black fruit aromas with some spice tones on the palate.  It's one of those wines which will certainly appeal to those measuring it on a numerical wine-tasting score-card.  We had a bottle with a prime rib dinner and the wine showed marvelously.  It's nice now, but we suspect it needs a few years to really blossom and come together.

While they do fine with egg whites, Clos de L'Obac is bottled unfiltered.  New barrels are the rule, being of Limousin, Allier and Nevers oak. 
Currently available:  
1994 Clos de L'Obac  $49.99
2004 Clos de L'Obac $76.99




 


MAS MARTINET
martinetbru.gif (5296 bytes)A neighboring winery to Clos de L'Obac, Clos Martinet is a 6 hectare estate. It's owned by Jos Luis Pérez, who also was involved, apparently, with Carlos Pastrana at Clos de L'Obac at one time. The planting of Cabernet and Syrah is, apparently, a relatively recent issue, as they started this sometime during the 1980s.  Today  Pérez is assisted by his daughter Sara, who's an enologist (and philosopher!).  

Pérez makes two wines, the Clos Martinet being the best of their production and amounting to 40% of the output. That wine is about 35% Garnacha (as the Catalonians write it), 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot and 15% Syrah. 

The little brother red vino is called Martinet Bru and this has less Garnacha and Syrah and a bit more Cabernet and Merlot. 

The Clos Martinet is a big, deep wine and the 2004 vintage is one of the best.  It's more elegant and refined, showing 'finesse', which is unusual for the powerful Priorat wines.  It's quite lovely now, having sweet oak notes (all new French barrels were used to mature this wine) and it should cellar nicely for a decade.


                       
Currently available: 
Clos Martinet 2004 Priorat SALE  $79.99




CLOS MOGADOR
This property is owned by the large firm of Rene Barbier.  The vineyards from where this comes are in Gratallops, near Clos de L'Obac.  It is a lavishly oaked red wine, typical of these showpieces from this incredible area of Spain.   Garnacha is the base of this wine, augmented with a substantial contribution from Cabernet Sauvignon and a bit of Syrah.  Very nice, modern and, to my taste, an improvement over wines made in the early 1990s.

The 2002 is not as massive as the 2001, but it's still quite good.  I suspect this will arrive at its peak before the 2001, as well.  It's nicely oaked and gets a high "score" from Spain's top wine guide...

The 2003 is a big, deep wine.  I tasted it once, shortly after its arrival and the wine was good, but not quite "together."  I'll have to have another taste to see if it has bounced back from its travels from Spain.  Other's tasting notes I've read have been encouraging, though.

Currently available:  2002 Clos Mogador Priorat (List $82)  SALE $71.99
2003 CLOS MOGADOR  $89.99

 






CVNE or "CUNE" if you prefer

The abbreviation stands for "Compania Vinícola del Norte de España," this is another old Rioja winery.  It's a very old and traditional property, having been founded in 1879.  They own some 1200 acres of vines, which accounts for about half their production.   

They also own an estate called "Contino" from which they make  estate-bottled, single-vineyard wines of the same name. And there's a new facility in the Rioja Alavesa where they make their Vina Real wines.

The style of the wines is rather traditional and given the taste preferences of today's wine critics, the CUNE wines tend to be somewhat unheralded.  They are not deep in color, hugely alcoholic, massive red wines, so using the measuring stick of a hundred point scale, the wines merit good to very good scores, but rarely are they weighing in as "exceptional."  
 
 
 

The fermentation cellar at CUNE's Haro location in 2014.

And one of their barrel rooms:

They also have a nice cellar full of bottles...

 


On the other hand, if you're looking for an impressive wine to serve with grilled meats or a roast of beef or lamb, you might treat yourself to the 2001 vintage of CUNE's "Imperial" in Gran Reserva format.   
I found this wine to be most impressive.  It's Tempranillo, of course, with about 10% of Graciano and 5% Mazuelo.  Nice oak this vintage...cedary, woodsy, toasty and a hint of vanillin.  The wine is quite drinkable now and should be good for another 5-12 years.

The 2005 Imperial Reserva is quite good, too...a bit less "Gran" than the older vintage, but similarly styled, if a shade less complex.  Very fine, though.
The 2007 is classic, showing the house style and it's drinkable immediately.  
 
The CUNE company now has a new cellar in the Rioja Alavesa ... VINA REAL...we can order those wines for you...
 



Currently available: Imperial Gran Reserva  2001 $69.99
CUNE Imperial Reserva 2005  SALE $44.99
CUNE Imperial Reserva 2007 SALE $44.99
CUNE 2004 IMPERIAL GRAN RESERVA  Sold Out

CUNE Imperial Gran Reserva 1999 Magnums $199.99






.
BODEGAS FAUSTINO MARTINEZ
Another "old time" producer of Rioja wines, Faustino is located in the town of Oyon.  Their wines come in dark, frosted bottles and are certainly distinctive.  

faustino.gif (8581 bytes)Another "old time" producer of Rioja wines, Faustino is located in the town of Oyn.  Their wines come in dark, frosted bottles and are certainly distinctive.  Happily, the wines are pretty nice.  The have a curious numbering system for their wines:  FAUSTINO VII is for their modestly-priced, normal quality.  

Their wines are rather "standard" in quality and the current line-up is okay.  I did not taste anything spectacular, but we can, of course, order their wines with ease.
The history starts in the 1860s and the wine produced was sold in bulk.  It took until the 1930s, we understand, before someone had the idea to put wine in a glass bottle.  In the late 1950s they came upon the notion of selling these bottles out of the country!  Today, of course, Faustino is a big brand and major ambassador for Spain in the wine world.
 
The winery owns about 650 hectares of vineyards in Rioja, but this is not sufficient, so they purchase fruit from various growers.
 
The bottles bear Rembrandt and Rembrandt-styled portraits of fellows who I don't believe have much affiliation with the winery.
 
  
Nicolaes Van Bameek, for example, was a Dutch cloth merchant and his image was painted by Rembrandt in 1641.  He wasn't, then, a customer of Faustino wines and yet for some reason, his mug is on the labels of one of their best wines.
Chris Gluck was a German opera composer who traveled around to Vienna and Paris and we can't say he was buying any Faustino wines since he lived in the 1700s..  Marten Pepijn (or Maarten as we've seen his name spelled) died in 1643 and he was a painter of note.

Though many of the wine they make are of "traditional" stylings, the winery does have a "research and devleopment" department and they've done a lot of work.  They've worked on pigmentation and polyphenols in red wine, studied TCA (mustiness due, usually, to faulty, tainted corks), the color of the wine bottles and its effects on wine quality, looking into eco-efficient packaging, and more.  Kudos to them!

The cellars have a dizzying array of galleries filled with wines "in progress" and aging, awaiting their time to come to the market.

The winery even has some lockers for its top customers...they will allow these people or restaurants, for example, to buy wines and stash them in a special part of the cellar...locked up!

And, of course, they have loads of small barrels:  both French and American oak.

Here's a snapshot from an upper level deck where they have a sort of museum showing the history of the winery and old wine paraphernalia.


I was treated to a taste of the 1970 Faustino...still alive and kicking in 2014.  It was very good and a wonderful bit of history.
The winery actually does offer "library vintages" for sale and that's partly why they pulled out a bottle of 44 year old Gran Reserva.

The have a curious numbering system for their wines:  FAUSTINO VII is for their modestly-priced, normal quality.  

Their wines are rather "standard" in quality and the current line-up is okay.
The Faustino Gran Reserva from the 2001 vintage was highly-regarded by Decanter Magazine from Great Britain.  I immediately bought a bottle of the currently available 2000 vintage and it was a bit of a dud, frankly.
I've tasted the 2001, now available here and find it to be perfectly pleasant, though it's not amongst the wines on my short list of top Rioja wines.

 

We have access to the range of wines, however, so if there's something you're looking for, drop me a note!

Currently available:  By Special Order
Faustino VII  (Crianza)
Faustino I (Gran Reserva)
Faustino V (Reserva)
Faustino Rosado

 


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